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Opinion: Address your weirdness early, kids

by Mick Rhodes | editor@claremont-courier.com

In my exceedingly optimistic, starry-eyed May 27 column about my then upcoming wedding  [“Love and marriage: not just for kids anymore”], I wrote, “I can’t see how our in-person partnership will bring anything other than more joy to our kids and us.”

That it has.

But there have been … complications, all self-inflicted.

I say this nearly two months into this beautiful union, which has included the merging of wife Lisa, two of her kids (and usually one bonus boyfriend), a cat and a gecko with myself and two (or three) of my kids, two dogs and one cat, into our smallish 1954 home.

In the column I mentioned being committed to harnessing my OCD tendencies. I was clearly naïve. After several weeks now it’s come into clear focus how weird I truly am.

An example: the dishes have been stacked a certain way in the kitchen shelves since I’ve lived in our home. Now any deviation from this longstanding arrangement causes my anxiety to spike. Why? They’re just a bunch of plates, bowls, and cups.

Another: the kitchen counter includes the various necessary gadgets for coffee, toast and smoothies, a block full of knives, and a smattering of food-related trimmings. It’s always been this way. Now though, with twice as many gadgets, nowhere to put the extra kitchen utensils, and a great baker’s (Lisa) clutch of necessary staples, the counters are about 70% occupied. And again, my anxiety gallops.

What kind of control issues must I have to let this stuff get to me? I’m self-diagnosing here, but the assessment is aided greatly by a lifetime of knowing looks and rolling eyes from friends and family. They all wondered how this might play out for Lisa and her kids. It’s go-time now, and it ain’t pretty.

Clearly, I must adapt. I must change my weird ways and “chill.” I’m not so good at chill. But if I want to keep the peace in our newly unpredictable home, chill I must.

We’re all products of our families, environments, and DNA. We’re pretty much wired up by the time we’re 18 and sent out into the world, complete with all our inherent, mostly unintended defects.

But the arbitrary 18-year signifier of adulthood doesn’t mean we all pop the hood at that point and see which parts of our own flawed wiring need updating, replacement or rehabilitation.

If I could offer any worthwhile advice to young folks venturing forth into adulthood, it would be to deal with your neuroses/phobias/addictions/etc. early on as to avoid decades of repeating bad patterns.

In my case, it’s taken me (with luck) 2/3 of my life to approach a modicum of self-awareness.

I am at an age when I’ve said goodbye to many a loved one. I’ve learned that in the end our grudges or irrational obsessions mean nothing. None of my loved ones has confessed a dying wish to load the dishwasher “the right way” one last time.

My own anxieties have only expanded with age.

I’ve tried pharmaceuticals. Ativan is handy stuff. But it’s not sustainable. It makes me sleepy, and I know it’s not good for my health to provide an onramp for Big Pharma to reach yet another self-medicating customer.

Recently I’ve discovered a simple, relatively low-risk elixir: though clearly not for everyone, — and with addiction issues clustered on both branches of my family tree, it’s dicey to say the least — with all kids and animals fed, dishes done, and dinner transformed into tomorrow’s leftovers, I mix Lisa and I a pair of gin and tonics.

We take those aromatic cocktails out into our backyard and sit on the ancient swing my grandfather loved, and rock slowly. We call it our “nightly check-in,” and it’s become the highlight of my day. It’s a chance to talk about the day’s work, our kids, family and friends, and listen to one another. In those moments, with the moon high, my heart rate slows. All those anxieties become obstacles to overcome together. I am reminded for the 46,819th time just how good, kind, and generous Lisa is, and how lucky I am to have found this life at my age.

I’m also grateful for whatever chemicals my brain is releasing during these moments (Dopamine? Serotonin?). I wonder if there’s a way to carry this feeling over into the daylight hours. I’m working on it.

We’re all working on this blended family experiment. The cats are the most up front about their distress. They have this eerie, low sort of moan they both emit when they get too close to one another. The standoff usually ends with one giving up and darting away, but a few have resulted in feline fisticuffs.

Maybe they’re handling it best. I’m not advocating for physical violence, just observing how close to the surface their feelings lie, and how confident they are in showing everyone their displeasure. Maybe the humans in the house, starting with me, should try a little more sharing and adapting, and less growling.

So, going forward, I pledge to follow the wisdom of the cat, or most of it anyway.

With apologies to Mad Magazine, “What me, worry?”

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