This quote came to me this morning as I was reflecting on the month I’ve spent with Karen Karbo‘s newest book Julia Child Rules: Lessons on Savoring Life.
In particular, I was thinking about the chapter “Obey Your Whims” because I was surprised to discover that Karen had written about one of the whims I’d followed last year, namely, to pack a bag, leave my husband and son to fend for themselves for three weeks, and go to Warren, Pennsylvania to manage one of Obama’s grassroots campaign headquarters.
I understood from the Area Coordinator that I was walking into a proud community of Obama supporters who had strong ideas about how to approach the election. The group’s point of view was at odds with the Democratic Party in the town (“a bunch of old white guys sitting around drinking coffee” is how one supporter described them) and the Obama organization (“a bunch of paid organizers who don’t have to live in our town after the election is done”). My unpaid responsibilities: keep peace, recruit volunteers to follow the official canvassing expectations, and ride herd on the whole lot.
This whim I’d undertaken wasn’t going to be any kind of wham-bam-thank-you-Ma’am; it was going to be a real chore.*
I covered the word “captain” with GRUNT. I wore the button like a giant barrette to show I didn’t take myself too seriously. I never do.
I take the job seriously.
If I say I’ll do it, I do it.
I’m your git-‘er-done girl.
Of course, that means I do more than my fair share of directing, imploring, cajoling, and reminding (traits that have inspired descriptors such as bossy, demanding, stubborn, and relentless) in order to get the job done. It also means that I will work as hard as I expect from anyone else.
In my teens and twenties, I was an impulsive young woman. Along the lines of the opening quote, with a slight moderation: When I was a child, I was impulsive as a child, I was impetuous as a child, I lacked forethought as a child: but when I became a woman, I put away my reckless ways.
I had a husband and a few children (okay, 32–but who’s counting?) to love and support. Wikipedia (which we all know is the absolute authority online, right?) defines impulsivity as “a multifactorial construct that involves a tendency to act on a whim, displaying behavior characterized by little or no forethought.”
In the lives of my foster and adopted children, impulsivity was often a trait resulting from their birth parents’ substance abuse, mental illness, or thinking errors compounded by poverty and lack of support systems. At that time, foster care felt to me like an us-and-them framework: good parents on one side of the agency, bad parents on the other side. With my inexperience and polarized thinking, I did not want to identify with the bad parents. That, and I had a lot of people’s needs to manage, so I interred my impulsive spirit some place deep inside, as if I had decided there was no room for reckless at the inn.
The trouble is, in time, I lost my sense of spontaneity too.
If you ask the friends who know me well, they’d say, “She’s fun, and funny, and probably ADHD.” If you ask my children, they would probably say, “She loves rules.” This disparity bothered me as I worked on my memoir. I see myself as somewhere in the midst of those two points of view. I like rules because I want to do what’s expected. But I’m also spontaneous. The trouble was, I’d built a life encumbered by children who needed stability and consistency.
Eight children, even great children, is a boatload of kids to manage.
Anyone who’s gone from one child to two, or from two to three, knows that the complexity of parenting additional children cannot be quantified by the simple mathematical statement n+1. The correct mathematical way to explain it is n!, as in 7! or 8!. As a parent increases the number of children, the growth for potential conflict increases dramatically. A factorial equation expresses the difficulty: 1×2 = 2, 1x2x3=6, 1x2x3x4=24 and so:
I was like a crazy woman on the beach flying eight kites at a time.
As the kids have grown, and I’m down to one child at home, I feel a strong pull toward improvisation again. I want to feel the wind moving through me instead of around me. I feel like I’m coming alive after a long sleep.
*My experience working on the campaign in Warren, Pennsylvania was engaging, exhausting, and inspiring. The people I met in the campaign office and in the town of Warren were excellent comrades. If the whim to work an out-of-state campaign comes to you, do it. Really.