Cleaning Up My Act

Why does cleaning the house feel so damn good?

Why does cleaning the house feel so damn good?

If you are anything like me, you love when your house is clean.  A clean house to me has always been synonymous with serenity, a sense of control over my surroundings and well-being. When the house is a mess, I feel like a mess. But why?  And why sometimes, would I rather clean up than do things that are fun?  What would happen if I just let it all go to hell?

I hear lots of my friends and fellow suburbanites saying that they can’t do A, B or C until the house is picked up.  It’s as if the house has a pull that directly conspires to keep you from doing things that you want to do.  Except…many of us actually would prefer to do housework than do things like spend time with our children.  In Jennifer Senior‘s new book, “All Work and No Fun:  The Paradox of Modern Parenting,” she states that in our incredibly busy and achievement-oriented society, we are easily bored with things like helping with homework and reading a story.  Instead, we are playing a script in our head of what we can do next to tick off our to-do list.  Women, the ultimate multi-taskers, are particularly guilty of this.  While we highly value time spent with our children, it is not as directly satisfying as scrubbing some toilets.  I know, that’s fucked up.

So some pretty reputable psychologists have actually studied this phenomena and it’s fascinating what they have discovered.  In particular, with our levels of cortisol.  Cortisol is a hormone secreted by the adrenal glands in response to a variety of factors including stress.  Doing something active, something with your hands such as gardening or cleaning is known to be useful in alleviating depression and effectively lowers cortisol levels.   For dual income husbands and wives, this particular study looked at cortisol levels in response to having to do housecleaning after a day at work.  The results found that women spent more time after work doing housecleaning tasks while the men did more leisure activities.  The women’s cortisol levels only dropped when the men helped out with the cleaning.  But get this, the men’s levels only dropped when they were engaged in leisure AND when the women were busy doing the chores.  Okay, I get it.  Housecleaning is laden with heavy work and heavy expectations.  But does it have to be that way?

While all this is compelling, I still wonder why sometimes I can feel like I am in a goddamn reverie when I am cleaning.  Maybe it’s because I feel like there is so much out of control in my life that just getting that one room clean or that one pile folded or that one bed made feels like a mini-accomplishment.  Maybe it’s because my grandmother raised us to believe that a clean house reflects well on you, often exclaiming, “this place looks like a whorehouse after a fight!”  Maybe it’s because I am sensing forward movement where sitting at a computer or in front of a television feels stagnant.  Maybe it’s because my mother was and is the tidiest and most organized person I know and I feel like I can never fully live up to her dazzling spectacle.  And, yes,  maybe sometimes I am avoiding something I don’t want to do like paperwork or talking to my kids about sex.  Can I talk to them about sex while I’m mopping?

But I also find that I do some of my very best thinking when I am cleaning, particularly in an empty house.  It feels like a meditation, really.  Meditation is about shutting out the world and going in.  When I am cleaning, I can do that.  Attending to the small things in life:  getting out an ink stain on my husband’s shirt, sewing a button on my daughter’s pants, cleaning the windows to let the sunshine in, enjoying the fresh smell of clean sheets while making my bed, finding a lost bracelet while vacuuming under the couch.  These, to me, are not moments devoid of meaning.  They are actually fulfilling in simple and unexpected ways.  Look, life is busy and hectic enough.  But paying attention to the small things is how we show love.  At least that’s how I think of it.

How do you houseclean your life?

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The beautiful photos are the work of Barbara Paulsen.  Her house is always clean.

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How Did I Get So Lucky? (Psst-you did too).

I'm thinking about my good fortune, and how I can help balance the scales.

I’m thinking about my good fortune, how others may not be so lucky, and what I can do to help balance the scales.

Let’s face it, life is pretty darn good.  Most days my biggest complaint is that my kids are bickering.  Not hunger.  Not lack of water.  And something deep inside me feels intensely guilty about that.  Having been raised with fundamental ideas about justice, this seems to fly in the face of everything I know.  Living with a 9 year old also who precisely recognizes fairness also makes me feel disproportionately well off.  Like when she asks, Why does that man have to live outside?  After quietly whispering *shit* to myself, I open my mouth and hope the right words come out.

