A few months ago, a stranger came over to give me an estimate on painting the kitchen cupboards. Actually, he came over to give me his opinion on an estimate I already had from another painter. The number seemed high, as estimates typically do, and my friend suggested I give this guy a call. He’s a friend of hers and, more importantly, an authentically decent human being, so she thought his input might be valuable.
Within ten minutes of walking in the door, he’d shot down every idea that had been percolating in my stagnant mind. Painting the cupboards? Paint the bar stools? Remove the hutch? Get new chairs? Replace the carpet with hardwood? Get a new table? ANYTHING??
He was calm and patient in his response: No. To all of the above. I was so disappointed, especially since I knew he was right.
This all stems from my semi-annual need to blow life out of the water. It’s a challenging personality trait for someone who’s trying to offer stability to an observant and opinionated family. It’s taken the older child five years to get over the new wallpaper. And I’m sure my husband lives in constant fear of what upending might greet him when he walks through the door.
I read recently in a book about astrology that this is typical of someone with my universal postal code. Apparently, my need to change things up on the regular is written in the stars. What’s more, denying it can cause me to get a little desperate, leading me to believe whitewashed cupboards are the answer to all my problems when, in reality, I just need to get out of my house (read: head).
“I know I’m talking myself out of a job,” he said, looking around perhaps in search of something he could paint just to make me feel better, “but now is not the time.”
He went on to tell me about how, in the past year, his seven-year-old daughter went from being a vibrant little sprite to a frequent flyer at the Children’s Hospital due to some mysterious illness no one can figure out. It was all very sudden and equally scary. Now, every day, their little girl sits on her mama’s lap while he, her daddy, her universal protector, injects her with something stingingly painful that seems to be helping. For now.
So, yeah. The cupboards are fine. The table is big enough to host art projects at one end at dinner and the other. The hutch is a piece of my history. And the chairs are pleather or vinyl or some sort of unnatural fabric. Point being, they were relatively inexpensive, they’re adequately comfortable and I can serve the kids spaghetti and not live in fear of our precious furniture being ruined. (This is why we no longer have any rugs. Not since the smoothie incident of 2014.)
“Honestly,” he said, “the only thing that needs to change in here is your perspective.”
Like a paint can to the forehead, I suddenly understood. Fine, adequate, enough. Depending on your state of mind, these could either be the seeds of never-ending displeasure of a tree of contented abundance.
I often tell my kids, in slightly different words, that their enjoyment of life can only come from within. We, as parents, can facilitate as many opportunities for joy as is humanly possible, but if a decision is made to focus only on what is not as opposed to what truly is, there will always be a lacking, a space yet to be filled by some external, unattainable force.
It’s a classic case of do as I say, not as I do. Yes, I would like a bigger house with a room I can call my own. I’d love a yard with room for a swing set or a garden. I’d love to be ten pounds lighter (make that 15) and not so cerebral. But when I open my eyes and see what is actually here, I realize I’ve been spending all this time trying to change the wrong thing. Perhaps it’s not the space that needs to change, but the energy I bring to it. As TED talker, Rory Sutherland said, perspective is everything. I just needed to change my lens.