Recovering Busyoholic

posted March 26, 2009

The CrackerJack Band rehearsing for Meltdown

Bass player Paul Kochanski


Drummer Sturgis Cunningham

Dave Chalfant, multi-instrumentalist and The Man

In Buddhist psychology, I am told, there are three main hindrances or personality types, and while every (unenlightened) person exhibits all three hindrances in some combination, one tends to predominate. There is the Grasping type: the person who wants everything, who is greedy for more, who never has enough. There is the Aversive type: the person who says “no!” as a knee jerk reaction, who pronounces everyone and everything guilty until proven innocent (and who, at base, is full of fear and practices contempt prior to investigation.) Then there is the Deluded type: the person who lives in a fog and can’t seem to get out of it, who constantly tells herself subtle or not so subtle untruths.

Though I recognize aspects of all three types in myself, I am definitely the Grasping type. I am or have been, an over-eater, an over-consumer of material goods (which is another way of saying a clutterer), a miser, an obsessive planner, and of course as we’ve established, an over-doer. Probably the correct term is “overachiever,” but I hate that term. It makes me feel pathetic. You may as well say about an overachiever, “She has this tiny little amount of potential and it’s just a miracle that she’s able to do anything! No gifts or looks or brains to speak of, but she sure works hard! Give her an A for effort!” I so wanted to be a person for whom achievement was effortless that I refused to even attempt any activity that I wasn’t naturally good at. And by “good at” I meant elite. B-‘s didn’t count, nor did the kind of guitar playing that was about just accompanying a voice or two. If I couldn’t be Lindsey Buckingham or Mike Campbell what was the point of even playing?

But my Grasping nature goes beyond achievement. I tend to overshoot the mark in any and all arenas. I can’t bring myself to turn the gas on the stove part-way; I always turn it on full blast, as if I didn’t trust the mechanics of a medium flame to cook my eggs properly. When I come home from vacation and the heat’s been turned off, I overcompensate by turning it up to 80.

Before you write in and tell me how sad this all is, I should say: I’m working on it. Everything in my new job description of mother-of-two is about being willing to do things kind of badly. The kids need to stay alive, stay reasonably healthy, be reasonably happy and feel deeply loved an appreciated. I need to stay alive, be healthy, be happy in order to give them this. And most of all, I need to stay present and I need to stay grateful.

I believe in encouraging kids to do things they love even if they’re not, by some subjective-but-agreed-upon-standard, “talented.” My mother tells me that I used to love to draw and paint (and I vaguely remember this) but that right before I went to some private New York City pre-school interview my artistic grandmother told me a story while simultaneously illustrating it on a pad of paper, me on one knee, the paper in front of us on the table. My mother says that once at the interview when the admissions officer asked me to demonstrate my drawing abilities, I took the pen in my fist and make a gigantic angry scribble.

I’m not sure what to make of this story: perhaps it just proves my competitive side was alive and well at age 3, or perhaps I already felt that if at age 3 I couldn’t draw like my grandmother, an accomplished artist, I might as well throw in the towel. More likely I was a 3 year old in a bad mood who needed a nap. But I do look back and have some regret over the fact that I never properly pursued painting and drawing; it’s a skill I wish I had, an outlet I crave. I wish I’d studied art history in college. I have a deep yearning to understand visual art, and I also have a piece of myself that feels like I’m not worthy to be admitted into that particular club. Maybe this is the way people who got told to mouth the words in their high school Glee Club feel about music.

I want to learn how to edge my rags with pretty thread and some kind of stitching.

I sit down with a blank page and a paintbrush or my new packages of magic markers and wonder what to draw.

I want my daughter and son to do things just because they are fun to do, just because they like the physical sensation of, say, drawing an orange streak across a white page, kicking a soccer ball, sticking your thumbs into a pot of dirt to support a seedling, or playing a chord progression on the piano.

A friend of ours just got a cancer diagnosis. A bad one. She has it all over her body. It gets worse: she is the adoptive mother of a young child, and her partner with whom she raised this child died several years ago––of cancer.

I can’t even comprehend the pain of what it must be like to know that at some point one would have to tell one’s child that one might only have months to live. The only thing worse than this in my mind would be a similar diagnosis for my child.

Hearing this bad news makes me want to reach out, not just to our friend and her family, but in general, to the community. I am reminded that we are all connected, even when we think we are most alone.

Today in HooteNanny, Lila stole off by herself and found a pencil and a piece of scrap paper. She was deeply involved in her drawing for about twenty minutes. When she brought it back to me, I praised her and told her what a good artist she was.

That’s easy for me to do. I am always going to be impressed with whatever my kids do, even if they don’t meet some agreed upon standard. Being a Grasping type is actually a good thing in that way (for others, just not always for myself, I am a huge cheerleader. I see potential in everyone). What’s going to be more challenging is to model that kind of quiet pride in a job done––if not well-done, done with care and honor. And so, I would like to make some clumsy handkerchiefs. I would like to draw some awkward but enthusiastic stick figures and maybe even work at improving my skill by taking the time to make some less-than-pleasing sketches. I would like to go back to the guitar and practice once in awhile (what a notion!) and do it not so that I can attempt to be Lindsey Buckingham or Mike Campbell, but because the feel of the strings under my fingers feels good. And because I am alive, and because music is a language that my kids and I share, and because we are all here, now, at the same gorgeous, precious moment and none of us knows how many more of these moments we will be granted.

The Comments

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  1. Your idea that motherhood is often about learning to do things kind if badly reminds me of first, my life, and second, a friend of mine from CA w/ 2 kids and a career who is blogging about learning to do all the things in her life “good enough.” (she’s at

    Thanks for sharing your recovering self.
    Anne-Marie (Evan and Natalie’s mama, among other titles)

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