My favorite journalist/writer is Nicholas Kristof.  He writes for the New York Times and co-wrote Half the Sky with his wife about how the mistreatment of women in the world is the central moral issue of our times  (I know, you already love him, too).  His contention is that when we see large amounts of sick, war-torn, disenfranchised, powerless and victimized people, we retreat into being overwhelmed and go into shut-down mode.  But if we see ONE person, one child maybe, we can access our compassion more readily.  And that’s what I’m trying to do.  What a lot of us are trying to do.  Feel compassion, act on it and quit feeling like shit that I live in a nice house and drive a nice car and live in a free country.  Damn it.

When I look around or talk to my friends, I can often see them doing the suburban dance.  Meaning, they are busy, busy, busy.  Me too.  Guilty as charged.  But I wonder sometimes if the reason I am doing it is to somehow make it alright that in comparison to many folks out there, I have won the fucking lottery.  If I slow down, if I say “no,” if I take a break and enjoy some down time…does that mean I’m not grateful?  Does it mean that I am somehow keeping myself insulated from suffering?  That people will think I don’t care?  That I am preventing the proverbial other shoe from dropping?  Of course not.  But that is sure as shit how it feels.

Still, it’s tough to reconcile the good fortune so frequently seen in the suburbs compared to those in other parts of our country and the world.  SNL hilariously put this into focus with White People Problems.  Sometimes, don’t you hear yourself saying shit and going…umm…really?  That’s what you are complaining about?  Some that I have heard recently are:  depressed dogs getting Prozac, lack of weekly recycling service, needing to clean out the refrigerator because there is too much food in there, being inconvenienced by red lights and where to build the new vacation home.  Now, I am certainly not immune to this kind of complaining.  After all, I did have to stop and get gas on my way to yoga while I was not working or taking care of children.  What a pain in the ass.

For me, the best way to balance the scales is just to give.  Not necessarily money, just giving.  Spending an afternoon at your kid’s school.  Volunteering at the Food Bank.  Walking around the neighborhood and picking up trash.  It’s not hard to find need.  But what is hard is knowing your limits and when you are done.  And frankly, this is where a little self compassion comes into play.  You know, take some oxygen before you give it to the kids.  If you aren’t sure how you rate on self compassion, there’s a great quick quiz here to try.  Most of the time, I can forgive myself for messing up.  For not being the best listener.  Or being impatient.  Or just plain being selfish.  But, with Martin Luther King Day coming up on Monday, I hear his words in my ear:  Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, “What are you doing for others?” And then I remind myself.  He didn’t say “now” or even “weekly.”  He didn’t even say how.  That is up to you.

When my daughter asked me at age 6 why our souls were born here and not in a place that was at war (think the Congo or Afghanistan), I didn’t know the answer.  I still don’t.  But maybe I don’t have to know the answer ( I am much better at asking questions than giving answers anyway).  I don’t always feel this way.  But when I get that nagging sensation, I know that it’s time to go spend some time folding and sorting clothes at the outreach.  It’s time to share in some community writing.  It’s time to go to the zoo with the kids class.  Whatever the reason, I’m here in the suburbs.  Living, sharing and raising some young humans.  Bad things can happen.  But I can do some good.  It’s time.

Do you feel lucky?

Thanks to Barbara Paulsen for the sweet photograph.  I am lucky to know her.

 

In my pajamas and loving it!

Pajamas, if done well, are the bomb.

Pajamas, if done well, are the bomb.

There is something so lovely about being in your pajamas.  So warm and cozy.  So comfortable.  And if you’re in the mood, even sexy.  Pajamas, for me, are an expression of the real me.  Sometimes you just want to change into a person that doesn’t have to worry, obsess, work out or wear makeup.  And that person wears pajamas.

Some of my best work is done in my pajamas while holding a cup of coffee.  Cleaning the house.  Writing.  Talking on the phone to my besties.  Giving my dog a belly rub.  Pajamas are an outer reflection of inner peace.  Even the act of opening the cabinet door to gaze at my pajamas is part of the ritual.  We live in a stressful world that is constantly yelling at us.  BE A BETTER PARENT!  MAKE MORE MONEY!  LOSE WEIGHT!  DO SOMETHING MEANINGFUL!  Alternately, when I look at my pajamas, all they say is relax.  They look at me in their soft cotton way and say, bitch, chill out.  Whatever is causing your mind to race is easily cured with a little cutesy pattern that feels like a fuzzy fur stuffed animal.  Now that shit is calming.

