Everything in its right place

There are four boxes in my head ...

The New Fatherhood explores the existential questions facing modern fathers, bringing together the diverse community of forward-thinking dads who are asking them. Here's a bit more information if you're new here. If you've been forwarded this by someone else, get your own one here.

Take a look inside: 1000 words, packed into a perfectly-sized box, on the sexiest of topics—storage solutions.

Wait! Where are you going? Don’t hit that Archive button yet. It's not glamorous, I get it. But something I did last month felt like a coming together of various streams of my thinking on fatherhood. It's a story about plastic boxes, yes. But it's also about how we choose to parent. How our brains fixate on problems that aren’t problems. How we unintentionally pass on the shit that was passed down to us. And how easily we abdicate responsibility for our own emotions and blame our kids for being, well … kids.

I’ve talked before about the maelstrom of toys that are all-too-occasionally strewn across our living room, and how a daily meditation practice helped me learn to let go:

"Back then? I'd be getting fired up every time I walked into a room full of toys, and waking up to a chaotic living room was enough to put me in a bad mood if not for the whole day, at least for the morning. But today? I don't care. Of course, it can sometimes test me when Bodhi lifts the entire LEGO® Large Creative Brick Box 10698 (in 33 different colours) and dumps it's contents onto the floor, before calmly walking away to find his next victim (as I’m sure he thinks to himself "the more you ignore it, the cooler you look"). But that becomes a chance for me to practice what I've been working on for the last 18 months—and over 120 hours—"on the cushion." I can walk into a the most disorderly spaces today, and feel a complete calm in a way that once seemed impossible."

I'm better at caring less for things that don't deserve it. But standing on a delinquent Postman Pat at the end of a long day still has the ability to create a “fiddle dee dee” moment and push me close to the edge. So I thought I’d solve this problem once and for all.

And that was how I came to throwing all their toys away.

Just kidding. Though I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t thought it. It's an extreme measure, but there must be something between one big trip to the dump and allowing our living room to become a permanent soft play area. A middle way that might make it easier: to allow the kids to be kids, but also help them to help me.

So I measured up the toy cupboard—sketched out it's height, width and depth—and went armed with my pink Post-it to the local bazaar; navigating through the paint brushes, pencils and plant pots, to find a scale-replica metropolis constructed from plastic storage solutions.

I measured twice, bought once. Well, bought four, that—according to my maths—would fit snuggly into a space currently overrun with haphazard “anti-Tetris” collection of randomly-sized shoeboxes, holding on for dear life after a summer of intense play. I took them home, and gave them a trial run into the space—where they fit like Cinderella’s glass slipper. I thanked the shoeboxes for their service and sent them to the big Foot Locker in the sky.

Then I called Padme to help. She loves doing things like this together. We spent a few weeks earlier in the year methodically working our way around the kitchen cupboards, one drawer every few days, deciding what was going to stay, and what had to go. I emptied the toy pick 'n' mix out onto the floor, and told her to split them into four different piles of things that made sense to her. She quickly figured out "cars", "trains", "kitchen things" and "plastic figures" would be the optimal way of sorting them out. I agreed. We used a few small sandwich bags to deal with the miscellany, and we were good to go. As I was putting the boxes into place with her, I hit on something that might make my cunning plan even more powerful.

"There's one rule about these boxes, that I need your help with."

"Sure, what?"

"We can only play with one box at a time. So if you want to take a new box out, you have to tidy away everything from the old box first. Otherwise they'll get mixed up again."

"OK ..."

"And you'll have to help teach your little brother that rule too. So he doesn't get everything mixed up either."

She got it. And having a “big sister job” to do, to help her little brother understand, made her even more invested. And now the two of them, together, are helping me deal with my metaphorical boxes of feelings—in particular, that one that tells me that a room needs to be tidy, or we can't relax, that things aren’t OK. The one that I learned growing up, that I'm working on myself, but that I need a little help with too.

The system isn't perfect. As I write this, a few fugitives sit in my peripheral vision: a scattering of Duplo bricks that have escaped their bucket; a fire engine on the table, ladder askew, silently waiting for the next fire; Chase and Rubble, languishing, without purpose, searching for their next ruff-ruff rescue.

But it’ll take me a 2 minutes now, not 15. And even though they’re going into a cupboard, with a closed the door, I'm not hiding them away. I’m dealing with them in a way that works—for all of us. It's the opposite of that kitchen drawer we all have, the one overflowing with a random medley of what-have-you, that pisses you off EVERY SINGLE TIME you go to open it, as you furiously battle an errant potato masher or a pack of batteries that shouldn't even be in there.

There are parallels with the systems we use to manage our physical spaces and the ones we have going on inside our heads. Making sure there’s an order, not a sea of scattered things. Putting them discretely into separate spaces, so we can find them. Putting structures in place to help us give whatever “box” is open right now our full focus. Ensuring we dedicate time and thought to why we opened it in the first place. So that we can, hopefully, get a bit more control over what's going on inside there.

A place for everything. And, as Thom Yorke told us 21 years ago(!) "everything in its right place."

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Good Dadvice

One thing to watch this week

Jon shared this in The New Fatherhood community yesterday, saying "it felt like one of the most honest and relatable things I've seen on mental health that made me want to meditate and skateboard in equal measure." Hard agree. The short film ends with a note to remember that "everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always."

Your Moment of Zen

"Be steady and well-ordered in your life, so that you can be fierce and original in your work."
— Gustave Flaubert

Say Hello

A little shorter—and a little later—than normal this week. It was a four day weekend here in Catalonia, so we decided last minute to go camping in La Garrotxa, a volcanic area that sits between the Pyrenees and Costa Brava. Our lack of layers was a little problem. The lack of internet access a lot less so. Time well spent.

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