The easiest solution would be an overly sentimental declaration of love accompanied by the hug of a sweet-smelling, soft-skinned, cherub faced human at the exact moment of the towel discovery. Knowing however that this conversion of events is unlikely to happen, one must find other means of coping with this annoyance “in the moment.”
It’s a real question. Yesterday I found said soaking towel. My “in the moment” was not filled with grace or peace or happiness. More like grumble, argh the cherub!, grumble.
I didn’t swear, or really say anything out loud. But it totally got under my skin. Mindful of the disproportionate share Mothers do in picking up other people’s messes, I wondered if the responsible children I was charged with raising were learning anything at all. Perhaps I was enabling. Perhaps I was raising entitled little brats. Without even meaning to, my imagination wandered off to sad daughter-in-laws picking up trails of my sons’ clothes.
No doubt we had covered Towel Etiquette 101. Wash before you use the towel. Hang it up when you’re done. Try not to use Mommy’s towel. We may have skipped: Don’t shower with your towel, but I thought this was implied with: Don’t shower with your clothes on. Apparently not.
I considered pretending I didn’t see it. I could have chosen not to pick it up, but my blood pressure had already been elevated. Plus the thought of a stinky towel only upped the ante. So I did would most of us would do (when the offender was out of the house.) I picked it up. I also wrung it out.
As I squeezed (too) hard making puddles in the tub, I asked myself the question I started with. While not to excuse or fail to correct the towel behavior, I wondered what it would take for me to not react in the same way next time. I really don’t want to get mad about towels. I want to save it for the big stuff.
My first thought was very basic. Show
gratitude. Be grateful that you have
a towel and a warm shower. The shower part's not
hard for me to think about having been to Africa. It’s probably not hard for those of you who
overnight camp to think about (not so much me on this one.) This approach actually works with just about
anything that is seeking to annoy you, but it does require practice. Gratitude for sunshine is easy. Gratitude for towels takes a little more association, but it too is possible. What if bath towels never existed and a hand towel was as big as it got.
My second thought took it a bit further. Celebrate
the action taken. I had failed to
appreciate that my son had done the thing that was asked of him – take a
shower. Stopping to take a shower when you are 6 years
old is hard. It would be like someone asking
you or me to put down our finds at an incredible one-day-only sample sale
because it was time to go. He’d done it
willingly, albeit incompletely. After all it was only two years ago when he
screamed having to put his head under the shower head. It
made me think of how easy it is to catch people on what they missed instead of
catching the fact that there were trying to do the right thing. Not to mention the distance these people, especially the annoying ones we love, have come.
The third thought came later. After the 6 year old was back in the house
and the issue of the towel was raised, I learned something. The boy-who-took-the-towel into the shower
with him wasn’t actually trying to pull my chain (I intellectually knew that
part, but it did come back up for brief consideration.) He was trying to find a wash cloth, but
couldn’t. He didn’t want to call for
help, so he did the next best thing he could think of – he used his towel as a
washcloth. Which leads me to that
third thought: Don’t rush to judgment. We
don’t always know what problems people are trying to solve for. People do dumb things, and not only are those
dumb things usually not malicious or personally directed, but they often make more
sense when the person is given the opportunity to explain. There are excuses, but then there are
thoughtful misfires. The latter category
is big for 6 year olds, and perhaps ... men. Did I just throw the entire gender under the bus? Yes, I think I did. Misfire ... but thoughtfully done.
The last thought was one that I often have to come back
around to as a parent. Assume a smiggin of personal responsibility. Had
I really ever explained what’s so bad about wet towels? Probably not. Yes, we all need to follow basic house
rules, but it wouldn’t hurt to explain why those rules are there in the first
place. Until you’ve paid for and then
encountered a stinky towel, you don’t know what the big fuss is all about. He too was dealing with incomplete
information. Could I have waited a few
hours and let the towel sit there and let natural consequences -- smelly mold,
little stocking feet in puddles – take their course? Sure, but I confess it’s often easier to make
problems go away more than it is to clean it up with another person. That whole "working it out together" takes time and patience. This is big for .... okay, for all of us.
Of course, no test is complete without a re-test. Right now the 6 year old is eating potato
chips without a bowl. He is being followed
by a trail of crumbs. And so --- I am
grateful for potato chips (especially these mustard potato chips) and vacuums. And guess what – I’m eating them too –
without a bowl.