Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Fear and Loathing in Orem

The day we moved into our new house, I opened the door to the downstairs bathroom and a cricket jumped from the toilet straight at me. I screamed and slammed the door, vowing never to use that bathroom again. I was 11 at the time, and when I left home at 18 I had only used that bathroom a few times, on the direst of occasions. My fear of crickets was so ingrained that as an adult, I chose to put my baby in the car and drive to a store to buy bug spray rather than stay in my house with the cricket that had taken up residence on the sofa.

Crickets are nasty things. They're black and shiny and have way too many legs for their bodies. When I picture a cricket in my mind, my stomach starts churning and my shoulders get tight - even a hypothetical cricket triggers my fight-or-flight response. If you want to see a grown woman act like a crazy person, watch what happens when my kids bring one of those jumping cockroaches into the house. I'm climbing over the furniture, screeching like a woman possessed. It is not an exaggeration to say I loathe crickets.

I am not afraid of crickets merely because of their bugginess. I'm not a fan of bugs in general, but the reason that crickets have beaten spiders, earwigs, and beetles to the top of my "Bugs I Hate" list is because they jump. Even a poisonous spider is less scary to me because I can spot it on the wall and watch it make its way over to where I'm waiting with a shoe behind my back. A cricket, on the other hand, is completely unpredictable. One minute it's biding its time on the sidewalk, the next minute it's making a beeline for my head.

Examining my fear of crickets reveals something about my nature - I like control, and I am most afraid when I lack control. I can't control where the cricket goes when it jumps and it scares me. I am terrified of roller coasters for the same reason - I have no control over the speed, direction, or safety of the ride. Sure, there's a set, predictable track, but I'm not the one driving. Things that are unpredictable, unexpected, or surprising are generally negative in my mind. I’d much rather have things that are planned, anticipated, and understood.

Probably my biggest fear is death; not my death but the death of those I love. It is the ultimate unknown. I know that everyone dies, but the timing is uncertain. It’s like being told to wait at home for the cable guy, who has promised to be there sometime between 2 p.m. and 30 years from now. Death, when it comes, can be sudden; it springs at you with the middle of the night phone call or the knock on the door. I thought I could get a handle on death if I pre-planned my responses. If this person died, first I would buy plane tickets, then I would make these phone calls, then I would make those arrangements. But when it came time to think about the really scary deaths, the only response I could think of was first, lay down on the couch, second, never get up again. Not much of a plan there, but I think it’s a fair illustration that death, and my reactions to it, cannot be controlled.

Perhaps this is why Eastern religions appeal to me - if I just meditated more, or found a serene center of calm, then I could handle whatever was thrown my way. I cannot picture a yellow-robed monk freaking out when a cricket jumped in his path. Or squishing it, for that matter. My own Western religion would tell me to have faith, relying on God’s strength rather than my own to deal with crises. Rational, scientific thought would say to avoid crickets and roller coasters, although they’d kind of leave me hanging on the death thing. The only real answer is a combination of all three: don’t panic, believe in a higher power, and avoid scary things whenever possible. So if Lagoon opens a new thrill ride called “The Cricket: Roller Coaster of Death,” well, you know where you won’t find me. Ugh. My stomach hurts even thinking about it.

P.S. In case you were wondering, I DO have a list of "Bugs I Like" although there's only one on the list: fireflies. I also have a "Bugs I Don't Mind" list, which includes regular flies, ants, ladybugs, and worms if they aren't touching me. Pretty much every other bug is on the "Bugs I Hate" list.

That's Hot

So I was in the car today picking up the boys from kindergarten and Zack asked me a question.

Zack: Mom, do you think I'm hot?
Me: (cough) Um, what do you think hot means?
Zack: It means I'm cute.
Me: Well, yes, I do think you're cute.
Zack: (pause) I told Laura that today.
Me: What did you tell Laura?
Zack: I told Laura that she's hot.
Me: (Trying not to laugh) And what did Laura say?
Zack: (dejected) Nothing.

Laura's the girl that Zack and another of his friends is in love with. A third friend is in love with Rebecca. I'm waiting for the kindergarten class to go through sexual harassment training. It looks like they might need it.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Perfectly Normal

There's no hiding the fact that this week was awful. It was wretched. This week was a brand-new toothbrush dropped in a toilet that hadn't been flushed. It was a total waste.

