Archive for the ‘Choices’ Category

I Wish I Were Asleep

Monday, March 12th, 2012

As I begin typing this post it is 9:15 on Sunday night.  And if I’m being really truthful, I’d rather be turning out the lights.  Alas, I have made a commitment to post here and so I will stay up and blog.  I make this choice in part because I don’t like flaking out on blogging, and in part because my ambivalence about writing right now is opportune because I’d rather be sleeping, and the topic I’ve chosen to explore is sleep.

Sleep has been on my mind a lot lately – largely because I’m not getting enough of it.  By the time I went back to work after my first pregnancy IEP had dropped back to one overnight feeding.  He was a quick eater and I was typically only out of bed for 15 or 20 minutes and the whole thing was quite manageable.  SSP, on the other hand, is still waking up twice each night.  Like his brother he makes quick work of it and goes back down easily.  Nevertheless, there is something about getting up twice that feels more than doubly disruptive to my rest.

Adding fuel to the fire is the fact that last week was National Sleep Awareness Week and the interwebs were crawling with articles pounding my tired conscience about the importance of sleep.  And on top of that, we sprang forward yesterday, robbing me even more of my rest.  (Thank you, Huffington Post, for rubbing salt in the wound.)

So here I sit, wishing I were asleep, but yet with my eyes fixed on a glowing screen perched on my lap.  And I’m not the only one plugged into something other than my pillow   Computer – and countless other similar gadgets – are slapped with much of the blame for our overall reduction in sleep.  In prior articles I’ve read about sleep I’ve learned that in pre-electricity eras only true insomniacs were sleep deprived.  With electric lights to extend our waking hours, televisions to keep us company in the evening, and smartphones buzzing next to our heads all night long (for the record, my BlackBerry does not sleep on my nightstand) it really shouldn’t surprise any of us that sleep is seen as such a valuable (and hard to come by) commodity these days.

Here, though, is my beef with modern sleep deprivation: isn’t it largely within our control?  Can we not choose to adhere to a bedtime (as Gretchen Rubin suggests)?  Can we not opt to avoid rich and heavy meals late at night that keep our bodies from settling down?  Can we not really walk away from Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest even 30 minutes earlier each night?  I recognize that there are people for whom sleep deprivation is not just the byproduct of silly choices.  For some people – for those who work multiple jobs, or work night shifts, or travel extensively, or have children with sleep problems – sleep deprivation is a harder problem to solve.  But for most of us – myself included – a groggy morning is something we could have prevented with better decisions the night before.  And this matters, because for many people there are more serious health consequences on the line than just a groggy morning.

It is now 9:40.  I need to let the dogs out, move some laundry to the dryer, and get into my pajamas.  If I want the lights out by 10:00 I know that this post needs to draw to a close quickly.  Ten o’clock is later than I like to get to sleep, but per my own inadequacies it’s par for the course around here.  I’d do well to take my own advice – particularly until SSP starts sleeping through the night.

Not for Everyone

Monday, February 13th, 2012

This past weekend IEP was sick.  Triple-digit fever Friday night.  Phlegmy cough.  Runny nose.  A walking, talking (and yet still adorable) germ.  Lovely.  Needless to say, we operated on an abridged schedule.  To that end, we skipped church yesterday morning so that IEP wouldn’t infect the other kids at Sunday School and while the boys hung out at home I was able to squeeze in an extra trip to the gym.

As I pedaled away on the Helix machine I flipped the pages on a back issue of People and came across a story about a young girl, just a couple of years out of high school, who had entered a convent.  She spent one year at a large state university, trying it on for size, but ultimately decided that she was called to serve God in a more direct way.  It was a decision that she’d been weighing for some time.  According to the article she first felt called to become a nun at the age of five.  She spent most of her childhood and adolescent life enjoying life as a normal kid – playing sports, having sleepovers with friends, and attending her junior prom – while quietly keeping the convent at the back of her mind.

As I read the article I got to thinking about how I might react if one of my children made a similar choice.  Granted, we are not Catholic, so unless there were a conversion to Catholicism a life in the ministry would not mean the same sacrifices that it did for the girl I read about.  But let’s say for a moment that we were Catholic.  What then?  Life as a priest would entail some incredible sacrifices for my sons.  No wife.  No children.  No conventional career.  No means to travel the world.  Having attended Catholic school for many years as a teen I have some sense of what this life is like, but I still struggle to imagine it for one of my own children.