To me, coffee completes pajamas.  But it's not 100% necessary.

To me, coffee completes pajamas. But it’s not 100% necessary.

You see, for me, and for many of my suburban cohorts, pajamas are the one thing at the end of the day that can activate our parasympathetic nervous system (PNS).  It’s the peaceful part of your autonomic nervous system- the opposite of that fucking sympathetic nervous system that always has you on high alert, sending you running to the wine cabinet and screaming obscenities.  The PNS restores us to balance after a stressful events, when we are safe and perceive ourselves as out of harm’s way.  It works to decrease heart rate, slows your pulse and allows natural digestive processes to occur.  In other words, I see my pajamas and everything feels okay.

Now, there are exceptions to this rule.  You know the ones.  They wear pajamas to pick up their kids from school (*note* morning drop off in your car is exempt), grocery shop, go to the mall and Starbucks, among other suburban locations.  This is disheartening.  You do not have to subject your dentist to your bright yellow Sponge Bob pajama pants.  Pajamas are a little like vampires, they don’t like being exposed to the light of the real world.  They lose their power when exposed to such daily trivialities and subsequently relegate the wearer to “laziness.”  There are societal conventions we all abide by:  you wear a bikini to the beach but not to work.  You wear a cocktail dress to a formal party but not the gym.  We all have to follow these rules, and when you decide to say “fuck it” and wear your pajamas in public, well, frankly, it ruins the glory of pajama-wearing for the rest of us.  Get your shit together and choose your daywear accordingly, please.

Even designers have been rolling out some pajama-themed frocks on the runways lately.  Everyone wants to be comfortable and it’s about time that someone figured that out.  But pajama-like designer clothing?  Save it for your house, people.  No one wants to see that.

One exception which can be really fun is to get together with friends and have a good old fashioned sleepover or movie night when you wear your pajamas.  It’s super fun to hang out with the girls and drink wine and watch a chic flick while rocking some footies or flannels.  Nothing says friendship like hanging out in your shlumpies.  Having recently done this with friends, I highly recommend it.

Life can be busy and hectic, even when it’s awesome.  Don’t wait until bedtime to put on your pj’s!  Put them on after dinner and don’t take them off until absolutely necessary to do so.  You’re welcome.

What are your favorite pajamas?

Yes.

Yes.

Photo of coffee mug courtesy of Barbara Paulsen.

First image from Etsy.

Report Cards Are Coming Home Today

Ready to get schooled.

Ready to get schooled.

Here we are again!  Ah, the glowing lights, the familiar carols, the cookies.  But a different kind of treat comes along at this time of the year.  Something I used to dread:  report cards.  Now and at the new year, how would it feel if someone was grading me in all my subjects? How would I be doing?  What would my subjects even be?

Well, obviously I’d be taking a health course of some kind.  Given my natural inclination toward mind-body and helping, I am sure I would be acing that shit.  But not so with lots of American moms.  Over the last few decades, we have gotten more sedentary and less active than in past years.  According to an article by Melissa Healy of the Los Angeles Times, our lack of movement is causing our kids to become more obese.  Not only do we do less housework (not fun but burns a mean calorie), we sit in front of the tv far more often.  The study authors conclude that moving your ass is an “absolute prerequisite for health and wellness.”  As a physician, my husband bemoans the fact that so many common ailments could be treated with exercise, not drugs.  I don’t want to raise couch potatoes.  Plus, I hate the idea of being all creaky and out of shape.  My grade:  A-.

For the sake of our family, I am taking a lifelong financial course. This stuff does not come easily to me, and I need all the help I can get.  If it weren’t for my financially savvy husband, I may have gotten myself into some serious debt by now.  And I wouldn’t be alone.  He helped me understand how valuable it is to save, and hopefully, prosper.  The kids are getting schooled too.  They have their own checkbooks, savings accounts and allowances.  They have to keep track of it all on their own.  But for the grown-up stuff, I am utterly and completely bumblefucked.  I cannot speak coherently on topics ranging from money markets to 503B’s to the stock market.  I also spend in a haphazard way that could certainly use some tuning up.  For homework, I signed up to take an online course on investing.  Eek, I feel out of my element.  My grade:  B.  Okay, B-.

