Am I so overstretched and thereby scattered I cannot exactly pull together a coherent essay? Well, yeah. There are so many things going on evidenced by the state of the kitchen counter where I do my work. It’s a total mess. If I started the to list all the things I should have done or should be doing (like right now), it’s beyond my fathom. In my own defense, this is inevitable with four kids and four schools and after school activities and work and good works and all that good stuff.

I received an email this week from an editor I work with commenting about an essay she’d meant to tell me she liked and she described my life as “relationship rich.” It is exactly that, and as such, routinely I put something related to a person’s need or request ahead of everything else in the queue. When someone needs help finding a babysitter or tutor or connecting idea to organization or an introduction, I don’t give it a thought; I make whatever needs to happen happen, if I possibly can. And something else doesn’t happen at that same moment.

Harried as I often am and badly as I feel (ask my dear husband) about whatever balls get dropped from midair, here’s my true confession: I never regret jumping in to help someone. It always feels good and I’m determined to recast my view of myself to somehow factor in all of that quiet helping so in my mind it kind of counts and perhaps I could say no to other things just to keep some space open for doing this thing I happen to do both well and seamlessly.


Until I get to that point, though, the truth is I do feel terribly too much of the time. In my life the chaos to organization ratio always tips in favor of chaos, which makes feeling at all “successful” in the overcoming disorganization project somewhat defeatist by design.

An example is this morning when I spent some time on the floor sorting all the Playmobil figures into a bin (enough to people an urban center, especially one that existed during the time of knights and pirates). I brought three empty jam jars into the playroom. The jam jar idea was inspired by my visit to Roy Superior’s amazing woodshop (if you don’t know who he is, click, look at his gorgeous work and then imagine a woodshop filled with beautiful tools lined up perfectly and nails and screws in jam jars). In one jar, I put tiny treasures that Saskia can now reach and none of us want her to reach. In another, I put Playmobil guy hats and the last holds Playmobil swords and shields. I amused myself by humming I’m gonna lay down my sword and shield… Obviously, it doesn’t take much to amuse me.

I started to fill a paper bag with old stray but usable bits of plastic toys (tiny dinosaur, little tools, random small cars) and marked the bag Party Favors, because I had snatched similar random items for Remy’s birthday party this week. I mean, why buy unnecessary plastic items when you can find them in your own home? I also found stickers that were in good enough shape for a re-gifting and some leftover unused party favors from Remy’s twelve year-old brother’s eighth birthday party (or was it ninth? You get the idea). Then, I threw away a big helping of random trashy stuff and that was about all I had time for. I don’t think the playroom looks one iota better.


My overcome the clutter campaign seems to parallel my second guy’s transition into middle school. This week, during a tough moment, I thought: twelve is rocky. Even though my high school guy has been, at times, mercurial lately, the truth is, his mercurialness is less dramatic (still challenging, wearing and sometimes infuriating) than his tweenager brother’s. I have always felt like the terrible two’s were not so bad in our house filled with pretty articulate (in the case of our current toddler, exceedingly articulate) tots. At two, each kid seemed able to express enough of what s/he wanted to get across not to totally melt (I mean, plenty of melting, but not the nightmarish tantrums I’ve heard about from others). Three was harder. Three was when the complex ideas often remained frustratingly beyond their communication abilities and that’s when they ran into tantrums like so many brick walls. Twelve sometimes feels kind of like that, surging into walls hard.

In his new school, some days are good and others feel hard. He comes home upbeat or downbeat. When he comes home downbeat, if we can get him moving through—to karate class, to homework, to play with someone—he kind of picks up steam (he fills two or three jam jars, organizationally speaking). I’m working hard to remain calm even when he’s melting, to underscore how amazingly beautifully he’s doing (and he is), and to remind him that change takes time and isn’t always easy.

Some days, being his mom isn’t easy. Others are breezy. Sometimes, I look at too much stuff in my house and too much mess and feel despondent and other times, I’ve figured out that I can put future party favors into a bag so I don’t have to come upon those random bits later, that things can have a place (including into the trashcan).

Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Author: Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser's work has appeared on the New York Times, Salon, and the Manifest Station amongst other places. Find her on Twitter @standshadows

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