Friday, October 14, 2011

The Bed You Lie In

There’s an old saying that goes, “You make your bed, now go lie in it.” It roughly means, if you create a situation, you have to deal with it yourself. But whenever I see my children’s beds unmade and my repeated pleas for them to pull up their comforters are ignored, I think of that phrase and of the literal importance of my kids making their own beds. Yes, it would be easier not to push them to do it. That would be one less daily battle to fight in a seemingly endless war of skirmishes over shoes left in the middle of the living room, clothes dumped everywhere, and an endless array of dishes that pile up in the family room, making it look more like a diner than a place to watch t.v. Yeah, letting them skip making their beds would be easier. I could make the beds myself in a shorter time than it takes for me to yell at them. Or I could let the cleaning lady do it. But then what would my kids learn if someone else always does those types of things for them?

When I was about six or seven and my mother worked as a nurse, there was a woman who came to our house to watch us after school and to clean and cook until our parents came home. Her name was Ernestine Johnson, I think – funny I can remember that far back when I can barely remember my own children’s names. Even as she cleaned the rest of the house, Mrs. Johnson was given strict instructions not to empty the trash cans or make the beds in our bedrooms. My brother and I had to do those ourselves. I vaguely remember complaining to my parents and wondering if Mrs. Johnson was here to clean and make beds, why she didn’t clean and make beds in our rooms.

When I was in my early 20s, some old family friends came to stay with us for the weekend. I went to make the bed in the guest room. Our friend watched me do it for a second, and then shook his head. He pulled the sheets off and instructed me to make the bed again, but this time he wanted to show me how to make a bed the way he’d learned in the army. To this day, I don’t know if he was every really in the army or not, or if he was just trying to give me a difficult time about my sloppy bed making. Whether he was a military man or not, he sure knew how to fold crisp hospital corners and make the bed look as if, once tucked in, you could bounce the proverbial quarter on it. Here was a guy, a very successful businessman with a car and a driver, a own household staff and several vacation homes, making the bed with great precision. It’s important to know how to make a bed correctly,” he said, carefully tucking in the last corner, “It’s not just about how you make your bed, it’s about how you make your life.”

He was right, although it took many years of unmade beds for me to figure it out. I know it’s silly, but in a way, I find I feel better when my bed is made. Things feel more in order. In a weird way, I feel more in control. If I can have some order in my bed, in my room, at my desk, then maybe, just maybe, can be at peace with the chaos in life I can’t control.

My children need to know how to make a bed correctly because just as you make a bed, you make your life and however you do it – well or sloppy – you will be the one who will have deal with what you do. So will I continue to push them to make their own beds? Will I force myself to pull up my own covers and tuck the corners in properly during the rest of the week and not just on the weekends? I will try. Now if I could just remember the trick to those hospital corners!

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