One of the last times I yelled at my son was Sunday, November 10, 2013. That was the day I decided I never wanted to do it again because I never again wanted to see hurt and confusion, even fear, in his eyes when he looked at me. Although I am certain I will yell again at some point, I nevertheless keep the date posted on my refrigerator. Even when I have slipped, I see that date written on my refrigerator white board and catch myself faster. I take a breath, and then I stop. Read more
One of my targets for 2014 is organization, namely with respect to my blog posts and getting draft articles written and out for submission. When I first started my blog, I tried keeping all my blog post ideas and social media tips in the same calendar as my off-line life, but it never really worked, and I found myself with pieces of folded up paper sticking out of my daily calendar and sticky notes with frayed edges falling out into the depths of my massive purse. Read more
Well, here it is again. That time of the month. The time when I drag out my muse’s guide to finding happiness and write myself notes on the next layer of my happiness and joyful cake creation. Here’s what Ms. Muse has to say for the month of November.
Keep a contented heart. A contented heart is a even sea in the midst of all storms. So said William Secker in his treatise The Nonsuch Professor in His Meridian Splendor, published in 1660. Amazing that it’s the same some three hundred and fifty years later.
a) Laugh out loud.
She’s right. I should laugh out loud more. We all should laugh out loud more. It just feels so gosh darn fantabulous when we do it. The sun seems to shine brighter for a few moments, the air seems to warm, and the endorphins rush through our bodies. It can change my whole outlook on a day.
What do I do to ensure I laugh out loud at least once a day? For starters, I have a child who is learning to read and sometimes mispronounces words in such a way that I can barely even understand what he’s trying to say. My child also loves to sing, and I mean loves it as if it’s his favorite chocolate treat. He belts out whatever tune he is listening to, and at times it’s all I can do to keep the car on the road I’m laughing so hard. Which makes him smile and sing more loudly, which makes me laugh more…. You get the picture.
I also read amusing books. Currently on my nightstand is Jen Lancaster‘s The Tao of Martha. Ms. Lancaster is a seriously funny woman who doesn’t take herself too seriously. Consequently, when reading her books, of which there are many, I tend to laugh out loud and try to live my life with the same grain of salt approach she seems to espouse in her essays.
Laughter is good for anything that might ail us. We all need more, so I’m going to continue laughing and smiling and feeling good. It helps me get through the days when the sun doesn’t shine so brightly, which was a lot of September.
b) Use good manners.
I have my mother and Emily Post to thank for my somewhat rigid adherence to “proper” and “appropriate” behavior. My parents drilled me like they were each an Army Drill Sergeant to ensure that I knew and utilized manners. Proper table etiquette, even when all we were eating was grilled cheese sandwiches. Thank you notes for everything and in a timely manner, e.g. no later than two weeks after the event, the gift, etc.
One year for Christmas my mother found and gifted me a book on manners penned by none other than Ms. Emily Post. I still have it on my shelf with the the note-filled margins, underlined text, and dog-eared pages. I still consult Ms. Post regularly, but these days it seems that most of her advice is considered antiquated niceties that we can all eliminate from our lives due to the instantaneous and often impersonal nature of the digital age. I disagree wholeheartedly and so stick to the advice and manners that have gotten me this far in life.
Several years ago I bought the updated version of Emily Post’s book for my two step-daughters.
I thought that as they went out into the world as young women and began interviewing for jobs, receiving engagement, wedding or baby gifts, knowing how to deal with the acknowledging and thanking people for their kindnesses would be helpful, especially since so few people attend to social niceties these days with the advent of e-mail. I gave the books with that precise sentiment. As both opened the gift in my presence, they both said thank you, having such a resource would be great.
Two years later? Both books are still sitting on the shelf in their respective closets upstairs, unopened. One moved out and left her copy here. Does anybody want to purchase a slightly used copy of Emily Post’s Etiquette? I can give you a really good deal!
c) Give positive reviews.
I consider this up there with manners. If I’ve received good service or had a good experience, I say it. I shout it from the rooftops. I am a firm believer in the maxim that if you let people know they’ve done a good job, that will make them want to do it again and again to get the feel good rush from positive feedback.
Accordingly, I’m one of those people on Amazon and Yelp and Open Table who reviews service providers. If the meal, the product, the service has been good, I let the provider know. Of course, I also let them know if it’s been bad, but I think it’s just as important to put out good vibes into the world as bad.
d) Find an area of refuge.
I’m working on this. I actually reclaimed my sunroom over Labor Day weekend and made it into a sitting/reading area.
However, it’s off the kitchen, so although it’s a lovely spot in which to have a cup of coffee and chat with Ernie Hemingway or a friend when children are playing, it’s not really a refuge. Too public. So I’m looking for different space in the house.
