Boundaries

How do you know where your boundaries are? We all have limits for what we are willing to try, or do, but how do you know that you haven’t gone far enough? Or when you go too far?

My mother had a tried and true system for teaching my brother and I boundaries. Three strikes. On the first test of a boundary: like, crawling out of the camp bunk-bed after midnight to spy on the grown-ups while they played cards, drank booze and smoked cigarettes. Caught up after bed-time, she would corral us back to bed explaining our first strike– what the rule was, how we had broken it, but now that we understood more clearly, we didn’t need to be punished, yet. And really, she was right, why set a punishment for testing a boundary like after bed-time sneaking? It would only ruin her next card hand. And so we’d be laying awake in the bunks, listening to the grown-up laughter, the tinkling of glasses, the radio playing low in the background, and we’d make our next sneaky move, giggling all the while as we crept with our bellies on the floor, silent like samurais in footie-pyjamas. Strike two. Didn’t I explain that you are not to be sneaking out of bed, she asks the red-faced intruders as stern grown-ups stifle laughter and stare at us as she brusquely sends us shame-faced back to bed. Was strike three worth it? Did we want to get punished for a third venture out of our sleeping bags? No. But, knowing the boundary between strike two and strike three was invaluable.

Three strikes is applicable still. Surely, by the third time you know your limit, and whether you’re ready to pay the price; because you know the cost.

First glass of wine: civilized, companionable, friendly, good with food. Second glass of wine: larger, spillier, chattier, good for gossiping. Third glass (where the boundary is set) you have now nearly downed a whole bottle yourself– do you continue to the strike zone (punishable with a hangover– and perhaps regrettable behaviour (of speech, dancing, unflattering photography, drunk-dialing, emailing, texting…) or see this as a limit, call the cab and sleep soundly?

I live my life by three strikes. I am a trusting person, I give people many a second-chance. But my boundary is set at the third. It is then I must evaluate the strike: have I seen it far enough, do I cut my losses? Or, is this the turning point we were waiting for, the final chance that sets it aright?

I’ll try anything once, but I may really like it if I try it twice– and if I am on my third try I will know if it’s worth going forward or setting it aside. I need to go far enough, but not too far.