Take all your problems
And rip ’em apart
Carry them off
In a shopping cart
Be like the squirrel, girl
Be like the squirrel
– “Little Acorns” by The White Stripes
It’s not a well-known song, but “Little Acorns” by The White Stripes is a song to live your life by. It tells the story of Janet, who has been having a tough time lately. But as she’s walking one day, she sees a squirrel storing up nuts for winter. She notices the way the squirrel brings the nuts to her nest one at a time, and eventually manages to store up as much as she needs.
Clever Janet sees this as a metaphor, and realises that if she takes the “one acorn at a time” approach to her problems, they will be more manageable.
Okay, so it’s sort of a silly song. A hard rock riff and an entreaty to be like the squirrel. And it also might be something that we all already know implicitly. Of course it makes sense to break problems into smaller pieces to make them more manageable. But knowing something doesn’t mean we always do it.
So what are the problems that sometimes overwhelm us, and how can we “be like the squirrel”? Here are some situations where being like the squirrel has helped me.
Regular readers of this blog will know that I keep banging on about the death of my grandmother, who brought me up in my early years. It’s been a couple months now but sometimes I’m still suffocated by sadness and I just miss her so much. I had read about it before, but now I know firsthand, that grief never really goes away. Some days are better than others. Let each moment of grief be it’s own little acorn that you acknowledge. I’ve been allowing myself to feel sad when it happens, rather than trying to just carry on, even though that sometimes seems like what everyone expects.
I work part-time but I’m pretty sure I’m still doing a full-time job and then some. I never, ever get to the bottom of my to-do list and sometimes I worry that I’m not keeping up well enough and I’ll get in trouble. But actually, everyone is just as busy as me in my office, and we’re all doing our best. So I just take one small task at a time. And I try not to multi-task, because that is a way of doing lots of work but never finishing anything.
I also, like most normal people, do not have as much money as I would like. I have a lot of bills, like childcare, to keep up with. And I’m not very good at budgeting or saving. If I try to impose an austerity regime on myself, I’m going to (a) be miserable and (b) fail at it anyway.
So my acorn approach is to just think a little harder about each time I want to do something that costs money. How much do I really want/need this thing? Is there a way of doing it cheaper? And each time I manage to save some money by thinking it through, that is a small success.
My house is a tip
This is one that I get pretty stressed about. We have too many toys, but it hurts my heart to get rid of things that were loved when my children were smaller! Am I the only one who gets sentimental about brightly coloured plastic?
Sometimes I start planning to get organised, but am discouraged by the enormity of the task. One thing cascades into another until I just don’t know where to start. Saying I would just do one job becomes just as difficult as trying to do it all at once.
So I’ve started taking a more novel approach and applying complete and utter blinkers to certain bits of mess. Instead of focusing on doing small jobs that might ultimately add up to a tidy house (neeever gonna happen), I just focus on the things that really need keeping up with. The dresser near the front door always gets piled up with loads of random crap. Fine, I’m ignoring it. But I’m going to keep up with the washing. Sort of.
I wish I had more close friends
Becoming a mum changes your social life forever. I used to constantly be with friends, and I had a different friend for every situation. I could call up my “going to the theatre friend”, my “going on holiday” friend, or my drinking buddy. When I had my kids, I grew apart from some of these friends, either because they had kids too and also had no time, or because we were now living such different lifestyles.
I have found it difficult to make mum friends in my local area, and only have a couple ladies who I consider real friends and not just acquaintances. I sometimes feel pretty depressed that I can’t find a group of friends to hang out with at a moment’s notice, or even just that I feel so socially awkward and isolated among groups of mums on the school run.
But you know what, it doesn’t even matter. Quality over quantity. I’m putting more energy into the little acorns I’ve already collected (the genuine, proven friends). And every time I feel awkward on the school run, I’m just going to carry on saying hello to people even when they don’t respond, and smiling at them all like some sort of maniac.
I’m a shouty sweary mum
When I get stressed or worried or upset or hurt, I shout and swear. That is my reaction. It’s something I’m working on. But I still sometimes step on a bloody lego brick and then turn the air blue in front of my children.
Or when my 5yo is completely ignoring my entreaties for him to stop chewing on a fidget spinner before he chokes on it, and the 10th time I ask him I shout, FOR GOD’S SAKE STOP CHEWING ON THAT BLOODY THING OR YOU’LL END UP IN HOSPITAL!
I am aware that this is not ideal parenting. Judge me as you will.
But I’ve also gotten better and better at showing more empathy with my children. When they get upset about something like misplacing a small plastic junky toy, or because one brother knocked over the other’s tower, I’ve learned to say “I’m sorry honey, I know you worked hard on that tower”. Instead of what I’m thinking, which is “get the f**k over it already”.
So every acorn of positive parenting, every time I offer some extra praise, is one to add to the pile that is making up for the fact that my eldest definitely knows all the swears and how to use them. I’m also working on replacing my swears with rubbish replacement words too. Like “oh FFFidget spinners” or “GoddaaaaarNit”.
Do life’s little problems sometimes get you down? What problems could you add to this list, and how do you deal with them? Here is the song, btw: