Remember those purple bracelets? The ones put out by the Complaint Free World folks (curse their feeble grasp of grammar) and worn by my family in our quest to go 21 days without complaining? (See Complaints Happen and A Hyphen-Free World.)
Well I am still wearing my bracelet. As is my husband. Daughter, meanwhile, powered through in a mere eight weeks and received accolades at church as the only kid from her class who finished the program.
I go a few days at a time—my record is eight—and then succumb to ingrained habit and have to switch the grape jelly-colored band to the other wrist and start over.
At first I was very conscientious about watching my language and tendency to complain, but lately had been getting lackadaisical. Wearing it has definitely curbed my tendency towards full-blown rants, but with my diligence slipping I was starting to let some slide without really examining what was going on. As Roo protested one morning to Kanga when confronted that he'd been coughing and therefore needed to stay home, “It was a biscuit cough. Not one you tell about.”
They’re just “biscuit complaints,” I tell myself. Not ones you tell about. To really do this exercise right, I should let go of all complaints spoken out loud. I still complain plenty in my head—I’m not going for sainthood here. But sometimes it’s not so much what I say as what I add to it—the complaint accessories, so to speak. That’s where a bit of self-knowledge comes in handy. If I’m honest, I know when I’m really complaining and when I’m in biscuit territory.
A typical example happened on Daughter’s first day of Junior Lifeguard camp. I have a confession to make: I am chronically late. It’s a bad habit that I haven’t made effort enough to break. I really did not want to drop her off late for the first day of camp, but somehow I still left barely enough time to get to the beach.
As I pull into the parking lot my heart sinks as I see the minivans and beach beaters circling the rows like vultures. I feel myself wanting to start a major rant: “Oh great, where the hell are we supposed to park? Why was traffic so bad? I can’t believe I still left late! Argh!” But I stop short. Even though I’m not consciously thinking about the bracelet, my months of practicing must be doing some good, because I hold my tongue—for a while.
Then I just can’t help it. “We were here last week and there was plenty of parking!” I huff indignantly as we head out to take our chances on the surface streets. The words are pretty innocuous, but my whiny tone definitely marks this as a complaint. “This is not what I was expecting!” comes next, in a panicky voice more suitable for bad medical results than a parking dilemma. If I wasn’t so preoccupied with finding a spot I would find it pretty amusing watching my struggle to keep my self-talk out of the bracelet-switching zone.
Two blocks away I find a spot that is not perfect, but good enough. The nose of my Nissan is poking well past the curve of the corner curb, which is probably not 100% legal, but I rationalize that a ticket would be worth it at this point.
We power walk in our flip-flops to the beach and locate the hordes of black bathing-suited kids and red-suited lifeguards. I accost a buff, blonde, bushy-haired specimen in red shorts and dark glasses. “I’m sorry we’re late—parking was (I refrain from saying ‘a bitch,’ although it would be my penchant) — crazy.” (Aside: how genuine do we want to be in front of our kids regarding swearing?)
“No problem,” he says. “It happens a lot.” He directs her where to go and she trots over to her group. Crisis averted. We’re not actually as late as I had feared, and she hasn’t missed anything too important.
If I had left with plenty of time to spare and been late due to something unforeseen, I would have remained much calmer. But the nagging thought that I might have prevented the situation by leaving the house when I intended was what really bugged me. Accessorize a few harmless words with a dash of perfectionism and what have you got? A complaint.
So I switched wrists. And started over. I’m getting good at that.