The other week at my (awesome) Unitarian church, a woman I met during greeting time said this: “You have three kids? So you pretty much deserve the hero award just for waking up.”
It was sweet. Really sweet. I appreciated the compliment. But I didn’t know how to respond.
I tried this: “No, not at all. It’s not that bad, really.”
She said, “I have two kids, and parenting is the hardest thing I do,” and then my humility in disregarding her praise turned into hubris, right before my eyes. (This happens to me a lot.)
“That isn’t my experience,” I said cautiously. “So far, I like this job the best.” I wanted to say more, but the minister resumed the service.
I would love to talk to her again. And maybe I will. But for now, let me get something off my chest.
Parenting is hard. Super, super hard. Mostly because I don’t have a lot of free time. But here are some other things I don’t have: A set schedule; a time clock; work clothes; spreadsheets; deathly boredom; rush-hour traffic; a commute; meetings; pointless busywork; the feeling that I’m not making a difference; replacibility; burnt coffee; meetings; sitting in the same room every day, all day; office politics; dealing with people every day that disrespect me; customers; deadlines; sales pressure; fake smiles; the need to pretend to be busy; carpel tunnel; lack of creativity; lack of autonomy; lack of passion; hours and hours of socialization while on the clock; Sunday evening dread. And finally:
So let’s take a moment to appreciate the bus drivers, office workers, clerks, managers and salespeople of the world. Especially that garbage man that always waves to my kids.
This is my first winter with three children, and here is what I’ve learned about the mathematics of coats.
To find the total square footage of your home that you will need to devote solely to winter wear, use the following equation.
For each child in the family, add two lightweight jackets or sweatshirts, one point five heavy coats, one snowsuit, one rain suit, plus gloves, boots and hats.
For each adult in the family, add five to ten lightweight jackets or sweatshirts, one fancy coat, one rain jacket, one heavy coat, plus gloves, boots and hats.
For each adult bicyclist, motorcyclist, skier, scuba diver or other athletic type, add one pair of specialty pants and one point five specialty coat per sport. Because the volume of each of these items is almost double the average volume of other items, multiply this number by two.
Thus, if your family has five members (as mine does), you will need approximately eight thousand items of winter wear in your collective wardrobe.
After determining the total number of items, measure the square footage needed per item. This will vary depending on how much space between items you require to access them. Now multiply this number by your number of items.
If you did the math right, you will likely come up with a figure that will make it necessary to buy a second home. Or at least a Pod.
Seriously, though. Our coats take up two entire closets right now. And my kids are still tiny.
Summer, please come back soon.
(I’m off to buy a Pod.)
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1. Men don’t freak out over criticism. The other week, my babysitter quit. She said our parenting style was too “laid back.” (She was being nice, of course. She could’ve said my kids are brats.) After I read the email, I consulted with two friends at length, seeking ways to validate my choices and to work through my embarrassment. My husband, on the other hand? He read the email, made a single statement (which I won’t repeat here), then placed it all in a file and red-stamped it. Case closed.
2. Men are willing to take a backseat. My husband’s greatest joy in life is his mostly happy, mostly loving family. The role he chooses to play in keeping it that way is to support my parenting decisions as well as my self-care. He helps in any way he can, and doesn’t micromanage. Most of all, he realizes that the one who makes the plans is the one who gets to decide how to carry them out. (For more on gender differences in family decision making, see Tara Parker Pope’s discussion of household management in For Better: How the Surprising Science of Happy Couples Can Help Your Marriage Succeed.)
3. Men deeply appreciate real women’s bodies. Men love fat women, thin women, tall women, short women, beautiful women, plain women, dressed-up women, casual women, Barbie women, Martha Stewart women, soft women, angular women, curvy women and everything in between. Their tastes are much more wide-ranging and forgiving than the women they love often realize. (For evidence, see A Billion Wicked Thoughts: What the Internet Tells Us About Sexual Relationships by Ogi Ogas.)
4. Men are Zen. I once saw a video recording of a spiritual conference in which the audience was mostly made up of women. During the question and answer session, one of them asked the speaker if women are more spiritually evolved than men are; after all, they’re the ones who come to these events the most. The teacher responded that there may have been good reason that more men weren’t there. “Maybe they don’t need to read as many books and go to as many conferences, since they’re already practicing these principles without realizing it.”
I, for one, think she was right. If Zen is define as living in the moment, appreciating the little things and not obsessing over the bad, men as a whole are way more Zen than women are.
