I texted friends yesterday that I might need them to come help me move furniture. By the time they replied their faux excitement about the prospect of carrying my stuff around the house, I told them it might not be necessary.
When I’m stressed, I rearrange furniture. As a child whose family relocated a lot, and as an adult who has moved 17 times since freshman year of college, I learned that change comes in big, obvious, irreversible phases that look like new opportunities amongst the rearranged furniture. Moving to a new place was always about hope and new starts and gentle change. Because everything’s still there, just the space is different.
When my adrenals rattle my teeth with doses of neurochemicals that say I should panic, I connect the sensation with living somewhere new. So I either move or I change the whole layout of the house. I don’t actually plan to move right now, so I need to make my house look as though I’ve moved.
(Totally not my house. I love how that weird suburban McMansion photo shoot used light and a throw rug to make me think they really rearranged. False. My kind of rearranging means this room would have the furniture from another room and all this fly-fishing-cabin stuff would be in the kids’ room. Or garage. Rearranging isn’t moving something two feet. It’s relocating and purging until you don’t recognize the room at all.)
But didn’t I just rearrange a few months ago? Some of the furniture left to go to Spouse’s new apartment. Some got sold. And some went downstairs this week because I’m getting a new roommate.
Yep. I’m 41 years old, newly single parent, and I’m taking on a boarder to help cover the rent. All I have to do is start cooking cabbage and washing neighbor’s laundry and I’ll be a set-piece in a late-Nineteenth-Century American novel.
School started last week, which has unnerved me, too. So the need to rearrange is likely stemming from big changes. But still everyone is healthy and reasonably happy. Despite the separation, the boys’ dad spends a lot of time at our house being a parent and showing the kids that he’s not leaving.
That means, though, his admirable efforts at making the boys feel loved and safe are all. up. in. my. face.
Poor guy. He came over last weekend so I could work. And after a long day of chasing after kids and bikes and scooters, he took a shower.
But he put a new soap in the shower. After I opened the shower door and saw it, I called him to the bathroom and extensively explained the concept of leaving things as you find them. He has thoughtfully moved tons of my stuff in the past few months, and it’s driving me crazy. I put my running shoes by the door so I don’t forget them, he puts them in the closet where they belong. I put the kids’ lunch boxes on the counter because they need to be washed, he puts them in the cupboard where they should be. I hang a jacket on a doorknob because it needs to go into storage, he puts it back in the closet where it used to live. I might have used the phase “You’re welcome here, but you don’t live here, so stop deciding where stuff goes,” instead of biting my tongue, as I should.
For years we’ve been using the nicer downstairs shower. But that is now part of the in-law rental unit, and I’ve consolidated everything from both bathrooms into the smaller one upstairs. And it felt nice and grownup and efficient to finally have a space that nobody in the whole family uses but me.
My shower. MY shower.
And then I come home after banging my brains against a federal grant proposal, and there’s a soap MY SHOWER.
I am fully aware that he didn’t do anything wrong. The guy wanted soap. It doesn’t matter whether he thought I forgot or couldn’t find the soap, or whether he didn’t think anything at all except “I need soap.” It’s a fair desire, that of having soap in a drenching cubicle whose primary purpose is cleaning. I can’t fault him for wanting, finding, and getting soap.
Except it was my shower. MY shower. Was. Now it has ex-partner-who-wanted-soap-and-found-soap-and-added-soap tainted idea-germs all over it. I don’t want his ideas in my shower.
That’s so stupid I can barely type it. But this is my blog and my truth, so I’m willing to be crazy here, even if only for a little…well, okay, most of the time.
But it comes down to this simple and difficult reality: separating from a partner with whom I will coparent for a long, long time is genuinely challenging. I like the world black and white, not grey. I want extremes. And when I am part of a relationship that ends, I want it to actually end.
Surprise that’s not a surprise: there’s no ending a relationship with a co-parent. We’re not teenagers anymore and we can’t just stop calling each other and avoid each other at the mall. This is joint-back-to-school-night territory, y’all.
