My mother once called me a “walking contradiction.” Not to my face, but I overheard her. It really hurt my feelings at the time, and I resented it. In the years that followed I tried to embrace it. It is simply called being human. Humans are complicated and complex. Contradictions are a part of that. I love fruit. And I love chocolate. Generally I don’t want the two mixed.
I love my life. I really do. I have the most amazing and beautiful son (says all mothers of all sons everywhere…for the most part…). I have a real keeper for a partner. I live in the suburbs (and while this would never be my first choice for where to live, I admit that I live in a nice neighborhood, in relative safety, close to everything yet also with trees and a river). I have a job that I love and that allows me the flexibility to keep my son (see statement one) out of daycare (not that daycare is a bad thing or a poor choice, but in the month of January with sickness all around us, it feels like a little luxury for sure). More importantly, the flexibility allows me to spend quality time with my son every day. And I have so much more than all of this: supportive parents, a caring brother with his own wonderful family, A-mazing friends. I am healthy, in shape (or, well…I was once in shape and plan to be again some day). I have to be careful with money but don’t have to worry about every little expenditure. I could go on and on, but a gloater I do not want to be, and it is not really the point of writing this. The point is that I have the “it all,” and yet in spite of this, my default is “negative nellie”/glass-half-full girl. And this…well, this makes my partner crazy.
The strange thing is that I don’t even know why I go there. It’s that automatic.
Example: Today Levi falls asleep earlier than his “normal” nap time while nursing. The plan was for Dawn to go to the gym, come home, and then handle Levi’s nap while I went to the gym for a class at a certain hour. Levi is now asleep on my boob with only minutes left before I would need to get ready to make class on time. What do I do? I start freaking the f- out and sending frantic text messages to Dawn about how my life is essentially over because I am going to miss my class while this child is on my boob. Finally I get him to unlatch, and Dawn sneaks into the room to take over. In the “transfer” process, he wakes up. I stick him on my other boob and shoo Dawn out of the room. I try hard to get him back to sleep: I nurse; I rock; I bop; I pat. I go through my extended repertoire, and then…. He is awake. Not just a little awake from being jostled where he settles back into sleep. No, he wakes all the way the f- up! More frantic text messages follow. I am now losing my mind completely: Not only has he not gotten his nap, but I am missing class (((insert devastated face emoji))).
I have read enough self-help books to know that in that moment I can choose to tell myself a different story about what is happening. Like one about this sweet little child who won’t be little for much longer, and how he is sleeping peacefully at my breast and is loved and well cared for and content. And about how this won’t last forever, and I should savor these cozy, cuddly moments.
I also know that every moment is a choice. And that as all the pretty little self-help memes tell me, I just need to: “choose joy.”
Now, I have nothing against joy. In fact, I think the concept of choose joy is a valid one and something worth pursuing. I find the pursuit of joy to be a valiant one. And I think the simplicity of two word reminder is necessary and often helpful in this pursuit. However, I also think that when we just paste two words over a pretty back drop, we are diminishing the difficulty of actually doing/accomplishing those two words. We are apt to forget the part about it being both that simple AND that hard. It goes without saying, and yet the more I look around, the less these contemporary gurus seem to be saying it: If simply “choosing joy” were that easy, the world would be a pretty joyful place. The point is, it is not easy. It is easier to choose freak the f- out and fall apart mode. And I know this deeply, as someone who has lots of reasons to choose joy and yet still defaults to (((insert devastated face emoji))) a good deal of the time (especially since becoming a mom).
It’s like when we are stark raving mad about something and somebody tells us to calm down. There are many times when simply tossing out “choose joy” (or some other simplified version of every moment is a choice, make it a good one. I am only using “choose joy” as a representative example), can only make the person on the receiving end dig in his/her heels and more firmly commit to anger/sadness/fear/loathing….
This is not to say that I am going to continue falling apart and ranting to my partner when every little thing in my life feels less than perfect or less than joyful. I do think the idea of a gratitude practice is super, incredibly helpful in moving from default Debbie Downer to Joyful Jenn. After all, as the Buddha tells us: “What a person considers and reflects upon for a long time, to that his/[her] mind will bend and incline.” And I just have a feeling that Buddha would never reduce everything to “choose joy.”