The worst part is, there was no good reason for this week to be so bad. Nothing went particularly haywire. I was about medium-level busy, nothing too stressful. I cried at the drop of a hat, though. I dragged sloth-like through every day. I would think I was fine, then find myself completely flipping out from some minor thing. Before you ask, no, this had nothing to do with my time of the month, and be glad you weren't in the same room with me when you asked that question. No, there was, I repeat, NO GOOD REASON.

Yes, folks, welcome to the latest episode of Emily The Depressed Mother, the continuing saga of a previously normal person and her horrifyingly good life. Watch as she yells at her son for being three minutes late! Hear her lecture the neighbor kid for chewing with his mouth open! See her mood zoom back and forth so fast, it's like she's Venus AND Serena. The ratings for this show are abysmal, but it's in no danger of being canceled - this is the only show this station airs. Talk about your bad reality tv - give me The Bachelorette any day over this junk.

I'm fortunate enough to have a few regular viewers. Ryan, of course, can't avoid me and my issues for more than a few hours at a time. (Maybe that's why he wanted to build an office in the backyard. Hmmm, it all seems so obvious now.) I also have two friends who I share all of the ups and downs with. I am so grateful to have these three in my life - the people I don't have to pretend to be normal in front of, because they know me well enough to see through it.

Today I thought I was fine, until some plans fell through and I absolutely lost it. I lost it with a ferocity that surprised even me - a reaction completely out of proportion to the situation at hand. At that point, I had several options: 1) I could pout and mope and sulk, 2) I could try to go about my day, in a semi-normal fashion or, 3) I could go hang out with my 2 friends and let them cheer me up. All logic points to option 3 being the correct answer; after all, even if I sat at my friend's house and sobbed quietly in the corner it would still be better than doing the same things at home.

I decided on option 1 followed by option 2. Why would I purposely neglect the one thing guaranteed to make me feel at least marginally better? Well, for one thing, I'm depressed - depressed people aren't known for their logic and rationality. Second, don't underestimate the attractiveness of a good mope. There is something so comforting about crawling into bed and lying there, ignoring the world and your children and your responsibilities, focusing on feeling sorry for your poor, pitiful self. Woe is you! It's like eating an entire bag of cinnamon bears - it's ragingly unhealthy, bound to make your feel even worse than before, but when you think that's the one thing that will make you feel good, you do it anyhow. Fortunately, moping won't give you a stomachache.

After my mope (and it was a classic mope - if there were moping competitions I would have swept the floor with this mope) I took Darcey out to lunch. Yes, I could have driven to my friend's house and eaten better food for free while Darcey played with her friends, but instead I took her to Coney's where she is currently dripping vanilla custard onto my ipod while she watches Spongebob and I write this entry longhand. As much as my husband and friends love me, I realized that the one thing I wanted today was to be treated like I was totally normal. Even if I acted completely normal, the people who watched or listened to me crying a mere hour ago would be tainted by that experience. I wanted to be viewed as a regular person, albeit an unshowered person with puffy eyes and no eye makeup, neglecting her two year old while scribbling on a notebook like a stay-at-home mom version of Ernest Hemingway. (Not that I'm comparing my writing to Hemingway's, mind you, just the potentially erratic behavior.) So if you could consider that normal, that's what I was. I was incognito, but instead of hiding my identity behind a red wig and stilettos a la Sydney Bristow, I wore my "Don't mind me, I'm just a regular Joe" disguise. Nope, no issues here, I'm just one of the folks. It's refreshing, being someone I'm not and having people believe it, even if it's just the kid scooping ice cream and all I've done to earn my title of "normal" is not cry when I placed my order.

I'm feeling a lot better now. I don't know if it's the change of scenery or the ice cream or the faux-normality or the doctor's suggestion that I double my dosage. Maybe a magical combination of all of the above. I think I'm going to bring my fake normal identity home with me. Yes, it'd be way cooler if my alter ego was really a spy working for a black ops branch of the government and I could kick people's butts and have rock-hard abs and no one would dare have sympathy for me, because of the butt-kicking. But I'd settle for normal. I'm down the street from a Barnes & Noble; I think I better test out my "normal" skills by going there and buying something without crying. Maybe a few things. You can send the bill to my alter ego.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Quick Link To Happiness

Going along with my last blog entry, here's an author's blog that might interest some people. The book is called The Happiness Project and it's actually the next on my list of books to read. (Currently I'm reading "The Geography of Bliss" by Eric Weiner about finding happiness in other countries.) In The Happiness Project, the author spends a year exploring things that are purported to make people happy. At this website, she invites people to join her in your very own happiness project. If your goal is to be happier this year, this website might help.

