Patience Includes Laundry

December 6th, 2006  |  Published in etc  |  6 Comments

“Michael, I did nothing. I did absolutely nothing, and it was everything that I thought it could be.”

Waiting on a CorndogAs much as I try to be The Laid Back Dude, I’ve got a pretty bad internal mechanism for getting things done. It involves figuring out what I’m going to do a few moves in advance, then optimizing so I can do it as quickly as possible. When I’m in front of the computer, it produces twisty and useful scripts to do everyday stuff. When I’m out in the real world, it involves holding ten bags of groceries in both hands, with a 12 pack of soda stuffed under one arm and my other hand cramped in a claw to get the key in the door without breaking off from the weight of five of those grocery bags.

If you asked me what my big hurry was, I’d probably get confused, because I don’t ever think of what I’m doing as being in a big hurry, but my compulsion for saving trips, steps, actions, words … anything that involves time … is strong. If I were really honest, I’d tell you I was hurrying to a state of rest, because while I have no concrete image of where I’m off to in a rush, I know it involves doing nothing.

Making CookiesI don’t want to appear to present myself as some sort of type-A task accomplisher, either, because I’m a horrific procrastinator, and I’m forgetful. I remember dad once getting fed up with me forgetting and telling me that my issue wasn’t a bad memory … it was just being really good at not remembering things I didn’t want to remember. You know … the boring crap that keeps you from doing nothing. So for all my step-saving and efficiency focus, I’m pretty disorganized, and I don’t get a lot of anything done very often.

Al puts up with it pretty well, I think. If we’ve had one conversation on return from the grocery store more than any other, it usually involves me with those ten bags of groceries hanging from my clawed hands and Al saying “Can I get anything?” (which is her polite way of saying “Jesus … put down some of the damn bags and take two trips!”) and me grunting “The door.”

Ben, on the other hand, has no idea about any of this. Since we spend a stretch in the house together in the afternoons before Al gets home, it’s pretty easy to tell when we aren’t getting along. I realized, out of the blue yesterday, that the number one sore spot I have with the child on bad afternoons involves how completely random 2-year-olds are.

They don’t know anything about your desire to move quickly (unless you’re pretending to be a monster chasing them), or get things done efficiently (Ben will clean up his toys one toy at a time, making 15 trips across the living room to fill a toy box). On the other hand, they do like to “help,” even if it’s just putting their hands on the thing you have your hands on.

So yesterday I had one of those rare moments where, somehow, I was thinking about what I needed to get done before company arrived, picking up Ben from Cherie’s, and not trampling him in my efforts to Get Everything Done I Needed to Do. And it occurred to me that Ben’s relationship to me in the kitchen is probably kind of hard on him. When I’m cooking, the kitchen is supposed to be a sort of sacred space where Ben can stand in a corner and watch me work, but he’s not supposed to get underfoot (I cringe typing that, but there it is).

So I picked him up and we drove to the store and I bought a few tubes of cookie dough. I thought about doing the cookies from scratch, but I didn’t want to make that big a mess with the time I had, so I figured just letting him help spoon the dough and program the timer and mind the oven would be a good start. He could get integrated into the kitchen a little, I could slow down to half speed, and we both could chill out.

I’m going to skip a lot of the cookie-making story at this point, because it doesn’t pertain to where I’m headed and I need to rush off to do nothing pretty soon here, so I’ll condense the next 60 minutes down to there being some tears over not getting to eat all the dough blobs right away, then some tears about hot cookies, then some covert attempts to blow on the cookies when I wasn’t looking to cool them down more quickly. Showing him how to set the timer to nine minutes with nine presses of the minute button made my head spin briefly with the unreality of taking that. much. time. to do something. The net result, though, was that he loved the whole exercise, even when he fell off the chair he was using to watch the cooling cookies. His cookie-watching was far too important to be deterred by a mere fall.

The button pressing was important, because I think that’s when something really clicked for me. He had two things he really likes: buttons and counting (he likes pressing buttons, he still thinks “ten” is the next number in any given sequence) and dad was doing them both and he dug it.

The cookie thing ended pretty well, despite the bad parts about teaching him to wait until they’re done baking. He ate all his dinner in exchange for a cookie, which is unusual when we make the mistake of letting him see dessert before his main course is finished.

