Doesn’t Everybody Smell the Milk?

This morning I find myself thinking about responsibility. Not the personal kind but more about when to be responsible for others, and even more importantly, when not to be.

As a caregiver for an adult disabled son, I am trained to be responsible. In fact, I may have inherited an actual gene that predisposes me to be responsible. According to my mother I not only potty-trained myself early but if I did have an accident I washed out my own underwear. Not too shabby for a toddler.

But it does show that I am responsible. I want to do the right thing. The responsible thing. And not only am I compelled to this behavior (and I reject any idea that it might be abnormal behavior) I sometimes fall into the trap of feeling like I’m responsible for the behavior of everybody around me.

That type of thinking is a terrible burden to carry. I’ve discovered that once people find out you possess this ‘responsibility’ gene, they start to take advantage of it. One of the biggest words I’ve ever learned to say is…no.

I’m finding out that I can’t do everything. I’m not supposed to. If I start doing somebody else’s job, they stop doing for themselves. I weaken them instead of empowering them. And there is the defining statement. Am I empowering them to do better for themselves? Or am I weakening them by doing it for them? Figuring that out makes saying ‘no’ a lot easier.

But there are gray areas. For instance, at supper last night I made spaghetti and we had part of a loaf of Italian bread to slice. My dear husband asks me, “Do you want bread?”

I responded, “Yes, I do.”

He asks, “Do you want it buttered?”

To which I reply, “Not with that butter.”

He gave me a suspicious look. (He’d already bitten into his buttered bread.) “Why not…that…butter?”

Anybody who knows me well knows I’m not a gifted housekeeper. I hire someone to help me keep house. I mean well, but..I inherited the responsible gene.. not the neat one. So I answered, “That butter has been sitting on the table longer than I’m comfortable with. And, well, I don’t know what was next to it or maybe on it.”

I got fresh butter for my bread and we finished our supper. I enjoyed mine.

Then my dear husband decided he wanted cereal for a snack later. He got his own. I didn’t have to help him or anything. And he seemed to enjoy his snack. It looked so good, I decided to eat cereal too.

I fixed my bowl, sat down on the couch, plugged in my ear bud to listen to the DVD player (no way am I being subjected to whatever obsolete program my husband had on at the moment) when he said, “Excuse me, but I had to put the milk away. You left it out.” (There is no way to adequately describe his tone of voice just know that I immediately went to defense mode)

I thought for a minute. I most definitely had put the milk away. Then it dawned on me. “Oh, that milk. I was going to dump that milk in the sink.”

He got a funny look on his face and said, “I used that milk.”

I told him. “I thought it smelled funny. So I opened the new jug. The date was okay, Sept. 1st, but it just didn’t smell right.”

I wish I could post a picture of his face. Because my dear husband went into a speech about ‘that’ butter and ‘that’ milk and he was having stomach issues.

By the time I could control my snickers enough to speak, I asked. “Don’t you smell milk before you pour it? Everybody smells milk before they use it. That’s just common sense.”

I possess the responsible gene and I wonder now if I’m supposed to go around sniffing milk for other people? Is that empowering them? Or making them more dependent and me more responsible?

See? A gray area. The responsible me says I need to be a better housekeeper. But the lacking the neat gene me says why bother? It’s not my place to smell milk for others. That’s their responsibility.

So I sit here and ponder. What exactly is my responsibility to others? I think I’m going to work at turning off the responsibility gene once in awhile. Just to give myself a break.

So my thought as I end this article is: Does my action empower or does my action weaken? And make my decisions according to the answer.

I’m off now to make sure the milk my husband put back in the fridge goes down the sink. I know. He should be responsible for his own actions but you can’t fight genetics. Darn responsible gene anyway.

About C. L. Roth

C. L. Roth was born and raised in Kansas. She has a deep love for the prairie state, the Flint Hills in particular. She is married, has two sons, four grandchildren, is an artist, writer and full-time caregiver. Life experience has taught her that normal doesn't exist, it's the journey that matters, and the best way to succeed is simply: Never Give Up.
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