Thursday, March 27, 2014

Experiment #16: Reusable "Paper" Towels, Fancy Cups and Messy Clothes

Practicing Imperfection

So this isn't one of my typical experiment posts. But I'm having one of those of those months. Where I feel the weight of my responsibilities acutely, piercingly. There is a constant sense that regardless how carefully I consider things, how much I seek and pray and listen, how much I research, analyze and discuss, that someone important will disapprove. Someone whose opinion matters will think I have miscalculated, misjudged, messed up.

Someone will misunderstand me. Someone will think I am incompetent.

I have a fervent need to understand others and be understood. This intense need drives me to ask lots of pointed and direct questions and has managed to cause both the majority of conflicts and resolutions in my life. Consequently, it really bothers me if someone has been hurt by me or thinks poorly of me (or if I even think they might be hurt by or think poorly of me) because they misunderstood something I said or did. I have even been known to get out of bed at 3am to compose an email of explanation and apology to an offended party.

While this may seem like an excellent quality, much of that intense need to clear up misunderstanding is that I am afraid to be thought incompetent. I need people to know that I didn't intend to hurt them. I need them to know I have thought through and researched my decisions. This unrealistic need affects what I am willing to share. For example, "Christian" has come to be associated with so many things unrelated to what I live, I have a particularly hard time discussing my faith without first providing sufficient context. I just need people to understand, if not support, my decisions.

But if I'm really gut-level honest, it's not the fear of being thought incompetent that drives much of what I do, but the fear of actually being found incompetent.

Because then someone will know I am actually incompetent. 

I have never liked to do things that I'm not good at; it is very hard to for me to publicly fail. I'm fine with "good enough," but failure is intolerable. My face still reddens and I feel a little like puking to admit publicly that I would even occasionally "forget" to mark down all my strokes when I was playing on the golf team in high school because it was so important that I not be seen as a failure. While I felt guilty, I felt justified in burying my dishonesty for years because my omissions never affected my standings; they just made me occasionally look better than I was. It is still terrifying for me to put this in writing online.  As a 33 year-old woman, of course, I could care less about my high school golf scores. But my fear is that now my integrity is tarnished. I cheated. I failed.

The themes of failure and being real have been bombarding me on a nearly daily basis lately; in the book, Beyond Ordinary, that I just finished, the book, Dancing Through It, I'm reading now, in the soundtrack to Frozen that plays on repeat at my house, periodic blog posts, conversations with my kids, even in a random conversation with a new Amish friend.

The message: there is a freedom that comes only when that thing you most fear is exposed, moving from deep, hiding darkness into the light. 

It is not comfortable. It is not fun. It may even hurt you and others deeply. But it is freeing. Because now they knooooooow...Let it go!

Seriously, though, I think there is freedom because being real (and publicly failing) is fundamental to having lasting, true and deep relationships. It is so important to let others see your incompetence. It is not enough to just tell them about it.  When others see imperfection, they have license to be imperfect themselves.

But it's hard to be real when it means you have to mess up in front of others, not just talk about how you mess up. It's much more uncomfortable to bend over in a deathly quiet room and blasts flatulence like a trumpet (yes, that recently happened) than to laugh about it later. Or to be caught shaming your kids or exploiting your husband's insecurities. Or just to have an unexpected visitor walk into your ammonia-smelling-horse-barn-like-bathroom-from-diapers-that-should-have-been-washed-two-days-ago. But those people I love the most and who love me the most are the ones who have seen me at my ugliest. And really, sometimes those things we are most embarrassed about seem minor, even ridiculous, to others.

I have at least two perfectionist daughters (the jury's still out on Lidia). I want them to grow up knowing they can be free to let it go, too. Being allowed to make mistakes is crucial for children in more than just relationships. As Ken Robinson says in his landmark TED talk, the fear of failure stifles creative development and innovation. So we are trying to integrate ways to allow us all to practice imperfection safely and (sort of) stress free.