This evening, I was a little more conscientious about letting Ben “help,” even if my habitual rushing manner feels pretty slowed down. We did laundry, which involved him taking the dirty laundry I sorted over to a basket one piece at a time, then holding on to the side of the laundry basket as we walked it down to the basement. Then he helped load the washing machine a piece at a time.

For dinner we were going pretty simple, so his microwaved corndogs didn’t involve much opportunity to help. I showed him which buttons to push, though, which is the first time he’s ever been allowed to touch the microwave with my encouragement, now that I think about it. That rocked. He was very chill for the rest of the evening. When his bath was over, we both sat and watched the tub drain, because he loves looking for the twisters in the drain. He bats at them then backs away squealing because he doesn’t want to “go down in there.” He was similarly concerned about going down in the washing machine. It’s a thing of his lately.

And that’s about what I’ve got, I guess. I’ve had it in my head that I need to slow down a little more, and quit rushing to a state of doing nothing, but I hadn’t thought about how to do that in any meaningful way. I think Ben’s been wanting a dad who’s a little less distracted and grumpy in his rush to do nothing.


  1. pk says:

    December 7th, 2006 at 9:57 am (#)

    Re. “Don’t take my picture”: I’ve had this problem–or more often its equally disruptive converse–since Day 1. Once they (esp. Max) found out (almost immediately) that the camera can make and show movies of them doing absurd things, that officially became the camera’s only function. It is not for candidly and unobtrusively capturing precious, irretrievable moments; in fact, it will immediately end those moments, and it will be time for me to film a silly dance and then watch it 10 times.

    Not to stay on cameras, but I was sorry to hear your S2 died. I was also dismayed–you mean, the flash can die, and it’ll be time to get a whole new camera?! It’s like learning your iPod will be kaput when the battery goes, which is like having to buy a new Porsche when the tires get worn. My parents had the same black and white Zenith TV for 20 years! WTF?!

    Oh, and as far as slowing down and being patient: I find a sharp rap on the forehead focuses my boys’ attention straightaway. Heartily recommended.

  2. mph says:

    December 7th, 2006 at 10:08 am (#)

    Not to stay on cameras, but I was sorry to hear your S2 died. I was also dismayed–you mean, the flash can die, and it’ll be time to get a whole new camera?! It’s like learning your iPod will be kaput when the battery goes, which is like having to buy a new Porsche when the tires get worn. My parents had the same black and white Zenith TV for 20 years! WTF?!

    Oh, the flash is “dead” in the sense that the flash popup mechanism was snapped off on one of the legs, and it happens to be the leg that has the wire that goes down into the body and tells the camera the flash is working. And that was part of a larger trauma to the camera.

  3. pk says:

    December 7th, 2006 at 11:40 am (#)

    I see. So you broke your camera.

  4. mph says:

    December 7th, 2006 at 11:45 am (#)

    I see. So you broke your camera.

    Yes. Your camera is probably safe and you will no doubt be able to give it to Max as a family heirloom when he graduates from college. Unless you leave it with me some time.

  5. pk says:

    December 7th, 2006 at 1:31 pm (#)

    Fat chance, you drunken stumblebum.

    BTW, vis-a-vis your mindless scrambling to do nothing, I just have to comment that I have been marveling again lately at the amount of stuff you manage to get done–not only performing lengthy consumer analyses of cameras, software, and games, but writing at length on them.

    It confounds me how you have enough hours in the day, and then time for reading and what I assume is still a healthy TV schedule. And caring for a child, too.

    Point being, don’t be too hard on yourself–you get a lot more done than I do. (Without judging the merits of what you do, of course, which I have no cause to do, but your conscience may be telling you something different. I know how that goes.)

  6. Michael Burton says:

    December 9th, 2006 at 10:50 am (#)

    Hey man, I really dug your post. There’s that old stupid saying, something like “You learn more from your kids than they do from you.” I don’t know if that is necessarily true in the fullest sense, but there really is something to learning quite a bit about yourself once there is a little one in your life.

    I’ve only been playing this game for two months, but I’ve already got a sense that my little guy is among other things like a multi-faceted mirror – and every once in awhile I catch a reflection of some sort that has meaning to me, and perhaps shows me something I haven’t seen (or wouldn’t have seen) before.

    Anyhow – awesome post.

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