Can Children Be Taught to Appreciate the Mundane?

So much of adult life is boring.  A successful day is often (or usually) one that goes according to plan, and the plan is similar (or nearly exactly the same) as other weeks.  Work, activities, even our social life doesn’t tend to vary a lot from week to week.  In fact, we have learned through life experiences that “exciting” can often mean “bad” excitement (such as illness, accident, or other unexpected event), so we appreciate the days that go smoothly.  I’ve learned to enjoy simple pleasures such as setting a pretty table for breakfast, reading a chapter aloud to the kids before bed (we are currently working on the Harry Potter series), baking cookies, or picking vegetables in the garden.

Before I met Manly Guy and “settled down”, I definitely pursued more excitement in my life than I do now.  I dabbled in a variety of outdoor sports, planned international trips (as much as my jobs would allow) and enjoyed the party scene.  But even though I sought out a certain amount of thrills, I was always responsible, never allowing extra-curricular activities to impact my productivity on the job or distracting me too much.  As a dear friend once pointed out, “you cannot live on spice.”

As a parent, I have to wonder if an individual (child or adult) can be taught to appreciate the mundane parts of life, or if it only comes with maturity.  I suspect that experience is the best teacher in this case, that we learn to enjoy the boring parts mainly because of the lack of “bad” excitement.

Every weekday, our youngest asks me when I am picking the kids up from school: “Where are we going, Mommy?”  She is hoping that I am going to tell her that we are going to do something fun, like getting frozen yogurt or to an after-school activity such as soccer.  When I tell V that “We are heading home”, she always gives a long “Aaaawwwwwww” in response,  a sound of disappointment.  She longs to do “something fun” and hates to have a boring afternoon.  She would happily plan a monthly trip to Disneyland, and host birthday parties every week.

But, as I have pointed out many times to T, our oldest– anyone can have fun.  Experiencing fun doesn’t demonstrate our character.  It is what we do day-in and day-out that shows who we are.  It is the willingness to work hard, to slog through boring tasks, to overcome challenges that we encounter– these really give us the opportunity to shine.  One of my goals is to help my kids to accept that.

Related to the mundane parts of life is our daily attitude and how we can work to keep it positive.  Am I the last person ever to hear about David Foster Wallace?  He gave a commencement speech in 2005 called “This is Water”.  His suicide in 2008 preserved him forever as a middle-aged, soul-searching author who had brilliant insights in the delicate art of being conscious and alive.  Last week I viewed a video (posted by a friend on Facebook, of course)  which was nine minutes of excerpts from the speech, and it was fantastic.  I don’t know if it is still up, but I know that the original version (which is 22 minutes long) is still on YouTube.  If you don’t feel like viewing the video, you can read the speech here:

If you haven’t seen, heard or read this speech, I highly recommend it!

I’m Juggling as Fast as I Can

I cannot believe it is already mid-October.  Since school started (in late August), I have been “under” (that terrific food server term describing the state in which one is behind in everything).  Just before school started we had our second poison oak exposure, followed by impetigo, a contagious skin condition (from all the scratching).  We had never dealt with poison oak or impetigo before, so it was difficult to identify either until we were well into the throes of each.  All together it was six weeks of extra laundry in hot water, cleaning (everything), doctor appointments and a feeling that we would never get out of that vicious cycle.  We had to postpone a big birthday celebration for Manly Guy in September by a week because of the impetigo, which pushed the big party to the same weekend that I ran a half-marathon and my brother visited.  A day later we were off to attend a twenties-themed wedding in Carmel (which was a truly wonderful event), followed by several weeks of an overbooked social calendar (symphony and opera performances, a musical, two Date Nights at night clubs, a visit from my sister and her husband) and ending with a six-day family trip to Seattle.  (We got back on Tuesday.)  I wouldn’t want to remove anything, but all together it has been Too Much.  And I have no one to blame but myself for such a ridiculously-packed month (or two).

During this same time period I realized that the perfect part-time interesting job that I have been looking/waiting for was sitting in front of me.  As of October 1, I am officially working for my husband’s company in client development, but it has been a struggle to try to extract two hours every weekday to dedicate to research/outreach to potential clients.  For my first official week in my new position the kids had half-days, due to parent/teacher conferences.  I’m sure there are moms out there who look forward to the extra kid time they get from parent/teacher conference week, but the timing on this particular week was terrible. On half-days it feels like I get *nothing* done.  By the time you run to the store and fit in a few errands or tasks, it is time to pick up the kids from school.  I end up hating short days, and then I feel guilty because I resent the extra time that our lovely children are at home.   Throw in a family trip the week after and I’ve ended up not feeling very accomplished in my first few weeks in my new job.

Layer on top of all this the other things that I try to do, such as writing on my blog, canning, volunteering at the school, getting quality time with my husband, and it feels like I’m a bit of a failure.  Okay, that is overstating it, but right now it feels like I’m not shining in *any* area of my life, but barely doing enough to get by in every aspect.  Then I remind myself that the only reason why I am behind is because I am pushing myself to do more than is really reasonable.  When I feel frustrated and discouraged, I try to remember to take a deep breath and let that frustration go.  I am doing as much as I can, as well as I can.

Skin Cancer . . . Again?!

Let me start off assuring family and friends that this is nothing to worry about.  It is the relatively harmless (but still annoying) basal cell kind, not the melanoma (dangerous) kind of skin cancer.

Last week I had Mohs surgery on my lip for the second time (the first time was about a year ago).  The day of the surgery, Joe was traveling, so I had to go pick up the kids from camp with my lip still bandaged. Kids are utterly unable to *not* stare when they see something unusual, and seeing a mom with her lip bandaged up drew many wide-eyed stares as we left.  I tried to not feel self-conscious (I need to be a good example to the kids and all), but inside I was cringing.

The next day the swelling went down, and I was able to go out without any bandages.  My lip still drew weird looks, but it was about the equivalent of a bad cold sore.  With a friend, I mentioned that I had had skin cancer surgery– “No, it’s not a cold sore”– but I’m not sure which is worse.  She put a concerned look on her face and asked about it.  I ended up explaining a bit about my family history, and that this type of skin cancer is more annoying than scary, but I realized that this was more information than most people want to hear.  She was sweet to listen to me, and I felt badly that my explanation took longer than it should have.

My family heritage is Irish/English/Scottish, and I have very fair skin as a result.   Being born and raised in California with lots of sunshine, we are very susceptible to skin cancer.  The fact that my dad had a ski boat when we were growing up, and that I had terrible sunburns every summer, means that I had a lifetime’s worth of sun damage by the time I hit adulthood.  I have been great about using sunscreen for a long time, but so much damage was already done that I have known it was only a matter of time before skin cancer appeared.  My brother had it before I did (on his neck first, then his forehead).  My dad has had several growths removed.  My grandmother had many cases of it.  Thankfully, no one in our family has gotten melanoma, but we all need to be vigilant with skin check-ups twice a year.

“Cancer” is a scary word, one that no one wants to hear.  We all know people who have fought brave battles with cancer, and most of us know someone who has lost that battle.  It feels strange to use that word to describe annoying little skin growths that need to be removed.  I will probably get these skin growths throughout the rest of my life, but I try to remind myself to be thankful that while I hate having minor surgery on my face (mainly because of vanity), I am lucky that this is the worst health issue that I currently face.