Our house has a central family room where everything happens. We also have a formal living room, which at this stage of our lives is largely unused. The only time it sees traffic is when the Christmas tree goes up and when packages are delivered to the front door. It also tends – like so many other open spaces – to attract junk and become a storage area when it’s not being used for the Christmas tree.
For some time, I’ve been planning to make the back corner of the room into a quiet area where I can meditate and practice yoga. It’s sunny and bright, and the farthest corner of the house away from the main traffic areas, so it feels distant. Just what I need for quieting my mind and soul.
Of course, I have an office, too, but currently it’s situated in the laundry room on the other side of the master bath, and over the garage, so it’s not quite as isolated and quiet.
Plus, it’s cold. It is so cold that even when the heat is on, I need an electric space heater to keep marginally warm. It is so cold that once the outside temperature drops below 40 degrees, my cat won’t even hang out in there with me. It is so cold that the winter after we moved into our house we needed to install heat into our garage to ensure that the pipes for the laundry didn’t freeze. I don’t know precisely what the previous owners did about that particular problem, but I don’t care. I now have a garage that stays at a relatively balmy 55 degrees all winter. Getting into a cold car is not really a problem, unless of course, I’ve been lazy and haven’t put the car into the garage, nor is frozen pipes, truly the most important thing.
My husband decided several months ago that his office, located off the family room, should be mine so that I wouldn’t have to spend so much time upstairs away from the central living area, but it’s still got a lot of his books and other stuff in it, so it doesn’t feel like mine yet.
Maybe I’ll work on getting the walls covered with my stuff and then I’ll want to use it more. I’ll keep you posted.
For now, though, I think my quiet area in the formal living room – or the Christmas tree room as we call it – is my best bet. I’ve got a folding room divider that I’ll put behind the couch, a meditation chair for which I’ve just redone the cushion, my super thick yoga mat, and a Bose sound dock into which I can pop my iPhone to play ocean music. Now I just need to get all the junk out of that room.
And did I forget to mention that Thanksgiving is at our house? Namaste.
I’m a bit late on my October tasks, but I gave myself a break after burying my father-in-law simply to meditate on life, its wonder and brevity, and focus on helping my husband through this difficult time. Without further ado, here is what my happiness muse tells me I should focus on during the month of October.
a) Meditate on koans.
When I first read this, I admit I thought she was instructing me to meditate on financial issues. However, once I read a bit farther, I realized that I was being instructed to meditate on the big questions. A koan is a story, a question or a statement which, in Zen-practice, is used to provoke the mind, to exhaust the analytic intellect and the egoistic will, readying the mind to entertain an appropriate response on the intuitive level. Two koans that I have encountered often in general nomenclature are: (i) if a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound? and (ii) the only way out is through.
The statement “the only way out is through” seems particularly relevant to recent events in my world, namely my husband’s father dying, and to a much lesser degree, my anxiety and sadness surrounding The Boy starting kindergarten and beginning to grow his independence in leaps and bounds that I haven’t seen since he first became mobile. So this month I will meditate on “the only way out is through” and in doing so, I hope open my mind to greater possibility and awareness of the ways in which grief and anxiety change me.
I realize I’m probably way over simplifying this whole task of meditating on koans, and I want to delve deeper into it, but my heart needs a little time to heal, so I will start small and meditate more and deeper as I go. Once I fix the cushion on my meditation chair.
b) Examine True Rules.
These are concrete lessons that come out of people’s particular experiences. Again, recent events are going to provide me with lots of these life rules. Perhaps the only True Rule I will find is that life is short and can be taken away at any time, so I should live every day to the fullest. I suppose that’s a cliche, but cliches are that for a reason: generally, they tend to be true, and thus become overused and cliche.
Right now the only True Rules I can come up with are (i) children grown up even when you don’t want them to, and (ii) everything changes.
c) Stimulate the mind in new ways.
This sounds suspiciously like “try new things.” Of course, I’ve been trying new things all year long, so I’ll bite. I just don’t know what I can fit into my schedule right now …. I’ll keep you posted.
d) Keep a food diary.
Um, okay. While I admit I’m not in the shape I was in before I had a child and I’m a few pounds over my ideal weight, I’m not sure that keeping a diary in which I record every blessed thing that goes into my mouth will be particularly helpful. I’m stressed out enough about it already.
I’m a little more nuts about my weight and size than many. Once you’ve had an eating disorder, even when “cured,” it never really goes away, and I find myself freaking out over my weight and calling my sister to talk me down off the ledge. Intellectually, I know I’m a healthy weight, but I look in the mirror and see someone I don’t recognize, someone I don’t want to be. I hate feeling the waistband of my jeans touching my waist – not cutting into it, just touching it.