Currently, one of my favorite subjects is community.  We all know that fostering social connections helps to lengthen your lifespan, avoid depression and improve your general happiness quotient.  However, in the winter months, particularly in the upcoming months after the holidays are over, it’s easy to hide out in the house when it’s dark and gray outside.  We have also made a commitment to have happy hours at our house on a semi-regular basis to keep the friends in the same room.  It’s amazing how just those brief little get together’s help with the isolation of winter.  For me, writing and meeting new people help keep the desire to bury myself under my covers at bay.  It would be great to form a dinner club or something along those lines but right now that feels a bit overwhelming.  After the holidays.  Maybe.  My grade:  B+.

One subject that I am doing fairly well in is keeper of the family.  You know the one.  You are in charge of photos, establishing traditions, recording memories, collecting recipes, organizing schedules, ordering what needs to be ordered, grocery shopping, keeping track of hair/dentist/doctor appointments…The list goes on and on.  While managing to keep this ever-growing file going, I do drop the ball occasionally.  And when I do, I am reminded frequently by my children.  Sometimes I think they actually enjoy when I mess up.  Although I haven’t put the scrapbook together for the last 3 years (okay 4, maybe 5), I know where everything is and I just have to get my act together and do it.  Unfortunately I don’t get a study hall to work on this stuff.  Maybe I’ll apply for an internship!  My grade:  B+.

In the “taking time for myself” class, I have managed to surpass all expectations.  With girls trips planned and executed over the last year, time with my friends has been a necessary diversion.  Getting some alone time, it’s taken me awhile to learn, is also essential to the well-being of not only me but the whole family.  I need “buffer days” if I’ve been working a lot or if we’ve been travelling.  Others have ways to deal with the hectic pace of life, but a cup of tea in a silent house is a great way to rejigger the chaos.  Along the same lines, my husband and I have carved out more time to be together for quick dinners or beers when we need it, which is weekly.  Our kids are now able to be on their own for short periods (if my hands weren’t on the keyboard they’d be clapping).   My grade:  A.

Parenting class has it’s highs and lows.  Some days I wonder how I ever thought I could do well in this course and I have definitely pulled lots of all-nighters.  Sometimes I wish I had an advisor I could go to, but even if I did, I probably couldn’t make the office hours.  There are times I feel totally competent, rolling and grooving, like I am kicking this thing’s ass…and then…I’m a complete failure.  I mean, can I get any extra credit here?  The tests feel like they come every day:  friendship troubles, teaching gratitude, handling disappointment and hardest of all…being a good role model.  The biggest surprise, I suppose, is that two little creatures can serve so often as my teacher, instead of the other way around.  Like you, I get it right a lot.  And wrong.  But the essence of me is always that it matters to me more than anything in the world.  Anyway, I wish someone would give me a grade since it seems impossible to give myself one.  But in the meantime, I give myself a B.

Ah, fuck that.  Make it an A.

What courses are you taking?

Yeah.

Yeah.

Top photograph by the A+ photographer Barbara Paulsen.

Bottom from jumpingwithmyfingerscrossed.com.

Answering the Questions

I'm thinking about how some of the questions you ask in your youth can reappear later on...

In the suburbs, we question…

So my husband and I were talking as we were drifting off to sleep, as we often do.  He said something about how odd it was that all the big questions we had as our younger selves, well, they’d all been answered.  He said it with a hint of sentiment, like maybe there were no big questions left.  You know the big questions of your story: Who will I marry?  Who will my children be?  What will my career look like?  Where will I live?  Who will my friends be?  and the biggest big one… Who am I?  So I got to thinking, I’m only 45.  I can’t have answered all my questions yet.  Or have I?

