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How Is Your Day Going?

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.

Some things never change

Some things never change

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.”

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Homeschool Stereotypes, with extra cheese

We are well into a school year here, one child at a public charter, one doing a complicated dance familiar to those homeschooling high school: a class at community college, a class at a local high school, some “classes” with mom and dad, some tutors and clubs and activities, and some fevered creative activity all alone.

We’ve been required to interact with the General Public much more than normal. Wait, that’s not quite right. We’re always interacting with the General Public. What’s new is that as we’ve joined some different educational circles we’ve had to circle back to the “oh, you homeschool!” conversations that seemed to fade away after a few years.

Look at us being outside, like people!

Look at us being outside, like people!

It happened again during an awkward conversation with a parent at my older daughter’s confirmation class. It’s a very hippie, liberal church – not the one we normally attend—and the woman looked like one of several veteran lefty-granola homeschool moms I’ve met over the years. She was one of those talkative people who have a habit of finishing the sentences of reticent speakers like me, with the intention of being friendly and engaged.

Sentences like “As a homeschooler my daughter hasn’t really . . .”
“ . . . been around diverse groups.”

No, that’s not quite what I was going to say.

“We’ve been homeschooling so long that . . .”
“ . . . she’s not comfortable in a classroom.”

Well, for better or worse she’s been in classrooms throughout our homeschooling experience, so no. Not that.

It was all fine and certainly people are far too busy to know what homeschooling is like if they don’t have a reason to learn. But it was an amusing reminder, again, that many people who otherwise seem simpatico have very interesting, mostly misguided, ideas of what homeschooling is about.

I was pondering this while making dinner and listening to my younger daughter – the one in school – talk about an upcoming party we are hosting for her classmates. It’s a pretty funky charter school, but to Victoria it is as institutional as she has ever experienced. The kids are nice and smart, but they’ve had six years of a lifestyle totally alien to her.

Which brings us to the pizza order.

My youngest is a very social person. She wants to make friends, and she wants to make them happy. She worries about making a good impression. And so, she told me, we could not order our usual pizza. We order from a small local shop down the street, sometime a Greek-style vegetarian, sometimes sausage and onions, sometimes BBQ. It’s a cool place, with tattoo-themed branding, possibly because all of their employees seem to be covered in them. Nevertheless, it is a step or two up from typical pizza chains.

This kind of pizza, my daughter was thinking, would be too much for the quotidian tastes of her classmates. White-bread, middle-of-the-road plebes would probably prefer Dominoes, she reasoned.

I cannot stress enough that my youngest child is one of the sweetest people on earth. She is not snobbish in her behavior or speech, and she has been a champion of inclusiveness in her classrooms this fall.

Nevertheless she has reached eleven years of age with some interesting, misguided ideas about non-homeschoolers. I can’t take any credit for her sweetness, so I won’t take too much responsibility for her strange notions about philistinism and vulgar taste in pizza when it comes to public school children.

We negotiated to a different local pizza chain that apparently doesn’t signal as much “urban homeschool hipster” (note to self: child may have career as sociologist and/or advertiser). We spent a little time talking about being yourself and not making assumptions about others.

The rest I assume she will eventually figure out on her own, like she always has.

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Listen to These Mothers

So I’m doing this thing that is not very like me. It involves:

1. Leaving the house
2. Meeting strangers
3. Telling a somewhat personal story in front of a very large group of strangers

This is the thing: It’s called Listen to Your Mother, and it is women talking about motherhood in all kinds of ways.

And if you are like me, when you first hear this idea you would be thinking “If I wanted to watch Hallmark Channel meets the O Network, I would get cable.”

Luckily I first heard of this idea last year, when two friends of mine, Kelly and Jeanne, participated in the show. Over the course of many weeks I got to see them talk and post and blog about their amazing experiences. (As it happened, due to some Standard Issue Catastrophe I didn’t get to see the actual show, though I have seen Kelly and Jeanne on YouTube.) Curiosity and longing for a similar peak moment overcame my initial skepticism, so I submitted a story, and auditioned, and now here I am, in the cast of the second year of Listen to Your Mother—Twin Cities.

The author, desperately seeking a decent headshot

I say I overcame my initial skepticism, but I must admit, while I trusted my friends’ glowing reports, I could not imagine exactly how the magic would work.

Tonight we had our first read-through as a group, and I will tell you, it works.

One woman tells a story, and you think, “Oh my gosh, that is an incredible story!” And then another woman tells a story, and you think, “Wow, that is fascinating.” And then the next woman tells a story, and you don’t want to cry, because you are not that kind of person, and yet there you are eyeing the Kleenex box because you can’t help but be moved by her experiences and her honesty and her hard-earned wisdom.

We’re arranged around the table in order of how we might read at the show, and looking around I could see that this is a solidly Twin Cities group of ladies. From the outside we do not look particularly diverse, and we look incredibly ordinary. But then people start talking, and suddenly this woman who looks like a hundred other women jogging the lakes or driving car pool tells a story of shattered expectations or profound loss. Suddenly, every ordinary woman is concealing fascinating, brave, funny, and uniquely true stories that belie our everyday appearance.

The first read-through made me so excited to get people to the show, so they can hear what I heard. It also made me look forward to getting to know these people (strangers!) who are carrying around amazing stories, to ask questions and be surprised all over again.

Even more, it made me want to go to the grocery store or the mall and just look at the women there, mothers or daughters or both, and simply recall that each of them has a story—many stories—that I will probably never hear. Not that I’ll go anytime soon, because that would entail leaving the house again. But I want to remember that feeling as long as I can, nonetheless.

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