Despite knowing that tipping the scales at 100 pounds when I’m 5’7″ is scary and unhealthy, I still keep that in the back of my mind as my ideal, and I admit that unless I keep that girl in handcuffs, she will sneak up from the back of the bus and knock me over the head in the name of taking over my eating and obsessive exercise patterns. I still look longingly at the photos I have in which my collarbone juts out like a shelf under my neck and the my neck looks as if it can barely withstand supporting the weight of my head. I fight every day, every meal, not to let that girl take over.
I don’t want my child to grow up with food issues. I don’t want him to believe that eating or not eating will make anyone love him more or less. So I keep those photos hidden away and hope that someday I will be able to look at them and feel that girl is gone. I want to know deep in my heart that girl is unhealthy, and never again, even deep in my hidden heart of hearts, want to emulate her.
So, no, I will not be keeping a food diary. I live a food diary.
When I was four years old, my mother and her first husband divorced. Her first husband is my biological father. Since about age seventeen, I’ve referred to him as The Sperm Donor (TSD). Until two months ago, I hadn’t seen him in over twenty years.
When I was six years old, my mom and I moved in with the man she ultimately married, who raised me and who is my sister’s and my father. The man who became and who is my dad. The man I call when I need advice. The man who picked me up from the playground pavement, knees bleeding and unable to walk from the pain after the chains broke on the swing I was riding and I fell from what felt like a height of a hundred feet but was in reality probably 8 or 9 feet.
My dad is the man who helped me with my homework, who listened and gave me advice when I’d had a particularly rough tangle with my mother as a teenager. My dad is the man who intimidated my high school and college boyfriends and who stood proudly applauding when I accepted every one of my diplomas. My dad is the man who taught me that it was okay to stand on my own two feet and speak my truth, even if my voice were nothing more than a whisper when I did that. My dad taught me that even if started out whispering if I believed in myself and kept speaking my truth, eventually I would be shouting it so loudly that the world wouldn’t be able to ignore me.
My dad helped me move out of the house I shared with my first husband after that husband, who had sworn to me and my dad that he would love me and care for me forever, scarred me. My dad, along with my mother, walked me down the aisle when I married my darling Ernie in a fairytale wedding.
But I digress. I divorced TSD when I was seventeen. I was told that he and his second wife were divorcing, and I was told why. Based on that information, I developed an instant and intense revulsion for him, white hot, that followed me through my life. I never knew anything different from what I was told, and it was only the last time I saw TSD in the early 1990s that I even tried to find out his interpretation of events.
Until last fall. Then curiosity and some deep rooted need of which I was not even aware took over my heart and brain. It might have had something to do with the depression into which I’d fallen and couldn’t shake, or the prescription my doctor wrote me to help alleviate my symptoms, or even the therapist I started seeing every week, but I prefer to think of the mystical rather than the logical explanation. Thinking that way makes me feel a little less like a control freak who willed herself into doing something against all common sense.
My entire adult life I was determined never to acknowledge TSD, never to allow him entry into my carefully constructed and protected world, and since my child came along, never to allow him any access to The Boy. I haven’t changed my mind about my son. I have, however, decided that I am strong enough to allow TSD entry into my life, at least in a limited way.
I reached out to TSD. For years, I had kept tabs on him. I was fearful of him, of what he might want from me, what he was capable of doing to me. After all, I had been told he was a monster. I knew from my own observations and experiences that he had not been any kind of parent.
One early memory I have is sitting on his lap in the front seat of a car, I think it was a convertible, driving through a campground, and I had my hands on the wheel and was steering the car. I have no idea how old I was, but I don’t remember my step-sisters being there, so it was in all likelihood before the age of five. Another memory has me riding shotgun in his convertible on Route I-95, southbound from Boston to Willimantic, Connecticut, Jimmy Buffet blasting, TSD holding an open beer bottle between his legs, gulping as we sped along. I recall riding in the back of a pickup truck he owned at least once until my mother got wind of the riding arrangements and put the kyebosh on it. So from then on I rode in the crowded cab with TSD and his second wife while my step-sisters rode in the open bed. Until that summer everything fell apart, I thought they had cashed in the winning lottery ticket as to fathers.
I remember being left with his older sister, my aunt, on her farm. As an adult, I was told that her then-husband later did some bad things, but I just barely remember him, and only that I didn’t think he was a nice man. I recall that the dog TSD had bought me, a Siberian Husky I named Blue because he had one blue eye and one brown, was clipped by a car, and that we couldn’t get him to the vet because TSD had left me there for an extended period of time and my aunt’s husband had siphoned all the gas out of the second car so that he could go off somewhere, so as a five year-old child I watched my dog die a painful, horrible death. I’ve never owned another dog.
There are a lot of ghosts that have accompanied me through life, but TSD was the pink elephant. I didn’t know what would happen if I extended a branch to TSD. I just knew for certain that no longer could I ignore his ghost. So I picked up a stick and handed it to him, not sure if he would take it or if I would be bludgeoned over the head with it. I was shocked when he took it.