5. Men are great conversationalists. I love girl talk. Mom talk, especially. But I also can’t live without a weekly debate regarding philosophy, news and/or politics. And for that, my dad, husband and other male friends are my go-tos. With them, it’s not personal. I can be as opinionated as I want to be. Friendly debates really feel … friendly. (I have had a few girlfriends who don’t mind the inevitable disagreements that come up, but not many.)
6. Men are honest. I like the emotional support I get from my girlfriends, but every once in a while, if I’m full of shit, it’s better just to be told straight up. One of the greatest compliments I’ve even received–maybe the very greatest–came from my husband, who said, “You have the best personality of anyone I know.” If this had come from a girlfriend, I would’ve deeply appreciated their kindness. But since it came from a person who as far as I know has never, ever lied to me–even a so-called ‘white lie’–I will treasure it forever. (I’d give you a few great examples of his brutal honesty, but that probably isn’t necessary. Just trust me.)
7. Men communicate clearly. Here’s a typical scenario: my husband and I in our living room, cleaning up after our dinner guests. “Did you catch that comment?” I say. “The one about the laundry?”
“Maris was hinting that Niles didn’t appreciate her. You didn’t see it? Oh, I love you, Hon. You’re so great.”
When I tell my husband, “I’m stressed out. I need a break,” he gets it. When I say, “Will you do the laundry?”, he says yes or no. However, when I say, “I hate everything right now,” he has no idea what that means, or what to do. This is a major advantage in our relationship. David teaches me how to be direct. (I’m not all the way there yet, though. Only been with him for eight years. These things take time.)
8. Men appreciate the beauty of silence. When I was in high school, my dad opened a window into male psychology for me–a small one, but it let in a surprising amount of light. He said, “The person you can sit with, and say nothing, but still understand each other–that’s the person you want to marry.”
But I love talking, I thought. I want to marry a great conversationalist. Later, though, I understood what he meant. Men love talking sometimes, too. But what they truly need is respectful, peaceful, loving, companionable … quiet.
Like I said: a window.
9. Men are sexy. Enough said.
10. Men are smart. Obviously, women are every bit as talented and intelligent as men are. But it’s been a while since I’ve heard someone say, “Men have done so much good in the world, haven’t they?” A similar comment about women comes my way every three hours or so. So let’s all take a moment to acknowledge the many achievements of male-kind, even if you don’t appreciate every single one of them. (Personally, I’m not a huge fan of cars. But the birth control pill and sidewalks? Two thumbs up.)
BONUS #1: Men are funny first, serious as needed. My husband plays with my children differently. And his discipline style is often more lighthearted than mine. A common caution of his is, “It seems like you need tickles. Do you need tickles?” It’s beautiful. Humor is one of the most helpful conflict management strategies I know.
BONUS #2: Finally, when people use the term “white men” or just “men” in a negative context, men don’t usually complain. Often, they even welcome it. Some even consider themselves feminists. They like us women that much.
Much, much love to the men in my life who have debated with me for hours, told me the unvarnished truth, and shown me how neurotic I (occasionally) am.
P.S. Happy birthday to my amazing older son, who turns five very soon. Could not be prouder.
P.P.S. Kudos to Philadelphia for celebrating International Men’s Day today.
So, it occurred to me today that I have no idea what Jesus would do. Ever. This may be due to a lack of information or just my inability to synthesize the available information. However, after reading just a couple of books on monks of various times, places and faith persuasions (The Wisdom of the Desert by Thomas Merton and Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda both leap to mind), I have a decent feel for what they would do in most sticky situations. (Hint: It usually involves a wan smile and a non-committal retort such as “Is that so?”)
And so, I’m going to have my own bumper sticker made. It’s going to say “What Would a Buddhist Monk Do?”
Something different for you today: a poem I wrote during my first year of being a mom.
We expect our children to share everything they own. But do we share everything we own?
We expect our children to enjoy sleeping alone. But do we enjoy sleeping alone?
We expect our children to realize they’ll be okay immediately after falling down. But do we realize we’ll be okay immediately after we fall down?
We expect our children to let other people decide what they will wear, what they will eat and where they will go. We expect them to always eat their vegetables and to go to school for eight hours a day. We expect them to sit still, play quietly, contain their excitement and never, ever show they’re mad. But are these things always such a good idea?
We parents don’t always go to bed on time. We don’t always manage our money wisely. We often argue, or even refuse to work out our disagreements at all.
We don’t always keep our rooms clean, stick with our first decision or get ready on time. We don’t always do the math right.
We don’t always follow the rules.
We expect our children to behave like adults while so often, we behave like them. Maybe, then, we should expect a little less of our children—and a great deal more of ourselves.
