Okay, I admit it. I am sorta in love with a football show. This anti-sports gal who once fought vehemently to win back her Sunday or Monday Nights now sits and discusses QB1s and plays (well, I’m still in a learning stage). My husband spent years trying to get me into football. Begged, pleaded, prodded, poked and then, gave up. It was a moot point. All I ever heard was “blah, blah, yardage, scrimmage”, yet here I am now eating wings, sipping Corona and watching a bit of the Patriots. It’s all because of Friday Night Lights, and I think now, I get it.
Yes, the people on the show are good looking. Yes, I could be some of their mothers, but I digress… Yes, the story lines are fun and interesting. But, my favorite part of the show is the married couple Tammy & Coach Taylor. They have one of the most ideal and real marriages I’ve seen on television. Tammy supports her coach husband in his role and he in turn, supports her back. They both work hard, raise the kids and show the value of a healthy marriage. They fight over lack of sex after baby, parenting teens, money issues and all the things most marriages do. But, what I adore about this couple (and yes, I know it’s all television – but as a writer, I get the value in good, realistic writing) is how she isn’t bit in the butt for supporting her husband and his career. It’s sort of old-school – make your man feel good about himself, meets new school – woman don’t take no crap from no one.
The messages all around me have always been First Kids, Then Husband. I dubbed it The Man Can Make His Own Damn Lunch. My mom used to make my dad lunch every day. I saw this and literally ever fiber of my 80s feminist mind wanted to puke (sorry, Mom). I made a personal vow that when I got married my husband would make his own damn lunch!
And, so he did. Brown bag and all.
But, I think early on that translated to me doing my thing, him doing his thing and then us doing our thing. It never even occurred to me that I could or would try out ‘his’ things or vice versa! But, over 19 years of marriage I’ve been trying out some of his interests and I actually enjoy them. Well, some of them. And, he has also tried some of my interests. Not because I asked or he asked, but just because it felt right.
A good marriage is a supportive and loving partnership. A great marriage consists of respecting your partner enough to try and get to know him even better. To listen, to snuggle up during his team game. To sometimes make him a brown bag lunch…
About a year or two ago, I read a book called, The Happiness Project. I am sure you’ve seen or heard the hype surrounding this larger-than-life experiment in gratitude. At first, gratitude came easily to author Gretchen Rubin, a sarcastic and often silly women looking for the more in life we all seek. Then, as gratitude’s time-tested experiments and real-world crap collided, things became more desperate and difficult for Gretchen. And, as in all books with a happy ending, she discovers sticking with gratitude in a multitude of ways really does bolster your happiness quotient.
For me, this book was just meh. Gretchen seemed trite, often times rude in her quest for trying out different sides of gratitude. But, in general I believed in her message – taking time to find the good and being grateful for it will lead to an overhaul in your general view on life. Since reading that book and really since Oprah coined her phrase ‘gratitude journal’ years ago, I’ve often tried to incorporate more thankfulness into my life.
When times were bad and paychecks lean, gratitude for loves in my life got me through. When I suffered loss or pain, focusing on my multitude of gifts (like coffee) and amazing children cheered me up. And then, as all good things were going great – gratitude somehow, someway transitioned into another beast altogether- guilt.
I am not certain when this happened or why. But, suddenly we finally had a savings account for the first time in our lives, our family was growing up and sleeping through the night (!), my business was booming and it finally seemed like everything was in synch. I was overwhelmed with so much gratitude that I looked around at others less fortunate and felt tremendous and utter shame.
Why should I deserve so much happiness? What have I done to deserve a great home, healthy kids and a giving husband? Was I any better than others dealing with loss, divorce or sick children? Of course, the answer – a resounding no – I was no more deserving and no better than anyone else. I was just luckier in the draw in that particular part of my life.
I think back to a time when I was young. I went to an elementary school in an insular and strict private school environment that taught the mantra ‘You will get what you deserve’. I grew up believing that breaking any rule would bring an onslaught of hellish fire and I may be struck by lightening at any moment. Skip a class? You will get expelled. Eat on a minor fast day? Your stomach will surely hurl itself into oblivion. This led to an onslaught of fear and loathing both for my little world at school and contributed to my heightened anxiety as I was growing up. I never wanted to do anything “wrong” (by whichever standards I was following) or make a mistake for fear of what may lay in wait.
In my mind it was simple –I f you were good, good things happen to you – if you are not good, well watch out…
But, as I became an adult and saw the world around me make plenty of good or bad choices the ultimate question came to the forefront – Why do bad things happen to the good people? It made no sense.
