“The best things in life are nearest: Breath in your nostrils, light in your eyes, flowers at your feet, duties at your hand, the path of right just before you. Then do not grasp at the stars, but do life’s plain, common work as it comes, certain that daily duties and daily bread are the sweetest things in life.” ~Robert Louis Stevenson
Sometimes simple sounds simple in theory but is not quite so simple at all. This is a recurring theme lately, proving itself to be true in nearly every corner and groove of life. There are cookbooks collecting dust in an abandoned cupboard. They promised sweet things like “quick and easy” recipes “fast dinners”, and simple meals for the simple cook. Not simple enough, I say, to keep the men of the household from gagging and the lady of the kitchen from wanting those forty-seven minutes of pot-stirring back. There are trainers clad in sports bras yell-counting from my TV screen. I believe their muscled guarantees that this is the simple way to a rocking derriere. It takes a set of squats and heavy arm curls. It takes that moment of panic when I cannot return to the standing position and unlock my worried elbows for me to understand that this is nothing if not very,very complicated.
Of course there are self-imposed directions to Easy Street as well. I assure myself that daunting tasks are not so scary after all, and I am capable of all things all the time. I will complete a hefty yard makeover during baby’s thirty-minute nap. I will clean the ever-loving dust from this house until the floors shine and the ceiling fans waft gusts of bleachy air. I will “whip up” a meal so savory that the “only thing she makes for dinner is reservations” joke will be cast on some other, less crafty domestic failure. I will live simply… simply awesome.
It took a near-fatal bout of weeding for me to find the answer to life’s most basic question:
WHY IS YOU SO HARD? ALL THE TIME SO HARD?
I casually informed the toddler that I would be weeding “real quick”. I would “knock it out” and “be done in a minute”. Weeding, the simple act of pulling uninvited guests from one’s flowerbeds, is as basic a job as breathing, I concluded. I could tackle this easy peasy chore without breaking a sweat.
But out came the sun bringing to light my secret ability to sweat like a lumberjack in a parka. I did, in fact, break a lot of sweat and probably my knee as I performed an acrobatic twist to pluck a gnarly root while simultaneously kicking dry leaves from the soil. And then there were thorns. There were piles of deceased leaves heaped in burial mounds under the bushes. There were weeds tangled under weeds sprouting along a woven surface of weeds which neighbored weeds and more weeds. Tapestry of weeds told the story of a gardener’s demise.
The first hour mark was met with a few tears disguised as debris in my eyes and a two-by-three foot patch of earth torn to pieces. Just as I’d spent so many hours wielding a mop or a spatula, the thought came flooding back: Surely I am further along. Surely more’s been done here. I was awash in my own failure, feeling that the effort-to-results ratio was tilting towards the latter by one million and two percent. I forged ahead, unable to let myself off the hook. I would complete my simple task, even after learning that there was no simple to be found.
Five hours and thirty-six minutes later, I slumped against the garage door. My yard looked remarkably weedless, but still filled with dirt and not at all like the After shots of those yards shown on television. There were still trees that needed trimming, monkey grass to be fluffed, and a slew of other simple tasks to be checked off my list. As I dug mulch from my belly button and wondered if I had time to cry before making dinner, Life asked a question of me:
WHY YOU MAKE THINGS SO HARD? ALL THE TIME SO HARD?
Humph. And Humph. You got me, Life. Girl, you really got me. That night I made a list of stresses that were surprisingly meant to be simple.
THINGS THAT SHOULD NOT MAKE YOU HAVE A HEART ATTACK BUT DO. CHEST CLINCHERS:
3. Interacting With Humans
5. All Life
I found that my List of Simple had fallen victim to my need to overdo, to perfect and win. I had sucked the simple out of every ounce of daily life and sat in shock and wonder as to how this little life of mine could feel so overwhelming. Simple is as stupid doesn’t. And I doesn’t. A more accurate list of my ordinary life reveals the truth:
THINGS THAT I DO THAT BEG FOR A HEART ATTACK. BRAIN FARTS:
1. Cleaning: Must clean all the things in no time. Must have perfect house because perfect house is now my full-time job. I miss my desk, my name tag, and the office cleaning lady.
2. Cooking: Must feed the entire family. All mouths watching. Better not food poison folks. How do you boil an egg?
3. Interacting With Humans: I feel awful for not remembering to wear a bra so I will assume you are noticing my lack of support as you try to make small talk with me. I will feel the need to win you over with a joke or maybe a flowery compliment to distract you from my wild bosom. I’m breaking out in hives because I forgot all my good jokes and can’t stop insecurely staring at my own, free-falling tatas.
4. Parenting: Your nap-schedule is off and now you want to go to sleep too early without eating anything. This is probably because the supper I cooked for you was inedible and I can feel your little baby eyes judging me and I’m so sorry you got stuck with the mom who forgets your sleep habits and serves you mushy peas.
5. All Life: The feeling of failing before I’ve even gotten started.
Neurotic, no? I chased Simplicity and sought out Easy and Calm by strangling Life within an inch of its, well, life. Much to the relief of a tense house and mutilated yard, I actively deactivated my weekend. I informed my mandatory Jog that there would be only walking, leisurely strolling, really, and I would celebrate my lack of heightened heart rate by singing along with the iPod. Supper spat smoke from the griddle. I dumped it down the sink and fed my child a hand-bought corn dog. Instinctively, I rushed for a broom before releasing my death-grip from its handle, sparing the crumbs so they might live to dirty things up another day. I told my hair products to kindly shove it, opting instead to let the grizzly mullet fall as she may. I sat, plump-baby-smelling-of-artificial-beef-product-in-my-lap, and we stared with easy eyes.
We watched the weeds grow.