Archive for January, 2009

Snow Days–Heaven or Hell?

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

All the kids are out of school today. It didn’t even start snowing till this morning at 6:30, but school administrators are remembering the disaster last year when people were stuck on the roads interminably, trying to get home from work and to pick up kids. In many cases it took them eight hours to make a trip that would normally take one.

Snow days can be hell. Today I have a cold and don’t feel like working. But I’ve got five kids underfoot (including my sister-in-law’s). They’re busy spilling Rice Crispies across the newly cleaned kitchen floor. They’re fighting over the Wii. They’re hungry (again). They’re bored (again).  I want nothing more than to crawl into bed with a book (I’m sick! It’s a snow day! Don’t I deserve a break?) and yet I’ve got 12 eyes on me. That includes my husband, who is working from the kitchen, messing up my routines and using the phone when I have a conference call…. ahhh, you get the picture.

But then, snow days are a gift, too. Everyone’s tired and gets an unexpected break. Kids can have some screen time without all the guilt–you’ve got the whole day to fill! Often, the outdoors is more alluring and magical, and it’s fun to go sledding or take a walk in a snowglobe of cottonballs. It’s as though you’re given an extra 12 hours to just relax. So instead of stressing about the cereal on the floor, the unanswered e-mails or the screams from the girls’ room, I’m going to do just that: relax.

Why not? Tomorrow it will have stopped snowing, everyone will be gone and it’ll just be me again, with my work and my chores and the quiet of an empty house.

Wrong About Obama

Wednesday, January 21st, 2009

So, I was kinda wrong in my post yesterday about Obama.

The guy’s not quite as bereft of family as I was supposing. He may not have his mother or grandmother anymore, but he has plenty of brothers-in-law and a step sister. I read today about his extended family–Indonesian, Chinese, Kenyan, even Irish!

Let me say it again: wow.

If you believe in heaven, those powerful women must be looking down on him now and bursting with pride–in him, naturally, but also at their own steadfast efforts.

Oh Mama, Obama!

Tuesday, January 20th, 2009

One of the thoughts that churned through my mind during President Obama’s speech today was how he is largely alone in this world. He’s a relatively young man, and yet his parents and grandparents have passed away. There is no one who brought him up who watched him by the Capitol today and thought, I did that! I helped him tie his shoelaces, I punished him when he was bad and rewarded him when he was good, I passed my values on to him and look where he is today!

I wonder if there could be a greater achievement as a mother (or father) than to see your child grow up to serve his country in this way.

I wonder for parents who send their children to war, if they feel this kind of pride or only fear.

I wished his mother could have been alive to see him today. This woman who had a baby so young with a man who was not a good life partner, yet she raised that child well.  A patchwork family who suffered from instability and insolvency and yet instilled in the young Obama a sense of service and imagination and possibility so enormous, he lived to be the first Black President of the United States of America.

Wow. What a day.

It makes me think: what do we want for our own children? We want them to find love and happiness. We want them to be successful and to believe in their power. We want them to understand how to work hard, and how to relax. Are these things we teach them? Each and every day, we model for our children the behavior that they will either reflect when they grow up, or reject.

How much are parents responsible for how their children turn out, and how much is it a fluke? If you accept credit for their successes, do you accept blame for their failures?

For me, the single hardest thing about parenting is taking myself out of the equation. Bad grades are not a reflection of poor parenting. Eating fish for dinner is not a reflection of my excellent parenting skills. Getting them to make the bed does not make me a great mother, just as failing to get them to brush their teeth does not make me a bad one.

All I can do is the best I can do, and hope that my children make me proud.

Suburban Malaise

Monday, January 12th, 2009

Run out and buy Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates. NOW!

The movie is stunning, and worth seeing, but a sore disappointment after a book that is so deep, nuanced, achingly realistic and, frankly, relevant for those among us not living the lives we imagined we’d lead.

A reviewer on Amazon put it this way: “The real theme of this book is much deeper, and it transcends the era and even the plot of the book: what do people do when they are intelligent and spirited enough not to be satisfied with the conformity and blandness of their surroundings, but lack the drive to ever escape mediocrity, because they are, fundamentally, much more a part of their environment than they imagine?”

Ouch. If you’re anything like me, you’ll read this book and wince on every other page. Yes, these characters are in many ways mediocre themselves, unable to live up to their dreams, afraid of change and supercilious to the extreme, but I felt for them! Who among us hasn’t aspired to more than we believe we might be capable of? Who among us hasn’t judged others as inferior, or looked to our spouses to solve our malaise instead of bucking up and taking responsibility for ourselves?And who hasn’t wondered–and felt guilty for doing so–if there isn’t more to life than domestic chores and work, two mainstays of life in a family?

