All is Well

I’m on vacation right now in Maine enjoying the last days of summer with my family. I’m sitting on the deck of my parents’ summer house in Maine looking out at the lake as the sun is newly rising. It is completely quiet and it’s one of those moments when all feels right with the world.

It’s so easy particularly when not on vacation to find a million things wrong with the world, whether it’s ISIS and random terrorist attacks, continued racial and religious strife, or a political year that is frustrating, uninspiring and a bit scary. People seem more rushed and rude and entitled than they used to. It’s easy to feel that things and people were better before. That’s why it’s so helpful to read some history to remind oneself of even more terrifying times. Right now I’m reading about JFK’s presidency, and even though it all took place before I was born, it is helpful to know that the crises then were far bigger. By 1963, Americans had fought or were fighting in three major wars in less than twenty years, from World War II to the Korean War to the Vietnam War. The Cold War with Russia was a huge national threat and the Cuban Missile Crisis had put America on the verge of nuclear war. The Civil Rights Movement was just beginning, and blacks were regularly being lynched for daring to be treated equally to whites. Vietnamese children were being killed by bombs in their villages and Buddhist monks were setting themselves on fire. It was a very scary time.

Today we have Islamic extremists trying to spread terror throughout the world and we have many people so disillusioned with our country that they are willing to vote for an erratic business mogul with no understanding of foreign policy, just to make a point. And there are tens of thousands of children being killed in Syria every year. But the Berlin wall was taken down in my lifetime, we have a black president, and we may very well have our first woman president by the end of this year. That’s good news.

Right now, as I sit and listen to the sound of early morning birds and watch the sun dancing on the lake, I remind myself how lucky Americans are to be free and to be able to determine the course of their lives. There is certainly no better time or place to be a woman than in America in 2016, compared to many women around the globe who are sadly still oppressed, without access to education or other basic freedoms.

But today on this lovely morning in late August, I am grateful for the brave souls who came before us and paved a better world: for Abraham Lincoln, who changed the course of history, standing up for a united group of states that would no longer tolerate slavery; for the early suffragettes who insisted that women have the right to vote; for all the brave soldiers who fought in all the wars of the 20th century; for JFK who stood up to the Russians and forced them to turn around their ships in Cuba, averting a nuclear crisis; and to Obama, who helped all black children realize that something great was possible for them if they worked hard and dreamed big.

In finding our world stage, even though it’s important for us to ask what isn’t working in order to create something better, it’s also important to notice all the things that do work in our lives and in our world, so we don’t get lost in unnecessary despair. Reading history helps to give perspective about the world, and being in nature reminds us of life’s basic perfection. When you start to feel frustrated or sad, remember that the world is unfolding as it should and that all is well.

Here is an excerpt of my favorite quote, called Desiderata, which means “desired things” in Latin, and was written by Max Ehrmann in 1927:

“Go placidly among the noise and haste and remember what peace there may be in silence…be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should…”

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This is a picture I took of a bamboo forest in Kyoto, Japan.

 

 

Finding the Magic

So many mothers today want to be perfect, to do everything right, as though parenthood is a series of difficult gymnastic skills, that if you only try hard enough, you can land perfectly for those Olympic judges watching. I don’t know how this evolved. It certainly wasn’t present in the sixties and seventies when many women drank, not in spite of being pregnant but because they were pregnant.  My mother was surrounded by equally young, just barely-out-of-college, new moms.  They did not compare who was parenting better.  They read interesting books and tried gourmet recipes, while their kids waded in the kiddie pool in the backyard unsupervised.  How did it come to this?

Since I was pregnant with my first child in 2002, I have been criticized for the following:  gaining too much weight in pregnancy (um, I was hungry); not carrying my daughter around in a Snuggli so that we could bond (it hurt my back); not giving her enough educational stimulation in the form of books and videos (she was happy sucking on a spoon); and feeding her too much food for a baby (given that she dropped a lot, we had to start with more).  For my son two years later, it was that I shouldn’t have let him cry himself to sleep (I needed to sleep!);  that he was too aggressive in school (he was 2 and he liked to hug people!) and on and on.  The stay-at-home moms thought I worked too much, at 10-20 hours per week, and the working moms were sure that I didn’t work enough, since I clearly had time to eat Bon Bons in between raising kids and working part-time.

