On a list of character traits, on a good day, I might rate myself with these descriptors: High energy. Dynamic. Impassioned. But on a bad day, this intensity turns into other adjectives: Tightly-wound. Manic. Anxious.
Some families grow people who are naturally sanguine. They sleep through the night, they struggle with laziness, they easily slide into couch potato-hood. Not me. Not us. I come from a long line of worriers, insomniacs, “Nervous Nellies,” and nail biters. My mother rarely sleeps. My husband Bill doesn’t sleep either. He paces. He drives too fast and whips around slowpokes. In the Ayurvedic system, we’re both more Vata than Kapha: moody, exuberant, distractible, erratic. We can sometimes barely remember to keep food in the house. So between us, our poor daughter Annie is genetically . . . how to say this nicely . . . screwed.
While many in my extended family are on antidepressants and anti-anxiety meds, I’ve learned to deal with my anxiety through a combination of deep breathing and taking the larger view, tough-it-out stoicism, exercise, talk therapy, cutting down on caffeine, and eating lots of good, healthy food. Most of all, I need silence and space to refill and refuel and calm down.
Annie, like me, is a friendly introvert, easily overwhelmed by too much input. Like me, she’s developing her own stress reduction techniques. One of these involves sitting on the bathroom floor after a shower when the room is hot and steamy, in the dark, with a candle.
“It’s like a meditation,” she says.
I tried it. I love it.
Our family has a lot to be stressed about these days. School woes, deadlines, way too much work, friends and relatives going through hard times, deaths and deaths and the world’s disasters and disintegration. On top of it all, my father-in-law is turning 90, and we’re having a family reunion for him. At our house. He’s got advanced Alzheimer’s disease and restaurants are no longer possible, so we’re serving steak and potatoes and salad and veggies and bread and chocolate cake and wine, and many of the dozen guests are staying the night, and some are staying the week. Relatives from Canada, relatives from Los Angeles. Starting tomorrow I’ll have one sister-in-law sleeping in my office, one sister-in-law in Bill’s office, my stepson, his wife, and their daughter in the family room, and my stepdaughter on a futon on the floor of Annie’s room. The two dogs will curl up here and there, and Bill and I will huddle in our bedroom, trying to re-find our Northern California serenity. Om.
Then we’ll get up and make coffee for eight. (Our four-year-old granddaughter is energetic enough without the evil brew.)
Sleeping nine means organizing seven beds and seventeen pillows. It means milk and half-n-half and orange juice and eggs and toast and cereal and waffles and pancakes and fruit salad and maybe bacon. Did I mention the coffee? It means visits to the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker. It means navigating IKEA for extra water glasses and extra sheets. It means we still don’t know where we’ll all sit at the big birthday dinner, when the numbers will swell to fifteen, including my own parents, and including the Guest of Honor, my father-in-law, who we hope will rally long enough to enjoy his cake before insisting we take him back to his Dementia care unit because he doesn’t know “who the hell all these people are.”
Guess I’ll have to rent an extra table. (Put it on the to-do list.)
It’s a good thing we have three bathrooms.
To look on the bright side, I genuinely like these people, though they don’t always act as if they like each other. (I’ve been calling this week “The Descent of the Conflicts” in homage to my new fave band Flight of the Conchords.) My in-laws are all brilliantly smart, overly sensitive, and good eaters. Oh, and they’re klutzes. It’s a good thing we just bought so many water glasses. And better Bill’s side of the family than my own — less emotional baggage for me (more coffee.) Perhaps more sanity than in my family, though Bill’s family is crazy, too, it just manifests differently. To rewrite the first line of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, normal families are all alike; every crazy family is crazy in its own way.
But days of hostess chatter, coffee-making, towel-wrangling, plus the strain on the old house’s plumbing, will put an inevitable strain on me, I know. I expect that by Day 4 the tremors will set in.
As I said, it’s a good thing we have three bathrooms.
Not for the usual reasons, though with all those house guests and all those dinner guests we’ll need to hit Costco for the jumbo size toilet paper package. (Put it on the to-do list.)
No, we need those bathrooms for other purposes.
One bathroom for Annie to sit in, on the floor, in the dark, with a candle.
One bathroom for Bill to sit in, on the floor, in the dark, with a candle.
One bathroom for me to sit in, on the floor, in the dark, with a candle.
The stepkids and the in-laws? Oh, they can pee out in the garden with the dogs.