Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Bibbidi Bobbidi Blue (Or, Painting as the Path to Self-Awareness)

A recent winter weekend found my husband and I painting our girls' playroom Bibbidi Bobbidi Blue. (You know, the color of Cinderella's gown. Yes, even our paint belongs to the cult of Disney.) Now, when I paint a room, it takes one weekend, start to finish. I tape off the baseboards and ceiling line, and just get to it. One day to tape, paint, check for "bald spots"; let it dry overnight and put everything back to rights the next morning. If I start on Saturday morning, the kids are playing in there by Sunday afternoon.

But my husband? Well, he's a LITTLE bit of a perfectionist when it comes to painting. Yes, when HE paints, he spends approximately 14 hours "prepping" the room. (This involves taking out all the furniture, taking down the blinds and hardware, removing switch plates, spackling all nail holes, taping, retaping, retaping the retaping, putting drop cloths over every single surface, and - I'm not making this up - checking the ceiling line for any trace of Boring Beige, the color the builders used, which he then painstakingly paints over with white paint. On the ceiling. Which is like 15 feet high.) Then he's pretty sick of the room, so he takes another day or two to start the painting, which invariably takes at least 2 days - because he needs a day to "see" the room in different lights so that if he missed a spot he can go over it again. Then he needs a day or two to find the time to take down the tape, pull up the drop cloths, and put the furniture back. By this time, the room has been unusable for approximately 9 days and we've all been tripping over its contents, which are stuck in some hallway somewhere. (This is especially problematic if the room being painted is a bathroom and he hasn't put the toilet back together yet.)

Now, surely at this point you are wondering, "Why the hell doesn't Slacker Mom just paint the room herself and quit complaining about it?" Well, you see, my husband really, really doesn't like anyone else doing the painting. Really, REALLY doesn't like it. In his defense, he does a VERY thorough job. I'll admit that he does a much better job than I do. And the only two areas where he gets a little psycho and overly concerned with perfection involve walls - both painting and hanging pictures bring out his inner control freak. But I think he's forgotten that I'd painted many, many rooms before I met him; I painted my room three times just while I was in high school. Without help. At age 14. And he'd never painted a room at all until we bought our first house together and I convinced him that bare white walls are boring and builder's paint is crap. So when he starts with his "helpful, friendly reminders", I kind of want to shove a paint stirrer up his ass. He says things like:

* Don't you want to stir that paint more? How many times did you stir it?
* Don't forget to really tape it well. Really well. Do you want me to do it?
* Don't put too much paint over the taped-off area. That's too much!
* Don't forget to check your feet for paint before you walk out of the room.
* Don't dip the brush too far in the paint - only put it on the ends.
* Don't let any paint drip down the wall when you use the roller.
* Don't get any blue on the ceiling line. I already painted over the beige.
* Why don't you let me do that part? Really, I don't mind.
* Any chance of getting some cheeseburgers?

Seriously. He asked me to make him cheeseburgers. At 11:00 at night. I think he did it just so I'd leave the room and he could "check my work". And like I counted how many times I stirred the paint. If I thought it needed more stirring, WOULDN'T I HAVE STIRRED IT MORE? Jeez. When he acts like that, I think, "Give me some credit! I'm not a moron. I have SOME skills. And who made YOU the President of Painting, anyway! Leave me alone!" Any more painting and we'd need some serious marriage counseling, stat.

So as I'm flipping burgers and it's nearing midnight (of course I did it; if I'd stayed in that room any longer I'd have strangled him with his blue painter's tape), I sulked because, to be honest, he's not a lot of fun when he's painting. Me? It's Saturday night! With the right person and the right attitude, I can have fun doing anything! (Nina and I once spent an evening working on a project for her Masters and drinking wine, and, school geeks that we are, had a great time.) But he was far too intense and serious about the whole thing. I wondered why my usually mellow, laid-back, goofy husband barks orders and stresses about a little paint on the ceiling, about why he feels the need to "remind" me about things that I obviously already know (like I'm going to track paint on the hallway carpet, dude), about how this one task makes him into a bossy control freak. And I came to a startling conclusion: I do this to my kids all the time.

Think about it. They've barely finished their cereal and I'm "reminding" them to put their bowls in the dishwasher, even though they've been doing it since they were 2. Give them a chance already! I'll remind my 8-year-old to wash her apple first, even though I know she will, she always does, and I buy organic apples anyway so really, how bad could it be if she were to forget? I automatically remind them to say "Thank you", not even noticing that they've already said it and they certainly don't need me to remind them as if they're toddlers. I hurry them along every single morning with reminders like, "Put on your shoes!" as if they'd walk out barefoot into the cold. I suggest moves they should make when we play board games, even though they are perfectly capable of playing the game on their own. I take over and do things for them simply so it will be done MY WAY, even if it isn't important that it's done my way. Just like my husband does when we are painting, I get bossy and controlling and make unnecessary comments about the jobs other people are doing. "No, not like that, do it like THIS!" is something I hear myself say all too often. And I decided to be (gasp) grateful to my husband for teaching me something about myself. A little self- awareness and self-improvement, all for the price of a gallon of paint.

So yes, he was annoying and irritating and bossy. But maybe, just maybe, it was a good thing he was - because it forced me to examine my behavior a bit. It made me realize that when I get that way, it affects my relationship with my kids. It makes them think that I don't trust them to do it right without me hovering over them, barking instructions and reminders; it sends the message that I don't think they are capable, smart, responsible girls who know what to do and will do it if they are just given a chance. How annoying. And irritating. And bossy.

Slacker Mom Says...sometimes we have to back off and let our kids have a chance to do things their way. My way isn't always the only way, and that's hard for me to swallow. But kids need to know that we trust them, that we believe in them, and that if they do fail - and they will - we'll be there to help them fix things, to start over, to wipe the blue paint off the ceiling. No one likes being bossed around or treated like they don't know what they're doing. A positive comment and a pleasant tone of voice goes a long way, as I told my husband - and myself.


  1. I agree!!! I am guilty of asking my kids to do things before I even give them the opportunity to do it without being told. On the other hand, if you need a room painted wait until I come to visit. I can finish in less than twenty-four hours. I do NOT need tape!

  2. Nina, maybe you can, oh, I don't know, fix the toilet while you're here! Because nothing tests a marriage like not having the bathroom for THREE WEEKS!