The Babushka, Rules and Perfection

Meeting My Neighbor

I heard a very polite, soft voice say, “Excuse me.”

I stopped short and looked up.

Staring at her face, I thought to myself, “I didn’t realize you spoke English.”

It was the homeless woman, who has lived in our area for the last six months or so. She caught me just as I was about to walk into the grocery store. She was standing off to the side in the foyer, next to the automatic doors. I didn’t notice her until she spoke.

Yes?” I asked.

Could you buy me some menstrual pads and cough syrup? Please? I need them.”

Without a second thought I said, “Yes, of course. Is that it?”

She nodded. “Yes, yes. Thank you.”

A few weeks ago I offered her a sandwich box I was carrying, but she had declined by shaking her head and turning away. With the kerchief tied around her head, and the layers of plain clothing under her thick winter parka, I thought she might be a babushka from Eastern Europe. Now I realized, despite appearances, she was my age, or only a few years older. She didn’t have a detectable accent of any kind, and was very polite. Almost refined. It made me wonder how much education she had and where she came from. It begged the inevitable question of, “How did you end up here?”

I hope one day to find out the answer to that question.

The Privilege of Austerity

After buying menstrual pads and cough syrup for my homeless neighbor, it brings to light just how privileged I am to have the wherewithal to entertain this idea of living my year of “austerity.” It’s easy to cut out coffee, or shopping on Amazon, when you have these exact things to give up in the first place.

It almost strikes me as a little ridiculous, my voyage of scaling back.

Silly American.

But I hope cutting a few things out, these default habits of mine, will test me in more ways than I can imagine. I think yesterday’s interaction is proof of that.

I’d like to think that anyway.

Still No Coffee

Are you sitting down?

I haven’t missed it nearly as much as I thought I would.

This is a genuine revelation.

The last time I abstained from coffee was almost twelve years ago. I didn’t last even an hour that day, or the day after, or the day after that. Just like a fad diet destined for failure, when I finally caved to the java each day, I proceeded to power-guzzle twice as much as my normal consumption, which was already a lot back in the day. It was just better to accept my addiction and return to normal intake.

Telling coworkers about my proposed schedule for the New Year, I’ve gotten some different reactions to my “Year of Austerity.” The first person I told at work stood there blank-faced with his hands buried deep in his pockets.

Rocking slowly back and forth on his heels deep in thought, he mulled my announcement over for a moment. Finally, he said, “Well of course YOU’RE going to have a year of austerity.”

This made me laugh.

Pondering it more, my colleague asked, “So, can you give me the heads up each month so I know what I’m going to be dealing with when I walk into the office?”

Ha! Good point. This might only be fair.

My boss, hearing about my “Year of Austerity,” raised his eyebrows in surprise.

Coffee??” he said. “Now why would you [aka anyone in their right mind] want to go and give up coffee? First, it has zero calories …”

I interrupted. “Well, YOU’RE coffee has zero calories. MINE, however, does not.”

He sort of nodded, chewing on this bit of information, but I could tell what he was thinking.

Why don’t you just cut the creamer out, instead of the coffee??

I didn’t have the heart to tell him the creamer, and anything (everything) else made with sugar, happens next month.

A few days later, the same colleague who requested a warning at the start of each month, walked into the office and said, “My wife thanks you.”

I had no idea what he was talking about. Surprised, I asked, “For what?”

“I told her what you are doing and she thought it sounded like a great idea and she’s going to do it too.”

This made me smile.

Ahhh, austerity –the gift that keeps on giving.

Yes vs. No

My friend recently told me she could never give up coffee. In the end, she said I was much more disciplined than her. But I’m not so sure that’s true. She’s disciplined, just about other things. It got me wondering about what it is each of us is attached to and why. Do our attachments identify a large part of who we are? One might argue their love of coffee isn’t an indication of anything meaningful, but if you have to have it, and a moment or several moments of your daily life revolves around that one thing, it definitely says something about you.

Is it just a ritual? A treat?

Sometimes they cross over into being the same thing.

However, when does “treating” ourselves become a dysfunction? When does giving yourself what you want become a crutch or a limitation?

When we always say yes to something, what are we possibly saying no to, and missing out on instead? 

