God, Help Me! They Want To Help!

12 Dec

My husband calls me Thor. He does this partly because I am one-fourth Danish but mostly because I will try to do anything myself before asking for help. I move furniture. I haul wood. I reach for things on the top shelf.

I don’t have some “I am an island” complex, but I really would rather do many things myself. I like working hard and it feels good to be independent. Frequently, too, I’ve found the help people want to give doesn’t really feel helpful to me.

When I’m in the middle of making a big-deal dinner, say Thanksgiving, the last thing I want to do is find some job for someone to do. Someone comes at me with a “what can I do to help” while I’m in the middle of trying to strain the gravy and I’m likely to feel more irritated than grateful.

A friend pointed out to me, after asking how she could help with our Passover Seder preparations, that I was delusional. Preparing a seder, even a small one, is a lot of work. I said I did not need help. If my life were a western, this woman would be the rancher’s wife, ready to shoot marauding varmints right between the eyes. She looked at me with a “Puh-leeze” cock of her head and said, “You need help.” I felt her will seep into me and my head nodded in acquiescence. I accepted help. It was painful.

I’ve since developed a strategy that allows the helpful to help and me to keep my sanity. I plan in advance what tasks will be delegated and what things only I can do. Ok, that sounds really arrogant, but when I’m making dinner at my house, I get to decide who’s going to season the sauces and who’s going to set the table.

I helped around the house when I was a kid and I expect my own children to as well. Finding things they can help with that are truly helpful has been a bit of a challenge, though. My daughter believes it’s helpful to run a day spa in the family room on the weekend we’ve planned to decorate the house for Christmas. While my husband, son and I were moving furniture and digging boxes out of the crawlspace, my daughter and her best friend were coercing us into making massage appointments. An hour later, my husband was getting a massage in the family room, while I struggled and cursed to get a tree made of wire and green plastic bristles to look like something other than a tree made of wire and green plastic bristles.

When it comes to getting help, I may have painted myself into a corner with the boy who cried wolf. I’ve been so insistent that I don’t need help that I don’t get it when I truly do. Not too long ago, I was cleaning a particularly heavy and unwieldy fountain pump at the kitchen sink. Every summer, I convince myself that a fountain is exactly what our deck needs and I contrive one out of the variety of pots, tubing and buckets that proliferate in my garage.

While the fountains are usually charming, they generate copious amounts of algal slime. Cleaning the pump is, therefore, a rather nausea-inducing task. So, I was at the sink, attempting to clean the pump without regurgitating lunch. Pump clean, I transferred it from one hand to another while reaching for a towel. The pump fell on my big toe. It hurt. I have a particular string of profanities that I only utter under extreme duress. I’m pretty sure I uttered them.

Once the initial surge of adrenaline subsided, I assessed the damage. My toenail was crushed, awash in blood. I pushed aside the visions of blood and algae slime and found the calm center of my mom brain. Efficiently but painfully, I washed the wound, bound it with a clean towel and made an ice pack. I hobbled over to the couch to watch Food Network while I iced my toe.

I turned on the TV to find my son had left it in video game mode. Now, I could have hobbled over to the TV, fixed the viewing mode and hobbled back to the couch. No, I thought. There are people in this house, my toe hurts, those people can help me. So I shouted, “Help!” My son, I knew, was in his room listening to music. My daughter was in mine, watching Sponge Bob. I shouted louder. “HELP!” No response. “HELP! HELP! HELP!” I yelled. I yelled for about a minute. Finally, I gave up. I hobbled over to the TV, hobbled back to the couch and iced my toe while watching Paula Deen make something like pork shoulder donuts.

Later, I asked my kids, “Did you hear me yelling for help?”

“You were yelling for help?” my son asked.

“Yes. I was. For quite some time.” I glowered at him.

“My door was shut,” he said.

“You could have heard me,” I said. “I was yelling pretty loud.”

He covered his lack of concern by deflecting guilt to his sister.

“Well, what about her?” he asked and pointed out that the door to my bedroom was open the entire time. My daughter could well have heard me from the very first pitiful cry for help.

“Did you hear Mommy?” She looked at the floor.

“Yes,” she said. “But Mr. Crabbs was yelling at the same time, so I couldn’t be sure.”

“You didn’t think you should come downstairs to make sure Mommy was ok?”

“No,” she said. “I really wanted to see Sponge Bob.”

We had a talk about empathy, thoughtfulness, caring for others and being grounded.

This Thanksgiving, my son actually asked “What can I do to help?” He was serious; I was astounded. My daughter made our signature ground cranberry and orange relish, operating the food grinder by herself.

I’m not confident yet that I’d win out over Sponge Bob, but I’m holding out hope for the future.

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7 Responses to “God, Help Me! They Want To Help!”

  1. Janelle Allee Baker December 12, 2011 at 1:28 pm #

    I can totally relate to that whole needing vs not needing help! Once my stove top exploded while I was in the kitchen, big loud noise (on top of my screaming) and even sparks…not a soul checked on me. And don’t even get me started on the time I slammed my fingers in the car door and it locked….yea. I had to dig through my purse where I had just stuffed my keys to find that little unlocker thingy. I bet my family was watching Sponge Bob too….

  2. Janice Lindegard December 12, 2011 at 1:39 pm #

    Oh, I am cringing over the fingers slammed in a locked car door. Of course, there is also the image of you with your hand locked in the door trying to rummage through your purse with the other hand….I won’t say that humorous, but…..

  3. the waiting December 12, 2011 at 8:01 pm #

    When I taught kindergarten, I started making a mental list of things my future kids could “help” with when they got to be a certain age because I knew that I’d never be able to come up with that stuff on the spot. I’m like you and would rather just do it myself. I still get ornery when hubs folds the laundry the “wrong” way.

    • jmlindy422 December 12, 2011 at 8:56 pm #

      We’ve broken laundry down into stages. My son and husband get the stuff downstairs, clean it and get it back upstairs. I fold because I do it the right way!

  4. Elaine December 13, 2011 at 9:35 pm #

    I heard my daughter speaking on the phone with your daughter the other day. I listened to a mostly one-sided conversation, with my daughter repeatedly saying, “Please, please, pleeeeeaaaase can I help?” I knew then that it must be tree-trimming day at your house. I cringed for you!! And for what it’s worth, I yelled, “Noooooo!!!!” Our little helpers…can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em!

    • jmlindy422 December 13, 2011 at 9:50 pm #

      So funny! I was in the background listening and said to Abby, “Tell Claire to ask her mother if SHE’D like for YOU to come decorate the tree.” Abby said, “MOM! They did their tree a long time ago!” It was so funny. I finally got the freaking thing up but haven’t had time to decorate it yet. Abby’s been opening boxes, finding her own ornaments and sneaking them onto the tree. I, of course, retain Mother Rights to re-arrange as I see fit.

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