The girl in the article (I couldn’t find it online to provide a link – sorry!) talked about how she weighed the loss of a family into her decision, but still felt a stronger pull to the ministry than to anything else.  She felt that a family life wasn’t for her.  After all, it’s not for everyone.  She now sees her family eight times a year during four-hour Sunday afternoon visitation sessions on Sunday afternoons.  There is a quote on the number of letters she can write and phone calls she can make.  And she is okay with this.

I, on the other hand, wasn’t so okay with it.  Not as it related to this girl.  It’s fine for her, of course.  But I kept thinking about my own kids.  I see the joy that I find in my family and I want that for them.  I want for them the feeling of waking up next to your spouse in the morning.  I want them to see their babies smile for the first time.  I want them to know the feeling of fullness when a tiny child wants only you.  I want them to know the gut-busting laughter that is brought by living with a three-year-old.  But anyone who enters the Catholic ministry will never know these things.

The truth is, I should be okay with this.  All these things about family life that I just listed?  They bring me joy because they are what was right for me.  I would feel imprisoned in a convent.  But perhaps for someone who feels called to life in the ministry the daily life of a working mom would feel like torture.  I was given the freedom to make my own decisions and I’ve ended up in a life that makes me exceedingly happy.  And that is what I should want for my children – the ability to choose the path that will bring them joy – not that the same things that brought my joy will bring theirs.

IEP and SSP are their own people.  They will develop their own interests and passions.  Perhaps those interests will overlap with mine and perhaps they will not.  But so long as their life choices are safe, healthy, and bring them joy, it should be irrelevant to me exactly what those choices are.

As best I could tell, this young girl’s parents are supportive of the path she’s chosen.  I applaud them for that.  And I thank them for setting such a worthwhile example for the rest of us.  It can be a challenge to embrace someone’s choices when they would not personally suit us.  Nevertheless, that is just what we should do.

I Love You

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

My favorite part of any romantic movie is the moment right after one person drops the “L” bomb for the first time.  “I love you.”  In that split second when you’re not entirely sure how the other person is going to respond my heart does a tiny tap dance.  These moments are only good when you’re not sure; when you lean forward just a bit waiting to learn if the vulnerable fool is going to be showered with the other person’s affections as well, or left to slink off in a state of awkwardness.

I love this moment because I know what a big deal it is to cross that bridge.  I’ve crossed it a few times, but I usually let someone else lead the way.  That is, I was not often the one to say it first.  I bring this up because this article from The Huffington Post discusses several aspects of love – the fact that it reduces our stress levels, the way it causes us to act toward potential romantic rivals, and the economic pros and cons we weigh out when deciding whether or not to tell another person that we love them.  But the thing that struck me most about it was the finding that men are most likely to say “I love you” first.

This caught my attention because I have a theory about it.  My theory is that in most relationships (not all, mind you, but most) the woman actually wants to say “I love you” first.  She feels it earlier and wants to express it, but resists for fear of her statement not being reciprocated.  Much like most women wait for their boyfriends to propose marriage, we also wait for the man to take the lead in other relationship milestones.

I have no idea why this is.  In point of fact, I’m just theorizing here, so I could be completely wrong, but let’s pretend I’m right.  Why women aren’t more assertive in our expressions of affection?  Why do we wait for the man to say it first?  Is it because we want to make sure that the man has had time for his romantic feelings to fully develop?  Or is it because we fear that we will jump the gun wanting something to be love sooner than we know whether or not it really is?  And if we know it’s love, why aren’t we strong enough to risk our pride and say it?

Love is a tricky business.  Especially in the beginning of a relationship we constantly teeter between exposing and protecting ourselves.  It’s a highly personal decision to tell someone you love them.  We each must choose what’s right for us.  But I wonder about the calculus that factors into that decision.

