Monthly Archives: April 2017

Day in the Life: Narrative Two

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to incorporate stoicism (see One…One…One…) more into my day-to-day life since the funeral. Monday was a particularly challenging day, so I decided to take notes first on my initial reaction to the day, then how I chose to respond to my initial reactions from a stoic perspective.  On Tuesday, I shared Narrative One, which was my initial inner monologue.

Today I share my stoic reactions (in bold, after my initial reactions). Next I will share learnings.

3:30 AM: I can’t sleep, and I’m not relaxed from my “weekend.” What weekend? I cleaned and cooked like a mad woman to prepare for a dinner we hosted for friends and their daughter on Saturday night, then cleaned again when they left. Darcy has been sick for a week and my son is now also sick so they were both in bed (although Darcy rallied when the guests arrived to attend the dinner). I pushed through to marinate and bake chicken, make a salad and cauliflower rice, prepare hors d’oeuvres and get ice cream. A massive sinus headache descended that luckily lifted when dinner began. Sunday morning I worked for five hours straight to get ahead of three work deadlines. There’s something wrong with my Google drive – it overwrote a file my colleague created!! She was so mad, and I felt terrible. Then after I dragged myself to the gym, I came home to do as much prep ahead of time for the family Passover dinner Darcy signed us up to host tonight. We’re hosting 15 people, including three children under five (my nieces, and yes to answer your question, my sister-in-law is very fertile). I wanted to host Break the Fast, the fun one where everyone eats and runs, but no. After more cleaning (Darcy did some cooking for the meal, and left a huge mess because he had to go back to bed), setting up temporary tables, getting out all the dishes, silverware, bowls, etc (why so many dishes for this holiday – two sets of glasses for each person, really!!) and the haggadahs, it was close to midnight. I’m worried just thinking about all the things I need to do both for work and for the dinner.

3:30 AM: Take it One…One…One. Right now, you need to sleep. That’s all. Use your sleep techniques to prepare your mind for sleep. (Note: I fell asleep shortly after and although my sleep wasn’t great, it was sleep!)

6:00 AM: I dropped in and out of sleep since 3:30, but now I have to wake up. I forgot to mention that the twins are off for spring break this week. I quickly look at the news and feel depressed. I’m working from home, and have three big conference calls. I also owe two presentations and another important document by 2 PM. They have to be perfect because they are going to the top of the food chain. Stressful! I get my coffee and settle down to business until I have to make the twins’ breakfast. I’m working in the master closet so I can close the door for quiet.

6:00 AM: Take it One…One…One. Right now, look at what you wrote down on your to do list for work last night. It’s carefully prioritized. Begin proofing your first presentation. That’s it for now. Set your alarm for 6:30, make breakfast for the kids, then come back. You’ve got this. 

7:00 AM – 2 PM: Crunch time. With the back-to-back meetings and the deadlines, I don’t even have time to go to the bathroom or eat. My babysitter comes at 11:00 AM to pick up the twins and take them to lunch and a movie. It’s embarrassing but I let them use screens until then as I don’t know what else to do. I feel guilty about this. I scramble to triple check the multiple presentations and documents that need to be shipped are perfect, and represent exactly what we need to represent.

7:00 AM – 2 PM:  You have carefully scheduled your time this morning, including arranging for the babysitter to come and give you a break, and you have done enough quality prep work to get everything done as well as you can. It may be hectic, but it will pass. Remember: you have completed many incredibly complicated projects in a timely fashion in the past, and these will get done as well. Yes, the twins will use their iPads, but their favorite games and shows are about math, science and chess. Never forget that it could be a lot worse. You could not have done the prep, you could have not gotten any sleep at all. You could have no iPads for the kids to use. You’re lucky to have what you have. Deep breaths. Begin. 

2:00 PM: I log off, and begin final meal preparations. I clean the downstairs again (how does it get so messy so fast??), roast the shank bone and eggs, set up drinks and appetizer stations, start preparing the salt water, parsley, and nag the twins to take baths and dress nicely. Then we have to run to the store to pick up more matzoh, grape juice, horseradish root, and sparkling water, because those weren’t on my list and they should have been. I spend too much because I go to the local expensive store, something I rarely do since we’re on a strict budget. I’m starting to feel resentful that I am doing so much while Darcy is at work. Why did he want us to host this holiday?

