Peel Your Shrimp and Eat It Too: The Problem With Delayed Gratification

sucking a shrimp head at my first Izekaya

Do you sometimes want to enjoy life’s blessings, but feel too overwhelmed by the laundry piles, the sticky kitchen floor, the list of To Dos in your head, the screaming baby, the toddler in an explosive diaper he’s refusing to let you change, the scraps of paper scattered all over the floor from craft time, and the clock relentlessly pressing on toward dinner time?

At times like these it’s likely my adoring daughter will look up at me with pleading eyes and say “Mommy, will you play dolls with me?”

Delayed Gratification or Delayed Gratitude?

When I was a young girl my grandfather took me out for seafood. I don’t remember the event, but I remember the story he told about it ever after.

I ordered a plate full of boiled shrimp and I peeled every single one before I took a bite. My grandfather marveled at the display of delayed gratification from such a young person.

The trouble is, my early grasp of delayed gratification has turned into a serious case of delayed gratitude.

  • I want to change all the poopy diapers before I enjoy the cuddly baby.
  • I want to finish cleaning the house before I play dolls with my daughter.
  • I want to resolve all the differences with my husband before I enjoy our marriage.
  • I want to wash all the dishes before I enjoy the meal.

I want to peel all the shrimp in life before I start to eat, but that will only get me a rotten pile of shrimp and a heart full of resentment.

When Will I Be Happy?

Up until a month ago we lived as a family of six in a three-room apartment – not three bedrooms – three small rooms, a kitchen, and bath. Our fridge was smaller than the fridge I had in my college dorm.

As we prepared to move into our very own house with more than twice the space and nearly three-times more fridge-space (and it’s still half the size of an American fridge!), I told myself that if I’m not happy then, I will never be happy.

Guess what? I’m still overwhelmed! There are still dishes to do, the kids still make messes, and my husband and I still have our differences.

The Ugly and the Beautiful

Directly across the street from us is where a dozen households dump their trash all week for collection day. That’s the view from our kitchen window, but I don’t notice it. Why?

Behind the garbage containers is our neighbor’s backyard. They have a beautifully manicured miniature palace-garden.

When I look out our kitchen window my eyes are drawn to the garden, not the dump.

Happiness Is A Choice

No matter what your situation, there will always be the ugly and the beautiful.

Will you focus on the garden, or the dump?

No matter what your situation, there will always be work to be done.

Will you peel your shrimp in resentment, or will you feast with thankfulness?

7 thoughts on “Peel Your Shrimp and Eat It Too: The Problem With Delayed Gratification”

  1. What a great post! I also struggle to live in the moment when there is work “hanging over my head”.

    I think it’s because I think of playing with the kids as “leisure time” and that should come after work. If I re-classify playing with the kids as important and necessary work, maybe I could shift my thinking on this?

    1. You’ll notice I did not offer solutions in the post. 😉 This is something I will be working on in 2016. The theme for the year is “enjoy my family with thankfulness.” Reclassification is a great idea.

      I feel the pull toward routine and ritual – not a rigid schedule, but if I know when I’ll be doing my work, then I can relax and enjoy the time I’m with the kids. The trick is finding a routine that covers everything, fits the family, and gives us enough breathing space to be flexible and spontaneous.

  2. There’s so much here for me, too! My own obsession with time vs. work to be done is clearly reflected in my daughters. Not that I think I’m all wrong about that: Time is short, and there is so much of importance to accomplish. “Work before play” is a good guideline. But when the supply of shrimp is endless, you’ll starve before you peel them all.

    Monica, I think you’ve revealed an important key: Reclassification. From recent experience I can testify to its power.

    From both my background and my inclinations, I’ve long considered watching television/movies, eating in restaurants, and visiting theme parks to be a poor use of both time and money. Our kids may wonder at that statement, since when they were young we spent a lot of time at Disney World, but living in Mickey’s Backyard mitigated the expense, and when you have children, nearly everything can be reclassified as educational — especially EPCOT Center. (Watch out for unintended consequences: your daughter may develop a love for foreign cultures, and end up living overseas.)

    My husband does not share my obsession with time. He likes movies and television, loves eating out, and can be away from home for a day — or a month — without ever stressing over what’s not getting done. For a long time I did those things with him, out of love and duty, but I know that my keen awareness of lost time showed through as lack of enthusiasm. Only recently did I become aware how much his desire to have me share a movie with him, or linger over a restaurant meal, or spend a day at Universal Studios, represents the adult equivalent of “Mommy, will you play dolls with me?” Which, as every parent knows, really means, “Mommy, do you love me?”

    When I had that revelation, I began a program of Reclassification. I learned to squelch the thought, “I’m watching television/eating an expensive meal/riding a roller coaster when I could be working on something important” with the thought, “I’m creating shared experiences with the man I love best, and there’s not much more important than that.” This was the first and great revelation, and the second was like unto it: When I let go of resentment, my eyes were opened to other ways to reclassify the experiences. Restaurant meals became a valuable way to build relationships with friends. There are shows and movies (albeit few) that fit my definition of a good book (one that inspires me to be a better person). One does not have to be a child, only child-like, to find educational value in almost any experience, even theme parks. Being a writer helps, too: inspiration for blog posts is everywhere! (Time for writing them is another story.)

    Reclassification turns out to be liberation. Do I still struggle with the pressure of all I need to do and hope to accomplish? Absolutely. (There’s a blog post itching to be written about that.) But the process of reclassification has enabled me not merely to endure, but to enjoy and even look forward to these activities.

    I like to think the experience is also making me more assertive, intentional, and focussed in making time for the work that’s being set aside, though that’s definitely still a work-in-progress.

      1. I had nothing specific in mind. I was thinking along the same lines of adding beauty to our lives, and realizing that in so doing we can often add beauty to the lives of others. I’m hoping for ideas of ways that can work out. Things that make people look up from the stresses of their ordinary lives, and smile, and think, “that’s lovely!”

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