Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Control Freak: A Life

Control Freak

My husband went to Cape Cod last week with his class of seventh graders for a week of whale watching, nature hikes, and science exploration. Me? I was home with the kids, who ate Elio’s pizza every night while I had a bowl of cereal and a glass of chardonnay. There’s a certain freedom in not having to cook a meal every night—not that Jim expects that—and by being able to put your pajamas at six thirty, just in time to see what our presidential nominees have said about each other that goes beyond, “nanny-nanny-poopoo”. (The answer? Not much.) Or what their running mates and constituents have said or done to help either candidate effectively lose the race. Say what you want about either candidate, but it ain’t easy being them.

Anyway, after two days of nighttime cereal and pajama wearing, I got bored. And when I get bored, things can take a seriously dramatic turn around here. And by dramatic turn, I mean furniture gets moved around. All of it. At once. By me. I don’t let anything like a lack of upper-body strength or the absence of professional movers stand in the way of moving any furniture, be it a wing chair or a heavy sideboard. When I decide I want something moved, by golly, it will be moved.

So I moved a bench from the hallway into the living room (looks great), a chair to a nice corner of the room and away from the television (perfect for reading), rearranged a few odd pieces, and voila—new living room. I was very happy with the way things turned out.

Jim called that night to see how things were going.

Me: Now, if you were me, you would probably have a complete melt down when I tell you this, but because you’re you, I’m hoping you don’t.

Jim (steeling himself on the other end of the phone line): What’s going on?

Me (inhaling deeply): I rearranged the living room.

Jim (exhaling loudly): That’s it?

Me: Yep.

Jim: Well, that’s better than what I thought you were going to say.

See, the thing is, Jim’s not a control freak. But I am. And if he had called me and said that he had rearranged the furniture in my absence, that news would have ruined my trip. I would fret the whole way home, an inner monologue playing out in my twisted brain: where did he put the couch? What about my mirror? Where will the three framed pictures of France go? And will they look good there? God, I bet the whole thing got screwed up! I hate change of any kind but that still doesn’t account for the iron fist that I impose on everything. Once, he had supervised a fence being installed in the back yard while I was a national sales meeting for my company. I kept him on the phone for at least forty-five minutes, hectoring him as he described exactly what the fence guy had done. Years later, I have no idea what it was that seemed so important at the time about the placement of the fence, but back then? It was about as important as one thing can get, and I’ve been through some pretty important life events.

What is it that makes some of us cling to things that really don’t make a difference? What makes us control freaks? I think it is a way to place order on a chaotic life—when I was working full-time out of the house, traveling the equivalent of three months a year, and was away from my family for far longer than I wanted to be, it was my way of imposing order on things or making it seem like I was involved or in control. I was definitely involved, but definitely not in control, which made me way to control things even more.

Things do not go more smoothly because I’m a control freak, and while I know that intuitively, it doesn’t change the fact that I have to have my hand in every single thing that happens in the house. And I also know the breath of fresh air that wafts into a room when I relinquish control of something. So why does the control freak persist?

Dedicated Stiletto readers: who out there is a control freak? Who’s a recovering control freak? And what advice do you have for this work in progress?

Maggie Barbieri


  1. As a fellow control freak, I'm looking forward to the "cure" suggestions!


  2. When you get to be my age you don't fret about such things.

    Whenever I feel myself getting to that point, I say this, "I'm too blessed to be stressed," because I am.

    Now being bossy, that's a whole 'nother problem!


  3. I used to be a control freak. Then I got pregnant and was ordered on bedrest (pre-eclampsia). Then I had to lay on a table and let 3 doctors (don't ask) perform a C-section. My hubby and I have now raised a perfectly delightful 16-year old who constantly reminds me that I'm not always in charge. I either had to give up control or commit homicide. I decided to be less controlling and write a murder mystery instead.

    BTW - the furniture rearranging reminded me of my grandmother; once, my grandfather came home from work to find she had knocked the wall out between the kitchen and the dining room. Talk about redecorating!

  4. I think the furniture-arranging thing is in my genes. My grandmother, like yours, Gayle, was also a mover and a shaker. My mother remembers my grandmother sitting at the kitchen table and musing (while my grandfather was in ear shot), "I think I'd like the kitchen where the living room is." And my mother would come home from school to find the kitchen where the living room used to be. Maggie

  5. I up and move furniture fairly often. One entertaining plus is how confused the cats get. Last year, I insisted we try a swap of living room to dining room and the other way around. So far, so good, but now I'm thinking maybe we should go back to the other way. Or, maybe living room should be in what is now the library, which was in the original floor plan the dining room. But I didn't want that because it shares a wall with the powder room and I hate the idea of people sitting at table while listening to some dinner guest pee and flush.

    So, when we moved in we already put the dining room up at the front of the house in the room that was to be the "formal living room", a thoroughly stupid waste of space and furniture in a normal home life. That allowed me to make the dining room at the back corner of the house into a library.

    In the current arrangement, the only mild hitch is that the gas log fireplace is now in our rather large dining room. But, we took the logs out a while back and I use candles instead on the few occasions I want some illumination from there. The fireplace is non-venting and throws way too much heat and wastes energy to boot. I guess we don’t really miss the fireplace not being in the living room . . . Hell, we’ve even talked about taking it out, but I would be for screening it off or blocking it with furniture since it can be a feature to help with selling down the road if and when we want to leave this house.

    But, I’m way off the control-freak topic (?!): I’ve gotten better about my control-freakishness over the years, but it takes willing myself to back off and focus that effort elsewhere, someplace where being a control freak is less likely to step on other people. I don’t’ say I can’t be a control-freak, just that I can only do it in some places: at my desk, with my business contacts, in cooking, in my exercise routine. It’s not as much fun when I’m not dictating to those closest to me, but I make myself do it. And, it is liberating to not (think that I must) be responsible for everything all the time.

    My favorite catch in this? When I go out with friends and the one time in years that I haven’t gotten on-line and figured out the best drive, the best parking, the best places for us to eat, etc. and everyone in the party stands and looks at me slack-jawed and says things like “you mean you didn’t find us a restaurant?”. It kills me when people complain about my over-planning/dictatorial side, but then count on it so much for some things that they can’t be bothered to figure out the drive, the parking, and the dining themselves!

  6. my Mother did the same thing ALL the time - I'd come home frmo school and EVEYRTHING was changed! And she was a lot smaller than you but waaaaay stronger as you remember Maggie!