1. Would I rather have clean carpets but constant carpet maintenance and a strict no-shoes, no dirty feet policy … or would I rather have stains on my carpet and a lot less hassle? (Or is there another solution, like dark brown carpet?)
2. Would I rather have a clean house with constant maintenance … or would I rather have a messy house but be able to let my kids do arts and crafts inside; let kids get head-to-toe dirty outside then track it in; not have to nag about chores all day; get less annoyed by kids being kids; let kids learn how to prepare their own food; let kids learn how to feed themselves; and not to mention spend a lot less time cleaning. (Or is there another solution, like teaching kids to do chores and exchanging chores for privileges?)
3. Would I rather have a nicely manicured lawn that I have to maintain weekly … or would I rather garden and rake when it brings me pleasure and exercise, and have lots of pine cones, leaves and dead grass in my yard, all of which are pretty in their own way? (Or is there another solution, like moss and clover instead of grass?)
4. Would I rather keep all bugs out of my house at all times but have to constantly nag the kids to shut the door … or would I rather leave the door open all day in the summer without a screen so that the kids are encouraged to go outside more often throughout the day? (Or is there another solution, like a screen with a magnetic closure that automatically closes behind you?)
5. Would I rather save time on cooking by going to a restaurant, then spend time driving, parking, ordering, waiting, paying, and driving … or would I rather spend the effort to throw together something at home, then linger after dinner at the table with the family?
6. Would I rather spend $30 extra for a restaurant meal … or spend $20 for an extra hour of housekeeping or nanny time?
7. Would I rather spend $1,000 on French doors for my patio … or use that money to buy 50 hours of household or nanny help?
8. Would I rather spend $3-5,000 on a family vacation to Mexico for a week … or $1,000 on a nice staycation for a week that includes long evenings with kids at the babysitter’s?
9. Would I rather buy and store a gas-powered lawnmower … or would I rather use a small push mower that I rarely need to sharpen and never have to buy gas for, and is much quieter and more pleasant to use and gives me some exercise?
10. Would I rather have a large variety of appliances that make various tasks easier and faster … or would I rather have a smaller kitchen with less cluttered cabinets and save time and hassle finding what I need?
11. Would I rather have a large, expensive house with high heating, cleaning and repair costs … or a house in a prime location with just enough room for the family to live closely and with less stuff?
12. Would I rather have three kids and spend more quality time with each … or would I rather have four kids and bring another life into our family and the world?
13. Would I rather make sure my kids go to several sports, clubs, or classes each week … or would I rather let my kids figure out how to overcome boredom on their own at home?
14. Would I rather clean up the food my kids spill under the table and move on to the next thing more quickly … or would I rather teach them how to clean up after themselves by taking away their food and waiting for them to clean it up before their next meal?
15. Would I rather drive my kids to the library … or would I rather walk them there?
16. Would I rather let my kids have three hours of screen time per day … or would I rather sit with them in the living room while they play and I read a book, not allowing them to interrupt me unnecessarily?
17. Would I rather buy a new fire truck for my child … or give him a box of recycled materials and help him make one?
18. Would I rather pick up all of the toys one by one when I need to clean the floor … or sweep them all into the corner with a push broom?
19. Would I rather spend an hour a week driving to and from a playdate that I don’t particularly enjoy … or would I rather find an activity for my kids that is within walking distance?
20. Would I rather pack the kids up in the car and take them to the park every day … or would I rather sit in the backyard for an hour to encourage them to join me?
21. Would I rather commit to doing a favor that doesn’t feel good to me … or would I rather take the opportunity to practice saying no?
22. Would I rather buy the new furniture that we supposedly need … or would I rather let the kids continue to destroy the old stuff and wait to get new stuff when they’re older?
23. Would I rather leave my cell phone in the bedroom till evening and miss a few messages … or would I rather be tempted to check my messages or to-do list several times per hour during family no-screen time?
24. Would I rather prepare all my kids’ food every day and prevent messes and wasted food … or would I rather teach them how to open the fridge, get a cup, pour the milk and put it away, then help them clean up the mess later?
25. Would I rather continue to change poopy diapers every day … or deal with potty misses a few times a week?
26. Would I rather help my kids resolve their every argument … or would I rather help them only when they ask me to and they are choosing to use their words?
27. Would I rather keep the family on a strict bedtime schedule and hectic morning routine in order to get them to school … or would I rather homeschool them and keep the schedule we choose?
28. Would I rather make my young kids do homework every night at the expense of family and free time … or would I rather let their grades slip a bit and let them play more?
29. Would I rather keep everything in my garage that I may need someday … or would I rather risk having to rebuy an item–either a new one or a just as good or better used one off Craigslist–in a few years?
