Faking It

This post was inspired by Zoie’s post, “I Am A Fake,” on her blog, TouchstoneZ.

When I was pregnant with my second child, I would wake up before my three-year-old and try to write or read or just have a mug of tea before being “on” for the day. Invariably, I’d have just sat down at the kitchen table with my book or my journal or a steaming cup when she toddled bleary-eyed into the kitchen and said, “Good morning, Mommy!”

I would sigh and glare at her. I would give her a monotone “Good morning.” Then I would feel awful about myself. I did not like being this mom. I did not like greeting my daughter in a way that made it clear I really didn’t want to see her. She was my sweet girl, and I was a wicked, awful mommy.

So I decided to fake it.

The next morning when the world outside the window was still dark and my tea was still untouched and my daughter came into the kitchen, I put on a smile. I got up from the table and precariously knelt my bulbous body down to her level to give her a hug. I told her, “Good morning! I’m so happy to see you!”

The first few weeks that I did this, my daughter would stand with her arms at her sides while I hugged her, looking at me sideways from under her furrowed brow.

We both knew I was faking it.

At first I felt even worse about myself. I was faking being happy to see my child. What kind of a mother was I? Why could I not feel happy to see my daughter? And worse, I was in the process of bringing another baby into this family to experience my reprehensible parenting.

But I kept it up because I figured since it was a choice between pantomiming happy and expressing authentic unhappy, I’d rather be a big faker.

And then something amazing happened. One morning, my daughter came into the kitchen as usual, but this time when I said, “Good morning! I’m so happy to see you!” I really felt happy to see her. My smile was a real smile. I hugged her with tears in my eyes. I still hadn’t had a chance to write, but in this moment I was happy to see my daughter.

Five years later, I no longer have to kneel when I hug my daughter good morning; I just stand upright and rest my cheek on the top of her head, but most mornings I still really mean it when I say I’m happy to see her and her brother.  On days when I start to droop when I hear their footsteps in the hallway, I stop myself and think, Why not be happy to see my kids? Because I didn’t get done everything I wanted to before they woke up? There aren’t enough hours in the day for me to feel like I’ve finished everything I want to, anyway, so why not just let it not happen and let myself feel happy for the sweet little distractions I have for these few years?

So each morning I give my children and myself the gift of a hug and smile and an enthusiastic greeting. Then no matter where the day goes from there, at least we’ve started on a high note.

Have you ever faked it ’til you made it?

Drop by the yeah write weekly challenge grid for some great blog posts, all 600 words or less.

A Different Kind of Hedonism

Another thing I find fun: dark-eyed juncos at the bird feeder! (Call me anhedonic, will he?)

When I mention my meditation schedule/routine (my Bold Plan) to people, they all say—after a stunned silence— “Wow. That’s really ambitious.”

Until very recently, I didn’t really see what was that ambitious about it. Then the other day a friend asked how the routine looked day-to-day, how did I make it work with the kids and homeschooling and everything?

“Well, I get up with my husband between 4:30 and 5 every morning. I go to the bathroom and wash my face with cold water to wake myself up. Brush my teeth. Then I go down to the basement to meditate or do yoga. I leave the thermostat at 58 if I meditate so I don’t get too sleepy. If I’m doing yoga, I turn it up to 62…”

At this point she stopped me.

“Are you serious?” she asked.

I hadn’t even gotten to the evening meditation.

In that moment I heard my words from her perspective. And I realized that I was describing a fairly monastic existence. All I’m missing is the guy coming by and whacking me with a stick when I start to slouch during sitting meditation.

And I started to laugh.

Because, you know what? I love this schedule. It wasn’t immediately easy, and I still feel resistant to it at times, but it just feels right. It’s like I’ve been waiting for it and here it is. It’s like coming home.

The other day when I told my husband that I thought watching television in general and watching professional sports in particular was a waste of time, he accused me of being anhedonic. I started to disagree with him, but I realize that if splashing cold water on my face before sunrise is my idea of fun, I don’t have much support for my counter-argument.

But I’m cool with that. I’m feeling happy. I’m having fun, even when I’m not meditating. I’m excited to embrace each new challenge this project brings me. And I don’t have any great ambition to lead a hedonistic lifestyle. Which is good because not many hedonistic things happen before 9:00. Not on the East Coast, anyway.

Swearing Off Inspirational Stories

I’ve read a fair number of opinions and suggestions about how to be happier, and I’ve discovered a basic theme.

Each person starts out not appreciating their life enough, wanting something they don’t have. Then at some point (usually in their mid-20’s or in mid-life or in some other period of great transition) something clicks. They wake up one morning and realize that they have control over how happy they are and what direction their life takes. From then on, their perspective changes and they are happy no matter what happens in their lives.

These accounts piss me off.

It’s like if my 6-foot-2 husband wrote an article about how to reach items on the top shelf of our kitchen cupboards.

