Stressed. Exhausted. Frazzled.
Yep, that’s been me.
Grumpy. Grouchy. Irritable. Demanding. Snippy and Surly and Sullen.
And that has been me, too–or so my husband has claimed. And although I haven’t been particularly fond of his observations, I have to admit he’s probably been right.
“Why have you been so grumpy?” he recently asked. “After all, you’re retired. You have all day to do whatever you want–not like the rest of us who actually have to go to work.”
True, since I’ve retired my days usually are much more carefree than they used to be. The last seven years of my career were especially hectic and stressful and looooong, so I feel I’ve earned those carefree, “livin’ in the sunshine, zip-a-dee-doo-dah” days. But maybe all that sunshine has made me soft, and all that hippie chick peace, love and joy I’m always bragging about has left me incapable of internalizing stress like I used to. Before, I could tuck away every annoyance with no tell-tale proof of its existence other than a clenching jaw and rocketing blood pressure– but lately every little grievance, every minor mishap seems to send me into a blubbering tailspin.
Sometime around the first of December my zip-a-dee-doo-dah suddenly vanished. Maybe it got buried beneath a stack of to-do lists. Hidden behind mountains of dirty dishes. Stuck in a traffic jam in the Walmart parking lot. Accidentally wrapped inside present #37.
Maybe I didn’t have to “work” every day leading up to the holidays, but I did have to
- shop for the perfect gifts (until weeks of frustrated online and on-foot searching led to I-give-up-just-put-something-under-the-dang-tree gifts),
- wrap all those gifts (thousands of hours of excruciating drudgery),
- plan all the meals (and make repeated trips to the grocery store for forgotten must-haves),
- clean every nook (and locate inconspicuous crannies for hiding away all the displaced clutter),
- drag boxes and boxes and boxes from basement storage so that a Christmas tree (and every other conceivable surface) could be adequately adorned, and
- make cookies and candies, appetizers and meals that took hours to prepare, minutes to consume, and more hours to clear away the crumbs.
And I’ll bet you did the same, didn’t you?
And you’d do it all again, wouldn’t you?
I know I would.
But I also know I have to get a handle on my frustrations (and emotions), especially after an incident a few days ago when I walked out of Walmart empty-handed and fighting back tears.
I’ve always felt empathy for sales clerks, particularly around the holidays. In my much younger days, I worked for two years as a cashier at K-Mart–back when there were no scanners and all prices had to be manually keyed in, back when there were no computers and all change had to carefully calculated in the cashier’s head. You think the lines are long now? I remember working those dreadful days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, when the check-out lines stretched all the way back to the shoe department and customers disgruntled over the long waits and the sold-out Charlie’s Angels dolls took out their frustrations on the poor little cashier (me). Because of that experience, I try to be considerate toward anyone working retail–but my last Walmart experience really tested the limits of my kindness.
All I wanted was to buy a few fish to take home to my aquarium. I was prepared for the mile-long hike through the packed parking lot (I needed the exercise anyway), and I was prepared for the dazed crowds (they had just as much right to be there as I did). And I accepted–at first–when I couldn’t find a sales clerk to help me (they were probably all busy helping someone else). I walked from the fish tanks back to the automotive department before I even spotted a blue-shirted clerk at a cash register, and I waited patiently in line behind two other customers just so I could ask her to call for someone to help me in the fish department. She apologized and immediately got on the phone, and as I was walking back to the tanks, I heard the intercom page: “Associates, customer needs assistance at the fish tanks–assistance at the fish tanks please.”
And so I waited in front of the danios and tetras. For almost ten minutes I waited, and no one came. I pulled out my cell phone, looked up Walmart’s phone number, and called.
“Walmart of Mountain Home. How may I direct your call?”
“Yes, I’m actually in the fish department inside your store, and I’ve been waiting for someone to help me.”
“I’m so sorry, m’am. I’ll page again.”
I heard the call go over the intercom again, and so I waited. And waited some more. Afraid to wander too far away, I scanned the nearby aisles and saw no one who could assist me. After another ten minutes, I called the store again, and the same woman once again answered the phone.
“Walmart of Mountain Home. How may I direct your call?”
“Yes, I called earlier, and I’m still waiting for someone to help me in the fish department.”
“M’am, I’m so sorry. I’ll page again. My apologies.”
After another ten minutes, I decided I just wasn’t meant to purchase fish that day. I was frustrated that I had wasted so much time, but I wasn’t angry–until I walked away from the fish tanks and spotted one sales clerk stocking shelves a few aisles over and another sales clerk laughing with a third sales clerk just one aisle beyond that. I had heard the page for assistance (three times), and so they all must have heard it, too, and yet not one of them could be bothered to help me? Whose job was it to grab a net and swipe a few little fish for a little ol’ lady who had waited so patiently?
I could have approached any one of the three as I was exiting the store, and I’m guessing that any one of them would have finally helped me, but by then I was struggling to keep the angry tears at bay. I made the mile-long trek back to my car, threw my purse into the passenger seat, slammed the car door behind me, beat my hands against the steering wheel and spewed a long, repetitious string of highly unoriginal curse words.
And then I ruined a perfectly good temper tantrum by laughing.
Are you really going to let something this trivial ruin your day? Seriously? Don’t you have more important things to worry about? And don’t you have more important things to be grateful for? Woman, you are messed up. Take a big swig of your iced tea, break into your emergency stash of peanut butter M & Ms in the console, and get hold of yourself (and while you’re at it, quit talking to yourself, too).
I wish I could say that reality check put an end to my grumpiness, but my husband would testify otherwise. It did, however, help me to gain a little perspective and to breathe a little deeper. It also reminded me of the importance of finding time–even during the crazy busy holidays–for all the activities that relax me and allow me to build a reservoir of inner peace to draw from when I really need it. I love riding my bike, but I can’t remember the last time I pedaled my way into a sweaty oblivion. I love reading and writing, but lately I’ve been returning library books unopened, and I’ve sorely neglected my writing projects. And I love losing track of time behind the lens of my camera, but I’ve barely picked it up in weeks. In the mad rush to please everyone else, I have neglected to add my own needs to a single “to do” list.
That all ends today. My boys have already returned to their busy lives, and my Christmas holiday is over–and so it’s time to get back to normal. I don’t regret all the energy I spent preparing for their visit (that’s what mamas do), I loved every precious minute of my time with them, and I already miss their beautiful faces and their heart-warming laughter–but I’m ready to chase away the invading quiet with some much-needed “me” time. I may never cook or clean again (or shop for fish at Walmart), but I am going to read and write and pedal and shoot–and I’m probably going to nap and soak, too.
I hope all of you are having a joyous holiday season, surrounded by an abundance of delicious food, fortified by the blessing of good health, and embraced by the love of family and friends. And if you, too, have been a little stressed trying to meet the needs and desires of everyone around you, then I hope you will soon make the time for whatever activities relax and restore you. Once in a while, it really is okay to be selfish.
Put the zip-a-dee back in your doo-dah and have a wonderful day!
My Christmas cactus in bloom . . .
A peaceful winter sunset . . .
A moment of peaceful reflection for Mr. and Mrs. Claus . . .
Merry Christmas from my goofy family to yours!