Maybe in your twenties, like me, you dreamily thought about who it was that you would marry.  Husband, wife, partner, lover:  Who would it be?  And when that question was answered, and the flowers faded and the music in your head stopped playing…20 years later…were they really the one?  Some of us answered yes and are still enjoying a growing and evolving partnership (because as we all know, it changes).  And others of us found out that the glass slipper was actually the wrong size.  But I think in relationships; whether spouse or partner, new or old, we still have to ask ourselves some questions.  Am I the partner I want to be?  How can we work together when times change?  How can I be the best partner I can be?  What goals do we both have?  What can we both do to get it right?  The questions aren’t the same.  Hell, they’re not as sexy as they once were either.  But they remain, even though firm thighs, uncolored hair, smooth skin and pain-free days may not.

Ah, then those dreams of your children.  They laughed, blond and blue eyed, one boy and one girl, adequately spaced apart with no allergies or faults or ugliness of any kind, as they ran through a field of wildflowers.   They were virtually perfect, innocent, without a whisper of sarcasm or dissent.  They had no need for technology of any kind and their thoughts were purely aspirational and altruistic.  In fact, you armchair parented on many an occasion, judging the parent with the screaming child and the unruly hair.  Your parenting would be so good, so fucking exemplary, that your children would be well rounded individuals with perfect SAT’s who never talked back, never rejected foods you prepared, hurt another person’s feelings or had bad breath.

Then your children came.  And your questions were answered.  Mostly.  But, as with marriage,  the questions continue.  Who is my child?   What kind of person does my child want to be?  How can I get out of the way and help him/her get there?  and the last question…I’m not even shitting you…Who will my grandchildren be?  Zowie!  

In your twenties, did you make assumptions about your career and where you would be now?  Like, I was “never” going to go part time to raise my kids.  Not to mention (heaven forbid) switching careers after investing 10’s of thousands of dollars on an education.  (For our kids, it will be 100’s of thousands.  Just sayin’.)  I am fortunate to have a job that I still find rewarding even after close to 25 years of practicing.  I am one of the few.  Some of us keep reinventing ourselves in a different direction over and over again.  Some of us keep getting beaten down by the same asshole boss in the same shit-eating company and yet we stay put.  Some of us are climbing the ladder, grabbing the brass ring and pulling in some major coin.  Others, content to be in the non-profit world, give of ourselves in lieu of a hefty paycheck.  Whatever your career has brought you, it is no doubt different from what you had in mind while you were drinking a beer bong and making out with that guy, what was his name again?  The questions are different now.  What is my career and what is my calling?  What feeds my soul vs. what feeds my family?  What is my vocation and when is my vacation?  You may just find you have a choice after all.

Who your friends were and where you lived in your twenties may be very different than today.  And then again, they may not.  For me, I got the itch for the west coast after a couple conferences I attended made me yearn for mountains and a more laid back lifestyle.  I thought I’d come here to live for maybe a few years, then go back home.  Turns out, this is home.  Yesterday was Thanksgiving and we were fortunate enough to spend it with some great friends.  Did I miss my family: my new niece, my hilarious older sister, my precious mom, my insightful younger sister?  Yes, of course I did.  I thought of them all day.  But I also embrace the family I have made, the connections that deepen every day and the choices which brought me here.  Our house, built in 1950, has a litany of idiosyncracies, too.  Creaky floors.  Lots of knotty pine.  Low ceilings.  A dripping roof.  In spite of it all, it holds inside the sturdiest of beams, the firmest of foundations and the truest of hearts.  Is there another place which is better for us now?  Who is our community?  Can we afford to stay?  Home is where you make it.

Lastly,  the question of who you are.  More often than it should, we ask ourselves who we think we are.  Really, the answer changes constantly, that is, if you keep moving.  Who you are today is not who you were a year ago or who you will be a year from now.  And that’s how it should be. To feel alive, it seems to me, there are more questions than there are answers.  Then living is the answering.

I'll never stop asking "Who am I?"  The answers are endless...

I’ll never stop asking “Who am I?” The answer never ends.

What questions are you answering?

Thanks as always to Barbara Paulsen, from whom all beautiful photos emerge.

WHY IS EVERYONE YELLING??

Is this you?  Or are you the one she's yelling at?

Someone had a little too much caffeine before school  drop off.

Is it just me or is there is a lot of yelling going on?

