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Slices of Life

Life as a Control Freak

September 7, 2011
Dysart Reporter

By Jill Pertler

Control. Many of us seek it with an energetic zest reserved for the most important things in life: winning the big game, passing the final exam or getting the last drop of Ketchup out of the bottle. For much of my existence, control was my quest. I pursued it with a zestful passion.

Control meant order. Order meant I knew what to expect. Knowing what to expect meant no surprises. No surprises was a good thing. This is what I believed. I became, therefore, a bit freakish about my control if you catch my gist.

Then I had my first child. I remember being in the hospital, hours after giving birth. Guess what I was doing? Holding the baby? Chatting with relatives? Catching up on much needed sleep?

None of the above. I was writing thank-you notes, so I could stay on top of things to maintain control. My hospital stay marked the beginning of the end, of course. Once we brought our daughter home, it was all over. Any semblance of order or control got thrown out with the baby's bathwater.

Of course I tried, for awhile, to keep up pretenses, but soon another baby came. And another, and so on. As the population of my household grew, my sense of control became more and more remote. I no longer worried about getting thank you notes written in a timely manner. I considered it an achievement if they got done at all. Heck, having everyone's hair washed and teeth brushed on the same day was chocked up as a success.

If control means order, children are the anti-control. An orderly life becomes distant amidst car seats, diaper wipes and pureed peas. Since I can be slow to catch on and accept change (my husband might use the term "stubborn") I figured it was only a matter of time before I'd be at the helm of life's control panel again. Maybe in a year two at most. For sure within a decade. Meanwhile, I lived in the clutter and chaos that is a family and I kept waiting.

Until one day, something happened to open my eyes to the truth. I don't know exactly what it was. Maybe I was picking up candy bar wrappers from behind the TV. Perhaps I was fishing a Matchbox car out of the toilet or rinsing the residue out of a hot cocoa mug found (long forgotten) under the bed. It doesn't matter what it was, just that it happened. My Eureka moment: I was fighting a losing battle.

I realized the longer and harder I sought control, the more elusive it became. It reminded me of the Chinese finger trap game, where you put your index fingers into opposite ends of a tube. Pulling to free yourself only tightens the tube's grip and traps your fingers. For years, I'd been trapped like playing tug-of-war with myself.

Control can't be pulled or pushed or forced. It isn't supposed to be. Life is much fuller and richer when it is filled with a sticky wet kiss from a 4-year-old, an unexpected hug from your spouse and handprints on the windows that grow higher and bigger each year. Life isn't about control. It is about the opposite.

With this new sense of insight, I vowed to embrace my chaos and live in a constant state of messy self-actualized bliss surrounded by Legos, discarded Popsicle sticks and freezy wrappers. I looked ahead with hopes of uncontrolled paradise in my future.

Then the inevitable occurred. My children grew up before my eyes and turned themselves into teenagers. It wasn't long before one of them uttered the phrase every parent dreads: "Can I take the car tonight?"

With those words, I almost lost it. My serene sense of lack of control was in grave danger of being annihilated by a 16-year-old in need of four wheels and cruise control. As I fought to keep from pulling on the familiar tug-of-war rope, I did what so many brave parents before me have done: I took a deep breath, remembered control is over-rated, handed over the keys and did my best not to freak out.

Jill Pertler, award-winning syndicated columnist and author of "The Do-It-Yourselfer's Guide to Self-Syndication" is collecting fans on Facebook on her Slices of Life page.Email her; or visit her website



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