Dearest Rachel –
So the folks have developed this routine of inviting us over almost every Thursday night. It’s really not unlike back in the days when you would be visiting your parents for a week, or those times you would go on women’s retreats, or any other point in which you were away from the house for an extended period of time. At one point, I think they didn’t trust me to cook properly for the two of us, but now, it’s more like mom is trying to stay in practice, as she does not do much cooking for herself these days (since dad is still on the feeding tube for the most part). Ironically, she didn’t cook for us tonight, as – and I forget whether she had surgery of some sort or not – she had been instructed by her doctor to take things easy. No heavy lifting, no bending over, no major exertion of any sort. So they had brought in pizza from Lou Malnati’s (And, just as a brief aside, it might amuse you to note that Siri capitalized “Pizza” when I referred to it in terms of being from Lou’s. Say what you will about Siri, she apparently knows what qualifies as “Pizza”).
Afterwards, we will sit around in the family room, and discuss the events of the past few days and how the two of us are coping with your loss, and many of the other developments that I write you about. Only this time, they’ve gotten ahead of you, because I really haven’t been able to figure out how to express to you the difficulties I’ve had in trying to change the way I parent.
For all the changes that I’m trying to undertake in my life, in the house, and all that, I can’t really figure out how to get Daniel on board with any of them. To a certain extent, that shouldn’t be a problem, since I’ve never really relied on him to get anything done around the house. If something needs to be picked up, if somewhere needs to be tended to (whether inside or out), I would just rely on the old maxim about “if you want something done right,” and do it myself.
Apparently, that approach is not how you build a functional adult.
This is been brought home to me by Jan yesterday afternoon. Even as she commended me for the work in the sunroom (particularly my giving up on that huge laser printer I bought secondhand from work – there’s another $25 wasted), as she continued on into the dining room and family room, she expressed dismay at what she considered to be clutter surrounding Daniel’s rocking chair, and how I needed to get him on board with the cleanup process, and maintain the order in his own area going forward.
Now, you would probably look at this and say, what’s to complain about? This is so much better than I remember it being. And it is. But it’s still so much worse than the surrounding area, and suddenly, this small amount of clutter looks all the worse in a room – in a house – that is now decidedly more orderly than it once was.
Since Daniel was holed up in his room (or in the bathroom) the whole time Jan was here yesterday, I took the opportunity of talking to him about the situation after dinner with the folks, and in front of them. I probably shouldn’t have done that, as this was supposed to be a moment of refreshment, a time for us to take it easy, to enjoy their company and vice versa.
But to a certain extent, I needed to do it in front of them. Partly to serve as back up, and to prove to him that I’m not being overly harsh, despite the fact that I’m being considerably more so then I ever was – or, more to the point, than we ever were. The fact of the matter is, whatever I might say that he needs to do, I know they’ll agree with me, and he needs to know that. I think he respects their opinion much more than mine.
The other reason is a little darker, but I’m sure you’ll understand when I say it: I don’t trust myself in a one-on-one confrontation with him (and yes, this would result in a confrontation). I am afraid of my own temper, what I might say, the tone I might take, in telling him he needs to change his ways. I am impatient, and in frustrated trying to force him to do what he needs to do. And as much as everybody tells me it’s not “forcing” as much as getting him to obey, the fact is that I’m having him do something he clearly does not want to do. If that’s not the definition of forcing a behavior, I don’t know what is.
We never required him to do anything he didn’t want to. Mostly because we were as culpable for the mess (if not more so), and had no leg to stand on as far as asking him to pick up after himself, since we would be making him do some thing that we weren’t doing. You can’t be a hypocrite when you’re a parent: kids see right through that.
Now of course, things have changed and changed dramatically. It’s just me here, and with Jan’s help and encouragement (to put it mildly), things are getting done. Now, I have some weight behind my request, as it’s not like I’m asking him to do something that I’m not. But, just as his condition doesn’t allow him to deal well with any change in his surroundings, so too is he not ready to accept and respond to the change in myself.
The way I see it, he associates clutter with Home. A home without clutter isn’t home to him. And so he surrounds himself with however much he can in order to create some last refuge as Jan and I strip the house of so much of what makes it a home. That amount may be diminishing, to be sure, but it’s still there. In fact, as I said earlier, it’s all that more noticeable compared to the rest of the house.
And I’ll be honest, I’ve had so much practice overlooking the clutter, that the relatively small amount that surrounds his chair doesn’t particularly faze me. But if it bothers someone else, I think I need to take that into account going forward. Someday, he will be dealing with other people than myself; someday, I will be gone, and, Lord willing, he will have someone else in his life. And she may not be as amenable to the mess as you and I have. And he needs to be able to deal with it before it becomes a problem for him and… whoever she might be.
And it’s not just the basic piles that we have lived with for so long. I also have to establish habits in him going forward that we never bothered to do during his childhood. Things like picking up after himself.
So yeah, I need to teach him basic maintenance. That was never an issue when the rooms themselves were in no condition to be maintained, but now that they are, well…
And with being said, we are also running out of rooms to clean. We will need to start in on his bedroom soon, and dealing with all the things that are in there.
That includes applying her maxim about whether he’s using something – or intends to use it in the future – and keeping, storing or disposing of it accordingly. We want to make it a room that he can use. And while, as part of his objections, he claims that it doesn’t use it because it lacks certain things that exist in the family room, the fact is that those things – a recliner/rocker (that had been in the yellow room, and is now waiting for him in the office), a television (which he never watches in the family room on his own, but in either case, we could install in his room once we get things sorted out), and the like – could all be made a part of his own room if he wants them. But in order to add things he might want, we need to go through the place as it is, and remove what no longer suits him – and indeed, has not suited him for so very long, given the many years he has claimed the family room as his effective sleeping quarters.
He has, in fact, suggested that once we had the entire house cleaned, we invite all of our friends – be they from college or church or wherever – and have this grand reopening housewarming party. Which is an amazing thing to have come from him, considering his basic nature as an introverted homebody. But he really is looking forward to it. The thing is, in order for that to happen all the rooms in the house need to be cleaned. That includes his. And that’s what we have left at this point. I need to make him more of a participant in the cleaning process, and to get him to establish a habit of keeping his spaces clean going forward.
Wish me luck, honey. These days will take wisdom and strength, things that I have in distressingly short supply these days.