30. Would I rather stand underneath my children on the monkey bars every time … or would I rather relax on the bench and let them fall once in a while?
These are just some of the ways I have rethought my cultural upbringing in the years since having children. Just an off-the-top list; I’m probably missing some big ones. The important thing isn’t how I answer these questions, of course. The important thing is that I ask them.
In the world of alternative spirituality, it’s become a bit of a cliche: Everything we see, everything we experience, is merely ourselves, reflected back at us. We are here to discover who we really are, say our Buddhist teachers (like the great Pema Chodron) and our channels (like Esther Hicks, Jane Roberts and many others). This is supposed to make us feel better when things go wrong, I suppose; it’s not really happening, right?
Knowing what’s really going on at all times–with ourselves and everyone around us–is a major driving force of our actions and thoughts, he writes. There is a distinct physical and chemical pleasure response from coming up with a reason or explanation–no matter how accurate that explanation may be.
Enter all kinds of false conclusions. We even assign meaning to pure coincidence, making causal inferences from scant information.
So in a sense, believing the world is a projection of our own minds is a pretty attractive scenario. If I can change my mind, I can change my life, we conclude. Who doesn’t want that kind of power?
However, there’s a flip side to this perceived super power, a quandary to consider: What about when something goes wrong? Who do we blame when someone is truly mean, truly heinous, truly inconsiderate, truly . . . well, wrong?
Hmmmm . . . . That’s a hard one, isn’t it?
Clearly, your partner was not being nice when he told you he’d rather spend a night out with the guys than with you. Obviously, your mother should never suggest you go on a diet, and your sister is unfair to expect you to babysit her kids every week.
I mean, let’s face it: It’s one thing to believe in theory that everything that happens is a just projection of ourselves. It’s another thing entirely to act like we believe it, to truly believe that we’re the only ones responsible for our reality.
Some spiritual-but-not-religious folks have a code word for what happens when things go wrong. They call it “co-creation.” They think that even enlightened people experience bad stuff on occasion (in other words, even Esther Hicks gets sick). This is because, well, we’re not really the only ones out here on this plane of reality. And some, but not all, of the out-there stuff affects us.
For quite a while, I accepted these explanations, and in fact I still do–partly. I do believe (for now, anyway) that there really are other people out there, and that those other people are actually doing things. If reality is a projection, I think it’s a collective one.
However, there’s another layer to this idea that I only recently truly discovered. And the teacher that led me to it was Byron Katie.
Here is Katie’s take on the topic in a nutshell. She says that it’s not that so-called “bad” stuff never happens to enlightened or “advanced” people. (She probably gets her disproportionate share of hate mail, for example, due to her nobody-is-a-victim philosophy.) But when you know that a comment just isn’t true, that comment doesn’t feel truly mean to you anymore. Instead, it just feels like pain. It feels like an angry child is speaking to you, someone who doesn’t understand you–someone who’s hurt and afraid.
Recently, I started using Byron Katie’s method of questioning my negative beliefs, and it has really changed things for me. I didn’t realize how negative I was until I started writing down the automatic thoughts in my mind. From the first time I did The Work (Byron Katie’s name for her process, which is similar to cognitive behavioral therapy), I was able to step back significantly from my experiences and realize that what happens to me isn’t really what’s happening to me. What’s happening to me is what’s happening in my own mind.
Needless to say, this was an incredibly freeing revelation.
Lately I’ve been noticing that the term “spiritual enlightenment” has lost some of its exclusivity. People–friends of mine, and a few authors I’ve read–define it in a multitude of ways: peace. Calm. Positivity. Joy: smiling joy, constant joy, childlike, carefree joy.
Right now, I like this definition: happiness.
Isn’t that the best definition of spiritual enlightenment there is? It’s not knowing God; as I am part of God, I already know her. It’s not something you do; doing is not ultimately important in this life. It’s not having the ability to meditate for hours on end, though clarity of thought is a very wonderful thing.
It’s just happiness.
Happiness is the truth of life, and happiness is enlightenment.
And when you put it that way, suddenly enlightenment feels much more attainable; I know I can get it because, after all, I’ve gotten it before—a little.
Even recently I’ve gotten it. As I have tried to discipline myself to think positively on a continual basis, especially regarding my body, I have felt the happiness that I desire to feel all the time to some (heretofore small) degree.
Still reading Conversations With God, Part Three, and still loving it. Today read a passage in which the God character discusses people who’ve had near-death experiences. He says that even though these experiences are incredibly powerful and life-changing (like the spiritual awakenings that many of the rest of us have had, only much more extreme), after a time the person usually forgets what they’ve learned.
