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?”
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?