Let me tell you a story. Let me tell you two stories actually.
The first is a story I read to my girls two nights ago. It’s a sweet story about a big family in a little house. There was a poor man, who lived in a tiny house with his wife, father, and six children. He knocked on the door of the wisest man in town, seeking advice. He told him it was just too crowded: they all trip and bump into each other all day, have little room to sleep, and no privacy. The wise man asked how many animals they had in their barn. He said that they had a cow, a goat, a pig, and some chickens.
“Good,” said the wise man, “Now go home and take all the animals into the house with you.” The poor man was surprised, but he did as the wise man said. The next day he was back.
“It was terrible! the animals are into everything. They have turned the house into a dirty barn. They have eaten our food, and we have to sleep standing up.” The wise man thought again, and told him to now go home and take the animals out of the house. The poor man hurried home and did just that. Then next day he was back, smiling.
“With the animals out of the house, it seems quiet and peaceful now. And with no animals around, it’s so clean. My wife and children, my father, and I have much more room in which to eat and sleep. Thank you for helping us!”
Cute story, right?
Now, let me tell you a second story.
This morning I went grocery shopping with the baby after dropping the girls off at school. I pulled into the parking lot of the grocery store, and squinted out my window: it was raining buckets outside. The trek from the car to the store would have to be a well-executed mad dash to keep the baby dry in his carrier. I had to just carry what I needed. Only the essentials would make the cut. I found the grocery list, and placed it in my pocket. Then the keys. Lastly, I pinched out a $100 bill – courtesy of our family cash system for point-of-sale purchases – and folded into my pocket. I felt like a queen, or a mobster, toting around a large bill on my person like it was no big deal. I tried not to look too conspicuous.
And, with a deep breath, I spread my oversized-golf-umbrella above me, hoisted the carseat into my elbow, and ducked through the rain.
Once inside, I fit the baby’s seat into a giant shopping cart, and started down the produce aisle. Counting oranges into a clear plastic bag, I deftly felt in my pocket for my phone. No phone. It was still in the car. Rats. no phone meant no calculator. Which meant no running tally of my purchases. It was my little trick to shield the nerd in my head from awkward stares: I would whip out my phone and add up the prices of items as I shopped. To an onlooker, I was just an irresponsible mommy, probably updating my facebook status or texting my friend about her cat. Bwahaha. I tried bringing an actual calculator one time, but one stray slap from my toddler’s hand cleared out the whole tally. Calculators don’t have lock screens like phones do. Holler at your smartphone!
So there I was, oranges in hand, staring out the sliding automatic doors at the howling storm between me and my calculator phone. I stood unmoving for a moment, considering lugging my baby out there again. Ha! Forget it. I shrugged and reasoned that I would just stick to the list. It wasn’t that long anyhow.
By the time I got to the register, my cart was only half full. I had shopped the sales around the store, and stuck to my list (more or less). Did I mention that this store was one of those “Bargain-tastic” groceries? I was reasonably sure I would have money left over. As I placed boxes of crackers and chips onto the conveyor, I remembered walking in the chip aisle, looking for Cool Ranch Doritos, when something clinked under my shoe. Stepping back, I saw a dime flash on the floor. I bent and picked it up, wondering when the last time was that I ever picked up a coin. I slipped it in my tiny front pocket, thinking that I would probably give it to one of the girls.
When the guy at the checkout counter finished scanning all of my items, I glanced over at the register: $180 glowed green on the display. If I had been drinking water in a cartoon, it would have sprayed out of my mouth in surprise and shock. I blinked for a moment. I thought of running out to my car, through the rain, to grab something plastic to swipe and buy it all and avoid further embarrassment, or self discipline.
But I played it cool. “Okay,” I said, “It looks like we will have to put some of these things back.” I began thumbing through the things on the conveyor, wondering if there was anything I had picked out that I totally hated anyways. There wasn’t. All of the items were like little puppies I wanted to adopt, who I promised I would take them home, and now I had to give some back, because of a cold system that required money in order for us to be together. Thanks nationally disbursed monetary legal tender. Thanks a lot.
The checkout guy played it cool too. Like he is used to ladies “unbuying” half of their groceries, after the fact. Sheesh. I handed him back many items. “We have thirty dollars left to go, ” he said. I liked how he said ‘we,’ like he was unbuying along with me. “Now only eight more dollars.” I handed him hummus and syrup. “And the grand total now is: $100.10.” I smiled and shook my head. I dug in my jeans and handed him the bill and the dime. Thank you chip aisle.
A younger guy helped me bag up what was left, and pushed the cart after me in the rain, as I carried the baby under the huge umbrella.
A car ride, a nursing, and a changing later, and we were back in our snug little home. I placed the baby in his swing, and began unloading the bags from the car into the kitchen. And the strangest thing happened. When I looked into each bag, I felt delight swell in my chest. “Oh look! Earl Grey Tea! How nice that I was able to bring it home! And look! A block of cheddar cheese! I can’t wait to make sandwiches.” In the store, these were just items on my list. I grabbed them off the shelf without much attention, save for the price. Now they were special treasures. I even held up the jar of peanut butter to the baby. “Look!” I squealed, “Look what we got! How nice that we bought peanut butter.” The baby looked bewildered, like a dog with his head cocked questioningly. But I understood. We just went through a terrible ordeal. It’s like my grocery items had been through a trauma together with me, and now they and I had formed a kind of survivors bond.
I get the moral of the story.
Restricting times, compounded with further restriction, causes the original state to feel much more luxurious. And more meaningful.
I should write my own bedtime story books. For mommies. Who tuck in for the night, clutching their very own jar of very special peanut butter.