Russ likes to give me a hard time because there are three places I like to eat in DC and that’s about it. Every now and then he’ll convince me to try a new place, and so far, it mostly doesn’t end well. (This has happened for me every time except when we went to Duangrat’s in Falls Church. That is the best Thai food I’ve ever had, fyi.).  Not much puts me in a bad mood more than spending good money on a meal that’s not. I always walk out and think, “That money would have been so much better spent at ‘xyz.” 

(This is exactly how I felt after flying Spirit Airlines, by the way. The big mystery is why businesses such as Spirit, or restaurants that offer a subpar product are still in business. I can’t be the only one who subscribes to”once and done.”).

There are definitely benefits to saying “no,” just as much as there are to saying “yes.” The trick is to know the difference when choosing one is the smarter choice to choosing the other. 

Rules of Engagement

This isn’t the first time I’ve imposed “sanctions” on myself. This is just the first time I’ve mapped out a rigid schedule of them for the foreseeable future. Russ has gotten used to my personal crusades over the years, but even he can’t help but roll his eyes at times.

Once, when we went running together early on in our relationship, we rounded the corner to home and Russ slowly pulled up. Looking down at my watch not comprehending, I asked, “What are you doing?”

He said, “We’re done.”

“But we have two more minutes.”

He shrugged his shoulders like “whatever” and kept walking.

C’mon. We just have two more minutes.”

It’s two minutes, Jenn. Calm down.”

I thought about it for about two seconds, then turned on my heel.

Sorry, can’t do it,” and I took off.

I ran for the remaining two minutes, but then continued to the next big tree, because turning around without hitting a landmark is almost as crazy as being the first one to yoga class and setting your mat down directly in the nucleus of the room.

I like to think of these personal “rules of engagement” more as friendly “goal posts.” Having markers to strive for pushes you out of your comfort zone and hopefully urges you to contemplate your life–your role, your rituals, and rules of engagement– outside of your familiar bubble.

This morning I received a notification that I am a “Top Fan” on a business’ Facebook page. Another kind of goal post. It seems I’m a “Top Fan” on a number of Facebook pages. Surely it’s meant to pay homage for my loyalty to the cause, but more so, I find it an unwelcome indication I spend too much time on social media. September is going to be a rough month for me (the month of no Facebook). I expect it might be the closest I come to ever experiencing pregnancy. I imagine the lead-up to no Facebook will go something like this:

I won’t think about it for the next seven months. I will remain blissfully unaware, staying in my bubble.  Two months out, I will start to get a little nervous. Reality is right around the corner. When September arrives, the day of relinquishing Facebook will resemble the day of birth: a lot of crying, heavy breathing and swearing. (So I’ve heard). Then I’ll experience some post-partum depression about the whole experience, and pretty soon, it will all be over and I’ll wonder what all the fuss was about, and declare to anyone who will listen how it was so worth it and I can’t wait to do it all over again next year.

The truth is, I will probably resume Facebook the way I did coffee twelve years ago—double time.

The Ties That Bind

What are the things you hold onto? What are the things that hold you back?

What are you tethered to? What keeps you moored?

What serves you? What limits you?

I am tethered to running and to yoga.

I am tethered to my husband, my family, and my friends.

All of these things define me and fulfill me.

As far as what doesn’t serve me and what holds me back?

I try to identify these things, but it’s hard to know what it is you don’t know.

I can be a rigid in my thinking at times, and can I hold people to a high standard–as much as I do myself. However, I know from experience this lends itself to disappointment and hurt feelings. Surely that’s a sign this trend of thinking doesn’t serve me well.

I have learned perfectionism, despite it’s admirable quest, can lead to overwhelm, procrastination and immobility.

I know this much about me, at least, but I still struggle with all of it, and all of my other flaws yet to be identified (to myself). This writing piece is a good example. I’ve been working on it all week, so this isn’t a shitty first draft, but more like a shitty sixth draft. I know exactly what I wanted to say, yet, when it hit the paper it sounded all wrong. Like a million times. I still don’t like it. Yet, here it is for the world to read, a shitty sixth draft, about as nice as a milkshake gone warm. A slap against perfectionism–showing my shortcomings, my ignorance, opening myself up for criticism.

A small step for mankind. A huge step for me.








Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s