Just Routine: Foundations

When I was little, I never stopped moving.

I always had some grand plan, some new game to play. I was on the baseball team, the swim team, the volleyball team, basketball, cheerleading, dance, gymnastics (until I was deemed too tall)–even one season on track and field (fourth place in the long jump! out of maybe five people! woo!) I tried to start my own Babysitter’s Club and entered every talent show. I wrote stories and wandered in the woods behind my house, my head sparking nonstop with ideas. My feet were tough from going barefoot, and my parents couldn’t persuade me not to swim in the icy cold lake even when my lips turned blue.

Now there are days when, left to my own devices, it doesn’t even occur to me to go outside.

I know that nobody maintains their childhood energy moving into adulthood, but sometimes I feel like I’m not just more sedate, but that I’ve become a different person.

How it happened: well, it’s a long story. A lot of it is probably relatable: it’s called “settling down.” But beyond the natural slow-down of life, I’ve become lazy. I’ve become an excuse-maker and a layabout.

I don’t want to pass this quality on to my children.

Whether we realize it or not, our children are always watching and emulating us. The life we model might not be the life they lead in the long-run, but it certainly has an impact. We lay a foundation, and our kids build their lives on top of it.

I think this is why people tend to blame everything on their parents when they go to therapy: they assume, whether they’ve got any evidence or not, that the foundation has failed, and it couldn’t possibly because they left the hose on next to the house or planted trees too close and their roots ripped it apart. No–it’s easier to say the foundation was poured incorrectly.

Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as all that. We can’t learn through practice and imitation, like you would with on a literal construction site. We get one chance to do it, and everyone offering advice has a highly subjective opinion that might or might not work on the piece of property you’ve been given. Each kid is a new bit of acreage.

If I had to describe the foundation that was built for me, I think it would be the wooden base of a trailer: sturdy, but small and always moving from place to place. I tend to build things on top of it and tear them down based on where it is at any given time. It’s prone to gathering mess and needing total overhauls, though no matter how well I organize it, the mess always returns. It’s not made for the life I’m building. I don’t think it can support the weight.

My husband’s foundation is perhaps not too large, but it’s stable and solid. It doesn’t move. If there were an earthquake, it would split down the middle–but it wasn’t poured in earthquake country like mine was.

In marriage, we somehow join two foundations and hope they align. In my case, it often feels like I’m living on his foundation while mine gathers junk in the garage. Still, wherever I’m living, I’m also laying a basis for my kids. Everything they see me do–especially things they see me do regularly–forms their central ideas about life.

I often feel like I’m failing. I’ve been asked to build this monumental thing and I’ve brought all the wrong supplies. I’ve got a ditch that I’m filling with a bunch of junk, hoping it will all compact into something solid.

So I’m working on it. I want to be better, if only for the sake of my children. But what is “better?” There are some things that are less debatable than others, though I’m sure any topic can turn into an argument if you want it to. To me, it seems that:

  • It’s better to floss than not to floss.
  • It’s better to reuse things than throw them away.
  • It’s better to be generous than greedy.
  • It’s better to live in a clean house than to live in squalor.
  • It’s better to be healthy than unhealthy.
  • It’s better to be happy than unhappy.

So these are the materials I want to use in my kids’ foundations. I just hope I haven’t dropped too much of the wrong junk into the pit already.

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