2:00 PM: Let’s address the Darcy resentment. He is very much an equal partner. When you went back to work full-time, you had the big conversation and insisted housework would be split 50-50. He has never reneged on this deal, and it’s been four years. This is the first time he has been sick in over a year, and it’s OK for him to be incapacitated. When you had a staph infection on your leg a couple of months ago and were a hot mess, he stepped up for you big time, doing all the cleaning and cooking and helping fill in on that volunteer duty. Write yourself a note to to have a conversation with him after Passover is over to cooly evaluate whether we should host next year. 

Regarding the expensive store. You’ll need to reallocate the money you spent there to somewhere else in the budget. The budget is a pain, yes, but life is so uncertain and your duty is to be prepared for bad things. You don’t have by any means a job or income that is for life. Your emergency fund needs to be bigger than employees with guaranteed jobs and pensions. Remember always to save. 

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4:00 PM: My in-laws arrive. They bring some of the food in various states of completion which we begin to unpack. We then start to heat up and prepare: salad, matzoh ball soup, noodle kugal, appetizers, dessert. I run up to take a quick shower. Darcy finally arrives.

4:00 PM: Remember how lucky you are to have helpful in-laws nearby. Since you have no immediate family in range (since your brother moved in January), it’s optimal that your kids get to have the multi-generational experience you didn’t growing up. Your father-in-law cooks and hosts family gatherings regularly, showing your twins a great example of men leading household activities. 

5:00 PM: Guests arrive. I serve wine, appetizers and chat. My sister-in-law brings another dessert and the charosset. I begin dishing out all the passover plates, while clearing the drinks and appetizer plates. The little ones run around the house in a loop screaming while the twins try to herd them like cats to activities they might enjoy. My headache from Saturday has returned.

5:00 PM: It’s a privilege and a pleasure to be able to host family gatherings, and you enjoy being hospitable. The twins are showing lots of care and attention to their little cousins, which shows empathy and patience. They will need both of those as adults. Remember what Pema Chodron says: “Whoever got the idea that we could have pleasure without pain?” In your memories of this evening, you will not remember your headache. You will remember the joy of watching your children play with their cousins, and how cute your nieces were in their matching outfits. How solemnly the little nieces paid attention when you showed them a picture of the family that wasn’t here, and how they said your mom’s dress was so pretty in your brother’s wedding picture. 

5:45 PM: We sit down to the dinner. Darcy has prepared a thoughtful but short service, which the three little ones under five scream over. The twins perform the Four Questions which we had all been agonizing over and preparing for (it’s long, and it’s in Hebrew). There is an argument resulting in the recommendation that Darcy end the service early, and there are some hurt feelings.

5:45 PM: The flawless rendition of the Four Questions is worth celebrating. The twins spent a lot of time to learn and recite the difficult passages in a different alphabet and language, and practiced diligently. The solid performance is yet more proof that if they work hard, they can achieve good things. Darcy’s service can be applied with the twins when the guests are gone, so it won’t go to waste. 

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6:15 PM: The service is over, my mother-in-law and I clear the passover plates and set up the buffet. People start dishing out their meals.

6:45 PM: I haven’t even sat down yet to eat my meal. I’m starving. I shovel in some food as fast as I can.

7:00 PM: My mother-in-law, sister-in-law, daughter and I begin to clear the plates for dinner and I begin washing them. This will be a two dishwasher load evening, something I actively avoid because I don’t want to waste water. I put the dessert out and the dessert plates and forks. People dig in. The men in the family play basketball. It’s feeling a bit patriarchal to me, and I’m not a fan of that.

7:30 PM: Most people are done with dessert and I start to bus those dishes. I offer coffee and tea, and luckily no one accepts. I think everyone can tell I don’t feel like making any. The twins get in some stupid fight about nothing. I send them to their rooms.