Resolved – Part 3

Monday, January 23rd, 2012
Maternity leave is officially over.  (Woe is me.)  Friday was my first day back at work so starting today I am back in the blogging saddle.  I realize that discussion of resolutions is so three weeks ago, but back around New Year’s Day I was busy recovering from the holidays and relishing the last few weeks of my time at home with the boys.  So here I am, on January 23rd, documenting my goals for this year.
Before I launch straight into the laundry list I feel compelled to wax philosophical about resolutions in general.  I’ve documented my resolutions here on this blog for the past two years (2010 is here, and 2011 is here) with wildly differing results.  In 2010 I was a resolution rock star.  I set reasonable goals for myself and lived up to them all.  Last year I was plagued by hubris from 2010′s successes, set pretty aggressive goals, and by April found myself in the face of abject failure.  (I will offer the caveat that pregnancy had a pretty big hand in unraveling my resolutions.)
Nevertheless, I am back here in this space offering my goals for the new year.  In spite of last year’s disappointment I still contend that goals are worth having, even if they aren’t always met.  I am a work in progress.  I am not complete.  I can be better.  I can do better.  I always have room for improvement.  And so, one year after another, I will sit down and identify the things I’d like to work on.  For if I don’t identify these things to myself (and I am a person who benefits considerably from the accountability of making goals public) then how can I expect for any of them to change.
With that, in 2012 I plan to:
  1. Be more thoughtful.  This is something that I used to be very good at as a kid and in my teens and early twenties.  Then when I was 27 I took a job that required me to travel three to four days each week.  At the same time I enrolled in an MBA program that was almost exclusively night classes.  My bandwidth was at capacity.  As soon as I finished my MBA I got pregnant with IEP and with motherhood my spare time continued to diminish.  And one of the things that has been negatively impacted by all of these other obligations is my thoughtfulness toward other people.  So, this year I want to do more that falls into this category.  I want to make small but thoughtful gestures that let other people know that I care about them. 
  2. Read more.  I’ve been veryspecific about my reading goals in past years.  In 2010 it was to read more nonfiction and I knocked it out of the park.  Last year it was to read classic works of fiction I’d never read and I struck out majorly, not making it through a single classic.  (Again, I blame pregnancy.  I’d get into bed at 9:30 and facing a choice between sleep and Tolstoy, sleep won every time.)  So this year my goal is to read, period.  I’d like to work some classics into the mix, specifically A Tale of Two Cities. But I’d also like to mix in some modern fiction (perhaps the second and third titles in the Stieg Larsson trilogy), and some nonfiction (Moneyball and Kitchen Confidential are on the docket).  I’d like to average more than a book a month, and am shooting for at least 15 total.
  3. Get out of my workout rut.  I spend way too much time on the elliptical machine.  I usually run about one day a week.  And I do weights three days a week, rotating between arms, legs, and core.  But that’s not enough variety.  I would like to work swimming and rowing into my regular workout routine, as well as shaking up things in my strength training routine.
  4. Learn to use Photoshop.  I got Photoshop Elements for Christmas a year ago.  I can use it for some basic exposure corrections and cropping, but it is capable of much more than I know how to do.  I’d like to learn to create layers and use opacity, to download and run actions, and figure out what other key features I’m overlooking.
  5. Send birthday cards.  This is a repeat from last year.  This is such an easy thing to do, and I’m woefully bad about it.  It dovetails with being more thoughtful, but this is a very specific thing that I want to do a better job of.  This shouldn’t be a difficult one.
  6. Grow an herb garden.  Another 2011 repeat.  I was in the midst of first trimester misery (that’s the last time I play the pregnancy card, I promise) when it should have been planted, and by the time I got my head above water again we were about to leave on vacation and by the time we got home it was really too hot for seedlings to survive.  This year I’m committed.  I will grow parsley, chives, basil, and thyme.

And there we have it.  I’m trying to harken back to 2010′s list a bit by choosing goals that are attainable, but still challenging.  I think this list meets those criteria.  I will be back with bigger thoughts on Wednesday, but wanted to get these resolutions into the archives before any more time passed.  I enjoyed my time off from blogging, but I’m also looking forward to getting back into the swing of thinking Ten Dollar Thoughts.  I hope you’ll join me.