“I wasn’t always able to reach items on the top shelf,” he might write. “I used to beat myself up for not being able to get to those top shelves. I would be angry when I saw other people who could reach those shelves so easily. What was their secret? But then one day just before I started college, I looked up at that top shelf and realized that all I needed to do was reach for what I wanted and I could grab it. The secret was the wanting. Once I realized I could obtain items on that shelf if I really wanted them, it was easy. I’ve been able to reach items on high shelves ever since.”

This sort of inspirational story would work well for someone else who’s over 6 feet tall. But for someone who’s 5-foot-2 like myself, it’s ignoring the fact that he can reach one whole foot higher than I can. It’s ignoring the fact that his ability to reach that top shelf was influenced by something more than just will. No matter how much I want that item on the top shelf, I’m going to need a stool to reach it.

There’s this, “If I can do it, you can do it,” idea that these motivational/inspirational types try to impart. But why on earth would this be true?

So, I’m going to stop reading these kinds of books, articles, blog posts, and interviews. These people aren’t me. They don’t know me. And their oversimplifications simply serve to plunge me into despair of ever attaining the happiness that I desire.

Happiness is…

Adho Mukha Svanasana

…my toddler declaring, “Do yoga!” then proceeding to do a modified sun salutation including forward bend, down dog, up dog, and warrior 2.

Now to teach him the Sanskrit names for the poses…

Happiness is…

…the rest of my family (cats included) curled up asleep on the big hotel bed, even though that means there’s no room for me and I need to sleep on the pull-out sofa bed.

The Mood-Enhancing Properties of the Library

The Salt Lake City Public Library. The America...

The Salt Lake City Public Library. Marlborough's library isn't as spectacular, but it's enough. (Image via Wikipedia)

Nothing of substance has changed in our situation.

There are still no rentals available, we’re still in the tiny hotel room, the roads around here are still confusing and lacking sidewalks.

The difference today: we went to the library.

The Marlborough Public Library isn’t beautiful and award-winning like the Salt Lake City Public Library. It’s small and the building’s old and it’s oddly provincial for an area that I think of as very scholarly and technologically advanced.

But it is, after all, a library. And libraries for me have always been places to recharge. I know libraries, and I feel at home in them.

My children apparently feel the same way. My son chanted “libaby!” and “liraby!” all morning and threw fits when I tried to explain that we needed to complete certain tasks before going to the library, like eating breakfast and putting on pants.

My daughter is now enrolled in the summer reading program and has Anne of Green Gables she’s going to be working on, along with some Angelina Ballerina books and an Arthur video. My son requested all animal books. He’s got A Giraffe and a Half and If You Give a Mouse a Cookie (both of which I find to have diminishing rates of return as they lose their brilliance by about the tenth reading), as well as a nonfiction book about baby elephants.

At this moment, my daughter is reading and my son is napping and the hotel room is quiet. Right now it doesn’t bother me (much) that my room key stops working at least once a day, and the cleaning people haven’t shown up yet and we need clean towels, and we don’t have a place to live, and I don’t know who to send my “intent to homeschool” letter to.

I would venture to say that I could just about shine brightly about the quiet and the sunny weather and the library and the fact that I found my way to the car wash so our little car isn’t covered in 2400 miles of road grime anymore. I’m going to sit here and soak in all of this and maybe have a cup of coffee, and then I’ll jump back into the housing issue again. Blacker than black, we have to pay for the hotel room because our Utah house has sold, and then we have to move into the house with the 7-foot ceilings.

Really, that’s not so bad. At least the house with the 7-foot ceilings is easy walking distance from the library.

I’m a Little Storm Cloud

I’m not shining brightly today. Not remotely.

I’m not going to list all of the things that are bringing me down because even in my stormy state, I recognize that that’s neither helpful for my mood nor is it amusing to blog readers.

So, I’m taking a break. I’m not trying to smile. I’m not feeling grateful about the little things. I’m not hugging people. And I’m okay with that for now. The most I’m trying to do right now is not dwell on the long, long days (of one-room living stranded in a foreign place whose roads are practically unnavigable by foot, bike, or car) that are stretched out before me indefinitely.

I’m focusing on the “imperfect” part rather than on the “happiness” part.

June is “Sharing Happiness” Month!

G.-B. Duchanne de Boulogne, Synoptic plate 4 f...

Image via Wikipedia

I’m not a terribly emotive person. It goes along with introversion to be understated about my emotional expressions, and it’s okay. It does, however, sometimes hinder connection with others who perhaps aren’t as tuned in to my subtle expressions (and who maybe read my “I’m concentrating” facial expression as “I’m really angry with you.”).

The thing I want to work on for June is expressing happiness to others.

Although I set up my monthly areas of focus back in July 2010, I don’t know that I could have timed this one any better had I tried. Now that we’re moving and starting over in a new location, smiling when I’m happy might just help me in making connections with people I meet in our new home town.

June 2011 – Sharing Happiness
Focus: Find and utilize ways in which to express my happiness in order to share it with others.

Resolutions:

-Smile when I feel happy. This seems like a simple one, and I do smile. But I realized years ago after looking at myself in pictures and in the mirror that often what feels like a smile to me doesn’t look like much of anything from the outside. I’m going to make a point of smiling bigger, and perhaps even showing some teeth.