(Special thanks to my sis-in-law Kim for leading me to this website.)

Friday, January 1, 2010

Resolutions For 2009

I am not resolutionary. I love making goals as much as the next person, but I am reluctant to hitch my wagon to the New Year's Resolution star. Resolutions are known for their quick abandonment and feel faddish to me. Setting myself up to fail, even if I'm in good company with the rest of the United States, still hurts. Besides, I'm sure I'll achieve plenty of things this next year that won't get the attention they deserve. So instead, I like to take a more optimistic view of resolutions and announce the list of resolutions I should have made last year.

Resolutions For 2009

1. Get my Associates Degree, after five long years.

2. Write a novel. Immediately put the novel in a dark, secret place where it will never see the light of day, but feel confident that I can do it again, and probably better the next time. Still feel proud, even if no one will ever read it.

3. Redecorate my bedroom. Make it cozy and comfortable and pretty - like a hotel room, but with my own pillows. Feel a burning desire to redecorate the rest of the house to match.

4. Go on a vacation all by myself. Realize that airplane rides are SO MUCH EASIER with no children. See old friends and my hometown and spend quality time with my grandparents. Come home a little more balanced, like "Emily" regained space previously lost to "Mom." Vow to do this again, frequently. Also go on a road trip to California with my parents and a vacation to Walt Disney World. Vow never to go to Florida in the summer ever, ever again.

5. Enjoy watching Darcey enter her Princess phase (about 4 weeks after she went, obliviously, to Walt Disney World). Watch Ryan come home from the grocery store or Walmart or wherever with random princess books and toys that he "had to buy her" because it would make her so happy. Little did he know that every time he bought our princess something, he was making me happy, too.

6. Enjoy watching Zack get a little more mature, entering kindergarten, playing with his gang of best friends. Appreciate his good night kisses, cuddling on the couch, and sweet affection.

7. Enjoy watching Noah and Brad becoming good friends. Marvel at how fast they are growing up, Brad is 12 already and Noah about to turn 9. Appreciate having a built-in babysitter in Brad and a responsible and fairly level-headed boy in Noah. Realize that as much as I might complain about any of my kids, they all are actually the best kids I could ask for.

8. Enjoy watching Ryan relive his childhood fantasies by buying a Stormtrooper costume. Appreciate his unconditional support when things have been tough for me, and realize that as independent as I am, I need him. He makes me a better person and I wouldn't have as full a life without him. Try to follow his supportive example while he recovers from an emergency appendectomy, with mixed results. Vow to try harder in the future.

9. Learn just how much I need good friends. It's a lesson I thought I had learned before, but friends take on a different meaning when life gets hard, which it did for me this year.

Despite the year's challenges, I still think that 2009 was a good year. Last year I hoped that I would be less cynical and more optimistic, which I think I achieved. I also expected to continue my daily gym habit and accompanying weight loss, which I did not achieve, and in fact, went the opposite direction. I'm hoping to get back to that, although I'm not going to consider it a "resolution" per se, more of a renewal of old habits. I even attempted to go to Weight Watchers on the 28th, trying to jump the resolutionary gun, but wouldn't you know they were closed for the holidays all week! How do they expect me to pass myself off as one of the regulars and not a January newbie if they're closed this week? Humphf.

This year has made my ideal 2010 look quite simple. The only thing I really want is to be happy and for my family to be happy. Not giddy, over-the-top excitement all the time, just a peace and contentment that despite everything that might be going wrong, everything is somehow going to be okay. Serenity, a calm in the midst of chaos. I don't expect life to get measurably less complicated - I can't control all that stuff that happens and makes life hard. Instead I want to focus on my internal world, and try to find ways to keep that as stable as possible. Also, I want to recognize good moments when they happen, instead of only noticing the bad moments. And I want to improve my spiritual side, my relationship with God. I think all of these things combine to make for a happy life, and that's what I want.

So that's all I want, and I don't think that's asking too much. Although if I also happened to start exercising every day and eating right and losing 20 pounds, I wouldn't complain. I just won't call it a resolution.