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That organizing energy

Like all couples, my husband and I share stories about experiences we have shared, and we have whittled many of them down to a few words. Now that we have kids, the kids also get to take part in this… sometimes. We also have shorthand ways of talking about our experiences with our kids. (Once I’m sure it will have no weight anymore, I will explain one mysterious acronym our kids occasionally still hear: “DPT!”)

One of our oldest comes from when I first moved to Santa Cruz to be closer to my husband. The “love commute,” as we called it, was wearing us down. I was finally fulfilling my dream of living in San Francisco, but there was no way my husband was leaving Santa Cruz. So I moved south. I didn’t know anyone here, and since my husband worked OTH (over the hill) in Silicon Valley, he only had a few friends here, as well. Soon after I moved here, he found out that someone he had worked with was living here with his wife, and we arranged to go on a little adventure together. Upon arriving at the Capitola Wharf, where our adventure started, his wife looked at us and asked, “So who is the Organizing Energy in your family?”

She said it with those capital letters. We thought it was very funny, very California (as two transplants), and rather New Age-y. It was all of those, but it also got to an essential truth: Some of us have Organizing Energy. We can use our powers for good, but there is also a Dark Side.

As you have probably guessed, I am the Organizing Energy in our family. It’s really best not to have two OEs in one family, at least, not two adults. You can’t choose what kind of kids you’ll get, but from my point of view, you can always hope you’ll get a little OE there as well.

This winter break I am allowing my children free rein on the computers while I indulge my OE: So far I have reorganized our homeschooling supplies (oh, so satisfying to Get Rid Of) and prepared two of our garden beds. I also made more headway on transferring all my recipes to the wonderful Evernote. I am hoping to get to the bookshelves, and perhaps even to the CDs we don’t listen to because they’re all on our music server.

Now, I know that some of you are envious, because you tell me so. Moms with wistful looks on their faces tell me that they have been aching to get at that closet or that play room. Moms are amazed that I can find time to organize when there’s so much else to be done! But here’s the Dark Side of OE: sometimes it keeps you from doing what you really want to be doing. It can also, though this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, drive your children insane.

The Dark Side is what happens when I walk in the door, having dropped a kid off somewhere, with some set time in which to do something meaningful. Each child gets one morning a week of solo homeschooling, when I am supposed to be focusing just on that child. And occasionally (though less and less often), I get time when I’m at home all by myself.

I walk in that door, all ready to get started on the meaningful work I have chosen. I will have a mental list of all that needs to be accomplished, and then it’s all dashed from my mind when I open the door and my OE is assaulted by the scene within our living room. Days’ worth of mail piled on a table. Shoes strewn across the floor. My daughters’ dress up clothes, dropped as she shed them while walking toward the car. That stack of books I meant to look through. All the magazines I had piled next to me the last time I got a chance to sit on the couch and read magazines. The breakfast dishes, some still on the table.

The Dark Side of my OE starts to talk to me: You can’t really plan to homeschool your child in this mess, can you? How will you ever know what’s worth reading if you don’t go through those magazines? Perhaps there’s something important in that stack of mail. If you don’t do the breakfast dishes now, they’ll pile up at lunch, and then how will you ever get dinner on the table?

Then my OE talks through me to my child. Couldja do a little better at clearing your breakfast dishes next time? Did you really have to strew tiny clippings from plastic drinking straws all over the house? When I asked you to put away your laundry, did you really think I meant put it away on the floor of your room?

My kids are used to this. They weather it somewhat like we took in tornadoes when I was a kid: Oh, here it comes again. I think the basement should be safe.

And I get over it. I am like an alcoholic who has gotten past the stage of acknowledging her disease. I’m at the stage where I watch myself driving myself crazy by trying to get my life organized and think, Wow, I really should be doing something more meaningful with my time. Eventually, I do enough to soothe my OE into submission, my kids come crawling out from under the house, and we can get on with the messy business of life.

I have only one regret: No matter how I patiently teach them (“Isn’t it so much nicer to be able to access all your toys rather than have piles of them to sort through?”), badger them (“Please please please when I come upstairs let me not see that mess I asked you to clean up three hours ago”), and bribe them (“Will you keep that table cleared off if I PAY you?”), my kids seem to have inherited not one scrap of OE. Organization, for them, remains that thing they find most annoying about their mom. Someday, I’m guessing, they’ll have to go off and find a spouse to bring some OE into their lives.

If they don’t, I just can’t imagine what will become of them. My OE shudders at the thought that they will never, ever wake up and know that today—no matter whether they planned to find the cure for cancer or be the first human to step on Mar— is the day they really need to clean out the linen closet. And what kind of life would that be?

PS: My Santa Cruz friends should consider doing a little indulging of their organizing energy for a good cause. The Discovery Learning Center is having a big Flea Market as a benefit, and we’re looking for donations of your gently used toys, books, sports equipment, or other items you think other families would love to own. Visit the DLC to find out days when you can drop off stuff for our sale. And visit our sale on January 21!

Posted in Parenting.


3 Responses

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  1. Elisabeth says

    I really enjoyed this blog post. I am the OE in our family and my daughter is a bit of an OE too. My husband and son are the opposite of OE. I loved your description of the OE dark side. I’m also a recovering OE, aware of my problem and moving toward enjoying the messy business of life without having everything back in it’s proper place. It’s hard not to say “if you put it away where it belonged then you wouldn’t need me to help you find it” or “if you don’t put your toys away eventually I won’t be able to make it to your bed and kiss you good night”. My friend clued me into the idea of a clean house is a clean mind and telling my husband that house cleaning fell under the category of foreplay. Eventually I’ll get to my art projects after my gardening projects and cleaning the garage project.

  2. min says

    This post hit home for me. My mother was the OE and we knew better to get out of her way unless we pay the consequences. Whatever happened to me? I married an OE and now I’m a converted OE after much resistance. Apparently, you can develop into an OE. Your children may do the same, just you wait. To make the long story short, in the end, we all become our mothers!

  3. Suki says

    Hm…I’m having trouble envisioning my pack rats living in orderly homes in the future! But I think there’s hope for all of us. It’s good to keep a sense of perspective and a sense of humor about it all.



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