Even now that my kids are older, the criticism continues in a form of micro-aggressive comments from mostly other moms who feel that they are competing with me for the one Great Mom! prize.  (As if.) All these jibes become a buzz in your head that never goes away, even when you’re camping in the woods as I was last weekend.  I’ve had moms in the past at the Mom’s Weekend at my daughter’s camp tell me that I was doing the origami project wrong and that I needed to listen better (really?), and that I should climb to the top of the 40 foot tower since other moms were doing it, even though I have a genetic and paralyzing fear of heights.  But this weekend, with insane weather patterns, alternating between 95 degree blazing heat and intense rainstorms with thunder and lightening, I had to let all the shoulds go.  I just accepted that I wouldn’t be on time or even participate in all the classes, because we had to get our tent up, or I had to sit in the shade because I couldn’t handle any more than three hours playing in the lake by the afternoon.  I had to be ok with not being like most of the moms, running like crazy people from one impossible activity to the next.  I was more concerned frankly about getting hit by lightening, staying in a soaked tent all weekend, or collapsing from heat exhaustion, so I listened to what I needed and what worked for me, even if the chorus of judges didn’t approve.

The result?  A magical weekend and none of the magic was planned:  ditching yoga class in the middle of it to run with my daughter in a rain storm and get our tent put together with another mom’s help (who came out of nowhere and disappeared almost like an angel); making up a rap song about broccoli with my girl with drum and kazoo that brought down the house; getting up really early the next morning (which was easy to do because I hadn’t slept at all) and finally do the Polar Swim together, going down the water slide and playing with inter tubes and splashing and laughing; jumping on the water trampoline and then  capsizing again and again on the paddle boards since we both tried to stand up together; sitting in the cabin with teens listening to the sounds of thunder and singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” to them to cheers, and seeing my kid’s proud smile; eating snacks and giggling outside till way too late, glad about having fun and being alive.

None of that magic was on the schedule, and most of it would have been missed if we had had the perfect weather and if I had rushed around sticking to the perfect schedule, like so many exhausted moms.  How many of us miss a chance to lie on the grass and look up at clouds with our kids because we’re rushing to the next activity?  How many of us insist on our idea of what a perfect day should be, possibly missing the magic that happens when we let go of trying to be perfect and do everything and control the unexpected, like the weather?

To find your world stage, try to let go of the reins of perfection and control and realize that the best moments occur when we’re not looking and have other plans. This week, try to do less and plan less and be less perfect in all things, knowing that magic just might creep up on you.

 

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Do Less

Every year our local public school has a day long carnival that raises a lot of money for the PTO.  While I have volunteered in other ways in the past, this is an event that I try to avoid, between the crowds and the screaming kids with cotton candy in their hair. A friend once said regarding volunteering for this event, “What is the very least that I can do for this?” My answer seemed pretty obvious: “Nothing is the least that you can do.” I guess that option hadn’t really occurred to him.

So many of us feel guilted into doing too much for too many people and organizations and then wonder why we’re exhausted and feel stretched so thin.  One thing to remember is that you can always do less, and that doesn’t make you a bad person; it makes you a sane person.  There’s always going to be the person who feels it’s her job to make sure you’re volunteering enough at school. This is usually the caffeine-fueled “CEO” of her children’s lives who feels it’s her duty to direct you toward more volunteering “opportunities.”

I fell into that trap of pleasing other people early on as a new parent, but then gradually learned to say no over and over to most things and yes only to what really mattered.  (No to one more bake sale, but yes to recording songs with my kids.) I once had a man call from a church we had only been attending for six months to pressure me into serving on the vestry, which is the governing board of the church. At the time my kids were 4 and 2, I was working part-time, and barely had time to breathe, let alone help lead a church.  My answer: “Thanks for asking, but no.” The man continued on and on as though I hadn’t said no.  I finally said, “You’re wasting your time and mine since I already said no.” He said, “So you really mean no?”  I wondered how he was teaching his kids to respect some else’s NO if he couldn’t do it himself.  I think he was stunned, because most women roll over with enough pressure, they want to be liked, and they can often be convinced ultimately to say yes (in lots of situations) when they don’t want to.  They have the disease to please. Not me. Not anymore.

