I have a common and easily identifiable disorder known as Anal Retentive Disorder. It’s almost as common as a runny nose but harder to cure. How do you diagnose it, you ask?
Does organizing your child’s toys by type/category provide you satisfaction like no other? Does an unruly spice cabinet make you queasy? Do you arrange your perfumes/colognes on your dresser by height? Do you feel the need to organize and plan every detail of life? Then you have Anal Retentive Disorder. This disorder can very nicely appear on your resume as “strong organizational and project management skills” or as “perfectionism” when asked about your biggest weakness in a job interview (seriously, don’t say that, it just sounds douchey). It is however a huge issue if you have decided to walk into the hurricane called parenting.
I generally pride myself in my ability to have my shit together most of the time. I am a compartmentalizer, a do-er, a checklist-er, a no-project-left-behind kind of person. At work, I have a clean desk and a clean inbox and checklists and labels coming out of my behind. I always marvel at people who can function in messes and wish I could be more like them (it’s a lot less exhausting). I once peered over my co-worker’s shoulder to see 1500 unread messages and no form of folder organization in her inbox and I started hyperventilating. No folders in your inbox? What are you, a Neanderthal?
My need to be organized means I have trouble doing activities with my child that hold the potential of getting messy. It’s hard for me to enjoy arts and crafts or cooking with her – or life in general. If a certain crafty activity requires a certain result, and she doesn’t do it correctly or doesn’t complete the craft to fruition, my right eye starts twitching dangerously. Must. Complete. And. Make. A. Paper. Lantern. I love artsy projects but when I do them myself, I am meticulous and have a vision in mind. When my daughter does them, I have a hard time accepting the fact that it’s going to look like someone smeared paint on their butt and then fell onto a piece of construction paper. No need to break down my psyche and need for control and its eventual consequences on my child; I am fully aware of my own crazy.
Most toddlers love to help parents cook and are fascinated by the process. While I will sometimes let my daughter bake with me, the inevitable mess she makes drives me nuts. I can’t stand how much longer the process takes, not to mention the clean up. And at some point when she’s about to stick her foot in the batter or lick the spatula, I will turn into Momzilla. I understand that it’s meaningful time together and teaches them essential skills but I just really want my brownies to be foot-free.
Mind you, on occasion, cheered (misled) by some Pinterest post or craftsy-mommy blog, I have taken on a messy activity with the spawn. Things like letting her play with flour, making homemade playdough, painting with foam, or some other kind of sensory shit that is outright disgusting. Each time we do an activity like that, I put on a hazmat suit, pick up my daughter with giant pincers and hose her down with hydrochloric acid in the backyard. Then I am finding flour/playdough/unknown gooey stuff in corners of the kitchen and crevices of my body. I always regret the activity before, during and after so I’ve really stopped doing them.
So the other day, I was home alone with her and I was out of ginger-garlic paste. It is an essential ingredient for all types of cuisines and I always have some on hand. If you were raised in a South Asian household, there is an empty yogurt/sour cream/margarine container in your fridge with ginger-garlic paste in it because everyone knows that plastic containers in a South Asian household are deceptive S.O.Bs and can contain anything from chicken stock, frozen curries, buttons to dismembered toes. (When you come from a place with scarce resources, you tend to become resourceful at reusing everything, including, but not limited to, dismembered toes). But I digress. In any case, I wasn’t able to find pre-peeled garlic so Sunday morning, I was staring at a mountain of garlic waiting to be disrobed.
Normally this is how this process would go with my 3 year old:
– Spawn, go play by yourself. Mama has this thing to do.
– Mama, can you help me with coloring?
– Go figure it out yourself.
– Mummy, can I have yogurt?
– Here, now go away.
– Mama, can I play with iPat?
– No you can’t
– Mummy, can I watch Dola?
– No, you can’t
– Mommy, can I call Nano on Skype?
– Nope she’s busy.
– Mommy can I help you?
– No you can’t.
– Mummy, mummy, mommy, mommy, mom, mom, mom, mom… (she’s hanging off my pants).
– I throw a fistful of garlic in the air and wish God had never made any and if He had, we didn’t discover that it had to be used in curry, and if we had, then why God, why would you make it in tiny bulbs and insulate each freaking piece separately? Why do we even need to cook, or eat anything? Why can’t we be like robots? Artificial intelligence is the future. They’re gonna take over the world one day. They’re gonna kill us all aren’t they? Yup, we’re all gonna die at the hands of robots. All because of unpeeled garlic.
Instead of going down this apocalyptic spiral, this time, I decided to involve the spawn in the process. I got her to sit next to me while I went through my pile of garlic. And she was actually quite helpful. Who knew 3-year olds could be useful. She peeled away the outside skin, took apart the cloves with her mighty, tiny fingers and tossed out all the feathery, garlic skins at the end. In turn, she learnt what garlic smells like, what kind of texture it has, how it naturally appears. It polished up her fine motor skills. Was there a mess made? Sure there was. Was I picking out garlic skin from my ear afterwards? Sure I was. Might she have licked some of the garlic during the process? Sure she did. (That’s OK because saliva evaporates during cooking, I think.)
Clean up took longer but I didn’t mind because an otherwise mundane activity ended up being fun and went a lot faster because I involved my toddler in it. Most importantly, I didn’t have a mental breakdown because the robots were coming. She looked so happy with her accomplishment that I didn’t even mind her garlic breath afterwards. So the lesson is: give up control and turn your free-loading, useless children into your understudies and sous-chefs so they do their due share. It teaches them hands on lessons and prevents you from turning into Momzilla. To quote the chick from Frozen, “Let it go”.