My daughter, returning to university in a few weeks, is trying to choose a new duvet and makes the mistake of asking for my advice.
Our neurodivergence makes decisions more difficult and creates anxiety around change, so deciding on new bedding might appear straightforward but instead, we tie one another up in knots of perpetual prevarication.
At least, that’s what I thought.
Her departure is a great opportunity to live independently but feels like another loss and more bittersweet change for me after the recent departure of my son.
Trying to spend as much time with her as possible before she leaves we take a trip to IKEA for all those bits and pieces you don’t realise you need until you haven’t got them.
Sitting in traffic approaching the tunnel under the Thames she tells me how she always imagines the enormous pressure of water above her as she drives through, and I tell her that it always occurs to me the ideal place for a terrorist to plant a bomb.
I find I am biting my nails when we emerge at the other side.
In the store, we split up to avoid complicating our individual flawed decision-making strategies.
I wait in line to return some shelves I spent so long choosing I forgot to check the length while she heads off to bedding and kitchenware.
Later, in the rug department, I’m overwhelmed on multiple levels.
Should rugs go in front of a sofa or underneath?
And what happens if you buy a rug that goes underneath one sofa but is not big enough to go underneath the other one?
Colours, materials, pile lengths. Will that one match the curtains? Should I replace the curtains?
I buy a new doormat and go off in search of my daughter.
I find her with an impressively full trolley and realise that, released from the dithering of her father she is a perfectly well-functioning adult able to navigate through the world in a way that has often felt beyond me.
When it comes to decision-making strategies I have settled upon two realisations that make them infinitely easier if no less time-consuming.
The first is that the anxiety over getting something wrong lives in the future and thrives only in the absence of the decision I’m struggling with.
Making a choice, any choice, removes the anxiety.
The second is allowing myself the luxury of overthinking.
Pushing against my need to have all the relevant information, and sorting back through details I have already reviewed countless times is, I have learned, little to do with reaching a fact-based conclusion. It is more of an emotional comfort blanket I clutch until I am ready to move forward.
Paradoxically, giving myself permission to over-research has meant that I don’t always have to.
It’s surprising the degree to which telling ourselves “you can’t” has us moving heaven and earth to make sure we “can” and how “sure, if you want to,” results often in not feeling the need to bother.
My daughter is looking at knives but, to me at least, a kitchen knife is a thing you buy once and keep forever.
“You’re not buying knives in IKEA. I’ll get some for you.”
Back at home, I push aside a number of more urgent tasks to begin some knife research.
I find some Japanese Santoku knives that look just the sort of implement you’d want to keep for a lifetime but even I know that £249 is a bit excessive for a student flat.
I settle on some more moderately priced but can’t get the online checkout to work so I circle back into another round of research which involves much of what I’ve already discarded.
When I finally place the order it would have been easy in the past to have focused on the time I’d “wasted” making what was, in all honesty, a pretty straightforward purchase. But I know myself better these days and bask in the glow of buying my daughter something that will serve her for more years than I will be able to.
When the knives arrive she’s excited and appreciative.
I tell her how long it took me to choose them which comes as no surprise but relieves me from the shame I might feel at telling somebody else.
“I bought you something too,” she says and presents a box of “Fondant Fancies,” a cake unremittingly dry and disappointing but which I have an unquenchable fondness for due to an old photo of my christening tea with a plate of them on the table.
I have told my children that there must be “Fondant Fancies” at my wake.
As I bite into the cloyingly sweet and largely unpleasant confection my daughter says,
“For someone who struggles to make decisions you’ve been pretty decisive about the food you want at your funeral.”
“Yes well, I won’t be there will I, so it really doesn’t matter.”