As a therapist I have been heard more than once saying that our thoughts and actions affect our feelings and that by changing thought patterns and actions, we can change the way we feel. Usually, one of the ways I talk about changing thought patterns is by changing our self-talk. That’s the internal narrative we carry on. So, for example, if we misstep we can say internally “oops” or we can say internally “I am such a mess” or “I can’t do anything right.” The words we tell ourselves program our feelings. We can in a situation like this either feel like it was a misstep or we can feel as if it was further proof of our inadequacy or of how much the universe has it in for us etc.

Well, I was raised by a mother who loved things and loved perfection. More than once, family members and I referred to my parents’ living room as “the museum of expensive furniture.” There wasn’t a ribbon or chain separating it from the foyer entrance, one step up, but no one, but no one trod on that perfect lavender carpet without permission. My father used to have the privilege of walking into the living room on Tuesday nights to wind the beautiful French clock on the wall because first thing Wednesday morning, the cleaning lady would vacuum the rug, ridding it of the telltale footprints. In all the years I lived in that house, I think I sat on the white cut-velvet sofa once. It was the day my in-laws came to visit for the first time.

Similarly, things were not to be moved from their proper places. Nothing was to be broken. Nothing could be disturbed. I was not allowed to cook because I might “ruin” one of the pots or break the blender or who knows what other ghastly sin I might commit. Things, particularly beautiful, expensive, perfect things, were important.

I tried to raise my children in a different way. I must admit, though, that every time we moved and furniture was scratched or torn or soiled, it bothered me. A lot.

As the years went by, I began to really think about the fact that things were only things. Even things that had great sentiment (such as the challah cover I embroidered while pregnant with my first son, during the Six-Day War that was missing for a couple of weeks) are only things. And things can be replaced. Things can be given away, sold, thrown away. They are not important. I have known that for years. I have said that for years. I use my fine china. If it breaks, it breaks. If I never use it, what’s the sense of having it? When the crystal glasses began to break, I threw them away. It was OK.

But today I realized that I really have evolved. As the stair rail men were removing the glass they had miscut, they scratched one of our brand new wooden steps. I said, “Look, there’s a scratch there” in a quiet, calm voice. I didn’t stay to see if they reacted. I went back into my office and continued to work. After a while, I thought, “Why am I not upset?” and the truth is, I am not. At all. I’ll try to touch it up with furniture polish, but it’s a thing.

Today, I will spend time with what’s important… some of my family members are getting together for a barbeque since Election Day is a vacation day. Now THEY are important!

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  1. WOW!
    You sure have evolved. Because I grew up in a similar type of home. THINGS were very valuable. I was allowed to cook but my mom would scrub the place afterwards complaining for days about the mess I made.

    My cleaning lady broke a quite expensive vase yesterday. It was difficult for me to buy it to begin with because I was scared I will get into my Mother’s mentality and torture the kids if they only came close to it. The vase survived my toddler’s exploration and my son’s fiddling with the stones inside. It did not survive my cleaning lady’s klutzy way of letting the bottom part bang into the counter’s ledge.

    Now a few days later it is still lying on its side on my counter and I am so confused about what to do. Dump it. Try to glue the base back. Buy another one. Never.

    Same goes with painting. The walls are a wreck now. Some designed by my kids artwork and some so scratched up. If I paint for Pesach will I become a slave to the walls like my mother. SHe had small bottles of every color of paint used in our house and would forever touch up the woodworks, doors, and walls.
    Is this what I want to do. NO! but why is it so hard.

    Sorry for venting… it just triggered…

    I truly hope the scratch on your steps fades with the polish. And wait till the grandkids come….

  2. We have a cleaning lady. We have had her services for many many years. She is almost one of the family. She breaks things. when she finishes a room every picture needs straightening. But she cleans toilets very well. And she can push a heavy vacuum with ease. We don’t let her neer the master bedroom set because it is wood and scratches. But she does a good job cleaning the oven and the stove, so she stays. When something is broken she always says “sorry”; and material goods are not as important as not having to clean a toilet.
    If you want the stairs never to be scratched or dinged then never give a grandchild a toy, or a thing to throw, or drop or slide down the stairs on. Personally, I can live with the crayon marks on the furniture and the playdough in the carpet. The laughter of grandkids I cannot live without.

    Love Ken

  3. P.S. Maty and I and Maty’s prayer group have Ephraim in all our prayers.