“Is there a way to keep remembering?” Walsch’s character asks God.
God replies that there is. He says that we must remember that the world we see around us is really an illusion, and that instead of acting based on what we see and experience here and now we must act according to what we know is really true, in the world beyond this temporary physical place. Because in the world of the spirit, everything is perfect, everything is beautiful, everything is right, and there is no sin, and no pain, and no fear and no struggle, nor will there ever be.
And that is of course my true goal in life, my challenge—the challenge not just of losing weight, but of achieving enlightenment, and of finally being truly, deeply happy. Not just fulfilled—not just pretty happy.
But really, really, truly, smiling, singing, spreading-it-around, happy.
I have never experienced this feeling on a continual basis, but I have gotten glimpses of it—recently quite a few, actually. I’ve known what it’s like to be able to hold on to my understanding that it is all much bigger than this visible world, with its longing, its pain, its perceived desire—even one as huge and consuming as the desire to be thin—and that it is all truly well with my soul, and with the world, and it always would really be.
Reading the wonderful Matt Kahn’s book, Whatever Arises, Love That. (Great title, eh?) So, the main message is to send love to whatever comes up in your experience, which is what Eckhart Tolle, my friend Leta Hamilton, and many others agree is one of the most useful spiritual practices you can do.
And man, I super suck at it.
I don’t love a lot of things. A whole lot of things. My ego is just always–right–there. I can’t let go of my opinion long enough to love what is, even though I know that doing so is the core definition of humility.
I really don’t know how to be humble. But I’m working on it.
Ever since getting into this New Thought/New Age spirituality thing, I’ve been confused about something: If God isn’t God as I once thought him to be, but instead the substance of all that is and ever will be, who should I be praying to? I’ve been praying to God, since presumably the message still gets through. But it doesn’t feel quite right. Well, earlier this week, I remembered some advice from Kryon to talk out loud to the many angels and guides that surround us constantly … and so, that is what I did. I imagined a group of real beings with individuality and personality listening to me and going to work on my behalf (since, again, presumably that’s what they do). Beings who know me, like me, and are like me–not some ethereal love-fluff in the air.
At a playdate the other week, one of my sons hit another kid. The playdate wasn’t with just one other family; a whole big group of us was there.
Sometimes, when something like this happens, I have a moment of, “Okay. How do I handle this situation calmly but effectively, in a way that makes me look like a good mom?” I didn’t know the others well, so this response may have been even more likely–normally.
That day, though, wasn’t a normal day. That day I was “in the zone.”
In You’re Getting Closer, I discuss this phenomenon–this state of continuous meditation, during which everything you do feels inspired. That morning, I decided this would be one of those days; I’d listen for guidance on what to do–even the little stuff.
And so, when I saw what happened, I knew without hesitation what to do. I talked to my son, and gave him the choice to either apologize or to leave the playdate.
Then, we left the playdate.
It’s so, so nice to have that feeling of clarity, of knowing exactly what to do and how. I don’t have it nearly often enough.
A while back, I resolved to learn how to accept what is, give up compulsiveness, in order to become more, you know, Buddhist monk-like. The only part of this resolution that stuck, however, was cleaning my house less often.
Right now, I’m sitting in a comfy spot on our playroom floor, drinking coffee and watching the baby eat baked apple slices. It’s morning and all the noises are soft ones: distant bird calls, faint refrigerator whirring, the sound of my hand sliding across this paper. Soon, my older son—the not-so-quiet one—will wake up. And all I can think is, Am I ready?
What can I do with this precious hour before the real work begins? What feels most useful, most inspired? Should I meditate a while longer? Read a book? Get some writing done? How can I best “go with the flow”?
In You’re Getting Closer, I talk about my daily effort to live in The Zone—to do only what feels most inspired. Times like these, though, I can’t seem to figure it out, not even when it’s quiet and calm. How, then, will I be able to do so the rest of the day, when distractions (like my older child) are everywhere?
Going with the flow sounds easy enough. But it sure takes a long time to learn.
When a friend of mine mentioned her love of the library recently, a idyllic image came to mind. There was a mother, there were two happy children, and there were three large piles of loved books.
I really should take my kids, too, I thought. It’s time I stopped slacking off. So, I packed us up and off we went.
There was screaming. There was peeing. And there was a dramatic parking lot escape. And the next day, all I had to show for it was a pile of books in the trunk of my car that would soon have to be returned . . . to the library.
Last time I compare myself to anyone ever again. Last, I tell you. Maybe.