31 January 2005

Single...With Children: Life Is In The Details!

Single With Children: Attention to detail can keep problems from snowballing

By Susie Parker
Publication Date: 06/09/04

The other day, for reasons that still elude me, I decided to clean behind my refrigerator.

What I found weren't mere dust bunnies. I discovered dust dinosaurs! I'd never seen such huge clumps of dust, cat hair, dirt and more dust.

My first thought was spontaneous combustion. I have absolutely no idea how my kitchen did not catch on fire and the rest of the house right along with it, all because I had failed to spend a little time on simple maintenance. The interesting thing that occurred to me was I didn't see any of this elusive dust gathering.

As we approached the end of the school year, this accumulating dust reminded me of how tiny, seemingly insignificant things also can accumulate and build to the point they become huge. If those dust particles had been stressors, my refrigerator would have suffered a nervous breakdown.

Have you ever stood back and picked apart all of the things that lead to a "family fallout?" I don't know about you, but for me they are usually about so much more than the one event that ignites a fire.

A certain person around here had been ignoring things such as cleaning the cat litter box, filling the dog's water bowl, placing dirty dishes in the dishwasher, and taking out the trash, I experienced one of those "mini" but, never pleasant, mental melt-downs - and my son was in the cross hairs.

Justin unwittingly provided the perfect trigger when he breezed in after a school play, and announced he was on his way to the after-party. He was oblivious to all the things he had left undone.

"I don't think so!" was my not-so-gentle reply to his party plans. I recited an abbreviated list of the responsibilities he had chosen to ignore.

"You are telling me I can't go because I haven't done the cat litter today?" he asked.

Of course, it wasn't simply about not taking care of the cat litter, but as is often the case during a familial conflict, I couldn't think straight enough to list all of the chores he had blown off since our last mini-skirmish. I can get so frustrated and tongue-tied when things reach the combustion stage that I can't remember all that led to the problem.

"It's not just that," I said. "It's also the fact that you didn't ... you haven't ... you never ... " What, what, what?? I have no idea why my short-term memory chooses moments like this to go on hiatus but it certainly can take the credibility out of any legitimate complaint I might have had.

My timing couldn't have been worse, and though I finally relented and allowed him to attend the party, neither one of us had a very pleasant evening. When my son returned home, we spent a few hours venting our frustrations until a treaty could be worked out.

We agreed I had every reason to expect his chores to be done, but I had not considered the fact that he has been working a part-time job and handling year-end school assignments. I had failed to remember even teenagers can reach exhaustion.

Just like periodic under-the-refrigerator maintenance, a little more communication could have addressed our frustrations and led to a more peaceful understanding.

Readers can e-mail Susie Parker at susiewrites@gmail.com or write to her c/o Amarillo Globe-News, Features Dept., P.O. Box 2091, Amarillo, TX 79166.

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