That was several months ago. Since then we’ve communicated via e-mail on an every couple of weeks or so cycle and had an in-person meeting once, at his mother’s funeral. That was the other thing that shocked me. At age 44, I discovered that TSD’s mother was still alive at age 95. Better yet, my request to see her was met with generous welcome by two of my cousins and TSD.
I was fortunate and was able to see her twice between the time I found out she was alive and when she died on July 21. Surprisingly, she recognized me and was able to understand that I had a son. Selfishly, I was glad that she seemed unaware that more than twenty years has passed since I’d last seen her; I didn’t want to have to attempt an explanation of my ghosts with her. She lived a long life, and from what I’m told, suffered her share of trauma and insanity. It’s all hearsay since I never heard any of it from her, but if even a fraction of what I was told is accurate, she deserves every happiness she found in life and more.
When my cousin gave the eulogy at my grandmother’s funeral, I found myself crying; not for the life that was lost, but selfishly, for what I missed out on by not having her in my life. I never felt I could have her – or any of TSD’s family members – in my life without also having TSD, and I was always afraid of him, and what he might do or be. I never experienced my grandmother as my cousins and their children did. I never knew her the way they did, never heard all the stories they did, never got to learn anything from her the way they did. Although it would be easy to place all the blame for that at TSD’s feet, I realized too late that the fault lay partly with me; only partly because none of them reached out to me, either. Perhaps my fears were irrational, but they were based on what I was told, not on anything concrete that I knew for myself. I never thought about what I knew myself.
Ernie accompanied me to the funeral on July 31. I have only just begun to process what it was like to see TSD and his family after so many years. I was at turns terrified, guilt-ridden, shocked, and heartbroken. I saw bits of myself in those people, and I couldn’t process it. For nearly my entire life, I have observed and been told that I am just like my mother and her mother. On my mother’s side, we were a family without boys until my cousins and I had children. My cousins and I, while various circumstances and geography and other things separate us, are alike in more ways than we may care to admit or may even be able to see.
Yet here I was, confronted with the unalienable fact that I was like the women on TSD’s side of my family, too. TSD’s three sisters, my first cousins, and his mother. My grandmother apparently was a lifelong writer, a lover of books and music, dedicated to her friends and family. She also had a spine of steel and an indomitable spirit, if even a fraction of what I’ve heard about her life is true. She was widowed in the mid-1960s, when she was in her forties and had four children. As far as I know, she was not college-educated and did not have a career on which she could fall back. Some of her children were adults at that point, some were still young and at home. She raised those younger children alone and never remarried. I think she was a remarkable woman who had a fantastic life, and that is what I heard echoed in the sentiments expressed at her memorial.
I held myself together admirably – at least according to Ernie – while at the church, but after we had left … well, all bets were off. I began crying in earnest as we crossed the parking lot, and Ernie pretty much carried me to the car. I often joke with Ernie that he is afraid to drive my car (we call her Christine), but he had no choice that day. I sat in the passenger seat and howled while he struggled with the computer-driven controls. I continued crying all the way home, just continuous tears down my cheeks, the waterworks occasionally escalating into sobbing so convulsive that Ernie had to pull over so I could vomit on the side of the highway. I was sick at my own misinterpretations, my own failure to know, my own uncertainty. My body simply could not hold in the evaporation of the past in my mind.
When I was able to hear Ernie over my crying, he commented that he was glad I’d wanted him to accompany me to the funeral. For most of the time he has known me, I had told him that under no circumstances would I have anything to do with TSD or allow TSD any access to my life or family, so, needless to say, he was a tad surprised when I revealed recent events to him. He was, however, fully supportive, and after it was all over, he expressed that being with me in the bosom of TSD’s family allowed him a window into me that he had never known existed and that he felt closer to me for having seen through it.
I haven’t yet been able to process the whole experience fully as I cannot get too far into thinking without dissolving into a puddle on the floor. Part of me wants for everything I have been told about TSD to be untrue; that part is the four year-old girl who desperately wants all the bad experiences with her father to be nothing more than a bad dream. Another part of me believes all the bad things I’ve been told, but that part is the angry, sullen teenager who does not understand – and doesn’t want to understand – the nuances of a very adult situation into which she was thrust. Still a third part believes that there must be a middle ground somewhere, but doesn’t know yet where to find it or even how to begin searching.
The ghosts of my life haunt me. I have found them at last, but now I need to confront and banish them into the flesh and blood people they are, no larger or smaller than life.
