Moving Traffic Cones

I’m having one of those mornings. The kind when I feel scattered and overwhelmed.

I looked around the house at 7:30 this morning and said to Greg, “How does this always happen?” I immediately went to my default “what-can-I-do-differently” mindset. What preparation could I be more on top of, what approach could I try, so that the mornings aren’t such madness? After all, this clearly wasn’t working. And more than that, it was up to me to “fix” it.

But Greg just looked around the kitchen I was gesturing at, the counters strewn with open syrup bottles and peanut butter jars and bread crusts and sticky plates and abandoned glasses of milk, the dishwasher suspended somewhere between clean and dirty, the floor a veritable tableau of our days. And he asked me an equally rhetorical question: “Is there a problem?”

Good one.

But couldn’t he, didn’t he see what I saw? That school days always seem to commence with this chaos? That everywhere I turned I saw missing mittens and not-ready kids? Good Lord, I sound so suburban.

“It’s like waking up in the morning and being upset that the blankets are mussed,” he pointed out. Touché, baby. Touché.

And so, a deep breath, a little perspective, a glance at the world news, a click of the dial, and I find myself remembering Much, Much Better, a children’s book that takes place in Baghdad, about a childless couple who longed for a family.

One Friday night, they invite a stranger to join them for the Shabbat meal, which does not feel quite right to them without company at their table. They have a wonderful evening. As he is leaving, the old man thanks them. Then he tells them that one day, their home – with its neatly arranged books and perfectly set table – will be “much, much better.” They are puzzled, but receive his blessing anyway.

Some time later, the man and woman welcome a baby boy. As the couple gets ready for Shabbat once again, the baby, who is now learning to crawl, pulls the books off the shelves, breaks into the challah and gets crumbs all over the floor, and spills the wine all over the tablecloth. That evening, the old man reappears mysteriously to join them once again. And as he enters their home and sees the mess, the chaos, the imperfection, he smiles approvingly. “I see that your home is much, much better.”

Suddenly the couple understands. And I understand, too. I know I do. I just need a little reminding sometimes. The scattered, overwhelmed, chaotic feeling is as much as anything a habit, a way of seeing.

It’s as if for years I went to the top of my street in the morning and took a left and ran into the same row of orange cones blocking my way. Curse those cones! Always blocking me! I am so at odds with those damn cones. And every day, the same thing. This fight.

And then someone who sees me, loves me, gently points out that I could just stack the cones up and put them aside. (Is there a problem?)

What if it is really this easy? What if so many of the roadblocks, the things we perceive and treat as barriers, are as easy to move as those flimsy orange cones? What if the mess really is much, much better, evidence of a life being lived?

If you happen to see me today with a stack of traffic cones in my arms, just know that I’m practicing shifting my perspective, getting out of my own way, clearing a path. After all, I do not want to live in a house where the couches are covered with plastic. I want music on, I want to improvise, to cook without a recipe, to fly without a net, to chill the fuck out and let my kids make a mess without constantly picking up behind them. What if the real insanity is trying to meet some fantasy idea of a perfect life, smooth sailing ahead?

13 thoughts on “Moving Traffic Cones

  1. She She says:

    Our guys are so smart.

    Tim and I went to a dinner party a few years ago, and the host, who has children the age of our children, complained about the busy-ness and pressure of his life as a father and said, “I want my life back.”

    Tim said, “But this is your life.”

    Much, much better.


  2. Beth P. says:

    Boy, did I need this today.

    My partner is much, much younger than I (17 years) and has 3 young sons, 6, 8 and 10 years of age, who visit frequently, as they did this weekend.

    I always look forward to their visit, dread the chaos of the whirlwind they embody, and then in the middle of the cyclone, when we’re snorting our hot chocolate on an icy winter day as we play at the park because of some crazy thing one of them has said or did, or having a tea party with graham cracker and peanut butter sandwiches, or watching a movie, all snuggled under blankets–3 boys, Andy, Geronimo the Damn Dog and me…while the kitchen looks like the one you describe, and I think, ‘at 54, could I be having a more calm life? Yup. Could I be having a better one? Nope.’

    Thank you so much for the loving reminder, mi amore–


  3. The Other Laura says:

    Well, yes, absolutely. Thanks from my toast-crumb covered, slightly sticky, laundry yet to be done covered kitchen. This IS MY life!


  4. Rowena says:

    And there’s nothing to fix and this is our life and this the organic ebb and flow and crumble and fall apart and come together and laugh and cry.

    You know, I like rumpled beds better than made ones.


  5. Shalet says:

    I’m looking around at the disaster of my house and am thankful for it. Thank you for this much needed reminder of how lucky we are.


  6. deb says:

    I like what your husband said.

    “It’s like waking up in the morning and being upset that the blankets are mussed,” he pointed out.

    I would have laughed and then I would have hit him. But he’s right.


  7. Stacy (mama-om) says:

    I loved this whole post, and that phrase of your husband’s has stuck with me… I’ve said it to myself a few times this past week to comfort myself!


  8. lillyfire says:

    I’ve needed this too lately– especially in the kitchen. What is it about the kitchen?! I love the blankets part too. I have to remind myself that the counter is dirty because we’ve just finished making nourishing food. Thanks for the perspective!


  9. Anonymous says:

    I stumbled onto this post and just went through this very big conversation with my man last night. i need to stay in perspective. thanks


  10. nova robinson says:

    I am new to your blog (and happy to have found it!)and I wanted to say that I loved this post. So insightful! It reminds me of “in this moment, what is lacking?”. I am going to look for Much, Much Better at my library.



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