Interestingly, the characters in this book find no joy at all in their children. Children are seen as objects to care for, and we never catch one single glimpse of genuine happiness in a shared life with youngsters. There’s no notion of what we as adults can learn from our children or how much silliness and fun they can bring into our lives.

Poor Richard Yates, poor Frank and April. Yes, there’s boredom, pedantry, mediocrity, and selfishness in many of our run-of-the-mill lives. But if we work hard enough at becoming fulfilled as individuals–tapping into our passions as women not just as mothers–we can begin to live in the moment and find real happiness in the simplicity of our everyday lives.

Living in a dream world, blaming others for our own inadequacies, being reactive rather than proactive… these things will lead us to a life full of petty (and sometimes deep) dissatisfaction. Instead, we can decide to know, honor and value ourselves and our needs, to become better and stronger individuals more capable of handling the daily disappointments of our lives, and more able to find the simple joy in them too.

The Work of Happiness

Friday, January 9th, 2009

The Work of Happiness
by May Sarton

I thought of happiness, how it is woven
Out of the silence in the empty house each day
And how it is not sudden and it is not given
But is creation itself like the growth of a tree.
No one has seen it happen, but inside the bark
Another circle is growing in the expanding ring.
No one has heard the root go deeper in the dark,
But the tree is lifted by this inward work
And its plumes shine, and its leaves are glittering.

So happiness is woven out of the peace of hours
And strikes its roots deep in the house alone:
The old chest in the corner, cool waxed floors,
White curtains softly and continually blown
As the free air moves quietly about the room;
A shelf of books, a table, and the white-washed wall–
These are the dear familiar gods of home,
And here the work of faith can best be done,
The growing tree is green and musical.

For what is happiness but growth in peace,
The timeless sense of time when furniture
has stood a life’s span in a single place,
And as the air moves, so the old dreams stir
The shining leaves of present happiness?
No one has heard thought or listened to a mind,
But where people have lived in inwardness
The air is charged with blessing and does bless;
Windows look out on mountains and the walls are kind.

Falling Off the Wagon

Wednesday, January 7th, 2009

Oprah fell off the wagon.

Did she hurt herself? Na–she has 40lbs of extra cushioning to soften the blow.

I think Oprah’s cool. She’s a successful, intelligent, thoughtful woman and whenever I watch her show, I’m almost always moved in some way. Moved to improve myself, to think about something differently, to feel grateful instead of whining, or to pat myself on the back for already doing what she’s suggesting.

Back to the wagon and the weight, though. I really wish Oprah could be happy with her weight. Why? Because her constant weight struggle in spite of ALL her other successes in life makes me feel like a loser. If she was OK with being a little chubby, I could be OK with my extra pounds.

So she’s really just reminding me of something I already know but don’t want to face: this battle to find a comfortable weight can be a real drag for many of us. A drag that doesn’t go away.  A drag that actually just gets worse. A drag that we have to face day in day out, triumph over, and then fail at, only to start all over again.

Why are women so very obsessed with the scale? Aren’t we all emancipated enough to not give a shit? Or does giving a shit just mean we have self respect? Isn’t it a waste of time and energy to worry over 5 or 10 lbs? But if we let those pounds mount up, don’t we dig ourselves into a deeper and deeper hole?

I don’t weigh myself anymore. I can tell by my pants that I gained weight over Christmas. I don’t even want to SEE the numbers on the scale. So instead, I’m focusing on being healthy. Yes, the old New Year’s resolutions are back. Sadly, these resolutions are pretty challenging for me…

  • Up the ante at the gym: I took my first spin class this morning. Wow. I was sweating like a… well, like a pig in lycra.
  • No more booze during the week. I want to wake up every morning with a clear head.
  • Go to all my doctor’s appointments, even the dentist.
  • Watch those old yoga DVD’s again and give my brain some rest.

That’s it. Notice I haven’t said anything about losing weight. I’m going to focus on those four simple gifts to myself and my health, and see where it takes me.

Bursting at the Seams

Thursday, January 1st, 2009

Wine each night.

Second helpings of food.

Dessert.

More dessert.

Ornaments and pine needles and ribbons and dirt from outside.

Shoes and boots and puddles.

Ice dams, pouring water into our house through the window frames.

Books, scattered on every surface.

Scraps of wrapping paper and sharp shreds of hard plastic. Cardboard boxes and fluttering tape caught in corners.

Stocking stuffers piled up on the sofa.

Rooms bursting at the seams with outgrown clothes and new clothes, old beloved stuffed animals and neglected ones, new gadgets and toys in vogue for a few weeks.

Oh, it’ was nice to get a break, but I can’t wait for the Holidays to be over!