For most of my adult life, I’ve been prepared for the apocalypse, as long as that catastrophic upheaval involves the complete inability to buy soap. I once had a roommate laugh, “Well, at least we’re prepared for the next Great Soap Famine,” unwittingly insensitive to the hoarding tendencies that make me collect soap in neat rows at the back of bathroom cupboards. I had rows and rows of soap in the hall cupboard of many of those 17 apartments, but I’ve been working to whittle down the stock since moving back to the Bay Area several years ago. I don’t need to prepare for the emergency poverty that might strike and leave me without soap (or any means of buying soap). I don’t need to imagine a time when there’s no soap at the store or no open stores when I need soap or no…I don’t know what. I don’t know why I hoard soap. It’s not as though I shower that much. I just know I need to stop hoarding soap. I have enough, I tell myself as I pass the soap aisle. I have enough, I am enough, I will always have enough, I will always be enough.
But since Butter was conceived five years ago, I’ve been hoarding shower gel. Not using it, because I do prefer soap. But paring down the soap collection has me compelled to build a shower gel stash. I shouldn’t call it a hoard. That diminishes the mental illness that genuine hoarders have. I only have six or seven half-gallon bottles of shower gel. Whenever Grocery Outlet has the big 32-ounce size of my favorite brand of natural, toxin-free beauty products, I buy the shower gel. And shampoo. And conditioner. But not compulsively. That would be crazy. I only buy another jug of organic cleansing products if the scent is right. There’s no use hoarding gardenia shampoo or rose conditioner. I don’t want my apocalypse miserable, people. I just want to be prepared. And really, really, really clean for the zombies. Or maybe prepared in the event that bake sales in the zombie age become soap sales.
I only have three half gallons of shampoo, four of conditioner, and six of shower gel. And that’s totally normal and not at all weird.
So my new shower, my space that meant embracing change and taking a deep breath and accepting hard choices…that shower had shower gel but no soap. That shower, the one we haven’t used in the three years since we moved in, was old and small, but refreshing and cozy and mine. And grownup. So I pulled out of the cupboard matching half-gallon pump bottles of shampoo, conditioner, and shower gel. No soap so that the tiny soap dish could be for a razor. So that I wouldn’t have to clean soap-drip off the cramped walls. So that I could freaking have something in this world the way I want it without worrying about sinking into soapless poverty.
And now the man who is permanently part of my life but not of my future, who is a committed co-parent but a distant memory, who is familiar but now a stranger—that man put soap in my shower.
So I told him not to put soap in the shower. I explained my plan and my shower gel and my need to feel like I own something. And to fight the panic of that by embracing a decrease in the shower gel stock.
He understood. And he was gracious about it. He is back to being gracious about my brands of crazy, now that he gets to live somewhere else. Or stay somewhere else most of the time and come over to be with his kids and hear theories on soap use now and then.
I was glad he understood.
But then the next day he rearranged the shower gel and the shampoo and put them in the wrong places and now the shower is ruined.
I just can’t even.
Poor guy. He’ll never understand. He just doesn’t get it.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. He doesn’t have to understand my kind of crazy.
I just always hoped he would.
And last night, when I mentioned the text to my friends asking for furniture help, my co-parent offered to help me rearrange the garage. Full on “pull everything out, purge some stuff, reorganize the rest, and put it all back” hour-long garage shuffle. The type he’s fought for years.
I told him that he’s a very kind person to help me engage in my favorite form of free therapy: work out panic with heavy physical labor.
Maybe he does actually understand my crazy.
Or maybe he feels guilty about the soap.
That’s the thing… you guys are doing so much, so right, for your kids. You can see that here. It’s not easy….
And yet I keep reminding myself…it’s so much easier than fighting or regretting or hating. I can’t imagine what it would be like if we weren’t civil. And both showered. ;-)
I am not sure I would have the strength and dignity that you do. Also…I used to be a total room rearranger. (I don’t think that is a word though.) :)
Absolutely a word. Rearranger. One who rearranges. Because the bookcases don’t make sense over there, and the bench from the other room would fit nicely right…here.
I’m sure you’d be strong and dignified. I’m shocked at how petty I am being, and yet not at all. It’s not as though I yelled or barred him or threw the soap in the trash. I just tried to explain that I’m unreasonable. Isn’t that the best any of us can do…understand why we’re unreasonable and try to win the sane people over to our insanity?
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I don’t think you should have bitten your tongue. It’s your home and you’ve arranged it how you like it. He’s shouldn’t be coming in and putting your shoes away, packing away the lunch boxes etc. That would be really frustrating. I totally understand that you’ve sorted out your bathroom and have it looking exactly as you want and therefore, don’t want your ex-husband rummaging through your cupboards and changing things around. By the way, your living room looks great and I’m enjoying reading your blog posts.