Like everyone now, my days are overfull and too long. I got pneumonia in November, and with the holidays and lack of sunshine, regaining any sense of energy and purpose has been difficult. By the time I’m cooking dinner I am exhausted and — looking at a to do list that is definitely not doing to get to done – slightly demoralized.
Quite often at this time, my 15yo will check in with me.
“How is your day going, mom?” she asks. Her voice, when she talks to me, is high pitched and soft, the voice she might use with the dog, or a young cousin. She slides up close, and stops to wait for an answer. It’s a real question. It’s never “how are you,” it’s not “how was your day,” it’s “how are things right now?”
Anyone who’s parented a typical teen knows that it’s a joy just to see signs that your adolescent is going to make it through this somewhat narcissistic phase as an empathetic, thoughtful person after all.
Beyond that, however, I appreciate so much her careful turn of phrase.
How am I? Tired, discouraged, frustrated, irritable
How was my day? Disappointing, overwhelming
How is my day going? Well, right now, I’m just making dinner. I like making dinner. I like my kitchen, I like food. I like Brussels sprouts with chili paste or red rice congee, and I like anticipating my family happily digging in. So right now, my day is good.
Or maybe I’m working on a homeschool transcript for DDs arts high school application. So right now, I’m impressed with the both of us. I’m listening to music I like. I’m having some good memories about books we read, conversations we had, snuggled up on the sofa with a blanket and a puppy.
Right now, if I keep my focus tight, my day is good.
Many years ago I took a long course on Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book Full Catastrophe Living. We learned walking meditation, sitting meditation, full body check-ins, mindful eating, resilient ways of thinking. As you might expect from the book title, many of us were coping with long-term challenges: physical or mental illnesses, difficult relationships, or just lifelong habits that sucked the joy out of life. Each of us ended up in that class because we wanted very much to learn how to live contentedly in the “full catastrophe” of life.
It was so long ago I remember very few details of the book, but one of the participants summed up his takeaway from the class in a phrase I never forgot.
He said: “What’s so bad about breakfast?”
The point, you see, was that he found himself fretting or feeling down throughout the morning, so he tried repeatedly to bring himself back to whatever he was doing at the moment. “What’s so bad about taking a shower?” he would ask himself. “What’s so bad about getting dressed?” he might say later. And rushing through his oatmeal he might stop and say “What’s so bad about breakfast?”
You’re not going to find that one on any motivational posters or yoga tote bags.
But I understood it instantly and found myself saying it over and over. Where I could never proclaim affirmations with any sincerity, I could say wholeheartedly, “what’s so bad about breakfast?” or lunch or dinner or any other daily event and immediately recollect that in that moment I was OK.
“How is your day going?” takes me there too. Sometimes what’s happening in that moment is that I’m stuck on a problem or sad about a mistake. And that’s fine. But more often than not, because that’s how life is, my day is made up of things that range from neutral to not bad.
It’s true I can ask myself that question anytime, but it’s so sweet to hear it from someone else, someone who asks softly and stands still and looks in my face, waiting for me to form an answer. More often than not, that moment alone is enough for me to say, “right now, my day is good.”