Discipline is one of those funny things, because we often only appreciate it in its absence. What I mean is that when you are disciplined you build an expectation that is only truly recognized when it is broken.
This week was a difficult one for me, thankfully, not in any major tragic way. It was difficult in that I felt that every hour of my day was accounted for, and there was nothing to get me through it but discipline.
Discipline lives within a silent world of its own making, and it is anything but fair. It is interesting because there is natural tendency to judge others based on their actions towards us without recognizing the many millions of actions they could have taken, the worlds they’ve seen but held silent, the moments they wished they’d won but lost. We admire dignified, mature and respectable responses to stressors, knowing full well we all harbor fantasies of abandon, selfishness, release. Yet when we judge ourselves, it’s easy to keep in mind all the vicious and petty things we may have wanted to say or do, and silently wish we would be commended on our discipline.
But discipline doesn’t care about all the calories you could have had, the secrets you could have told, the lovers you could have taken – but didn’t.
It only cares that you shut your mouth, or your heart, and kept things as people would expect.
All week Max was asking me to make the Tres Leches French Toast again. I agreed on the condition that he’d eat protein and veggies with me for the rest of the weekend.
On Friday night, I stayed in and up late working on a project. The fact that I didn’t shirk my assignment and take my kids to the movies, or better yet, have my mom come over so I can escape to happy hour for a bit, made me wake up Saturday with that totally misplaced and malcontented feeling that the world owed me something.
Either way, I still owed Max French toast.
I got up and did my motherly duty and stuck to my promise. That’s always a big deal isn’t it? Isn’t that often how we judge the value of a person’s character? Doesn’t it mean something to us when a person does what he says he’s going to do?
It’s definitely that principle that had me bogged down all week. I had a constant chatter in my mind about
“I said I was going back to the gym four times a week.”
“I said I was going to get my oil changed”
“I said I was never going to text him again”
“I said I was going to make the damn French toast”
Still, I thought how somewhere within the mushy darkness of broken discipline is who I really am. Sometimes I feel like the only truth I know is the one that goes back and forth from the person I think I should be for my family, friends and colleagues and the one I should be for the woman I wish I was.
It’s like I don’t know to whom to be committed. It’s very easy to say, be yourself, Pao, listen to your heart…but what does that really mean?
Every new-agey, pseudo-psychology motivational bon mot tells us to be ourselves, let our hair down and share our emotions. But what if my dominant feeling some days is to allow my children to eat Tres Leches French Toast for breakfast, lunch and dinner?
That’s what I did.
Saturday I stayed in bed most of the day. My body was throbbing from all the physical and emotional self-restraint I’d demonstrated all week.
It throbbed from the words I didn’t say when a colleague passively accused me of incompetency. It throbbed from the TV shows I didn’t watch because I lifted weights instead. I throbbed from the ways I had demurred when I wanted to say I had been thinking of you all week, hoping to see you alone, soon.
But even as I reflected back on the week I’d had, I judged myself on the moments when I broke. I had lost my temper and cursed, even though I could have said more. I went for a jog instead of the gym, still I missed out on how Stabler solved the crime. And I reached, even if ever so modestly, when I knew I needed to let go. Still, I was holding back so much more.
By Sunday I had shaken some of the fog of the previous seven days and got myself some veggies and set out to make Chicken Lettuce Wraps. I had attempted the previous night, but the veggie filling required more chopping than I was willing to do. Instead I stood over my kitchen counter, smeared the chicken breast with that wonderfully delicious peanut sauce and ate the whole thing over a napkin.
On Sunday I actually got plates, chopped the mint, cucumber and basil. I used the correct vinegar (rice) and served up a lovely meal. I even made enough to take to work for the next few days.
I can be disciplined, if that’s what you want, if that’s what it takes. I know how it goes. You have to see beyond the immediate desire and focus on the greater goal. If that wasn’t valuable and effective we wouldn’t have skyscrapers, Homeland Security and calculus.
Discipline is where it’s at.
It takes a certain kind of discipline to remember to forgive, and to be kind. It takes a certain kind of discipline to get the kids to school on time and to rehearsal. It takes discipline to sit and read, to get up and run, and to walk away and not look back.
It also took a good amount of discipline to keep me from sitting in front of the television watching Law and Order: SVU with nothing but a spoon and bowl of peanut sauce.