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Let “Civilized” Shit Go

Last night we had no clean, dry bath towels, so I gave my kids beach towels to use after their showers. I had a twinge of, “Oh, my God, when will I ever be a full grown-up, what is wrong with us?” and then I thought…why am I stressing? First of all, the kids don’t give a shit, and it’s only us in the house, so any audience I’m trying to impress is strictly imagined. Plus, they’re towels. They serve the function I needed served. No one had to get dry by shaking off like a bear, or rolling around on the ground like a horse. What a weird social contract I subconsciously signed that made using certain towels only in their intended capacity indicative of my maturity and skills at adulthood.

I do this for all kinds of things. How mortifying if someone sees me in my pajama pants instead of my day pants…why? They cover the same stuff, they’re weather appropriate, they’re actually very similar.

Who made these pants rules? I want a word.

Or how the outside and inside of our house must be clean, organized, “presentable” all the time or I’ve failed. That my kids must behave at a certain volume in a certain normalized capacity or I’ve failed. I feel actual fear when I’m falling under these expected markers. I fear….I’m not sure what I fear, exactly, but I’ve definitely been taught to fear something. Some judgement about my ability to perform in my roles.

I remember when one of my college roommates installed a tiny shelf in our shared bathroom just so she could put a small basket of potpourri in it. I was horrified. Maybe her intent was to mask odors and to pretty up the place, but it felt like she was attempting to accelerate her access to womanhood/adulthood as we knew it. Like she was practicing being a PTA mom before she had any kids or was even of legal drinking age. Like she was excited to follow the unspoken (but lucrative in many commercial industries) rules of how to “keep house” and “be decent.”

Not only is it restrictive and exhausting, but it’s also privileged af to be ABLE to afford to try to keep up with some imaginary Joneses. AND I acknoweldge that it’s privileged that I can ignore the rules, choose not to bother with the Joneses…I’m a wealthy white lady, so if my kids wear stained shirts or there are Nerf guns all over my front yard, people are less likely to see it as proof of my cultural/financial identity. I feel no pressure to represent my entire community by getting it right and being extra clean, organized, productive, efficient, friendly, etc.

So, I feel some responsibility to let this shit go so as to make it less of a societal expectation for everyone, as so much of this is unnecessary to our survival. Do any of the extra frills and polite fancies really, truly spark joy, or does it just make us feel like we’re not failing, for a minute? Of course, holiday decorating, baking, and card-sending brings all of this to the forefront of my mind. So many ways to fail the system, to be left behind, to be insufficient, so many unnecessary stressors we’re taught to believe are critical to the magic of the season.

Ornate Christmas towels are not the boss of me.

When I got married, the traditions and expectations were most apparent. My husband and I were well aware that we weren’t fancy enough to need elaborate china patterns and such, but we did request, and receive, a LOT of traditional and not wholly functional house-making stuff; throw pillows, gravy boats, stuff like that. I had a vision of the woman I was going to be, was meant to be, and she definitely had fluffy, matching bath towels. Gone were my days of drying myself with whatever cheapy hand-me-down towel I could get my hands on. I was a grownup. A married woman. Dry in a respectable sort of way.

Twenty years later I’m finally mostly letting that shit go. Not just through necessity- kids and dog leave everything destroyed- but also because I don’t want to make those things more important than they are. We’ve donated the gravy boat to some gravy-loving friend. The pillows have been thrown. I want to be released from those rules, the hold on me, the idea that being a good woman/wife/mom/person, requires all the parts of my world to be dressed and act a certain way.

Using beach towels in the place of bath towels is not a big deal, but not feeling like it means I’m failing? Priceless.

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