Halfway through college I got a nickname that stuck with me until my late twenties: Monica. As in, Monica Gellar, the totally Type A character from the TV show Friends.
It was my junior year when the nickname stuck. I threw great themed parties in my immaculately clean and trendy one bedroom apartment in Nashville. I came to class in the latest fashions, got great roles in our musical theatre productions, took 20+ credit hours per semester (I had to leave college in four years after all, because that’s just what you “do”). I went out on the town with girlfriends for restaurant openings and happy hours, knew all the “right” people in Nashville, and worked my bar/restaurant job, all while keeping my (then) puppy Macie alive and well and maintaining a solid A/B GPA. I made lists and color-coded every hour of my day on a piece of paper to detail practice time, free time, class time, etc. I had what my classmates called a “mom planner” even though I was years away from actually being a mom.
I also ate the same thing every day, in the exact same way, at the exact same time.
I couldn’t cry. Literally could not cry. (Which was great for an aspiring actor… not.)
I would wake up at night with chest pains, obsessing that there was something I had forgotten to do or agonizing about some dumb thing that I said or didn’t say.
I looked perfect, but I felt miserable.
After graduation, I moved to New York for a while then back to Knoxville. Soon I was pregnant with Maddox and a single mom. Still, I worked a full-time job and kept an immaculate house. My son was dressed like a Baby Gap model. I worked in retail and assumed the role of “operations manager” for my store. I handled scheduling, training, shipping/receiving, and all of the other back of house duties that no one really thought about in retail. I color coded and organized. I married my now ex-husband who would ask me if, at eight months pregnant with Walker, I really needed to vacuum every day and steam clean the carpets once a week. (“Um yes,” I’d tell him. “Carpet is gross. You can’t clean it like you can hardwoods.”)
When Walker came and I was left alone with two babies under the age of two, I cleaned constantly.
Our condo was spotless. There were no toys strewn about at night and no dishes in the sink. There were no piles of laundry to be seen and no mess from a toddler to be found. I organized the refrigerator. I made a menu board. I swept the patio free of any sticks or debris, even though it was winter. We kept a rigid, unbending schedule of feedings, naps, walks around the neighborhood, family visits, and so on. I went back to work and took on even more operational duties.
I don’t really remember the first six months that Walker was alive. Literally I cannot recall anything specific – or with great clarity – about that time period, other than he was a very sick baby and that no one slept. I joked that I had “infant induced PTSD,” but the hard truth is I was so worked up all the time about keeping it all together even though it made me feel like I was falling apart; I wasn’t able to be present in my own life.
From the outside looking in I had it all together. But that wasn’t how I felt behind closed doors…
My transition from Type A to Type B was a gradual one, but I’m pretty sure it’s here to stay; I just pulled a piece of dog fur off of my pinky toe. Maddox and Walker had a joint birthday party last weekend (even though they have a December and an April birthday… whatever man), and there were no decorations but plenty of food and sweet friends running around. I give 0 craps about the small stuff I used to sweat years ago… AND IT FEELS SO GOOD.
It’s funny — this idea of perfection that we as women let creep into our brains and let live there wrecking our peace. I had to be perfect. I had to look perfect. My life had to ebb and flow perfectly. The boys had to dress and act perfectly. I had to do it all, even if my doing it all was costing me my health and my sanity. I get it. Some people are organized and Type A and it works for them. It worked for me because I forced it to work for me at all costs. When I stopped focusing so much on “what it should look like” and started to focus on what was actually going on around me, I felt so much peace.
This season of life looks less like Monica Gellar and more like when Rachel Green put a marshmallow in her nose and shot it into Thanksgiving dinner. And you know what? I have laundry in piles and dust bunnies that could come to life and probably kill my children based on their sheer size alone, but I am present. I am happy. I can tell you nearly everything my family has done over the past six months because I’m not cleaning up around them or stressed about mess and chaos.
I’m not sure I’m qualified to give advice, but for me, letting go of Type A and embracing Type B looked a little like this:
- I began to realize that no one cares about party decorations other than me. And maybe some people on Pinterest. But kids? They don’t care. They like food. And they like running around with their friends. Parties are for them, after all.
- I learned if your “friends” care about your messy house they are not your friends. Find new friends. (Bonus points if they’re messy friends too, because: solidarity.)
- I know now that saying no is fine. Limits are good. I teach my boys to say no, but am a conflicting example when I say yes to things I deeply and truly don’t want to do.
- I also know that my kids are messy disasters presently, but soon they won’t be here. This time with peanut butter on the kitchen floor and friends running in and out, smearing mud and god knows what on my 100-year-old original plaster walls? It’s fleeting. In ten years the same boys who want to sit in my lap (or watch me pee) are going to be teenagers. This time is overwhelming but also precious.
- I have really, really, REALLY tried to commit to prioritizing memories of doing actual things over cleanliness. In the summer I’d rather be at the park than scrubbing the kitchen. It’s heartbreaking to hear my mom complain that she really only remembers spending time with her mom while they were cleaning. Can you imagine leaving your kids with only memories of tidying up together and not doing fun things together? I cannot. And I will not.
Taking these five steps and changing a few more my habits over time has revolutionized my life. While I don’t blame my former Type A personality traits for all of my past issues, I do understand how much striving for perfection contributed to feelings of being less than, having constant anxiety, and being in my 20s but having chest pains as if I was in my 70s.