My familiar happiness muse tells me that July is a month for buying myself some happiness. Without further ado, here’s how I plan to acquire happiness during the month of July.
a) Indulge in a modest splurge. I need a new pair of eyeglasses this month, and rather than head straight for the sale rack at For Eyes, I plan to stop by the fancy-schmancy eyewear store in the next town and pick up the beautiful pair of Tiffany brand glass frames that I’ve had my eye on for a couple of years.
b) Buy needful things. I’m an under-buyer married to an over-buyer. I guess on some level we balance out one another’s purchasing insanity, but rather than accepting that logic, I’m aiming to bring both of us towards the center.
c) Spend out. Over the past few years, I’ve gotten quite good at this. I get rid of worn out or no longer useful items in my household. What I cannot do is apply the same guidelines to my writing. If I’ve written something, even if I know it’s lousy and will never develop into anything other than what first comes out of my pen or keyboard, I am simply unable to get rid of it. I must learn that the delete key can be my friend.
d) Give up something. I’ve given up my bad habits over the years: too many margaritas or glasses of wine, too much partying, driving overly fast, the occasional social cigarette, eating a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Bonnaroo Buzz in one sitting when I’ve had a bad day. I’ve eliminated all of those bad habits as I’ve aged. To be fair, I still do crave that ice cream on really bad days.
One thing I haven’t given up, however, is my worst habit ever. I yell. I have an explosive temper, most especially when I feel defensive. So that’s what I’ll be giving up for the month of July, and I hope for good. I don’t want to yell at my child or my husband anymore, even when I’m seeing red.
I recently discovered the blog The Orange Rhino, written by a mom who decided she was fed up with yelling so much at her kids and decided to stop. Her commitment was 365 days without yelling; I will commit to 30 days and when I fulfill that obligation to myself and my family, I will recommit to the next 30 days.
Just as we’re starting to think about school getting out for the summer, we come to the month of May, which is the time for getting serious about play.
a) Find more fun. I’m already working on this. After many years of putting off vacations and other things “until I have the spare cash,” I’ve finally given in and decided that I can’t wait. I need to take those trips; I need to go to those events; I need to do those things that I want – NOW – because life is not guaranteed as recent events have shown all too poignantly. I need to do all the wonderful things I talk about with my husband and son because someday one of us might not be around to partake. I want my son to have wonderful memories of a crazy, hectic upbringing with lots of smiles; I don’t want his memories to be of us always waiting until the perfect moment for fun.
With that in mind, I started this year with Legoland:
My cool little dude proclaimed it to be “the best vacation I’ve ever had!”
Last weekend we drove to New York City for a couple of days. Although we couldn’t get out to Liberty Island to see Lady Liberty, or Ellis Island since all are closed due to damage sustained during Hurricane Sandy last October, we made a stop in Battery Park and he was able to see the Statue of Liberty from a distance. I was able to get some really great photos of my reluctant photo subject.
So, even when Ernie Hemingway blanches at cost and says we should just go to New Hampshire, I will push ahead and get the best bargains on travel that I can. After all, college students travel on a shoestring, so why can’t we? Besides, I’d rather travel the world with my little boy than eat out at fancy restaurants, drive fancy cars (although both Ernie and I do love the mom-mobile), wear fancy clothes, or have all the material possessions in the world. It’s the experiences I can give my family that will really matter in the end, the ones that my little boy will remember the most when he’s all grown and has a family of his own, the ones we all will remember long after the sun has set and we’re alone with our thoughts.
b) Take time to be silly. This is my favorite task as I can just continue being me without feeling any guilt whatsoever. I can have as many dance parties with my little guy as I want. I can sing along with him at the top of my lungs while he butchers the lyrics to his favorite songs. I can paint his toenails and put his hair in a top-of-the-head ponytail (Pebbles Flintstone style) while we’re hanging out on a rainy day. I can play silly games with him and laugh.
My little man loves, Loves, LOVES to sing. His very favorite thing to do during long car rides is plug into my iPad with headphones and perform his very own version of karaoke. I laugh so hard the tears run down my face. All the while I’m singing along with him. He told me yesterday that he was going to be a professional singer. You’ve got to love those childhood dreams.
c) Go off the path. Here’s where I have the most trouble. If I am really honest with myself, I tend to play it safe. Until I left the practice of law for good, I never left a job without having one already lined up. Except for walking out of my first marriage, whenever I’ve ended a relationship, I’ve always had a friend to lean on who turned to something more. For most of my adult life, I’ve been worried about other people’s opinions, what other people think when they see me. Since my first marriage, I’ve always treaded lightly in relationships, afraid of stepping too far over the line, pushing my partner too far (my first marriage, its dissolution, and the ramifications thereof are topics for another day, another post – or several hundred posts).
Although I wanted to go to New York City for college (Barnard College), I let my mother’s apprehensions and opinions dictate instead of simply claiming my life as my own and figuring out how to get into and pay for Barnard on my own. I wish I had really known then what I know now: that while she may have been angry at me and scared that I would meet with harm in NYC, she would have still loved me and making that break might have given her more reason to respect me as an adult. Despite having wanted to live in NYC or San Francisco or London since I was old enough to conceptualize it, and having had the opportunity to relocate to all of those places at least once each during my professional career, I’ve never moved more than 10 or 12 miles outside of Boston. In fact – and this won’t mean much to anyone who doesn’t know the Boston area well – until Ernie Hemingway and I bought our house four years ago, I had never lived outside the 128-belt, including college and graduate school. Now I’m at the first exit past the Weston tolls on the Mass Pike. Woo hoo!
