Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Sweating the Small Stuff

I had a Hungarian grandmother.  I can still see her strong arms rolling out a sheet of dough and cutting it in strips for her sweet cheese and raisin kugel (casserole).  And if the wind is right, I can just about smell the secret spices in her chicken paprikash as it bubbles on the stove.

She also gifted me with her white glove test.  You know -- running a gloved finger over a counter top to test for spotlessness.  Her standards for cleanliness bordered on psychotic.  Dust and dirt specs did not stand a chance.  They were captured and ejected almost before they hit the floor.  If she had a mop in her hand, you wanted to be sure you were in another part of the house and not vulnerable to her manic, but oh so powerful, swings.

I am not like her.  I swear.  My standards are lower.  I let dust settle for at least a few hours before I banish it.  OK.  I like clean.  To see a string of rooms, all in order, with floors shining and  pillows plumped, gives me ridiculous satisfaction.

Part of this tendency comes from grandma.  But another part of it comes from being sick.  When I get stricken by a pain flare up, I go down.  I tend to spend a lot of time in one place trying to relax the pain away or drug it down.  My world shrinks to the room I am in, and my safety totems become the objects in that room.  Clean space matters.  It gives me hope.

So when Richard, my husband, puts a wet drink glass down on our granite counter top, again,  after I've asked him not to three times in the past ten days, I get upset.  It leaves a circular ring where the base of the glass rests on the granite.  And it takes work to make the mark disappear.  I really do get upset, and I insist on showing him how hard it is to remove the mark.  I ask him repeatedly, "Why do you have to leave a wet glass on the countertop?"  A silly question, I know.  What could the answer possibly be?  "I was attacked by an army of dust mites and had to put the glass down to defend myself!"

It doesn't really matter why.  What matters is that he caused a disturbance in my spacial equilibrium.  If my home is in balance, maybe I can be too.  If everything is in its place, maybe my pain will also be in its place - in a corner of a locked and forgotten trunk in the recesses of a dark basement room.

Sometimes it's OK to sweat the small stuff.  Some small stuff has meaning and is worthy of attention.  And if you allow yourself to be curious about the small stuff, it may just reveal its underlying message to you.  The message that says: "You're OK.  And it's OK to get upset because this means something to you."

Sometimes a glass ring on countertop is more than just a glass ring.


Helena said...

Loved this post Barbara and oh boy can I relate! When my body, my relationships and the world at large feel out of control, then a clean and organized room soothes my frazzled nerves and restores my sanity. I so get it! :)

Chronic Mom said...

I completly relate to this. I love for everything to be clean and organized. A lot of that has gone by the wayside since I got sick, but one thing I always keep spotless is the kitchen. My husband loves to make toast and then butter it on the counter (and not clean it up) and it drives me crazy! He has no idea why such a small thing drives me nuts, but I have to maintain my control over the cleanliness of my kitchen.

Barbara Kivowitz said...

Thanks Helena and Chronic Mom. Order and control over one's environment matter when there are important other areas over which we have no control.

CM - bread crumbs on the counter! yuck. Sometimes I find dribbles of honey - also yuck