6:15 – 7:30 PM: How lucky you are to have received such lovely dishes, glasses and stemware from your wedding. It’s lovely to see them put to use with family. Stay strong on discipline. The twins are learning that they can’t get away with bad behavior. It’s important to show them that there are limits. 

8:00 PM: All the guests are gone, and I begin to pick up the house. It looks like a bomb went off, and there are literally over 60 dishes and pieces of silverware that need to be washed, much of it needs to be done by hand. Matzoh is in pieces all over the floor. One of the little ones had an accident and the bathroom is a mess. Darcy feels tired and sick (he likely has a sinus infection) and heads to bed. I feel irked that I’m left to deal with all of this.

10:00 PM: Cleanup completed. The house does not look remotely perfect, but my back feels like crap and I’m worried it might go out. I retreat upstairs and put on a heating pad. I’m so fried I don’t feel like reading my book, so instead I just zone out on my phone, something I’m trying to avoid doing. I feel guilty for using my phone at bedtime, because I know it’s bad for my sleep. The twins are impossible to get to bed. They keep talking, and they are wound up from the dessert. I keep yelling at them to whisper because my back hurts and I don’t want to walk over to their rooms.

8:00 – 10 PM: Let go of your standards that the house needs to be perfect. It’s beautiful in a different way to see the aftermath of a meal attended by a houseful of guests. While it may be a pain at times to host meals, you always love the end result: sending people you love home with full stomachs.

11:30 PM: I finally fall asleep.

11:30 PM: The story you read on your phone is so unspeakably beautiful.

What would happen if we all created SuperBabies? Would we make a SuperRace? Fleets of SuperAdults so smart and wise and strong and nontoxic that they would never get cancer? (But they would of course discover its cure.) By age fifteen, they would teach their teachers. They would outrun all world records. They would eradicate every harmful chemical or they would somehow render all chemicals harmless to SuperBodies. They would, each one, win prestigious awards in their fields, twisting the bell curve into a radiant point of light from which would emanate their stellar, star-like performance. They would never know rejection. They would not know depression. They would not cry, or if they did cry, they would shed tears of existential meaning and fulfillment, reflecting on their infinite successes. And on their holidays, they would gather around fires—propping their lean, tall, muscular bodies onto core-boosting exercise balls—and tell stories of the generations past, when people were not Super but Regular. In those bygone days, RegularPeople had autoimmune disorders and chronic pain. They had broken hearts and failed dreams. They had something the SuperPeople only know through history books: suffering.”

– Heather Kirn Lanier

SuperBabies are not a thing. I might lose all my income. Family and friends might disappear. Our government is teetering on the brink of Lord knows what. Suffering is part of life. Given this, what matters is today I did work I’m proud of, and hosted a meal that filled people’s lives with tradition and a nice caloric intake. Today, to quote Ice Cube, was a good day. 

 

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Day in the Life: Narrative One

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to incorporate stoicism (see One…One…One…) more into my day-to-day life since the funeral. Yesterday was a particularly challenging day, so I decided to take notes first on my initial reaction to the day, then how I chose to respond to my initial reactions from a stoic perspective. Today I am going to share Narrative One, which was my initial inner monologue.

Day in the Life: Narrative One

3:30 AM: I can’t sleep, and I’m not relaxed from my “weekend.” What weekend? I cleaned and cooked like a mad woman to prepare for a dinner we hosted for friends and their daughter on Saturday night, then cleaned again when they left. Darcy has been sick for a week and my son is now also sick so they were both in bed (although Darcy rallied when the guests arrived to attend the dinner). I pushed through to marinate and bake chicken, make a salad and cauliflower rice, prepare hors d’oeuvres and get ice cream. A massive sinus headache descended that luckily lifted when dinner began. Sunday morning I worked for five hours straight to get ahead of three work deadlines. There’s something wrong with my Google drive – it overwrote a file my colleague created!! She was so mad, and I felt terrible. Then after I dragged myself to the gym, I came home to do as much prep ahead of time for the family Passover dinner Darcy signed us up to host tonight. We’re hosting 15 people, including three children under five (my nieces, and yes to answer your question, my sister-in-law is very fertile). I wanted to host Break the Fast, the fun one where everyone eats and runs, but no. After more cleaning (Darcy did some cooking for the meal, and left a huge mess because he had to go back to bed), setting up temporary tables, getting out all the dishes, silverware, bowls, etc (why so many dishes for this holiday – two sets of glasses for each person, really!!) and the haggadahs, it was close to midnight. I’m worried just thinking about all the things I need to do both for work and for the dinner.