If you want to contribute what you came to this world to do and find your world stage, figure out how you can do less of what you don’t want to do so that you have more time for what does matter, what makes your heart sing.  For me, it’s snuggling with my kids, laughing with friends and family, singing, coaching, traveling, and watching sunsets in Hawaii.  Remember, you get to decide, not other people.  So this week do less, please fewer people, and see how your spirit soars.

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Feel the Pain

I watched a fascinating documentary last night called “American Addict,” which talked about the opiate addiction among educated, middle class citizens and how it is fueled by “Big Pharma” that is eager to make a fortune off of drugs. Some of these drugs people don’t need, like antidepressants when they are grieving (it’s normal to feel sad) or “focus” drugs for little boys who just need more recess and don’t really have ADD.  Pharmaceutical companies also make a lot of money from “off labeling.” Doctors are given financial incentives to prescribe drugs for purposes that the FDA has not approved.  This is illegal and dangerous, and in some cases can be fatal, but big money is to be made. Some of the biggest lobbyists in Congress are lobbying for the drug industry and many Congressmen and women make hundreds of thousands of dollars by “helping” this industry.

A doctor interviewed in the film said that after a typical surgery, patients do need strong pain medicines for the first three days, but instead of being prescribed a few pain pills, patients are being prescribed 50 or 100 pills.  Some patients know better and dump or return the rest of the pills.  But others notice the positive effects of opiates beyond pain management and can easily become hooked in a matter of months, which is how teenage soccer players recovering from sports injuries can become heroin addicts in a matter of a year. The fact is, heroin is much cheaper and easier to get once the Oxycontin runs out.  It’s that easy.  I met a woman once whose lawyer husband had back surgery, was prescribed an opiate for a few months after surgery and became so hooked, he started on heroin, and then took to burglary to pay for his habit because even his law job didn’t pay enough.  This woman didn’t know about any of this until her husband was arrested, lost his job and then confessed to being addicted to drugs.

The fact is that life is hard, not just for people who live in ghettos who feel that there is no hope, but also for middle class people who feel trapped by the constant grind of work and achievement and getting ahead and trying to keep up with increasingly wealthy “Joneses.”  The people I know, who are well-educated and have good jobs, still feel squeezed from all sides in terms of time commitments and pressures, so I can only imagine what a relief taking opiates that your doctor wants you to take must feel like.  I’ve read other articles about this and suburban moms confess to Oxycontin or Adderall addictions which turn to heroin or crystal meth addictions, because they’re trying to be Super Mom and juggle work and family and Martha Stewart decorating and perfect holiday parties, so that they can look as good as the people on TV, who make it look so effortless.  One mom in particular took her child’s Adderall because the drug made her feel invincible and competent in a way that she couldn’t feel without it.  College students are now buying Adderall from drug dealers to keep up with the pressures of college.  One student confessed that he felt guilty using the drug, because it gave him an unfair advantage, but he couldn’t stop.  I heard through a friend about a student who started on Adderall as a study drug and when she couldn’t afford it, turned to crystal meth, because it’s cheaper.

As the documentary pointed out, the United States comprises only 5% of the world’s population but makes up 50% of opiate use.  That’s a scary statistic and really points to our values.  Given that we’re a society that feels that we need to be happy and productive all the time, I’m not surprised.  A psychiatrist interviewed in the film said that we forget as humans that feeling pain is part of the human condition. We are meant to feel sad when someone we love dies and not just medicate it.  We are meant to feel anxious when we’re undergoing big changes in our lives, and we’re meant to question who we are and what life is about, something the great thinkers and philosophers thought and wrote about. But if we just pop a pill for everything, then we’re missing a big part of what it means to be alive.

To find your world stage, remember to embrace all of your life, not just the happy parts, but all of it: the good and the bad, because joy comes from experiencing it all. And there’s no pill that.

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