Whatever You Do, Don't Give Your Family a Fish
I quit my family today. I woke up, just like every other day, at 5:30. It was dark and I was tired. I felt like I'd just shut my head off minutes ago but lo and behold, 7 hours had passed and my eyes fluttered before the alarm went off. Like every day that had proceeded this day, I put on my workout clothes and sneakers, washed my face, put in my contacts and shut myself in the laundry room. After 35 minutes of sweat and Gilmore Girls, I opened the door and walked through the house, turning on lights as I went. I checked email on my phone while feeding the pets. I packed lunches and started the coffee. I stuffed mittens and hats and scarves and sneakers into backpacks and lined the bags up along the couch with each bag owner's shoes and coat next to the bag. I turned on lights in each girls' room, said good morning, and then, "Time to Wake Up" roughly 23 times. I flipped on the computer in Caro's room and told her she had to get up. I YouTube'd a 10 minute abs video and did 9 exercises for 45 seconds with 15 minute rest periods, when I would repeat, "Time to Get Up. Get Up. Get Up. Get Up Now."
During this time, Charlotte got out of bed and turned off her lights. Caroline covered her head and rolled over to face away from me. Andy snoozed on the couch in the clothes he'd had on the day before. The dog stuck his head through the cat door and ate the cats' food.
I walked back to the bathroom and undressed. I showered and toweled off. As I was combing my hair, Andy shuffled up, sheepishly, next to me and said, "Well, looks like they are going to miss the bus today." If he was the sheep, I was the wolf. I turned to him, stonily.
"I quit you guys."
As I finished getting ready, Andy and the girls slowly got dressed. Andy gave the girls breakfast and went outside to tell the bus driver the girls were going to get a ride to school. I did my best to avoid eye contact. As I put my coat on, Andy called from the kitchen, "You're not teaching us a lesson, you know.
I screamed a series of expletives into the air, kissed the girls (yes, because you never know), dropped some more f-bombs and slammed the door.
I knew I wasn't teaching them a lesson. I know the beat goes on without me. I travel a lot for work and Andy has been on his own for several days in a row since the time the girls were infants. I know they don't need me. That's why I had to quit them today. Why is it that, when I'm gone, they do what needs to be done, yet when I'm around they lose all ability to complete anything? From packing lunches to grabbing a pen from a drawer, I seem to be the only person able to accomplish a variety of tasks around the house. Having this level of responsibility means that I'm also the fall guy for any mistakes made. Whose fault was it that Charlotte had the turkey Lunchable instead of the pizza Lunchable? Me! Whose fault was it that we were $20 over during Girl Scout Cookie order reconciliation? My bad. Caroline didn't pack mittens for school. Shame on you, Mom. Shame on you. I do so many tasks that my family should be doing so, of course when I screw something up I am to blame. In my drive to never let a ball drop, I have taught my family to be helpless.
Andy is a learned scholar in helplessness. I am continually amazed at how he employs helpless-ness in a variety of situations. Writing a grocery list? Andy jumps into leader mode and delegates. "Melissa, can you get me a pen and a piece of paper?" He does all he can to conserve energy. If the toilet paper roll is empty, he places the cardboard on the floor next to the toilet- for a week, until I finally can't stand it and I carry it out to the kitchen. He never knows the girls' after school schedules, and only dedicates time to worrying about their whereabouts if I ask him to pick them up.
And let's not forget the golden rule of learned helplessness. If you can't find something, do not look for it. Just say, over and over, that you can't find it. Someone else will find it for you. It's like that book, The Secret. Just envision your dream and it will happen. Close your eyes and see Mom sifting through the entryway cubbies for a pencil you think you stuck in your sneakers. Wish this hard enough and it will come true.
I know I am part of the problem. I know that if you give a man a fish, he'll eat for a day but if you teach him how to fish he will eat forever. I am fully aware that I have caught the fish. For heaven's sake, I dug the damn pond and filled it with water that I hauled in buckets from a far away river. I stocked the pond with fish and whittled the fishing poles. I attached myself to the hook for bait. I gut the fish, fried the fish and served it on a silver platter on a TV tray.
So, I just want to be clear with Andy. I did not quit my family today to teach them a lesson. I did it to teach me a lesson. I needed to teach myself that I don't have to do everything for my family, every second of the day. I needed a reminder that life will go on if it doesn't go the way I want or need it to. I got to work early this morning and got a jump start on my day. The girls and Andy got where they needed to be at a time that felt on time according to their schedules. Then, at five o'clock I drove home. The strike was already over. Andy was working late so I unpacked the girls' bags, asked them, 33 times, to do their homework, made them dinner, cleared the table, ushered them to the bath tub, helped them floss their teeth and count the change in their piggy banks. Then I read them a story but I asked them to read me a story in return, toot . And pick up their own towels off the floor. And put their homework back in their folders when complete. And we didn't have fish. We had pasta, which they served to themselves- and to me.