6:00 AM: I dropped in and out of sleep since 3:30, but now I have to wake up. I forgot to mention that the twins are off for spring break this week. I quickly look at the news and feel depressed. I’m working from home, and have three big conference calls. I also owe two presentations and another important document by 2 PM. They have to be perfect because they are going to the top of the food chain. Stressful! I get my coffee and settle down to business until I have to make the twins’ breakfast. I’m working in the master closet so I can close the door for quiet.

7:00 AM – 2 PM: Crunch time. With the back-to-back meetings and the deadlines, I don’t even have time to go to the bathroom or eat. My babysitter comes at 11:00 AM to pick up the twins and take them to lunch and a movie. It’s embarrassing but I let them use screens until then as I don’t know what else to do. I feel guilty about this. I scramble to triple check the multiple presentations and documents that need to be shipped are perfect, and represent exactly what we need to represent.

2:00 PM: I log off, and begin final meal preparations. I clean the downstairs again (how does it get so messy so fast??), roast the shank bone and eggs, set up drinks and appetizer stations, start preparing the salt water, parsley, and nag the twins to take baths and dress nicely. Then we have to run to the store to pick up more matzoh, grape juice, horseradish root, and sparkling water, because those weren’t on my list and they should have been. I spend too much because I go to the local expensive store, something I rarely do since we’re on a strict budget. I’m starting to feel resentful that I am doing so much while Darcy is at work. Why did he want us to host this holiday?

4:00 PM: My in-laws arrive. They bring some of the food in various states of completion which we begin to unpack. We then start to heat up and prepare: salad, matzoh ball soup, noodle kugal, appetizers, dessert. I run up to take a quick shower. Darcy finally arrives.

5:00 PM: Guests arrive. I serve wine, appetizers and chat. My sister-in-law brings another dessert and the charosset. I begin dishing out all the passover plates, while clearing the drinks and appetizer plates. The little ones run around the house in a loop screaming while the twins try to herd them like cats to activities they might enjoy. My headache from Saturday has returned.

5:45 PM: We sit down to the dinner. Darcy has prepared a thoughtful but short service, which the three little ones under five scream over. The twins perform the Four Questions which we had all been agonizing over and preparing for (it’s long, and it’s in Hebrew). There is an argument resulting in the recommendation that Darcy end the service early, and there are some hurt feelings.

6:15 PM: The service is over, my mother-in-law and I clear the passover plates and set up the buffet. People start dishing out their meals.

6:45 PM: I haven’t even sat down yet to eat my meal. I’m starving. I shovel in some food as fast as I can.

7:00 PM: My mother-in-law, sister-in-law, daughter and I begin to clear the plates for dinner and I begin washing them. This will be a two dishwasher load evening, something I actively avoid because I don’t want to waste water. I put the dessert out and the dessert plates and forks. People dig in. The men in the family play basketball. It’s feeling a bit patriarchal to me, and I’m not a fan of that.

7:30 PM: Most people are done with dessert and I start to bus those dishes. I offer coffee and tea, and luckily no one accepts. I think everyone can tell I don’t feel like making any. The twins get in some stupid fight about nothing. I send them to their rooms.

7:45 PM: People start to clear out and say their goodbyes. One of the little ones makes a break for the gate and we all chase her before she reaches the street. Age 3 is such a challenge. I let the twins out of their rooms after they apologize to each other.

8:00 PM: All the guests are gone, and I begin to pick up the house. It looks like a bomb went off, and there are literally over 60 dishes and pieces of silverware that need to be washed, much of it needs to be done by hand. Matzoh is in pieces all over the floor. One of the little ones had an accident and the bathroom is a mess. Darcy feels tired and sick (he likely has a sinus infection) and heads to bed. I feel irked that I’m left to deal with all of this.

