Control Deprivation


What’s making you irrationally angry? For me, it’s plastic cups. We’ve accumulated them over the years from Islands and Brigantine and other restaurants with kids menus. The story was the same each time: 1) Plastic cups for the kids so they don’t break the grown-up cups. 2) Take home the cup because they haven’t finished their $4 drink. 3) Cup begins its new life at our house and gets reused as to not destroy the planet. 

Yet, every night, there they are. Every morning, still there. Our house is littered with plastic cups, ugly faded plastic cups. Aren’t your kids older now? Yes, yes they are. Don’t you own other cups? Like ones that match and could be referred to as grow-up cups? Yes, yes we do.

I’m not sure why they make me so angry. The number of plastic cups scattered about our downstairs almost always exceeds the number of people who live in our house (six). I spend actual time thinking of scenarios through which this many cups would need to be used or might’ve accidentally been used. 

After weeks of plastic cup angst, my stepdaughters show empathy toward my plight. They’re sweet about it, actually. “Kel, I’ll always leave mine right here so you know it’s mine,” one of them says. I think they know that I know that I’m being weird. I usually handle these things more calmly.

They know the cups are a big deal to me. They care and they try, and after we make a system, I feel more hopeful and let it go…for a few days. 

Then, we put out our Christmas decorations…Next to the (effortfully) curated displays of snowmen and Santas and reds and greens is – you guessed it – a faded orange Islands cup. I notice it’s slightly cracked and quickly give myself permission to throw it away. Phew. 

Why don’t I throw all of them away? Because certain members of my family firmly believe that water tastes better when you drink it out of plastic. I worry that the ability to drink this godforsaken plastic cup water might be what’s holding them together these days as they do online school, miss their friends, and reach milestone after milestone (hello, driver’s permit, new Boy Scout rank, 18th birthday) without fanfare and with little to no social interaction. 

I notice another cup by the recently used toaster oven. It’s too close, and it might start to melt. I rescue it and scan the downstairs area. I see six cups. Again. I want to crush the cups, scream at everyone, and only use glassware forever. What is wrong with me? 

I think I have control deprivation. I do not have enough control “in these unprecedented times.” Thinking of how *not unprecedented* that phrase is these days makes me laugh. If it’s not unprecedented, does that make it precedented? 

A quick Google search says yes, precedented is a word (thanks, Merriam-Webster) but that using the word precedented is actually somewhat unprecedented. Hmmm. I chuckle to myself and feel accomplished. I’ve learned one thing today. Does that mean I can go watch Netflix? No, I need to collect the plastic cups. 

What do they mean and why are they making me feel unhinged? Here’s my best guess. For me, Plastic cups = Lack of control. I can’t control the decor of my house. I can’t control what people use to drink water. 

I can’t control what people prefer or think, even if they’re clearly wrong. I can’t control how much someone cares. I can’t control my time because I keep wasting it on collecting the cups or not collecting them yet staring at them angrily. 

I can’t control anything. 

Let’s take it one notch deeper. The list of things I can’t control is vast and spans every arena of life. My son spends every Monday crying as he remembers (and is shocked by) his hatred of virtual school. Every. Week. 

My older kids are making the best of missing “the good old days” that we all had. Whether recalling high school or college is nostalgic or makes us shudder, at least we experienced it – dances, football games, parties, celebrations. They are missing it.

There aren’t enough episodes in the first season of Bridgerton. I want the pasta water to boil faster. I don’t have enough time or energy to work and simultaneously monitor 3rd grade assignments and teach my kindergartener reading, writing, and math. I feel like I need to choose between cooking/laundry OR exercise OR maintaining friendships. I need to get out of the house. There’s nowhere to go. I miss my friends. It’s not safe to see them. I can’t make it be different. Even if I really care. 

Things are hard, and I can’t control any of it…except the plastic cups. I actually can control those. I get up, find them all, and hide them in the pantry. (Hailey and Lindsay, if you’re reading this, just ask me and I’ll give you one.) 

Maybe most things aren’t in my control anyway, and COVID time is just making that truth more obvious. Hmm, am I growing? What I know for sure is that I wrote something and you read something. We did a thing. Now, let’s go watch Netflix to celebrate before the kids find the plastic cups.

Dr. Kelly Jones
Executive Director, Outpost Summer Camps
“We don’t have to do all of it alone. We were never meant to.” Brené Brown


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