Reusable "Paper" Towels
Now I realize this probably seems ridiculously obvious to many people, but the thought that I could use rags instead of paper towels was mind-blowing to me. As a kid, we washed dishes with dishrags and broke out cloth napkins for Christmas and Easter, which I'd attempt to fold into swans and water lilies, but otherwise paper towels were king. 

I don't even remember when it happened, but sometime over the past four years we accumulated so many wash cloths, dish towels, rags, cloth diapers and old undershirts, that they took over underneath our sink and eventually mostly took over for the paper towel. So we keep this overflowing bin of rags underneath the sink and every time the girls spill (at least twice at every meal), we try not to sigh in exasperation and they run dutifully over to grab a rag and wipe it up. We keep a "dirty rag bin" by the garbage can in the kitchen and wash them on super hot once or twice a week (or when they really start to smell). 

Somehow having reusable cleaning products that are easily accessible to the girls and virtually free (cuz geez, they don't give away paper towels!) takes away more of the stress of the perpetual spills and makes it easier to let them practice pouring and serving and clearing their own dishes. And now, when I spill (at least twice a day), I get a chirpy little voice telling me, "That's ok, mama. Everyone spills. Now go get a rag."

Fancy Breakable Cups
Aside from dumping an entire glass of grape juice onto something white, one of the biggest deterrents to dining out or at a non-child-proofed house is the ludicrously disproportionate fear of breaking dishes. And given our plastic, sippy-topped crazed society, kids rarely get the opportunity to practice using real dishes. I tried searching for "benefits of using breakable dishes with kids" and had to weed through about 20 items talking about all the non-breakable things you could use for meals (including suction cups to keep dishes on the table!) before I got to a blog post and an article on the Montessori approach to teaching natural consequences. The idea is that if you let kids eat regularly with "real dishes" they will better learn table etiquette; if you drop something breakable, it will break.

The idea of letting our girls use breakable cups really started with Nick's mom. When we'd visit, the girls would get "special breakable tea cups" to drink their "fizzy water." From the age of 18 months on up, they rarely spilled and never broke one. I clearly grossly underestimated my girls. 

So we started pulling glass jam jars from the recycling pile, found some small, "fancy" mason jars at the grocery store and Nick picked up some wine glasses and champagne flutes from Goodwill. Only a tiny investment lost if they break, but they feel grown up, fancy and responsible. 

While we still have spills and the occasional glass casualty, they have gotten so much more careful. I recently started writing their names with markers on the glass for the day so we have cut back on the full dishwasher of plastic cups because we can't remember who drank out of what. And they (we) have learned that even the failure of breaking a cup doesn't end the world. 

Messy Clothes
This one needs very little explanation. We keep a large quantity of stained, torn or worn out clothes (t-shirts, sweatshirts, pants, shorts, skirts, undies, dresses) in multiple sizes cleverly hidden in our living room ottoman. The girls can easily access the clothes by themselves and change into them in the summer to play in the mud, roll in the grass or build in the sand and in the winter to paint, bake or craft. While it's necessary to practice life skills with the natural consequences in tact, it's equally important to give kids freedom to create unhindered.
Sporting the messy clothes

As for me, I'm trying to let this blog be imperfect and fun. I'd like to only post perfected experiments. But then I'd go a year without posting again. I'd really like to have each post have supporting research like deodorant, yogurt and shampoo. But until Nick finishes school, we win the lottery or I get paid to have fun on my blog, I'll have to be content with one every 6 weeks. I'd like to take pictures with our DSLR camera and do fun things in photoshop. But it's just too cumbersome right now, so I'm using the crushed, 3 year old smartphone with a camera that is partly cracked.

I'm slowly learning that the less energy I expend fearing failure, the more I'll have to actually live. 


  1. Thank you so much for your honesty! This was a very refreshing read for me being in the trenches with two little ones at home right now. My littlest one CONTSTANTLY throws her plastic dishes on the floor when she is done eating. It's time to try a fancy cup!

    1. Thanks, Calah. Let me know how it goes! Spent a bunch of time looking over old pics and had some great ones with you. ;-)