Monday, December 1, 2008

Against Martyrdom

This Thanksgiving I wanted to help. I wanted to help my mother in the kitchen. I wanted to help the children have fun. I came supplied with ample quantities of elbow grease and arts and crafts supplies.

You'll be glad to hear that I did help my mother. I twisted crescent rolls and washed serving spoons. I ironed the table cloth. I also ironed the apron I gave her for her birthday, which she has been wearing and washing but not ironing (I took her to task for this, which for some reason made her laugh and laugh in a If only you could hear yourself kind of way).

Helping the children have fun, it turned out, meant sitting in the basement. My parents have a large, one-story house with a huge unfinished basement. It's perfect for hordes of cousins to run around in. My dad borrows razor scooters and trikes from his neighbors who have kids and sets up a soccer goal whenever his grandchildren come to town en masse, but mostly they like rolling each other around in office chairs (they used the goal to play "Jail") and jumping up and down on the exercise equipment. They're an easy-to-please crowd.

The rule is, when the kids want to play in the basement, there has to be an adult to supervise. It's kind of a drag, but not entirely unreasonable. And in my role as Miss Helper of the Universe, I spent a good deal of time on Thursday supervising. I became the go-to adult when all the cousins wanted to play downstairs. Well, I did come ready to be of service, and so down the stairs I went, my knitting in hand. "Let the others enjoy themselves upstairs," I thought, full of kindness and unselfishness. "I'll tend to the children."

This worked the first three or four times. By the fifth trip downstairs, I could feel little tendrils of resentment beginning to form in my helpful, altruistic soul. I began to note who came down to join me and who never once showed their face in the basement. I began keeping score.

Now, I have known some martyrs in my time, God's little helpers who are the first to jump up from the table to begin clearing the plates (often before everyone is done eating) and who wave people out of the kitchen despite the hundreds of dishes piled up on the counters. As I sat in the basement feeling those little tendrils of resentment taking root and beginning to form little, black buds, I realized I was in danger of becoming one of those people who thinks they're helping but who in fact is ruining everyone else's good time. At any second, I was going to start getting snippy and irritable. I was going to start saying stuff like, "Boy, it must be nice sitting around and talking to other adults while someone else is keeping an eye on your children."

So I went upstairs. I poured myself a nice glass of wine and turned to the group chatting away at the table. "Time for someone else to watch the kids," I said, and one of my brothers popped up and said he'd go, and after that people seemed to do a pretty fair job of taking their turn downstairs. Well, not everyone, but most everyone, and that's about as much as you can hope for.

So it was a nice Thanksgiving. I'm fortunate to have a family that gets along, in-laws and out-laws and by-laws. On Friday, my aunts came over along with two of my cousins and their kids, so it was a big time. By Saturday, I was totally exhausted. My family is full of good will and good cheer and good health, but that doesn't mean that after three days I'm not ready to be shed of them (and them of me, to be perfectly fair). Which is to say, it's good to be home, feeling full and thankful, and ready to be of no help to anyone at all.


Tracy said...

I feel the same way about kids and swimming pools over summer holidays. I begin to feel like I'm in jail, and never allowed out...even if I have got a good book with me!

I've tagged you for a very easy peasy quick meme :)

Tina ♥ said...

The basement sounds like kiddo heaven! Isn't it funny how all kids love to spin around on office chairs? Wheeee! :)