The gift of the bathroom mushroom

At least once a day, every day, for over two decades, I’ve pictured a bathroom in the tropical Florida keys with a mushroom sprouting out of the grout in the corner of the bathtub.  Right in between where the shampoo and conditioner sit on the ledge.  “Not just mold, but an actual mushroom.  With a real cap,” was how my friend described the flora flourishing in the bathroom of her childhood home.  Her mother was an acclaimed New York Times best-selling author and activist, who will remain nameless because I did not ask her for permission to discuss her household hygiene.

But at twenty-three, the very idea that someone so accomplished was not similarly accomplished across every facet of her life was a true game-changer for me.  And then (much) later I started realizing that the price of engagement in what’s important is strategic disengagement with what is not.  Like what grows in your grout.

Now, years later, every time I pass by a pile of laundry, or persistent pile of clutter at our entryway, or a bag of compost rotting on the kitchen counter instead of in the bin outside, I see a mushroom.  When I’m late putting up our advent calendar.  When I forget to add money to my daughter’s school lunch account.

My magic mushroom has liberated me from the shame of dropping all the small balls of glass that I smash on the ground every day.  It has helped me to see the broken glass in the context of the balls that I do manage to catch briefly before sending them up again.  In short, the mushroom story has helped me to let go.

Sometimes when I zoom out from the mushroom, I picture my friend’s mom engrossed in big ideas and seeing connections that none of the rest of us can make out.  In my mind’s eye, sometimes she is so badass and evolved that she doesn’t even see the mushroom at all. 

As an entrepreneur and working mom myself now, I’m determined to pay forward all the oxygen that I breathed in from this story.

When I run into a young mom who is fretting about the long term impact of being late to pick up her child from school, I regale her with a story about the time I was 4 hours late for pickup because I forgot about early dismissal on the first Wednesday of every month.  I thoughtfully let friends walk with us in our clutter.  I forgive myself for forgetting to wash my blouse as I febreeze the kimchi scent out of it and throw it on so I can stick with my outfit and make it to my meeting on-time.

I hope there is a special place in heaven for women who talk honestly about the price of engagement – because my friend's mom would be welcomed through with fanfare. 

Understanding that absorbing some imperfection is the required price of admission for an engaged life is one of the keys to freedom.  I believe this becomes more important as we add more and more roles to our lives, the stakes get bigger, and the chances of failure become more abundant.  Like the adjustable loosening bands on men’s tuxedo trousers, a little extra space can make all the difference.

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