In unschooling, our attitudes toward all sorts of things are fodder for examination. Especially when something is a trigger - it means we need to take a closer look. Whether it be a dirty basement or a child who can't do long division, why does something send us into a panic? Why do we get angry? Or resentful? Or pitch fits, or stick out our lower lips, or whine to our friends about how bad we have it? Or all of the above? Where do these feelings come from, that seem to rise out of nowhere? Mine breathe fire and have two heads.
My task today was cleaning the house. I could feel my exasperation rising (along with its partner, resentment) after I'd spent all morning picking things up just so I *could* clean. I asked the kids for help, and they kindly obliged. Ok, feeling better. But then I started cleaning the basement.
If I had to rank all the things I hate doing, cleaning the basement would arm wrestle against cleaning the garage - and win. It would trounce mowing the lawn and even throw a knock-out one-two at ol' cleaning the shed, because at least I can be outside for the shed and let the wind carry away the clouds of dust and icky stuff. It trumps laundry and bathroom cleaning and cleaning up dog vomit for the grand prize of "Most hated chore." It really harshes my mellow, man.
It's an all-day event, which means it doesn't get done very often (both a cause AND an effect). But I avoid it like the plague. I will stay out of the basement for weeks at a time because I know if I see it, I'll morph into my evil twin, "Clean Freak Me." Clean Freak Me often can't go outside without suddenly finding herself on hands and needs pulling weeds along the edge of a flower bed (or two, or seven). Or can't pass a countertop without whisking dirty dishes into the sink or taking a quick swipe with a dishcloth. Or put away new groceries without cleaning out the fridge. So she can't enter the basement - at all - unless she's got something like 4-8 hours on her hands and an itch to get jiggy with a dust rag.
But we have overnight guests coming in a few days, so it had to be done. The only guest bedroom is down there and it hadn't been assessed in such a very long time. It helps that the basement is nearly finished now, thanks to the diligence of Rob and Brady. But something about basements... they're just dustier than all get out, damper than damp, and bugs seem to like them. Before it was finished our basement was a giant free-for-all playroom, where every loud, obnoxious, extra-large toy ever given to us was banished. Despite my repeated attempts to separate the storage items from the playthings, my kids would rearrange everything they could find and I'd enter to find a labyrinth of stuff, everything covered with the sort of dust basements seem to belch on a daily basis. I used to warn people to enter at their own risk.
Now that it's morphed into living space, however, it needs to be cleaned. And more often than the toys-and-boxes-labyrinth of before. And that, frankly, really bums me out. Like I don't have enough stuff to clean. (There I go again, getting all poor-me.)
But I was proud of myself today - I didn't allow my simmer to boil over, and I didn't take out my anxieties on my kids as I would've done before. I asked for their help several times, and each time they did what I needed. (And then they'd silently slip away - smart kids.) And I recognized my irrational anger for what it is - a deeply worn habit, a burned neural pathway that'll take some work to overcome. Old habits are indeed hard to break, and I didn't like who I was while I was cleaning the basement and tempted to unleash my venom, but step one is to admit you have a problem and I'm there, baby, I'm so there.
Not too long ago, I was at a different stage in the "chill out" program. I'd begun sighing when frustrated. My sigh was the last calm before the storm and I didn't realize how often I was doing it. One day, both boys were in the kitchen and for some reason I sighed the kind of extra-loud sigh that meant I was growing exasperated, and Brady, probably 8 at the time, recognized the impending danger. He sternly told Jonathan to come with him and he rounded the corner (very sweet of him to save his younger brother, don't you think?). Jonathan, younger and less intuitive, asked why Brady was making him leave. And this is the exchange I overheard:
Brady: Did you hear that noise Mommy just made? That means she's getting frustrated.
Jonathan: Oh. I thought she just had too much air in her mouth.
I doubled over in hysterics, and after I'd wiped away my tears, stretched out my cramps from laughing, and composed myself, I apologized to the boys. And then I took stock of my behavior.I don't get huffy every time anymore, today was a lapse - a rather bad one. So I bit my tongue, took deep breaths, took a shower, and told Rob I needed some time to myself. He had the slightest curl of a smirk on his face, as he could see my struggle to fight my own inner demons, and we both laughed when I said I was so glad everyone was leaving when they left for a soccer meeting.
This is the mindful work I do. This is how I strive to be better. This is progress. (Believe it or not.)