Search Results for: label/Coping

My Grandma’s Style

One of my challenges in life is responsibly reacting to my tendency to bolt from “boredom.”  I call it boredom because, in my defensive training to give good reason to the imperfections of my abstract, creative brain, I’ve grown bad habits of negatively labeling things that I wish came naturally for me but don’t.  Like maybe routine and consistency.

I’ve struggled with this my whole life.  I need spontaneity!  I want adventure!  Give me a project! I can’t sit still.  Challenging myself to rein in these voices, I sometimes resist the urge to spray paint another piece of furniture and instead practice Buddhist meditation exercises which guide devotees through a series of steps.  We are advised during these short meditative trainings to label anything outside the lines of complete thoughtless space as “thinking”—simply label it in your head by saying to yourself “thinking.”  Brain veers off to what you have to do tomorrow?  Call it “thinking.”  Mind suddenly trails to that perfume you smell or that reaction you had that bothered you?  Stamp it with “thinking” and refocus.  For me, in these beginning stages, this means meditation turns out to be fifteen minutes of constant labeling. 

THIIIIIIIINKING.  Thinking.  Thinking.  Stop @#&*ing thinking, I say.

I am learning to lean in to my discomfort of peaceful thoughtlessness in order to swim out of it.  It takes time to change bad habits, and I’ve made good progress.

I do know my lame excuse for messes (“I’m creative, I like clutter”), my resistance to a laundry schedule, my need to bolt with the presence of monotonous routine is really more like a child’s need for boundaries disguised as a flailing fit.  My habits and tendencies beg for order.  And, like a good parent who recognizes children can have a sense of independence and strong will as well as discipline and mindful manners, I make room for both—the routine I know I need as well as the room to break out: be adventurous, make messes, start new projects. 

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I do have a good standard of steady routine that reminds me how grounding it can be.  For three years in college, I lived with my grandparents, and while sadly at the time I often viewed their repetitive routines and un-spectacular small town life as confining, that small town life swallowed me in a way I needed to be consumed—in a teaching, saving, comforting, soul-hugging way that straightened out some confusion and promised “Honey, you’re going to remember this.” I was a flailing newborn of an identity-confused teenager, and the structure of an eighty-four-year-old couple’s small town life swaddled me with some sense of serenity.

First of all, Spring Arbor, Michigan is small.  There was Hutch’s grocery store, a family-owned hardware, an A&W and a very big church circled by a very small college.  And corn fields and deer–the ones that survived my family’s fenders.  If you were having a bad day and say, wanted to go buy a pair of shoes to feel better (moot point for a poor college student, but still try on shoes), there was Weatherwax Drugs where maybe, if you were lucky, you’d find those pull-over-your-shoes galoshes.

Craving adventure and spontaneity, sometimes I’d skip a class and head east to the city of Jackson which, unlike Spring Arbor, offered at least a Target and a mall.  Fresh air for my thirst for life outside the church/country limits of Spring Arbor sometimes came in the form of a half hour stroll through Michael’s where I’d peruse the craft aisles and find comfort staring, ironically, into the happy world of Susan Branch stickers which exalted the very truths I thought I was escaping.  Illustrations of flowered teapots, straw gardening hats, cats sleeping in cozy chairs and curly handwritten quotes like “Home is where the Heart Is” portrayed a contrasting calm to my restlessness. It was the contentment I craved and yet, had I stopped looking, chasing, clawing to get away, perhaps I would have realized it was the contentment I possessed.

Every day was pretty much the same:  weak coffee at 7:30, breakfast trays accompanied by morning news, a reading from the Daily Bread, prayer, kitchen clean-up, more quiet reading or maybe crossword puzzles, a short load of laundry, yard work in the summer or indoor work in the winter, a sensible lunch, clean-up, rest, tidy up again, dinner around the table, and finally the evening ham radio session followed by a little TV and then off to bed.  Bills were mailed out the same day they arrived, lists were crossed off the same day they were created.  Needs were anticipated before they occurred rather than frantically reacting to them.  In other words, toilet paper was never used in place of Kleenex, coffee filters were never substituted with torn paper towel. My grandparents knew what they liked and were not wooed by new-fangled products or colorful sales tactics.  Same Vidalia Onion salad dressing in the fridge, same Fig Newtons in the cookie jar, same awful thick peach nectar for breakfast.  Once in a great while, my grandma would rearrange the living room by moving one armchair, switching a footstool and trading out a few grandkids school pictures for different ones.  The carpet was old but clean, the furniture outdated yet charming.  And no matter how many new scents PineSol came out with, Grandma loyally stuck to Barkeeper’s Friend—the canned powder version—for cleaning kitchen and floors.  Why fix what’s not broken?

I attended classes in the midst of all this but was home enough to feel the sameness of their days.  And though I escaped to Jackson when I needed to breathe and made remarks about my post-graduate commitment to never ever live in Spring Arbor, promising instead to entertain a very exciting, adventurous life, I couldn’t deny the fact that there was comfort in the little house on Dorothy Lane and the routines that dwelled there.  They pulled the prefixes off my twenty-one-year old insecurity and uncertainty and prepped me for the world that would follow.

Life is excusably more hectic today—little kids, more responsibilities, more distractors, Squinkies everywhere.  I still bolt for adventure, start too many spray painting projects and stress over lists.  I admit, I am still wooed by PineSol’s new scents and am lucky if we even have cookies in our cookie jar, not to mention the same ones every time.  But there is the anchor of home life and the comforts of routine that ground me.  Even the little things—the quilts I’m drawn to, the crocheting I want to take up, that Ima gonna take your Grandma’s style I can’t get away from—it’s a piece of the past, homey calming totems that give good representation to the simplicity and order of old-fashioned life.   

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In an overstimulating world of Internet access and iPhones that can quickly tangle us up, the refuge I seek often looks a lot like those three years I spent with my grandparents.  Familiar routines, small meaningful tasks, the ability to sit through a meditation session without a stream of THINKING (we’ll get there).  Structure and routine aren’t boring—they’re the stability I need in my life that allow me to adventurously fly away when necessary without that sinking feeling that if I fall, there’s nothing there to catch me. 

So, we feed both needs.  Creative messes, spontaneous road trips, rearranging the living room again and scouting out new projects–things that are continually softened by unchanging morning routines, bed time stories, quilts, lists, sticking to a good work schedule and attempting to find ways that work for me to be more organized and consistent.  Afternoon tea and a clean bathtub help.

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It doesn’t have to be either/or.  It’s most definitely one of those both situations.  I am an adventurous life-loving creative who makes messes, veers from schedules and loses lists but knows a good thing when she sees it.  And that house on Dorothy Lane with its sameness and smallness and you-know-you-want-to-come-back-homeness was a very, very good thing.

Someday, when I rock a silver bun and only use Barkeeper’s Friend in my kitchen, I’m totally going to do crossword puzzles every day.