The Right Way

"Do you really believe there's only one right way to wipe the counter?"

My teenage son posed the question. And it stopped me in my tracks. My knee jerk reaction almost won over. "Don't argue with me. Just do your job." But I didn't say it.

There was something different in his voice. It wasn't argumentative, but sincere. Curious. Incredulous.

Did I?

Yes. Yes, I did. There is one right way to wipe the counter. And vacuum the floor. And load the dishwasher. And clean the bathroom.

And it is my way. I, in all my wisdom and perfection, have carefully researched, examined and crafted the method superior for all household tasks. And if I haven't, I'm working on it.

And not just household tasks, but life ones. How to mother, wife, friend, daughter. There is one right way. Why else would I have all these books? One of them contains the secrets of life, and I will find it and therein find peace and happiness and perfection. (Another son once looked at the titles on my bookshelf and christened me the "Christian Self-Help Queen.")

But Josh's question spoken out loud revealed the foolishness of something I gave way too much attention to. It revealed my futile quest for perfection. It revealed the way my quest for the unattainable was usurping something that was attainable, healthy relationships with my family.

As I remember it, my response went something like this:

"Yes, Josh, I do believe there is only one way to clean the counter. Pretty ridiculous isn't it? I think I've learned some effective ways to do things, but in the end the counter just needs to be clean. So if you have a better way, go for it."

Fast forward about six or seven years . .

We just bought a new house. The house. The one we've dreamt of, waited for, prayed for, and hope to grow old in, celebrate tons of birthdays, a few more graduations, some weddings, and (drum roll please) welcome home new grand babies and our children's families at holidays.

But it needs some paint. And I still have three teens and one boy at home. And they want to help paint. Now wiping up crumbs off a counter is one thing. Do it however you want, just make sure it's clean (I've grown a bit in my mothering).

But paint? The walls? Of the house?!!!

Deep breath. Another one. And another. And I hand them a roller, spread out a drop cloth, silently wishing the carpet hadn't been laid yet. I give them just a few instructions, resisting the urge to give a hundred. Watch them a few minutes. A few more pointers and about twenty deep breaths.

"Looking good." I walk away into the next room. Ignorance is bliss, right?

I start painting, vacillating back and forth between fear of what might be and pride in them and myself.

Thanks, Josh.

Oops. I got some paint on the carpet