I always color within the lines. The precision and prettiness of the picture depend on it. Within those bold borders I can color coordinate to my heart’s content, mixing a deep raspberry with some dusty fuchsia and maybe throwing in a splash of watermelon to brighten the scene.(And of course, there will be glitter, if it is an option.) Regardless of the color choices made, all 50 shades of pink will fall neatly within the prescribed outline of the princess’ ball gown.
When I go to a job interview and am asked to name three words that describe myself, I don’t, put probably should, put “rule-follower” on the top of that list. Sticking within those bounds keeps me sane. In the sixth grade, which I would like to say was just a few years ago, but a couple decades is probably a closer estimate, I got a detention. It was my first and only detention I was every privy to in twelve years of public schooling. How does a sweet, shy middle school girl get a detention when she hardly speaks in class? Jake. It was all Jake’s fault and to this day, I blame him for tarnishing my perfect discipline record. (I had a pretty good attendance record going to, but things came up to break that one as well, very few of which were my own fault. Sometimes it was the flu or an orthodontist appointment. My senior year, the streak was intact, until I got wind of a Clay Walker concert, which I just had to have tickets for. So, Candace, my best friend since middle school, and I decided to take a morning off from US Government and Geometry and Advanced English to go stand in line at the ghetto-Albertsons in Caldwell to get tickets. Perfect attendance my senior year? Nope. A concert worthy of hypnotizing the moon? You bet! But, even this seeming swerve from the rules was one that was pre-approved by my parents. I would never have dared to ditch school to buy concert tickets, heartthrob in Wranglers or not.)
But back to Jake. It’s a long story, but the short version is that during music class (one of the least favorite periods of the day for this tone-deaf girl), I had slipped my generic-brand Keds off under the desk. Jake took one and tossed it across the room. He got a stern look and I got a detention. Apparently, because it was my shoe, I was responsible for it. (To be fair, there may have been some nuances to the story that my middle school mind blocked out in attempt to justify my seething-anger over the detention, but two decades later, that minutia has been lost in my gray matter.) This all went down on a Friday afternoon, so I had the whole weekend to fret about getting my detention slip signed by my parents. I just knew they were going to kill me, or worse yet, assign me as the sole-pooper scooper for the llama barn until high school graduation. It took me until Sunday night to pull out the yellow and pink pages of that carbon copy slip. In near hysteria, I handed it over to my educator-parents for their John Hancocks. (Other than trying to tell my side of the story through sobs, I don’t even remember what came of the whole thing. I do think I got out of actually serving the detention by telling the music teacher I had piano lessons that night. Again, for a tone-deaf kid such as myself, thirty minutes of piano lessons is probably a harsher punishment than after school detention anyway.)
What I am getting at is that I like to know that things are being done the right way, and rules help set those boundaries. The control that comes along with and the lack of chaos are comforting, so much so that I tend to create guidelines where none exist.
Arbitrary rules are the name of the game in my world. Thad laughs at my rule-creating but usually goes along with the neurosis, even as he makes a mental note of the craziness. There are lots of little daily-life rituals that just work best if done a certain way. For example, when making a burrito, the order of creation should go: shell, sour cream, beans, cheese, salsa, olives. Thad’s mayhem of shell, sour cream, cheese , salsa and then beans is just causing the world to spin out of control!
Some of the most concrete rules, deemed “arbitrary” by Thad, have to do with Christmas, like no Christmas music/decorations until the day after Thanksgiving and then all Christmas music ends the day after Christmas, with the decorations down before the New Year. Why all the self-regulations revolving around the holidays? Because I love Christmas more than the Grinch after he stole it, had a change of heart and subsequently returned it. I love Christmas like gym teachers love the Presidential Fitness Awards. I love Christmas like the cockroach currently residing in my kitchen loves crumbs. (I had so many more similes I could have gone with here, but in the name of good taste I veered away from any involving things Jerry Sandusky loves or the love bestowed upon the East Coast by storm Sandy. It is quite possibly too soon to go down either of those literary device paths.) Christmas is less special if it is dragged out from mid-September through early February, as retail America has established as the new norm. Christmas is a season. There is a season for everything. (Feel free to bust out some “turn, turn, turn” at this point.)
China has made me toss this rule into the (hazardously polluted) wind. Today, November 3, I spent the day making Christmas cards. Granted, it was a for a good cause, but a tiny bit of my soul died with each sparkly doo-dad I affixed to the card stock, a miniscule piece of my heart shriveled with each ribbon tied and strategically placed to mask a mistake and an infinitesimal sliver of my mind was blown with each sparkly stocking stamp firmly placed on the project.
But, after spending a wonderful five hours with other ladies in our US Consulate community, crafting to our hearts’ content, chatting about everything from Foreign Service bidding to the challenges of schooling aboard to whether a wallet-gutting trip to the Maldives in February is worth it, I am okay that my in-the-box thinking when it comes to the holidays had its corners nicked, just a bit.
There will still be no Christmas station streaming on Pandora for a few more weeks and no hauling out the artificial tree for sprucing up the apartment for another month, but I made red and green cards bejeweled in silver and gold and life is okay. Just like I was able to bend the rules a bit to make sure I got prime seats for the dreamy Clay Walker’s first Boise concert, I have a strong justification for the early arrival of Christmas greeting- four fabulous local charities.
But now, I’m back on the Christmas regulations bandwagon…for two more weeks. Until the Christmas bazaar rolls around, at which point I will be down and dirty in the muck of holiday madness. (But, probably secretly loving it more than Mitt Romney loves his tax bracket.)