Daring, that’s me. Not! But I need to learn to be daring because I don’t want my son to live as I have, safely and fearing rocking the boat. I want him not just to dream, but to pursue those dreams with a passion, and not contain them to a small geographic range because he’s afraid of upsetting me. I want him to pursue those dreams knowing that even as I’m sad because I don’t see him every day, I embrace his dreams right along with him. I want him to know that even when he upsets me, I still love him more than life, and I would give up anything and everything to preserve for him the opportunity to live out his dreams.
d) Start a collection. I have a collection. Many collections, actually. What I think I need to do is re-invigorate my existing collection of music boxes, and use up my collection of matchbooks. I need to organize my collection of tchotchkes, memorabilia, and photos so I can actually reminisce when I look through them instead of getting hives just thinking about them.
This goes hand in hand with my being a product junkie. I’m slowly using up all of my extraneous products, and finding the ones I really like along the way, and I’ve got to do something similar with my collections. I need to cull through and release the damaged pieces of my collections (or use them, in the case of my matchbooks), trusting that the memories they bring will stay with me even without the physical reminder. Especially that snow globe with the little amoeba-like mold ball floating around in it.
** I originally posted this on May 6, but I’ve been told by a few people that the link leads nowhere, so I’m reposting. Unfortunately, however, the original text seems to have vanished from my admin site, so I had to recreate via memory (which I willingly admit can be a bit spotty these days), so if anyone by chance read the original post and has it somewhere, I apologize for any differences and I would love to have the original if you are able to get it back.
Unwilling to write yesterday for fear I would awaken to find whatever I created was an April Fool’s joke played by the universe, here I am today looking forward to my April goals as promulgated by my happiness muse, Gretchen Rubin.
a) Sing in the morning. I don’t know about singing, but I have started putting on music in the morning when I awaken. I’m afraid if I begin singing, something horrible will happen. Perhaps my husband will divorce me after hearing the horrid noise emanating from my throat, perhaps the skies will open, and the gods will smite me for daring to blemish the beauty of an early morning with something so foul, or my child will be horrified and seek to become emancipated at age five. I have a horrible singing voice and sound like nothing so much as a melee between a bunch of alley cats. My son told me at age three that he didn’t want me to sing to him any longer because I had a terrible voice.
I’ve also purchased an under-counter radio/cd player for my kitchen. In my mind, these types of appliances have long been the province of my grandparents; it seemed as though my nana had some type of machine under every inch of cabinet space in her mongrel kitchen that my grandfather built piece by piece. Regardless, I don’t want a radio taking up valuable counter space, so I caved. I haven’t yet installed it, so Ernie Hemingway hasn’t seen it. I’m hoping the reaction is not explosive, unless it’s along the lines of ‘what a fantastic idea!’
Regardless, the goal seems to be having more lightness and more music in my mornings, so whether I sing is irrelevant. The idea is to make this whole happiness project thing work for me, so I’m not being bullied into singing.
b) Acknowledge the reality of people’s feelings. Although not as good as I could be, I’m told I’m actually pretty good at this. Having a young child is terrific practice. The person with whom I have the most trouble in this area is the person with whom it should be easiest. But I’ll keep trying.
c) Be a treasure house of happy memories. Holidays with my family remind me how fabulous we all are at remembering the good and putting aside the unpleasant. It’s not that we forget; it’s that we deliberately choose to put the negative aside in favor of the smiles, the laughter and the warm feelings. This is one of my favorite things about my family, and one of the things I most want to pass on to my child. Having a sense of history, a sense of your place in the world, is important, but having positive experiences to frame your sense of self is one of the most extraordinary gifts a parent can give a child.
d) Take time for projects. I recently cleaned out what we call “Mummy’s Closet” in my house. It’s a small area in the hallway that looks remarkably similar to the closet in which Harry Potter spent his nights while living with the Dursleys of Privet Drive, in which I keep gifts and books and crafting materials. Everything in it is my exclusive domain. I can hardly ever find the things I want in there, and I have found that I often “lose” Christmas and Hanukkah gifts I’ve bought early in the year, so I decided the contents needed to be culled and organized.
I made a pilgrimage to my spiritual home, The Container Store, and purchased several bins, which I separated into three categories: yarn, patterns, crochet hooks and knitting needles; jewelry making supplies; and fabric and sewing notions and patterns. I am hopeful that now I’ve seen all the wondrous colors and projects available to me, I will make time for them. I’ve already made a couple of jewelry items and pulled out a sweater that I started working on before I began law school in 1993. When I asked my mother for help in figuring out where in the pattern I had stopped, we joked that although it’s been so long since I started the sweater that the style has likely gone out of fashion and come back in again.