Then, I read another book, this one much more meaningful to me than the Happiness Project – The Garden of Emunah (Belief) by Rabbi Shalom Arush.
This book, while also at times trite and flowery, became an unbelievable reminder that if you sort of ‘go with the flow’ of life you can’t feel slighted, angry, sad or depressed. It’s just life. Not better than someone else’s, not worse. It’s yours and yours alone. It has really helped my perspective in realizing that its a waste of time to feel guilty for the gifts of my life. I shouldn’t walk around apologizing that I have health or happiness. I also shouldn’t feel angry when it doesn’t go ‘my way’ because truly it is going my way, I just don’t realize it at the time. It’s just the Plan.
I make the choices that contribute to the path my life of course, but ultimately health, happiness and love are all very changeable and in an instant. I am trying hard to focus less on being thankful and more on thanking those around me and of course, the Guy Upstairs. I am working hard on recognizing the Plan versus feeling that I somehow did something intrinsically amazing or horrific to get there. It’s my Plan and I’m sticking to it.
Happy New Year, all. May We All Be Inscribed in The Book of ‘Good Plans’ Until 120.
I am honored to have guest poster Gavi Kutliroff today.
Tonight begins the commemoration of Yom Hashoah or Holocaust Remembrance Day. This is a day full of heightened emotion, as we commemorate those who perished in the Holocaust and show both honor & gratitude for the stories shared by those Survivors who are still with us today. This post is a reflection on time spent in Summer 2013 with NCSY’s JOLT program, where Gavi visited the death camps in Poland and bore witness to the horrors of our history and the unbreakable resilience of our Jewish nation.
Instinctively, I reach into my pocket, groping in absentminded desperation for a pebble. It is almost perfectly rectangular, milky white (aside from some smudges of seventy-year-old dirt), and gone.
I am stingingly reminded that I lost it on the Israel leg of my summer program, three weeks after I picked it up off the earthen ground of the death camp Majdanek in Poland. For a moment I slip from reality. I am once again in a bubble of silence, impenetrable and supremely unnerving; filled with sites not inherently wicked themselves, but whose floors are wet with innocent blood and haunted by purposeless souls; caught between decades and cultures and wars.
I conjure images of “Schindler’s List,” guilty of my association of Hollywood with a remnant of the Holocaust but unable to banish sights of barefoot, skeletal figures trekking across the same stones from which I drew my pebble.
I am not superstitious—on the contrary, I am an intellectual skeptic—but something about the rock attracted me in a way I cannot confine to words. For the remainder of Poland, and in the following weeks in Denmark and Israel, I would fidget around in my pocket for it during prayer, or periods of religious and philosophical doubt, or simply out of habit. It became not only a reminder of the reality of the trip, but a memento of an experience I do not hope to ever repeat; a transformative and evolutionary experience, yes, but one far too emotionally overwhelming to undergo twice.
In my fingers, the pebble is purpose. It is my self-imposed duty to ancestors whose destinies were ripped from them—to allow them to achieve that purpose vicariously through me; it is God and nature and love and hate and good and evil and the lack of all of those things. It is my awe-inspired respect of my tour guide for walking through this hell annually and voluntarily. And among a month’s worth of supplies in a crowded hotel room three weeks later, it is lost.
Suddenly, the unconscious search in my pocket transforms absentminded habit into panicked desperation. The trip never happened. The Holocaust never happened. I cease to exist as a Jew and as a philosophically thinking person, as a member of a nation and the human race. My purpose and reality is lost, and I with them. I force my breathing into the slower, paced manner meditation taught me, dissipating my panic, I and incur what I have always believed to be the benefit of anxiety—the ability to step outside myself and psychoanalyze.
Emotion surrenders to intellect. In some perverse fashion, I realize, the pebble is comfort. It creates an encompassing atmosphere that actually feels like home—not because of where it is from, but because of what it represents. The world slows down as I realize that a memory is enough. The pebble is not my home, not my place of true comfort, although I once naively believed it to be; my nation is my place of true comfort.
My purpose is my home, and that is forever portable and will never be lost.
I am in an overwhelming state of flux and I don’t deal well with unknown.
I am deciding between pinching pennies and purchasing a larger home or living through the hell and unexpected expense of an addition to expand our already cramped living space.
I am waiting for my husband to decide if he remains at his company of nearly 20 years, or take on a position in a new company and start ‘fresh’.
I am waiting for my son determine between one excellent college over another excellent college, neither of which are even close to where we live and both cost an arm, a leg and a faraway son.
