Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Law of Conservation of Hassle

The recent sunshine has all but banished thoughts of the ten-day streak of nasty weather, but my still-aching head is a reminder of the week that was. From the Duchess barfing at school, to Honey getting her third ear infection this spring, to me getting a nasty little virus that had me literally curled up on the floor, shivering, it was just ridiculous.

We only left the house for doctor's appointments, of which there were many. The rest of the time, we watched Dora the Explorer, or did crafts like sticking slivers of tissue paper onto construction paper. I also spent some not-insignificant amount of time staring glumly into the mist, drinking hot tea. (I felt like I should have been listening to the Smiths or something, but the girls don't like '80's music much).

The silver lining - and don't tell me this thought has never crossed your own mind - is that my appetite was totally shot, so I thought maybe I would be able to drop a couple of pounds before beach season.

Anyway, I learned a lot of things, like it is best to get ill right before the weekend, because my dear husband, The Grump, can cover quite well the important things. Naturally, for a high-strung, Type A person such as myself, it's the unimportant things that are so vexing. For example, lots of stuff gets done, but done "Dad's way," so the children survived happily bath-free and in strange combinations of clothing. But ultimately, hopped up on Sudafed, Mucinex, and the mystery tablets at the back of the medicine chest, I decided not to care.

I was also tempted to skimp on time outs - the thought of hauling my caterwauling Duchess to the naughty chair for the zillionth time made my aching head pound even more. Thus, I pretended to not see a lot of things simply to extend my peace.

But as a matter of parenting philosophy, such as mine is, I do believe that I, not the Duchess or Honey, need to be the one in charge, if only for the ego boost (and the epaulettes). I was thinking about this the other day when I heard about a mom who wanted her toddler to not be so compliant and challenge authority more. I have heard about moms like these, ones who do not want to "crush" their child's "spirit," ones who hope their kids are assertive, etc. Perhaps you are one of these moms. I want to know: Is this a new thing? What's up with this? Because I just can't take this notion that seriously.

Meanwhile, which toddlers are these, who listen and follow rules so blindly? Would they like to come over and teach this skill to the Duchess?

With two girls, I realize that the Duchess and Honey will eventually decide that they hate me, that I am ruining their lives, and, possibly, that I am the most embarassing mother ever. Why take away all the fun of their teenage years by not giving them anything to rebel against?

Anyway, by Monday, both girls were well on their way to health. But there was still one more doctor visit: A follow-up for the Duchess for some minor surgery she had recently. Although I had previously booked my regular sitter to watch Honey for a couple of hours that morning, I ended up cancelling her over the weekend because it would have been a big hassle for RS to get over to our place that morning.

Instead, I took both girls to what I thought - against all prior experience - would be a quick follow-up visit. Clearly, the cumulative effect of all the OTC drugs had clouded my brain, because it ended up turning into a massive cluster-you-know-what and took forever. Ok, not forever, but with the Duchess in open rebellion and Honey merely in the plotting stage, it sure felt like it.

On the bright side, there was a lot of time for me to reflect upon my folly. And suddenly, like an apple falling off a tree, it hit me. By cancelling the sitter to reduce her hassle, I had not done anything to reduce the existential hassle load - I had merely transferred it all to me.

My eyes opened wide as I recognized a new scientific truth. The Law of Conservation of Hassle states that hassle is always conserved. (I was going to try to show this mathematically, and even pondered a Hassle Constant, but I think deep down, both you and I get it intuitively).

For some reason, I found this as comforting as a cup of tea on a rainy day. As I would have said in my (brief) consulting days, the takeaway is that there's no point in stressing about reducing stress. Just hire the sitter, transfer the hassle, and go shopping!

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