I have been wondering lately about the whole issue of “control”. I tend to think of myself as a “control freak”, and I’ll bet that my kids would agree. I have a real need to know exactly what foods I have in the fridge and cabinets. I need the laundry IN the hamper, not on the floor, and once it is clean and dry, I need it put away. In the right places!! The sink has to be clean of dishes, cups, spoons, lids and food bits, or else I feel anxious and restless. I keep a list of chores for myself, and I do them.
I know other people, mostly women, who have the same desire for control of the environment that I have. So where does this whole urge come from? And is it a good thing, or a sign of my increasing mental instability?
I think back to the time before I had kids. I think about my first apartment and my first real job. I can see the books piled on the kitchen table and the bedroom floor. The shoes in a pile by the door. The drawers filled with all the daily little items that had nowhere else to live. At one point, we had three different “junk drawers” where you could find everything from tape to bubble gum in a big jumble. I remember roaming the grocery store and getting what looked tasty; without a list of preclipped coupons!
I know that I slowly began to organize when the kids were born. For a while there, I had three kids with significant allergies. I had a closet literally filled with medications and supplies to deal with the runny noses, the watery eyes, the asthma, the sinus infections and the earaches. I kept it organized, neat and well stocked at all times. The more worried and anxious I was about their health, the more I relied on the organization of that closet to keep my anxiety under control. So I wonder: did the cleaning, straightening thing appear as a kind of self-therapy? Is THAT what is going on with a lot of us?
Now, let me be clear here. My Mom and my sisters would be laughing out loud reading this, because out of all of us, I am the messy one. I don’t insist that the sofa pillows be lined up in perfect symmetry; they are covered in dog hair and drool anyway! I don’t think about “under or over” when I put on a new toilet paper roll, and I am able to look through fingerprints on window glass for weeks without getting a stomach ache. But I do have little freak outs and panic attacks when someone leaves empty water bottles in my car, or on the window sill.
And here is my challenge to myself. How much of this control can I release and forget, now that the kids are grown and mostly independent? Can I leave a cup in the sink until the next meal? Can I train myself to look at the coffee table if it is covered in books and newspapers? And should I do these things?
Kate and I are going away camping for a week, to beautiful Assateague Island in Maryland. She wants us to “vagabond”,to simply grab a pack and go. She just got back from an incredible three weeks of travel around Central America, a trip for which she packed in about 24 hours. I just got back from three days in New Hampshire with my whole family, a trip for which I packed for two weeks. See the conflict?
So part of my transition plan, as I enter the “empty nest”, is to let that nest get a bit more cluttered. My plan is to find a way to manage my anxious insides without needing to manage every inch of the outside. To teach myself that I can be a healthy, worthy woman even if I do still have a big “junk drawer”.
Wish me luck!
PS: I won’t be blogging again for 10 days or so. Unplugging for this vacation. Woohoo!!