-Tell people when I feel happy. This one could get really corny, really fast, if I let it. I picture that strange smiling kid from A Christmas Story. You know, the one in line to see Santa behind Ralphie who’s wearing the aviator helmet and goggles and speaks in monotone about how he loves The Wizard of Oz? Yeah, I don’t plan on doing that. I can see smiling people and telling them, “That tickles me!” or “That delights me!” or something to that effect. My purpose is just to let people in on my happiness. Not only do I think that will help me make a connection with them, but I think getting used to telling someone when I’m happy might help make it easier for me to ask for help or support when I’m feeling down.

-Use hugs as a greeting and a goodbye. I’m not really a hugger. I’m notorious for the awkward hug: stepping on the other person’s foot, deciding at the last moment to put my face on a different side of them than I’d started to, or just not knowing how to initiate a hug so I announce it (“I’m going to hug you now,” which is very spontaneous and inviting). But I like hugs, and I think they’re a great way to make a physical and emotional connection with a friend. I’m thinking I might get better at administering them (and receiving them) with practice. Once again, with a whole new set of people to meet, I can try out my new persona as a “hugger.” Although I might start with a hand on their arm or shoulder before I go straight for the embrace.

-Laugh out loud. I tend to be noncommittal when it comes to laughing. My husband says I end up many times just sounding nervous when I give my lackluster, “Heh, heh!” Sometimes, though, I break out with a huge guffaw and then I feel self-conscious, mostly because my guffaws are generally met by silent stares from those I’m speaking with. I was at dinner with two friends a few years ago, and one friend was talking about how her husband had been out of work and he was beginning to get on her nerves. She was speaking in a lighthearted, funny way, and one comment struck me as particularly amusing and I guffawed. Rather than laughing or even smiling with me, both of my friends stared at me blankly and in silence. I was immediately struck with terror that I’d misinterpreted the situation and was laughing inappropriately at a painful story my friend was sharing. I actually couldn’t sleep that night for fear that I had made an enormous social faux pas and wondering if I should call my friend the next day and apologize for laughing so loudly. I finally got back to sleep after some deep breathing and some EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique, which with I was toying at the time. It was helpful, but just as helpful for me are brief mental body scans which don’t have all of the tapping of acupressure points and so are easier to do in public without looking even more socially odd than I already do). At any rate, I just want to feel confident committing to a laugh and just laughing when something strikes me as funny. Even as I type this, I realize I’m unlikely to follow this resolution because I would be too worried I was misinterpreting the situation, but I like the idea of it anyway so I’m going to leave it on here.

So, that’s what’s on tap for June! With any luck, all of my happiness techniques will come together and help me enjoy a week of six hours in the car each day with my husband, my kids, and my cats. And with any luck, I can find a balance between my introversion and sharing my emotions with others in a way they can understand.

Happiness is…

…a farewell party hosted by a dear friend and attended by so many other dear friends, green grass for the kids to run around in while the parents chatted, big boys who let my little son chase after them and gaze at them adoringly, and rain that held off until we were packing everything up.

Introverted me is absolutely worn out by all the socializing, but it was worth it.

Week 41 Review: Simmering

This week I’ve been thinking about how external circumstances affect my mood. I’ve noticed that I go through my day wondering if this will make me happy or if that will make me happy.

Then I catch myself and remind myself of Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication in which he posits that nothing can “make” us feel one way or another. Rather, we choose how we’re going to react to different situations. (I go into this in more detail in one of my early posts.)

So I revise my self-talk: what action will best set the stage for happiness?

Which is sort of a cop out because it’s essentially the same question as “Will this make me happy?”

The question that’s been simmering away on the back of my mental stove is, “How do I disconnect my mood from my external circumstances?” I don’t want to be a slave to whatever happens to be going on in my day. I don’t want to blame my kids when I feel angry. I don’t want to feel anxious and irritable just because I’ve had a religious discussion with someone on Facebook. I don’t want to be surly and pouty when we’re driving across Nebraska in a rented minivan next week.

I realize that I already know how to divorce my emotions from my external circumstances: mindfulness.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, the person on whose work the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction class I’m taking is based, talks about how suffering results when we wish reality was different from what it is. This doesn’t mean that we don’t try to change our reality, just that we learn how to accept the way things are in each moment. Railing against pain only makes it worse.

I knew this even before I started the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction class. The trouble isn’t that I don’t know what to do; it’s that I don’t want to do it. Mindfulness is boring. And it’s slow. And it requires me to stop ruminating on negative things, stop poking that bruise. It requires me to realize just how much I depend on feeling anxious and depressed and how I perpetuate those feelings because they’re so familiar. It’s what I know. Not only is mindfulness is a big unknown, but it threatens to take away that old familiar pain. And where would that leave me?

The reason I turn away from mindfulness is that I know it works. And I’m not sure I’m ready to give up the comfort of that pain.

(Zoie from TouchstoneZ describes her difficult path out of depression in her magnificent post Unraveling What I’ve Knit Together. She makes a similar point to mine with more eloquence than I do here.)