My main project for April, however, is writing., or rather the devoting of daily time to my writing practice. I’ve got hundreds of starts – stories, essays, poems, just about anything – and I need to devote myself to finishing some things and making other nascent thoughts into reality. I could commit to getting up thirty minutes earlier each morning to write in peace, but I am far too committed to my sleep for that. I’d like to say I’ll take thirty minutes each night after putting my son to be, but I get so little time with Ernie Hemingway as it is that I will not sacrifice those hours each night before we both go to bed. Instead, I will make time during my day, giving up thirty minutes of mindless internet surfing or watching one television show on my DVR. Writing is a much better use of my time, and much more likely to help keep me sane than cruising around the ‘net or watching Emily Thorne get her “Revenge” on the Grayson family.
It is said by many that the first step in recovery is admitting you have a problem.
I am an addict. A beauty product addict, to be precise. That’s right, I am a product junkie. And this is my year to get the monkey off my back, to ignore the insatiable urges, to fight the irresistible force that forces me to buy all manner of beauty products: makeup, hair, face treatments, appliances, treatments…you name it; I’ve either bought it, tried it, or quite possibly, still have it stashed under my sink or in my linen closet.
The state of my under sink bathroom cabinet that tipped me over the edge:
Notice the plethora of hair products, a particular weakness of mine. I have naturally curly hair, but neither curly like Bernadette Peters nor classically waved like Sarah Jessica Parker; no, my hair is somewhere in between, and accordingly frustrating as I try to force it to commit to one camp or another. Unsuccessfully. Thirty plus years of trying ended with me choosing chemical straightening over everyday rounds with the blow dryer and either a flat iron or curling iron. Since I would allow a professional wrestler to break my arm rather than let my hair go naturally curly, I felt quite safe in throwing out all the products targeted to making curls more prominent.
Notice also all the skin lotions. I have exceptionally dry skin. Like the old alligator in the Lubriderm ad campaign. In preparation for the culling, I pulled out all the bottles and consolidated all the part-used bottles and tubs into other mostly empty bottles and tubs. There are still a lot of them, but instead of twenty-five bottles and tubs, I’ve now only got about twelve. Seriously, I don’t have to buy body lotion for about two years. That’s if I use the stuff every day. Which I’m trying to do since I hate the tight, itchy sensation of super dry skin.
The state of my bathroom counter that further contributed to sending me over the edge (not even taking into account Ernie Hemingway’s side of the two sink vanity):
Again, notice all the hair products. Is anyone sensing a theme?
And last, but certainly not least, the pile of old makeup that I finally threw out:
I have resisted throwing out the stuff for years, mostly because every time I consider it, I see all the labels and cringe to think of all the money it represents: Chanel, Dior, Estee Lauder, as well as the occasional Cover Girl, L’Oreal Paris and mongrel brand tossed in for good measure. With it all in the trash, that seems like a silly rationalization, especially when I consider that ninety percent of it predates the birth of my child, some of it ringing up the decade mark.
At age 44, it’s time for me to give up the fantasy that I will one day be one of those chic, lipstick wearing sophisticates portrayed in the advertisements of the aforementioned companies. If I looked like Kiera Knightly, Jennifer Lopez, January Jones, Nicole Kidman, Charlize Theron, Kate Hudson, or any of the various ethereally beautiful models who peddle the products on their airbrushed and photoshopped faces, perhaps I’d feel differently.
However, my reality is that if I have a tube of lipstick in my pocket, it’s more liable to fall out and roll under my car seat, melting into a waxy puddle that can never be removed from my car mat than be whipped out at a moment’s notice when I have an impending business encounter. If I have a tube of lipstick in the inside pocket of my purse, it’s likely to be used as a pen or a crayon, not swiped across my lips to give my pale complexion a bit of color before I meet my husband for an unplanned assignation.
Lip gloss with a hint of color – I’m all about that. Those lovely little tubes that smell delightful but hold no interest for my child and are easy to put on without a mirror as I’m dashing around during the day? Yeah, baby! Stock me up. But true color that could bleed or will make me look like a clown if not applied properly? No way.
At least for the foreseeable future, those days are behind me. Perhaps someday in the future, but even if I get there, my lipstick tubes will likely be ready for dissection by an archeologist by then. Better to give up the fight now and simply admit defeat. I can always buy new ones … when I don’t have mortgages and car payments to make, a rapidly growing child needing clothes every few months as he shoots up and out of them.
I wish I could say that I bought all these various products over the years because I’m a reformed shopaholic, and although that it a tiny piece, that’s not all of it. The sad truth is that I purchased all the products because of an inability to accept myself for who and what I was. I wanted curlier hair, straighter hair, glossier hair, tighter skin, brighter skin, less cellulite, longer and stronger fingernails, silky smooth feet, tanner skin without going out in the sun (although that’s actually a good thing). I wanted to be the glamorous woman behind the products, the fantasy offered by those advertising geniuses. I wanted to be noticed, to be envied, to be cherished as all of those women appeared to be. I wanted to be a better me, a different me.
