Why We Sweat the Small Stuff

I’m moving like sludge and wondering if the ladder is still sitting in the middle of the room. My son’s room.

It’s later than usual and I need that first cup of coffee badly, and I step around the stacks of books to make my way to the kitchen. Good. The ladder is propped against the side of the fridge. Where it usually is. I spoon out Espresso Roast and pour the water into Mr. Coffee. I flick the little black switch, wait impatiently, and can’t help but be aware of the scampering and knocking about overhead. In the attic. Squirrels again, dammit.

I listen to the last spit and gurgle of the coffee, consciously breaking my own rule. It will be a three cup day and I know it, downing the first gulps and replaying the scene in my head: my son’s serious expression when he walked into the bedroom after a very long day.

My immediate response, seeing his face – relief mixed with concern – clearly he was alright, but something had happened.

“Just life”

Oh, as crises go it wasn’t much. But in the thick of it, in the hours of frustration and scrambling, even if you know it’s just one more thing in an onslaught of inconveniences to weather – you’re worn out from having to sweat the small stuff along with the big stuff because there is no buffer, no reserve of resources, no support staff, and no end in sight to any of it.

It’s a hole in the ceiling, I tell myself, trying to stay calm.

A hole, with a heavy fixture dangling dangerously from gnarly looking wires. Bits of insulation floating around my teenager’s room. His worried expression and irritation, as he tries repeatedly to reattach the light, as we both take turns on the ladder and with the only screwdriver we can find after an absurd search through toolboxes, accompanied by a YouTube video running nearby, looping through Do-It-Yourself wiring, lest we inadvertently electrocute ourselves.

We realize it’s comical. And it’s not. It’s all too typical around here.

The tally (lately)

There was the total meltdown of all computers in the house six weeks ago. Countless hours, immeasurable stress, and $1200 on my credit card.

There was the car, two weeks ago. Three days of worry and inconvenience, and thanks to a warranty, that total was just under $100.

Yesterday there were the six stops and constant errands before my son’s summer program begins. We only purchased a handful of the supplies necessary, but I still ran up another $150 in credit, and there will be more expenses when we arrive on campus to get him what’s required. (We’ll just ignore the cost of getting there and back, for now.)

The money pit, and the money pit

We all know that children are expensive. We just don’t realize how expensive, though most of us will give the shirts off our backs to do right by them.

As for a house? The quintessential money pit. And here I must admit, during the years I was married, we followed traditional gender roles. I cooked and cared for the children. Of course, I also brought in a fat corporate income during those years. As for the father of my sons, he worked and traveled, played tennis with our little boys on the weekends, and fixed things in the house.

He fixed everything.

And so, I never learned how. And I’m getting older. And I’m not strong. I need help. And this reality is one more reminder of being alone after all these years. Alone as an adult. Alone as a woman.

Hole in the ceiling, hole in my head

I needed that hole in the ceiling like a hole in the head. Which explains why I have this headache, why it was impossible to sleep, why the tools are tossed in a corner of the kitchen, why I finally slept but late, why my coffee is late, why my writing is late, why my everything-critical-to-get-done-today will be very, very late. 

But the hole in the ceiling is fixed. It took hours, the kindness of a very tired physician and his ingenuity, and I once again found myself in that utterly frustrating place of gender-based helplessness, single parent helplessness, and the all too familiar limbo between tears and laughter. Especially when I saw how difficult a repair task it turned out to be.

Why small stuff isn’t small, and pop psychology should take a hike

I sweat the small stuff. Sort of.

The mess in my house? It drives me nuts – but I live with it. The other small stuff? I do indeed sweat it, because it’s the unrelenting chain of little things that beats us up, wears us down, drains our bank accounts, and knocks us off our trajectories to wherever it was we thought we were going, once.

“Don’t sweat the small stuff” may offer sound advice in moderate circumstances; as we grow more capable and more mature in jobs and relationships, we gain perspective, letting little things go so we may focus on the bigger picture. To remain positive, and to accomplish more.

As parents, we learn that sweating the small stuff doesn’t work. We reach the point where a day without a trip to the emergency room can seem like a victory. Hell, it is a victory.

Real life

In real life, the small stuff is big stuff: the accumulation of broken fixtures, car troubles, sink holes, limbs on the roof, flooding hot water heaters, dead dishwashers, chauffeuring kids, looking for work, braces that require another six months, $800 for wisdom teeth not covered by insurance, the mouse in the house, the zapped computers, the bills, the bills, the bills.

And if you’re single and beginning to feel a little older? Trying not to impose on the same few people in your life? Trying to hold it together when you’re at the end of your rope again? Trying to find the funny, even as you flail about with one more thing you don’t know how to do?

You sweat. Believe me, you sweat.

Small stuff, great kindness

It’s small stuff, I tell myself.

I take a deep breath. I start the laundry. I pop a Motrin, and wonder how I’ll get through this day, and tomorrow, and the next.

I hope the ceiling light in my kid’s room will hold. I listen to the critters playing on the floorboards overhead, and I put on another pot of coffee. I tell myself “don’t sweat the small stuff,” because somehow, I feel better saying the words, and I’m grateful that kindness is alive and well, even if I’m lying in a pool of my own perspiration.

© D A Wolf