I am preparing said son to venture off halfway across the world to live abroad for 10 months.
I am dealing with the fact that this is the last year my baby will ever be in preschool. My next in line enters middle school, my oldest daughter – a sophomore in high school.
And then, to top it all off – I am turning 40 in less than 3 months and not feeling quite so fabulous.
Needless to say, I have been an emotional roller-coaster of tears, joy, tears, excitement, tears, fear and then of course, some tears. I have burst at any given moment for no reason at all, leaving my poor husband at loss for holding me or giving me space -whatever I yell first.
Nothing prepares a mother for the eventual reality that her children are growing up. You create an environment full of love, life and opportunities hoping one day, they will live on their own. But, that one day is supposed to happen long after you’re ready and far after I’m 40.
Just the number feels large and overwhelming. I don’t know what it is about them, as I never feared it before – but now 40 just feels so darn old. Like, I am supposed to have more ‘figured out’ by now. Like I am supposed to be hot and fit and look way younger than my years. And, well – I just don’t have it all figured out and I am not hot and fit. Blargh.
I recently read an article that asked other’s for tales from the ‘other side’ of 40. I think I will do the same. I need to hear that life isn’t so bad with grown up kids. That life can figure itself out. That finding meaning after my mid-life crisis will become simple and obvious. That saying goodbye to a family of 6 on a daily basis is not so bad. That my tears will end and my reality become much easier to handle. That I will adjust and change and grow and my unknowns will eventually reveal themselves and all will be calm again in my world.
So, do tell ladies and gentlemen. Do tell….
I remember the Kid Rules growing up in my house. With 6 kids, my mom kept it pretty simple.
Never interrupt Mom on the phone.
Never talk to Mom in the bathroom.
And, most importantly, never, ever, ever page Mom at the grocery store.
This last one is a practice that predates cell phones.
“Mrs. Ross, your daughter is on line 1. Please come to the Service Counter.”
My Mom abhorred this embarrassing practice. But, what’s a girl to do when she’s hungry? Fighting with her brother? Bored?
Ah, but sweet Lord, I never listened. I wanted her attention, when I wanted it. I was okay with just a nod of the head, a little Mhmmm action and barely any eye-contact sometimes, because I knew she was busy and I took what I could get. I didn’t love her less – I got it. She was a busy lady.
And now, fast-forward to Mom Rules 2014.
Make eye contact.
Turn off the cell phone.
Don’t respond to that ding!
Drop everything and listen. Now. Not in 5 minutes, now. Damnit.
We are all painfully aware of just how much damage the internet, the iPhone, the immediate gratification-nation is doing to us Moms. We’re like Dug the dog in Up jumping at the first “squirrel” we can.
Our kids need our undivided attention. Our spouse deserves our eye contact. Our coworkers need our response, not our half-listening Mmmhmms. We know it. We are aware of it. No one should need to wait. Not now, not in this day and age. Not ever.
But, it isn’t easy.
I think the New Techno-World doesn’t remember that most of us women (and men, for that matter) have been preoccupied long before the internet came to pass. To-do lists, around-to-its, deadlines, phone messages (remember answering machines?) and snail mail bills piled up high.
Laundry, unfortunately still exists. Family, friends and communal obligations never left. Moms have always been busy, overwhelmed and distracted. It’s – wait for it – NORMAL.
So, I am here to give you a freakin’ break.
If your pavlovian response is to take a moment to check that ding, just do it. Do it fast. Return to the moment in front of you (or turn off that phone) but, stop feeling so darn guilty. We have enough guilt on our plates without the news and our friends being all judgey.
If you can’t remember the colors of your kid’s eyes and you haven’t had a face to face talk with your husband in days – well, then maybe it is time to step away and do some techno-detox.
By the way, in my house those rules about phone calls, bathroom moments and grocery stores still apply. Although I do find I am way too accessible at the grocery store via text :
Mom, can you get snacks? There’s nothing to eat here.
Mom, this one is bothering me while I do my homework.
Mom, will you be home soon? What’s taking sooooo long??!?
Sure, there’s no page on that loudspeaker. But, responding to all those texts – I definitely take 3 times the time getting through those aisles and bump into a few nice old ladies in the aisles as I text and push.
It is my goal to be present in every moment of my life.
It is my goal to always stop what I am doing, set eyes on my beautiful child and listen. Be in that moment. I try very hard. Sometimes, I am really good at it. But, I am not perfect.
And, guess what? That’s okay.