Wednesday, June 2, 2010


I had a rough day today. It wasn't anyone's fault; early on I had to make a major re-adjustment to my plans, and it aggravated me to no end. As is sometimes the case, once the fire of annoyance was lit it caught easily on the tinder of other, minor issues lying in the vicinity.

Fortunately, I had to run out to drop off a medical form at the pediatrician's, so I had a few minutes to myself. I sputtered aloud for the four blocks there and back. As I arrived home I heard myself and thought, Oh! I get it! This is how my kids feel when they're disappointed! I promised I'd hold on to that thought for the next time I'm dealing with a disappointed child.

I'm usually pretty quick to regain my equilibrium, but it never quite happened today. That's okay,  I guess. Not every day has to be great, or even good. Whatever was 'off', it's not as if I'm starving in a concentration camp, or have had a child abducted, or am facing a relentless future of white slavery, or have contracted the plague. I'm not a fish living in the middle of the Gulf oil spill. When I add up all the unpleasant aspects of today, I arrive at this: the worst thing I had to deal with was my mood.

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The other day I had to run out to the store shortly after 8am, which is when the neighborhood delivers its children to the school across the street. One thing I love about where I live is that going out for a dozen eggs turns into four conversations. I run into people, and we chat, and I don't have to plan how to be neighborly. I am not good at orchestrating a social life; I'd rather live my life, and let it be sociable on its own.

No sooner had I left my building than I saw a mom from the building next door with her daughters. One child was snarling, "STOP IT!" to her sister, and the other began to whine. I saw the look pass across the mom's face, the one we all know internally. It's that my-head's-going-to-pop-if-these-kids-don't-stop feeling. I've been through the crabby kid scenario first thing in the morning; some days it would be less complicated to pack for a three-month trip to Paris than to get children fed and out the door to school. I went over and gave the mom a hug.

"Five minutes," I said sympathetically, "You've just got to hold on for five more minutes." A few moments later her girls spied some friends, and were happily headed into school.

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I've been thinking since then about how many I'm-going-to-go-crazy situations resolve themselves in five minutes, if we keep our cool and our perspective. I suspect that most frustrations that stick around longer than that remain because we hold on to them, rather than because they have a death-grip on us.

When I can't shake a feeling of frustration, it's usually because something has pushed one of my buttons, and the button has gotten jammed. It buzzes in my brain, a maddening inner housefly batting against the wrong side of the screen. I swat at it, and get disproportionately cranky at its persistent low-level noise. I am uncomfortable, and ill at ease.

Though I sometimes blame others for pushing my buttons, the truth is that they are my buttons. Ultimately, I'm in charge of unsticking them, or eradicating them entirely. That's work.

Before I got married a friend told me, "Allow yourself to choose three things to get aggravated about a year. They can be that he leaves his socks on the floor, or that he blows his nose loudly, or whatever bugs you most. You can switch what's on your list, but remember: if there are more than three things that drive you nuts, it's not him. It's you."

Good advice. If we define our days by what didn't go right, or our relationships by the other person's flaws, we are driving ourselves into an abyss. We don't have to go there. Lousy days and lousy feelings generally pass... if we let them.

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