Make Lemonade, Not Lemons
Look at this wall.
No, not at the Berkley Illustrations prints (although "General Tiger" and "Monocle Dog" have become part of the family over the years).
No, not at the Little Passports map we use when we talk about travel or geography with the Smartlings.
The wall. Look at it. It's blue, right? You can see that. A harmless denim blue perfectly suitable for a guest room, which is where this wall and its identically blue brethren are all located. It is inoffensive, nearly neutral, a good backdrop for the kid-oriented, B-list, guest-room-level art that adorns these walls. Keep this in mind as you read on.
This past week the Smartlings were all set to visit their grandparents from Tuesday to Thursday. This meant 2 nights, 2 half-days, and 1 full day of joy, treats, and indulgence for them. This also meant 2 nights, 2 half-days, and 1 full day for me to fill in whatever way I chose. And I planned to fill them cleaning, puttying, taping, priming, and painting the walls of our guest room.
That's right, friends. I was going to be industrious! I was going to have something to show for my childfree time! I wasn't going to while away precious minutes while my Smartner toiled during my midweek break! Oh, no! I would work, too!
I would DESERVE VICTORY!
Yes, we used to have this poster on our office wall. (Image Source)
I, too, would be responsible for more, More, MORE PRODUCTION!
We also used to have this poster in our office. You may be seeing a trend, and also a problem, here. (Image Source)
I would pull my weight! I would maximize my output! I would contribute! Because, after all, I'm just a stay at home parent, so what else could I have of value to do when my children are away?
That sound you just heard? Was it this one? Because this is the one I heard when I wrote that:
It's sick and wrong, the things I was thinking. I almost - aaaaaaaaaaaaaaalmost - squandered nearly 48 hours of child-free time painting a perfectly good wall a different, perfectly good color.
And why? Because that's not my favorite perfectly-good color and needed to be replaced? Not good enough. Because it needed to be done? Not remotely true. Because this was of use and service enough to warrant the effort? No, the rest of the family loves that color and was sad to see me paint it. Because I love painting? OH HELL NO. In fact, I hate it. I hate it hard.
So why had I gotten my Pantones in a bunch over changing the wall color in the guest room? I can't rightly tell you. My best guess is that it was a manifestation of the ambivalence and discomfort we professional carers sometimes feel when we aren't caring for someone else. It was akin to not recognizing my own pleasures and needs in the absence of creating others' pleasures and meeting others' needs. It was a denial of my real desires, goals, and aims.
And it was a load of horseshit.
I didn't even realize how stupid this nonsense plan was until I was walking to the hardware store to load up on supplies and Alice Walker smacked me upside the head.
Sure, she looks peaceful here, but wait until she cuffs you one on your way to True Value... (Image Source)
O.K., so she didn't physically hit me, although I think we'd both acknowledge that it would have been worth it to stop my forced march through house painting. But this quote from her novel, The Color Purple, slammed into my head as surely as if her palm had smacked it there:
And I do, too. I think that, too. Any deity I would ever believe in would be right ornery if you didn't enjoy the good stuff she'd made, like a meadow of purple wildflowers. And I think it pisses God off even more if you're offered 48 hours to serve yourself, to please yourself, to value yourself, and you don't take it. Especially if your day job/night job/all-the-time job is as a caregiver. That time was priceless and rare, and I was going to squander it on paint.
Paint. Paint, people. Paint.
I was so close to making lemonade into lemons that I tasted bitterness on my tongue as I slowed my march to the hardware store.
Instead of entering, I called Shannon - my friend, my business partner, my comadre and comrade. And I told her my plan, or as far as much as I could before a sour, mirthless laugh forced its way out of my throat.
Because Shannon knows how precious those hours when our children are occupied and cared for outside of our own reach are. And so do you. And so do I. So do we all, those of us who love and care for others. We all know this. We sometimes forget this, too.
But not this time. With Shannon's help, I talked myself out of nonsense labor and into a midweek lull dedicated to rest, exercise, writing, reading, and spending time with my friends and Smartner. Instead of doing the unnecessary work of putting paint on top of paint, I did the priceless and vital work of nurturing my real dreams, goals, and values.
In the nick of time I remembered that I am a person worth taking care of, and I took care of myself. What a precious gift. What a hard lesson to remember, and remember, and remember.
And, as for those walls, I probably will paint them one far-off day when they really need it, possibly with my family's messy, chaotic, joyous help. For now the blue can stand. It's a decent color. But it's no purple.