Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Sock Thrower

Remember that story about the man who was throwing starfish back into the ocean? No? Then here. It's been adapted many ways. Here's one adaptation taken from the Wikipedia page I just linked to, in which the star of the story is a woman:
An old man had a habit of early morning walks on the beach. One day, after a storm, he saw a human figure in the distance moving like a dancer. As he came closer he saw that it was a young woman and she was not dancing but was reaching down to the sand, picking up a starfish and very gently throwing them into the ocean.
"Young lady," he asked, "Why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?"
"The sun is up, and the tide is going out, and if I do not throw them in they will die."
"But young lady, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it? You cannot possibly make a difference."
The young woman listened politely, paused and then bent down, picked up another starfish and threw it into the sea, past the breaking waves,
saying, "It made a difference for that one."
I've decided to change my perspective. I don't have a starfish problem. I have a dirty sock problem. I don't have miles and miles of beach. I have inches and inches of counter with stranded cereal bowls littering its surface. Many times throughout my day I've found myself thinking "I cannot possibly make a difference." My pattern in the past has alternated between working feverishly on one thing and ignoring all other needs or giving up entirely and doing nothing. Neither of those approaches work very well for me and it's taken me five or so years to come to that conclusion. I'm ready to do something differently, even if it's only in the way I think. Especially if it's only in the way I think.

It's been quite difficult for me to dissociate my worth from how successfully I do or do not do things. This worked very well when I was employed doing something I enjoyed and was good at. This did not work so well when I became employed in service to my family as a home "maker." The repetitive household chores necessary for life to run smoothly just do not appeal to me. At all. Not even a little bit. I derive no satisfaction from cleaning up after other people (or even myself.) It has been a challenge and how I've viewed myself has suffered, accordingly. If I don't get to be happy with myself until ALL the laundry is washed and put away and ALL the dishes are clean... well then the times I get to be happy with myself are very few and far between!1/2

Before we had children I made tasks like washing dishes and folding laundry slightly more palatable by listening to podcasts or audio books as I worked1. I also wasn't nursing, sleep-deprived, responsible for keeping two little people safe, fed, clean (mostly) and healthy, or distracted by earnest questions from a 5-yr-old such as, "but what is gravity MADE out of?!" Additionally, Superman usually helped. We both had full-time jobs. I didn't like doing dishes or laundry but it was manageable. Then I grew a few kids, stopped working for a paycheck and suddenly it all became my responsibility2.

Keeping the starfish story in mind, I now tell myself that no matter how many times a dirty sock may climb back out of the waves to beach itself upon my couch, or behind the toilet, or under the kitchen table... I can choose to pick it up and each time it will have made a difference for that one. Even if it's the same one. Multiple times a day. Each time I wash a dish it will have made a difference for that one, that time. All my precious little starfish... the paper scraps... the dirty underwear... the books... the stuffed animal... the cat toy... the pile of crayons... let me throw you back where you belong. It makes a difference every time.

This intentional shift of perspective has helped my expectations be a tad more reasonable. It's also given me the freedom to do what I can and accept that I may never have all the socks clean and folded and put away3.

Surprisingly,  I've found I've been able to do so much more as a result. I've been freed to do more. Now that the pressure is off to get ALL the starfish back where they belong TODAY (which is an impossible expectation), I'm able to slow down and enjoy the process. Yes, I sometimes enjoy folding laundry and doing dishes. Whether or not I get them all done that hour or even that day has no bearing on my worth.

I'm learning to consistently find my worth in someone far more substantial than any of my accomplishments - a loving higher power.

Along those lines and with a lovely additional point, I highly recommend reading this post, by Kathryn Thompson at Daring Young Mom. It's long but the ending is so worth it.


1/2Unless anti-depressants are involved and even then I wasn't convinced happiness with myself was an option.

1Now I choose to remain unplugged and available during the hours my kids and husband are awake and home.

2Which I initially agreed it should be. We're still working out the kinks in the balance of responsibilities we both have, as well as our skills and personal preferences.

3Until I train my children to do it all!


  1. Thank you! I needed to read this today. :)

  2. I do this too, the starfish thing! I think you have to, if you're the kind of person who doesn't actually derive satisfaction from household chores yet is responsible for them just the same.

    Also, I do the "just 10" or "just 20" thing throughout the day. I pick up 10 or 20 (depending on how much time I have) things that are out of place, and put those 10 or 20 things away, then move on. Or I pick up 10 things that need to be thrown away, or put 10 dishes in the dishwasher, whatever. It works with my girls too! Somehow, being asked to put away 10 toys doesn't sound as daunting as "pick up all the toys."

  3. Once my sock dropper became proficient on the piano, I would pick up her socks and place them on the piano. When she got home she would play me a song for each sock :)

    ~Anna C.