Editor’s note: This post is not intended as medical advice. Always consult a medical professional or physician before treatment of any kind.
“Bad weeds, right Eva? Can you say bad weeds?”
I ask these questions of my 18-month-old daughter as I pull crabgrass and clover out of my front lawn.
“Ba wees,” she confirms, as she mimics the way I am bent over and pulls up a handful of grass. I stop myself from telling her not to do that. It’s just a few blades of grass, I remind myself. But it’s the good grass, I also hear myself saying.
A few years later, I have the same conversation with my twin toddlers while performing the same ritual that accompanies my obsession over a weed-free lawn. I bite my tongue again as they tear perfectly good grass from the ground.
A neighbor walked by our house recently and asked what my secret was to such a beautiful lawn. “Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder,” I replied. But as funny as it can be, my OCD is no joke.
OCD is a constant tug, a constant battle to not scratch something that itches. It’s giving in to the pull of a ritual or being swept up in a thought that plays on repeat; it’s giving up time and energy to a mental illness instead of spending time with family and friends. And during the spring and summer months, it is what haunts me each time I think about or look at my yard. The weeds digging their strong roots into the soil are not only causing imperfection, but they are causing anxiety and anger as my need to get rid of them digs deep into my brain.
The weeds pull at me as much as I pull them. If the kids are playing nicely inside, I will find excuses to head outside. I’ll take the recycling out, get the mail, or throw the ball for our dog just to sneak in a few minutes of focused weed pulling. But these sessions always leave me feeling guilty and unsatisfied. I could stay outside all day and night, loving and hating the work my brain feels like it needs to do to rest. But it never does rest; it may quiet down, but even with therapy and a healthy dose of SSRIs, it is always wide awake.
When we are outside, I want all of my focus to be on my kids and all of the fun things we are doing, but as I play with them, I also see the weeds and make mental notes notes: clover by the sidewalk, crabgrass by the tree … what even is that by the mailbox? Then I think, be present!
Some days are better than others and I can refocus; but on most days I squat down and pull weeds until my hands are full and I need to discard them into the trash can.
My anxiety lessens a bit because I have finally given in, when I have finally scratched that itch. But it heightens again when I hear my kids ask, “Bad weeds, Mama?”
Because watching me go through the motions of my OCD is as much a part of their lives as it is me living them. They see that I’m distracted, though they don’t know yet how distracted I really am. My young children don’t know that I sometimes miss how beautiful they are and how I mistake their messes, their curiosity, and their childhood for imperfections.
The thing about OCD is not that I don’t see the beauty in things; it’s that I first see their faults.
When I look at my lawn, I see the weeds before I see the lush, green grass. And when my eyes wander to the play set, I see the spot under the swing where their little feet have prevented grass from growing, not my children laughing and finally able to pump themselves into full arcs. I see buckets filled with sand, being taken from the sandbox and dumped on the deck instead of the sweaty, happy kids who have found treasure. I see kids who are tearing up perfectly good grass instead of kids who are trying to be like me, who are trying to help their mama, because all they want is my time and attention, even if it means being a part of something they don’t understand.
But even through the weeds, the tangible ones in my yard and the imaginary ones in my brain, I do see beauty. And unlike the fleeting calm I feel after performing certain rituals, the calm from knowing I am able to see little feet and hands and admiring smiles stays with me.
My kids see me, but I can see them, too.