Just this past month, I have become hyper-aware of some unseemly goings-on in my town related to disgruntled, irate and unfortunately loud suburbanites.  Now, I consider myself a relatively subdued, somewhat sensitive and emotionally available person so these encounters always leave me a bit shaken.  But I’m sorry, is a parking ticket really worth blowing the head off the meter reader with your stream of vitriol?

It started off with a trip to the soccer field!  Isn’t this always the case?  Miss So and So is perfectly lovely while volunteering at school functions and sipping wine at the latest social event, but get her babies on the soccer field and all bets are off.  No sooner had we arrived at the field than she was loudly stating her opinion that the refs were “incompetent” and “retarded”  (by the way, did she not get the fucking PC memo stating to never use that word anymore?).  Mind you, the refs are volunteer players from high school leagues trying to further their skills and knowledge.  By halftime, she was screaming at them calling them all kinds of names, her husband desperately pulling at her arm in an effort to cool her off.  Clearly, this woman had never played a game of soccer in her life and she was yelling at these young people informing them of their sheer ineptitude.  Ah, the irony!  By month’s end, we had received an email from the league to please show respect for the refs, demonstrate good behavior for our children and reminding us that the refs were human, and were going to mess up some calls.  Have we really gotten that entitled that we have to be reminded that we all make mistakes?  Sheesh.

Next, what is it about cars that makes even the shyest and most awkward person more willing to flip the bird than any other place?  Cars have become moving beacons of rage for the uncivilized of us, blanketing our roadways in the remnants of our busy, messy and stressed out lives.  My friend was attempting to pick up her daughter from carpool and apparently made some sort of error that bordered on murder because soon enough she was being berated by a woman who had rolled her window down to yell obscenities.  Don’t get me wrong, I am all for obscenities, but frankly I prefer my “shits” and “fucks” to serve a common good.  My friend left so dejected, almost in tears, fearing what she had done and replaying the event to try and understand what happened to inspire such an outpouring of anger.

It’s well documented that when you yell at kids, you change their brains.  They become desensitized to the shouting and so each time you get angry, and begin to yell, you raise the threshold from where they begin to pay attention to you.  When you are unable to regulate your emotions, you can’t teach your kids to regulate theirs.  So maybe you’re a yeller, that’s just who you are.  Alright.  Then balancing the yelling with loving acts and sincere apologies for when you have lost your shit; well, that works.  It’s okay, Suzie Screamer.  Just don’t tip the scales with crazy.

When you are yelling, and your freak flag is flying high, that is when your brain is experiencing helplessness.  You are very much out of control.  Often, anger and sadness are co-mingling in your rant stew.  What happened to you earlier, how you were treated, mistakes that you made are all serving to make your anger worse.  When you are even keel,  your feel good neurotransmitters, dopamine and seratonin,  are in adequate supply.  If you get stuck in a long line to return a pair of shoes, you can take it with a smile on your face even though you are irritated.  But if you haven’t slept well and your kids are whiny and you’ve gone negative on your checking account, then that customer service rep may just get a verbal shanking.  In addition, your amygdala-that little emotional center in your brain-may hijack the prefrontal cortex (hello, reason!) in favor of a full-on tantrum.

The good news is that, even as you age, your brain can change.  It’s call neural plasticity and it means we can all change if we want to!  Yey!  But, wait.  It’s really fucking hard to do.  You have to practice, over and over, what you want to happen.  In this case, “yellibacy.”  It means you make a commitment to not yell.  Of course you will, and you will fail and try over and over again.  Just like stopping anything else that’s become a bad habit.  Remember that yelling is a protective response and we all do things to protect ourselves.  Even things that wind up hurting us anyway.

And, so.  Why do you yell?  Your answer will be different than mine.  Maybe it’s because that was the culture of your home, it’s how you were heard.  Maybe it’s because you don’t know what else to do.  Maybe it’s because you feel the disappointment in yourself for failing at being the perfect parent.  Whatever the reason, cut yourself some slack.  I think of a story I read about in yoga.  It says that people yell because anger pushes their hearts far apart, even though they may be standing face to face.  And when we whisper, it’s because our hearts are so close.  And when we are silent, our hearts don’t need words.  They just know.  Next time you feel the need to yell, remember how close you are to the heart that you want to listen.  And dial down accordingly.