The Good Man – Bad Man Continuum

Monday, December 12th, 2011

I was about finished handing over my donations when he rode up on his bicycle.  His coat was brown oilcloth, worn with the collar turned up, and didn’t look to be very warm.  Behind his bike was a cart of sorts – homemade out of plywood and fastened to a single axle attached to two tires repurposed from a jogging stroller.

I waited for the Goodwill guy to get my receipt while this man got off his bike and walked up with the first of three large cardboard boxes.  Each one was literally overflowing with children’s clothes.  I saw snap-crotch onesies, tiny pink tops, pants, and dresses.  I was on my way to the gym and felt liberated being out of the house for a bit.  I decided to make some small talk and commented that it’s amazing how quickly kids outgrow clothes.

“Yes,” he said.  ”Some of them are practically disposable.  They wear them once and then they don’t fit anymore.”

As he responded he walked back to his bicycle cart to collect the second box.  I followed him with my eyes, and only as I watched him pick up the next box did I notice a tiny little girl in the cart as well.  She was somewhere between 18 months and two years old.  Her skin was fair, but pink from the chilly December air.  Her eyes were bright.  And her coat was much too big and gapped around her neck.  She didn’t have on a hat or gloves.

“Well hello, little one!” I said.  She  smiled broadly yet bashfully.   “It’s a cold one today.  Are you staying warm?”  She didn’t look like she was.  I scrambled to think whether or not any of IEP’s many winter hats might have been left in the car that I might give to her.  None had.

“Yeah, how’s your brother’s coat working out for you?” her father added, as if to imply an explanation as to why it didn’t fit her.

The father and I wrapped up our cliched conversation about how quickly kids grow and I got back into my car.  The outside temperature on the dashboard read 36 degrees.

As I waited to turn left at the light just outside of the Goodwill parking lot I saw the man cross the intersection on his bike and turn right.  As he did his little girl struggled to keep herself upright in the cart behind him.  And for the rest of the day I thought a complicated mix of conflicting thoughts about this encounter.

A man who clearly did not have a proper winter coat, or a hat, or a car was donating dozens upon dozens of articles of children’s clothing.  Presumably he no longer had use for them and wanted to see that someone else – someone who had even less than he? – could used them.  At the same time, this man dragged a tiny child out on a very cold day without proper protection against the winter weather.  He rode his bike in traffic while his daughter sat loose in the back, unbuckled and without any kind of helmet.

What kind of man was this?  A good man?  A man who thinks about those less fortunate even when he himself seems to have so little?  Or was he a careless and irresponsible parent?  Someone who jeopardizes his daughter’s health and safety to do something which, while admittedly good, was not at all urgent.  Couldn’t he have waited until a warmer day, or a day when his wife or a friend or neighbor was available to watch his daughter?

All of the above?  Is that the answer?  Like anyone else in the world I am prompted to say, “Yes, and…”

We never really know all of another person’s story.  We know only what we see in many cases.  We know what we are told in others.  But we are almost always left to fill in some of the blanks with our own suppositions.  I believe in most cases the answers to those blanks are clouded with nuance.  They are the places where the answers aren’t clear and we are forced to confront both the triumphs and the failings of the people around us.

The man I saw at the Goodwill drop-off door last week is just like most of us in many ways.  His circumstances may be vastly different from yours or mine.  But he exists on a continuum just like anyone else.  He has some very admirable qualities.  And he also makes mistakes and imperfect choices.   Is he a good man or a bad man?  He is a little of both, just like everyone else.

Before and After

Monday, December 5th, 2011

I have a friend who has the kind of hair that every girl envies.  It is fine, but thick.  It is the perfect shade of blonde.  It is well-behaved and straight.  It falls with conviction down to the middle of her back.  It swings when she walks and bounces when she runs.  If she weren’t one of the nicest people I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing, I might hate her for it.

I do not have that kind of hair.  My hair is not especially thick; perhaps a bit thinner than average.  It is naturally a bit wavy, depending on the humidity, but I can’t really rely on it ever to do the same thing twice.  My hair and I get along the best when I keep it trimmed just above my shoulders, and I pull it back into a low, parted ponytail quite often.

