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?
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?