Rumi, you are the shit.

Rumi, you are the shit.

What makes you yell?  Does it make you feel bad afterwards? Does it make you uncomfortable when others yell?  Oh and please don’t CAPITALIZE YOUR EMAILS.  IT FEELS LIKE YOU ARE YELLING AT ME.  Thanks.

Top image from streetsblog.net.  Bottom image sensoryspectrum.com

Control Geek

You gotta go to this salon.

You gotta go to this salon.

Last weekend, this really cool thing happened.  My kids had been trying, for like a month since our anniversary, to have a “spa day” for my husband and me.  We kept putting them off.  We’ve got soccer today.  You need to get your homework done.  I’m too tired, etc. etc.  A lesser set of kids would have given up, but no, they kept at it.  And we finally had our spa day.  The day (not even a day, an hour!) that they had meticulously and sweetly planned.  You’d think I would be looking forward to it.  But no.  I winced at the thought of it.

What’s wrong with me?  Why can’t I just stop doing the laundry (dinner prep, dusting, cleaning, organizing, etc.) and enjoy the gift my kids are desperately trying to give me?  Why can’t I allow them to do this incredibly thoughtful thing?  Well, the only reason that I can come up with is not one I am particularly proud of.  I like to be in control.  Now I am not too keen on the control freak lingo.  It makes me sound fucked up and I’m not.  (But a geek?  I can totally geek out on neuroscience and pop psychology and yoga.  So yeah, “geek” is better.)  Besides,  a true control freak manipulates, pressures and is empty in a spiritual way.  I just want it to go my way.  Like, all the time.

Is this you?

Here in the suburbs, there is a lot of shit to do.  And worry about.  We have to do the carpool tonight.  Your friend found out her asshole husband is cheating on her.  You walked into your son’s room and mistakenly thought a bomb had gone off in there.  You have a deadline, a PTA meeting, a cold sore.  Your to do list varies from call the plumber to make an appointment to renew your anti-depressant.  Damn, it’s no wonder you’re feeling a little overwhelmed!

In your brain, the neurotransmitter dopamine is released when things are clicking and going your way.  You know, your kid got an “A” on his report card, someone told you that you looked good in those pants, you got out of the house this morning without yelling at anyone…you get it.  This neurochemical makes you feel good in the wake of these often unexpected good tidings.  But then, when things aren’t going your way, those neurochemicals (your friends:  neurepinephrine, oxytocin and seratonin) stubbornly do not release.  This is when you feel out of control.  This is when you feel powerless.

But wait!  Good fucking news!

There are other ways to open the feel good neurochemistry floodgates.   You actually do have control over your neurochemistry!  First of all, you could go straight for carbs.  That will do it.  Just don’t OD on them, you’ll only feel worse.  I personally recommend a slice of bread with butter.  Delish.  (*note* not five slices, just one).  Sadly, with carbs, the seratonin boost is short-lived.   If you want a boost that lasts longer, choose sex.  An orgasm.  That’s a surefire way to get your brain in a good mood.   Husbands:  you’re welcome.

Get a double whammy and go outside to exercise.  The light combined with aerobic exercise are known ways to increase seratonin production.  Also, hugs!!  Not a quick one, it has to last like up to 10 seconds for oxytocin to do it’s thang.  Positive social interactions also support your brain in a myriad of ways.  This means happy hour with friends to some.  To others it means bible study or book club or a sports bar for the game or quilting club.  Whatever floats your boat, but it has to be something you look forward to, not dread.

News flash!  You do not have control over your life, your child’s life or your spouse’s life.  You do not have control over whether your neighbor cleans up his yard either.  But it is up to you to make space for happiness, for quiet moments and for getting deep.

So when your kids have a spa for you, let go of your to-do’s.  Yes, the manicure is a little messy.  Yes, the hair stylist hurts you when she brushes your hair.  Yes, the massage therapist does this awkward poking-like hand motion.  But it all feels good anyway.

Because you let it.

Are you a control geek?

I'm in the process of getting over myself.

I’m in the process of getting over myself.

Above image credit:  growingandserving.com