My friend – the nice one, with the killer hair – isn’t just nice.  She’s better than that.  She is good, and kind, and generous.  Every few years she goes into a salon, sweeps her hair back into an elastic, and instructs the stylist to cut 10 or 12 inches of perfect hair off of her head.  She places it in a plastic baggy and donates it.  Every time she does it I’m inspired.

Because my hair isn’t particularly suited to the half-way-down-your-back look, I’ve never let it get long enough to donate.  (I am a big fan of charity, but also a big fan of personal grooming.)  But with this most recent pregnancy, I had a game plan in place.

When I was pregnant with IEP I discovered that something about pregnancy hormones causes my hair to roughly double in thickness over the course of nine months.  Instead of shedding dozens and dozens of hairs every time I shampoo I lose only four or five individual hairs.  By the end of a pregnancy I have hair that is legitimately enviable.  The flip side to this coin, though, is that a few weeks after delivery karmic justice rears its ugly head and all of the hair that didn’t shed out during the pregnancy exits stage left over the course of about 10 days.  It breaks my heart.

So this time around I decided to trade my heartbreak in for something a little happier.

More than a year ago, before SSP was even in the works, I started growing my shoulder-length locks out.  By the time SSP was born I had enough hair to follow my super nice and super generous friend’s incredible example.  (That photo up top was taken when SSP was two weeks old.)

And last week I walked into my salon looking like this:

Cold feet struck me when I sat down in the chair at the salon.  My stylist gave me a much needed pep talk (“Gale, you have hair and some kid out there doesn’t.”), and then when I gave her the final go-ahead she started snipping.  About an hour later, she stopped.

I walked out looking like this:

Most of my charitable acts are financial donations to good causes, casseroles made for the church food pantry, and time spent volunteering at the local children’s hospital.  But something about this felt different – both bigger and smaller.  I gave, quite literally, a piece of myself.  It wasn’t a ton of hair and will certainly have to be combined with other donations to make a single wig, but, like the widow’s mite, I gave all of what I had, and it was a fundamentally different experience.   It feels quite different to give all that you can, rather than to make a token offering that only represents further generosity that wasn’t extended.

I am amazed by the people like my friend who give this incredible gift over and over.  I wish I had the kind of hair that I could grow out and donate repeatedly, but am thankful that I had the opportunity to do it this once.  It feels good to lay all that you have out on the table.  I should do it more often.

Far Too Great a Cost

Wednesday, November 16th, 2011

I just don’t get it.  I’ve tried to wrap my head around it and I’ve failed every time.

I don’t think it’s because I didn’t go to a Division 1 school with a giant athletic program.  I don’t think it’s because I grew up in a family of Oklahoma State fans at a time when college football was something we tried not to think too much about.  (The Cowboys weren’t quite ranked #2 back then…)  I don’t think it’s because I am in any way confused about the details of what went down in the Penn State locker room.  So could someone please explain to me the outpouring of support and solidarity for Joe Paterno?

Throughout the end of last week I read many Facebook status updates with commentary on the Penn State news.  Some people commented that everyone involved deserved everything they were getting (indictments, firings, and the like).  But others were more equivocating.  More than one person opined in the vein of, “On one hand Paterno should be fired for what he was complicit in, but on the other hand I feel badly for such a tragic end to a legendary career.”  As I shared these sentiments with a good friend of ours over pizza Thursday evening he responded, “There’s only one hand in this story.”  I have to agree.

Nevertheless, there are a lot of people out there who see it differently.  There are many who believe that Paterno’s legend as a football coach in some way offsets his involvement in the Sandusky scandal.  They are rallying around him.  They were heartbroken to learn that he’d been ousted from his long-standing post.  And their allegiance astounds me.

On his blog The Daily Dish Andrew Sullivan compares these Penn State loyalists to Catholic parishioners who rose up in defense of their priests upon learning that they were sex abusers.  One of the comments cited by Sullivan comes from blogger Jessica Banks‘ (a Penn State alum) stunning post entitled “We Are… More Than Penn State.” As I try to understand why anyone could have compassion for Paterno in the wake of a scandal like this I am enlightened by Banks’ explanation:

The people who say that Penn State football is the local religion are not wrong. In fact, it’s a more apt comparison than they probably realize. The institution is storied and expansive, inextricably associated with the reputation of the school and anyone who has passed through it. Its financial impact is difficult to quantify: there’s no question the program has brought in hundreds of millions of dollars over the years, but there’s also no question that the school allocates resources to athletics that can and should be spent on the university’s actual mission of education. As such, Penn State students pay what amount to private school prices for a state school education … because it comes with a winning team.

