Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task. ~William James

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Paying it Backward: Surrounded by the Procrastinators I Helped Create

I have become aware in the past few days that I am living in the midst of procrastinating others.  Even my dog waits to eat his food, until he gets the proverbial "round toit."  

It is probably a truism of families that we partner with people who share or admire or can stomach at least some of our dysfunction.  We then go on to reproduce and nurture beings with similar predelictions, until we are swimming in a sea of whatever distressing traits we may eventually wish to discard in ourselves.  And thus, we pay the price in spades for our quirks and foibles, as they come back to bite us in the end.

My children have watched me struggle to get things done since they opened their eyes, though they also witnessed much ultimate accomplishment.  (I'm a busy little procrastinating bee!)  My eldest saw less of it, as I was younger and in a less stressful period of my life.  She is an inveterate list-maker and action-taker, relatively unscathed by whatever nature or nurture might have influenced her to be a putter-offer.  My second and third children, both boys, both still at home and sharing the pool of stress that has been my Calamity Jane existence for more than a decade, are another matter.  

My oldest son is presently conducting an advanced seminar just for me in relinquishing control over what is not mine to control.  "Do what I say, not what I do" has proven every bit as effective as we should have predicted, and the result is a soon-to-be-adult master procrastinator.  Less than three weeks from his arranged school start date, we are scrambling to complete a daunting set of postponed tasks required to get him where he purports to be going.  And we are trying to evaluate the portent of his delaying tactics.  Cold feet?  Developmental issues common to most young people, learning to get from point A to point Z, staying on task, and delaying gratification?  Practical inexperience?  Congenital or learned difficulties with time management?  General unreadiness, which would dictate a sensible retrenchment and pulling out Plan B?

Whatever got us to where we are, and wherever that turns out to be, the current state is intensely painful.  Yesterday's post detailed Dr. Neil Fiore's procrastination metaphor, which likened the situation my son finds himself in to having to walk across a board suspended 100 feet above the ground between two buildings, having himself set a fire in the building he is in.  I've been there so many times myself I don't have to imagine his distress.  And it turns out that I am in the burning building with him, captive to my overidentification/codependency, and the impact that his failure to plan is having on my time and resources.

I am learning on the job how to handle this one.  The level of difficulty for someone with my habits is high, as are the stakes.  What I need to do, for both of us I think, is to help him figure out how to construct or recruit a net, and not to become that net myself.  As he has told me, it is time for him to leave the nest, even if he falls out.  

On a recent stroller trip to the lakeshore, my two-year-old companion and I were watching a particularly graceful seagull up in the "'ky," and I observed no mother gull flying behind or below him.  Wherever that mother bird was, with her head under her wing or not, she has much to teach me.

Another lesson of this involuntary curriculum is how painful and stressful it has been for those who care about me, and those who must live with me, to watch me flail and wail and scramble to meet stretched deadlines and deal with the chaos of my own making as a habitual procrastinator.  I'm not sure what AA step this is, but I can appreciate its power. Hopefully, in helping my son I will help myself. And vice versa.

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