10:00 PM: Cleanup completed. The house does not look remotely perfect, but my back feels like crap and I’m worried it might go out. I retreat upstairs and put on a heating pad. I’m so fried I don’t feel like reading my book, so instead I just zone out on my phone, something I’m trying to avoid doing. I feel guilty for using my phone at bedtime, because I know it’s bad for my sleep. The twins are impossible to get to bed. They keep talking, and they are wound up from the dessert. I keep yelling at them to whisper because my back hurts and I don’t want to walk over to their rooms.

11:30 PM: I finally fall asleep.

PART TWO: Narrative Two, to be continued….

 

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One…One…One…

On Saturday, I went to the funeral of someone who died too young. He had to travel a harder road than most of us. From the time he was little, his body began attacking itself. As a young adult he went through organ failure, donation, and failure again. The church was packed with the many people whose lives he affected: there were hundreds in the pews. As the many speakers told us, here was a man who suffered great pain, yet somehow was always there for others. He was a counselor for at-risk youth, he was a great friend. He was always reaching out to others in need. And his friends (of whom there were many), in turn were deeply loyal and supportive.

One officiant wanted to try to explain this man’s life to the mourners. How could anyone going through such pain and disappointment find the will to not only keep going, but help others in the process?

So he told a story.

There once was a mystic who was well known for his philosophical writings. He lived at the top of a tower. As the mystic got older, he became more frail yet he was often sought out by those who admired his philosophy. One of these admirers accompanied him to his tower and noticed he was having tremendous difficulty climbing the steps to the top. How, he was asked, was he able to reach the top every day?

I have two different ways of counting things, he said. For the stairs, I count them this way. “One…One…One…One…One…One…”

But I count my blessings differently. I count them like this: “One…Two…Three…Four…Five…”

The stairs represent life’s challenges. The mystic advises us to take them only one at a time. Don’t look up and become overwhelmed by the many stairs. Don’t worry about how to get to the top. Don’t dwell on the third stair, which you dread might be the worst of all. Each challenge is One. The next step is One. The last step is One.

Where we should do traditional counting, the mystic said, is for the positive things in our life. Family is One. Loved ones is Two. Friends is Three. A roof over our heads is Four. And so on. So often we focus on what we don’t have. What we’re missing. What we’re entitled to. What others have. What we imagine we NEED. We should count each blessing, the mystic said, and remind ourselves of our riches.

I’d never heard such a clear encapsulation of stoicism before. My husband and I were introduced to the philosophy by my dad a while back, and it has become incredibly helpful to us both. I think stoicism has a bad reputation, because many assume being stoic means never being emotional.

Stoicism never pretends life isn’t horrible. It never assumes that challenges won’t rear up and the philosophy won’t promise a perfect life. Instead, the stoics teach us that challenges will happen, terrible events will occur. They advise that the only way to prepare for such things is to count the good things we have, over and over again. Connect with people we love and like, again and again. Be thankful for a warm afternoon with a sultry breeze, for a beautiful vista filled with unseasonal wildflowers. Feel grateful all of your organs are operating properly. Enjoy a chai tea latte, and the smile from a cranky child. Be thankful you can help a friend who is now struggling with their own One. Then, face your challenges. One…One…One…

It takes a lot of practice to just say One. It takes a lot of patience to count the wonderful things in our lives, and not the problems or dissatisfactions.

Aside: The stoics, oddly for a philosophy which knows bad things will happen (fate is big in the ethos) also promotes agency. I am greatly simplifying, but the idea is that if you can control something, and it promotes virtue, you should. In other words:  yes, you should save for retirement.

Is it worth the struggle? Is it worth the journey? Saturday reminded me that at the end of the stairs, at the top of the tower, when we take our last step (One), it’s our impact on those we know and love that is at the top. We can’t control everything that will happen on the stairs of life. Many things that happen on the climb will be terribly unfair. But we can control how we handle ourselves on those stairs.

(No, I’m not being paid by the stoics, but if you want to read about stoicism, this is a good start.)

Stoics: yay or nay? Or is Marie Kondo your guru? Let me know in the comments…

 

 

 

 

 

 

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