She continues:

And while the edifice of Penn State football bears striking resemblance to the Catholic Church, its history and reputation has been largely constructed around a single person, much like today’s evangelical megachurches. Joe Paterno’s record may be the substance of Penn State’s athletic reputation, but his personality is the soul. Penn State doesn’t just claim a winning football program — it claims a moral one, a program that forms young men into admirable athletes and upstanding people.

So it sounds to me as though these people – the Paterno supporters – drank the Kool-Aid a long time ago.  Their loyalty to the school is inextricably linked to their affinity for the football program.  In a telling example of this a Penn State sports historian quoted in this video says, “I can’t tell you what I’d like to do to [Sandusky] now if I could get him.  He’s ruined Penn State.”  Not, “He’s ruined the lives of many young boys,” but, “He’s ruined Penn State.”  Lovely.

Even in light of understanding that for some people the value of the school and the football program are synonymous, I still struggle to get my head around that belief system in the first place.  When does a person make the decision that the quality of the football program matters more than the quality of the education?  When does a person make the decision that the rape of little boys is an acceptable price to pay for a winning football team?  Call me crazy, but I say it’s far too great a cost.

Sullivan sums it up similarly in another post on this topic.

If you want to understand the cult of Joe Paterno’s role in allowing a ten-year-old to be raped and his rapist never brought to justice, look at the scenes last night, as students rioted in defense of their demi-God. Winning football games morally trumps allowing a brutal child rapist to avoid criminal charges and go on to rape many more. …

That the structure of Penn State – and its creepy Paterno worship – allowed this to happen is bad enough. That the student body would rather side with a negligent football coach over a raped child is beyond belief.

I try hard not to judge people, truly I do.  But I am really dismayed by the people who find Paterno (or anyone else involved) the least bit defensible.  It’s football!  It’s a game!  It’s a decent reason to tailgate and wear face paint and eat far too many nachos in a single sitting, but that’s about it.


Friday, October 28th, 2011

On Tuesday I went to the doctor for my weekly baby check.  I had on black leggings and a grey, black, and white printed top that is less than a dress but more than a shirt, and big enough to accommodate my 38.5 week belly.  I paired it with my favorite grey patent leather stilettos.  During my exam even my OB commented that my shoe selection was impressive for someone on the brink of childbirth.

I chose those shoes because they look nice with the outfit, but also because at this late stage of pregnancy selecting from my usual shoe wardrobe is one of the few things I can do that makes me feel normal.  (I’m lucky that my feet don’t swell during pregnancy and that heels are even still an option.)  But my pride took a dent when I came home that evening and happened across this article which shook its finger at me due to some apparent health risks of high heels.

Most of the risk to a woman’s health is from falling – twisted ankles and the like.  Because I am so gazelle-like I don’t really worry about this.  I’m kidding, though I do tend to be reasonably sure of foot in heels.  And because I work an office job and spend most of my day sitting at either a desk or a conference table I also have less concern about issues of increased pressure on the balls of my feet.  But maybe that’s a mistake.  Maybe these risks are real and I should take better care of my feet and spine.  This, however, brings me to an embarrassing objection…

High heels are so pretty and dainty.  They make me feel so feminine.  They make me taller.  And they are a whole lot of fun!

Trivial reasons all, but somehow even for a health conscious and educated person they manage to factor in.  The article comments that women wear heels for men, and I’m not so sure that’s always the case.  I know GAP appreciates the added boost in height I get when I wear heels (he’s about a foot taller than I am), but beyond that I’m pretty sure he thinks my interest in shoes is pretty ridiculous (and mine pales in comparison to some women’s).  I suppose I could get all giggly about new flats, but something about them just isn’t as exciting.

