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Snowbound and Housebound and New Year’s

IMG_0167With the New Year now underway and the snow now falling (and falling and the temperatures plummeting, no school for the rest of this week, as originally promised), I find myself thinking about how to make the most of a couple of housebound days after so many relatively house-and-people-bound days.

Side note: the visits and parties and hanging out of kids and teenagers and a few grownups here and there besides has been lovely. We’ve really, truly hung.

However, as I imagine some more truly snowbound time, with work knocking at my door and the wish to move my body knocking at my knees or heart or abs or something, I find myself on the morning of Snow Day Number One 2014 in a cartoonish battle with my New Year’s Resolutions.

Alongside “Take care of myself” and “Set firm, clear boundaries” are “Trust the other person’s process” and “Love ’em all loads.” Does this mean I should let the kids watch endless television so I can work and clean up and work out? Does this mean I should demand some help with the ongoing clean up? What about the towels my teenager used and left on his floor? Please picture a mountain of towels, not a molehill. Who washes those?

Aptly, I read an article this morning about how long it takes to form a new habit. Numerically, it’s between twenty-one and two hundred days. The wide range has to do with how difficult the behavior is for the habit former to acquire: to drink a glass of water is easier than to do fifty sit-ups after breakfast, at least for one water drinker and one sit-up doer. I read the article with hopes that from it I’d divine answers to my pressing question, which is whether to make everyone help clean up the house today since we are housebound and since the house can use some help—and so can I—or to let them be and do my thing (which will include some house re-orderliness).

Our housebound-ness has come all too soon, long before I can grapple with the inherent juxtapositions amongst my New Year’s Resolutions. For example, I’d expected today to be a school day, during which I’d do my work and some laundry in relative peace and quiet (for the first time in nearly two weeks) and at a pace that allowed for a few breaths.

Instead, here comes a crying five-year-old child. One who isn’t at school and is upset and now … cue the mama picking up a crying five year-old child. (In real time, I picked her up, quieted her down and decided that we both needed a few minutes to ourselves).

Voila, I am back. The television is on upstairs for one twenty-minute show. Inhale. Exhale.

What I’ve realized over this suddenly elongated holiday chute is this: friendships are critical and my kids do have wonderful friendships. I count as examples the small children here and the time my small child has ended up at other people’s houses or activities. I count the many teens here for long stretches. I count the sleepover on New Year’s Eve during which my fifth grader fell asleep and my husband, myself and my tenth grader entertained the still-awake fifth grader. And on like that. We, the adults, have wonderful friendships—and it turns out that our lives are rich and full right there, full stop. We saw people at parties and gatherings and just here and there and also around kids and we are categorically in the top one percent for good friend fortune. Since we are much older than our kids, I know for a fact now that as long as they have friends, their lives will pan out—and those skills, the ones that make friends and work through playdate mini-drama and adolescent drama (melodrama or otherwise) will ensure a level of happiness that lets me breathe about my children’s wholeness and wellness and will enable me to let go to watch them sail. That’s all the most important “stuff.”

But then, there’s today. In terms of this resolution to set firm, clear boundaries, I won’t clear the dishes that taunt me on the dining room table from last night’s late night teen snack nor the brand-new Panini maker on the kitchen counter. I will insist the teens deal with those. I’ll unload the dishwasher and make sure that there is more bread, cheese and milk today (but I probably will send the hubs to get it or do so on foot; I don’t think I’ll drive). I think I’ll wash some of those towels. The article on habit formation explains that acting without thinking, which in science is called “automaticity” is the “central driver of habits.” It’s January second and I have a long way to go to set clear, firm boundaries without a second thought. At least the year is young. And at least the towels are out of my sightline.

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This entry was written by Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

About the author: Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times, Brain, Child Magazine, and Salon, amongst others. Follow her on twitter–@standshadows.

Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

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