Since 2013 is my year to discover and embrace my bliss, it is about time to get rid of all the evidence and baggage I’ve accumulated over the years that allows me to put off facing the reality in the mirror. I am … me. Just me. No better than that, no worse than that. I’ve got my strengths, my weaknesses, my admirable qualities and my traits that make me and others cringe. I can try to change, but the only real change can come from within. I can’t change my cynicism by wearing red lipstick, but I can change it by stopping myself from imagining that having those perfect pillow red lips will make me less of a doubter.
I can be happy with myself and find my happiness in the wonders of life all around me. Trying. Now THAT makes me happy.
March is the month to Aim Higher. Here is the checklist Gretchen Rubin’s book suggests I follow.
a) Launch a blog. Check. Make time for regular posting, figure out what posting schedule works best for me, find time to edit the thousands of words I’ve put down on paper so that they are understandable and pithy. Well, I can’t say I’m exactly hot on the trail of those items just yet. I’m working on the schedule, thinking that maybe once a week is good, but I know I’m far off from consistency at this point. Right now my most regular appointment is with the little notebook I carry around in my purse for moments when inspiration hits.
b) Enjoy the fun of failure. Is this kind of like laughing at yourself when learning to ice skate or ski and you fall hard on your butt? In the right mood, I’m quite good at that. Of course, the next day when I wake up with giant bruises and achy muscles, I’m not so happy, but I can laugh at the time. I think I’m going to have to work super hard on this goal. I’m going to take this task slowly and hope I can build up to it over time.
I’m really good at laughing at myself when I fail physically; I would never call myself an athlete, even though I do try to incorporate regular yoga practice into my life. But baseball, softball, foot ball, basketball and other team sports? I’m a miserable failure, and I have no choice but to laugh when I get out on the field or court or rink with friends or my son because otherwise I would simply cry. I’m okay with that, however. I’ve made it this far in life without being an athlete, and I know myself well enough to know that I’m not going to decide to run a marathon just because I think it sounds cool. I have no illusions about what training to run 26.2 miles and then actually doing it in one fell swoop will do to my beat up knees with one damaged ACL; I like walking much better.
So I laugh at myself regularly when engaging in sports or sports like conduct. I am aiming to do this in all areas of my life.
c) Ask for help. In this area I am a subscriber to the maxim, “do as I say, not as I do.” I am the first person to tell those around me to ask for help, yet I am the last to ask for help. For me, asking for help is like admitting defeat, admitting failure. It’s hard to do. I dislike it immensely. I get angry at myself; I get defensive and angry at the people around me who tell me they want to do the helping.
I’m not entirely sure why I have such difficulty asking for help, but I suspect it has something to do with not wanting to reveal weakness, not wanting to show that I am vulnerable. I’m sure a therapist would have something to say about it. Perhaps I’ll start asking for help by finding a good therapist and asking her. Or perhaps I’ll just remind myself regularly that my husband, my sister, my parents, and my friends love me and would help me as readily as I would help them.
d) Work smart. I know I need to do this. I need to set up a dedicated work space and set regular hours in which I occupy that space. I definitely need to stop work from invading all areas of my life at all hours. Ernie Hemingway and I discuss this regularly as we are both truly slaves to our “to do” lists. We allow our electronic devices to take away our attention and to interrupt our family time. As a result, we end up “working” 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Recently, I made a suggestion that Ernie agreed to try. We both agreed to dump our mobile phones and our Blackberry devices at the door at 5pm (or whenever we get home), and not check them or answer them until the next morning. Of course, because Ernie’s older child hates me, she only calls on his mobile, so that throws a little monkey wrench into the plan, but overall, we’ve been doing okay with it. I don’t want to try to force Ernie into following my rules, but perhaps if I’m better about “working smarter,” Ernie will be also.
e) Enjoy now. This is another hard one for me. My entire life I was planning for the future: I’ve got to get good grades in high school so I can get into a good college; I’ve got to get good grades in college so I can get into a good graduate school; I’ve got to get good grades in law school so I can get a good job in a good firm and make good money; once I have the good job and the good income, I can focus on my life, then I can live my life. I’ve always looked forward, planning for the future – the next vacation, the next milestone, the next season.
Having a child has helped me live in the moment much more than I ever have, but I’ve still got that big list bouncing around in my head, the list that includes things like cleaning the garage and finishing up my latest knitting project when school starts up again in September, organizing my writing notebooks and assignments when summer camp starts, and other such sundry items.
March will be a tough month for me, challenging in its simplicity and pull. I hope I’m up to the challenge.