I care about shoes – heels in particular – because I like the way they look.  I like the way they can be the finishing touch on an outfit.  I like feeling a little bit fancy when I put a pair on.  But I wonder if I should set aside some of these girlie notions and think more seriously about their health implications.  I will spend most of the next three months in flats, sneakers, and shearling L.L. Bean slippers while I am nestled away on maternity leave.  I think I’ll ponder this issue further then, but I have a feeling that I’ll be back in heels for my first day back to work in January.  We shall see.

Finding What’s Missing

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

I was intrigued by Gretchen Rubin’s most recent tip for improving her level of happiness.  She advocates for getting up earlier.  She finds that waking up before the rest of her family provides her with quiet productive time that would otherwise escape her daily routine.  She comments, “I spend the hour from 6:00 to 7:00 working at my desk, and I love the light, and the quiet, and the sense of focus and freedom from interruption that I have during that hour. I wish I could go for a walk, too, but so far the desire to spend the time at my desk has triumphed.”

As a morning person myself I can relate to her approach, but I was disappointed she didn’t explore the roots of why this tactic is so beneficial to her.  She explains what she finds valuable about it, but stops short of further exploration.

If I were to explore this topic more thoroughly I would encourage people to determine what is missing from their lives.  For a busy mother of two young children an hour of peace and quiet at the start of the day may be priceless.  But for a single person who works from home more hours of quiet alone time may be the last thing they need.  Perhaps this person would be better served by a standing coffee or lunch date with a friend.  We all have different shortcomings in our lives, different holes that need filling.  Rubin has successfully identified her own hole – a quiet time of freedom and productivity – but I think she does her readers a disservice to assume that their holes are comparable.  The point here is to add back to your life something that is missing and find a way to incorporate it.

What is missing from my life?  Lately, sleep, but that’s not going to change any time soon.  As I stare down my upcoming maternity leave I anticipate that adult social interaction will be a shortcoming for the next few months, and that is a gap I’ll need to mindfully fill.  Perhaps for you it’s the opportunity to actually sit down to a meal.  Perhaps it’s time to read.  Perhaps it’s a break in the middle of your work day to clear your head and refresh yourself.  No two of us are exactly alike.  We have to make room for our differences and improve our happiness accordingly.

Competing Priorities

Monday, October 17th, 2011

Last week GAP and three buddies from work went to one of the baseball League Championship Series playoff games.  Due to company connections these guys usually watch baseball games from a box or similar prime locations.  Playoff tickets, however, are a bit harder to come by so last week they were in the upper deck – a.k.a. Family-ville.

GAP was the only one of the four who is married or has kids, so for most of the group their setting gave them a slight fish-out-of-water feeling.  Sitting in front of GAP and his bachelor cronies was a family with a baby and a five-year-old.  Sitting behind them were a man and his eight- or nine-year-old son.  It was this duo that most caught his attention.

The game started at 7:00.  Like most evening baseball games, it likely wasn’t going to end until close to 10:00.  It was a school night.  But when your team is in the playoffs, well, that’s serious business.  What’s a pint-sized fan to do?  And what are his parents to do in such a battle of competing priorities?  Which one wins?

Answer: Both.

That night this boy and his dad avidly cheered on the home team throughout the game.  But in between innings?  In that momentary lull that takes place 17 times in any baseball game as the teams switch from offense to defense and back again?  They pulled out the school books and the boy worked on his homework.

I smiled as GAP told me about this.  I thought about the eagerness of a little boy excited to attend a playoff game.  I thought about the conversation he probably had with his parents wherein he was made to understand that this was a privilege, and that it did not supersede his academic responsibilities.  His dad would have told him how it was going to be hard to focus on his schoolwork with the excitement of the game, but that they would get through it together.  And I thought about someday having a similar conversation with GAP and my own boys.

Sometimes life deals us tough choices.  Sometimes we have to pick between Door #1 and Door #2 and we don’t have the option of a hybrid selection.  But sometimes we can find a way to finagle ourselves into the middle ground.  Such opportunities are hard to overlook.  It made me happy knowing that this boy’s parents didn’t let him blow off his school work, but also understood the how exciting a playoff game opportunity was.

Sometimes we get to split the middle.  Sometimes we get to honor competing priorities.  And if it’s the middle of baseball postseaston  sometimes a night of homework becomes a lifelong memory.