Whenever my boys and I sit down for dinner together, we jumpstart our conversation with something we call “three things.” It’s pretty straightforward. Taking turns, we go around the table and share three things about our day. (Tip: when I first started doing this I met with some resistance but quickly discovered that if, rather than saying, “Really? Nothing? Come on!” I said, “No problem, your brother can go first,” the boy in question was possessed of instant recall.) Very often my day proves to be the most boring. But during the writing of Wishful Thinking, I always had at least one good thing to share. I was writing a novel full of topics I cared about, spending hours each day researching and thinking about them. What could be boring about that?
I was thinking about how to tell people about this book, aside from just telling them its premise, and it occurred to me that Three Things might be just the thing to do. So I’m giving it a try. In this scenario I’m acting like I have three children—each representing one of the major themes of the book—and letting each of them tell you three things over dinner. First comes a quote from book itself; second and third follow an illuminating, interesting, or just plain fun thing I found on the same topic.
From Wishful Thinking: The main character of Wishful Thinking, Jennifer Sharpe, is a divorced working mom struggling to stay afloat. Here, in the thick of a typically frustrating day of trying to do everything and feeling like she’s failing miserably, Jennifer composes an email to her best friend imagining the mythical Super Woman who does it all—and comparing herself to her with predictable results.
Somewhere there is a woman, Jennifer typed, who woke up this morning before her children did, practiced ashtanga yoga while standing on her head in a sweat lodge, showered and shaved her legs, prepared gluten-free pumpkin pancakes to usher in the fall season, and got her children and herself to school and to work on time. I, on the other hand, woke up in a sofa bed with an empty bottle of white wine rolling around under it, fed my kids breakfast bars on the train, and got to work so late I almost missed a meeting I didn’t even know was happening.
As some of you know, I have been writing “somewhere there is a woman” posts on Facebook for awhile. What they are about at heart, of course, is the feeling so many people I know have that while we are doing everything we possibly can, we still fall short. And guess what? That feeling that is reinforced by looking at Facebook. Ironic!
Overwhelmed: How To Work, Love And Play When No One Has The Time by Brigid Schulte is out in paperback this month. Buy it! The best part about this book, which I read in two days because I was obsessed with it, is that it doesn’t just tell you all the depressing things about work and life that you already know about our out-of-whack, two-weeks-vacation-is-subhuman, why-aren’t-we-Scandinavian country of ours. It tells you things you don’t know, or at least that I didn’t, and seeks out and showcases people and workplaces making change…like, no shit, the Pentagon.
Thing One. The idea of being able to spend unlimited quality time with her children thrills Jennifer at first…but soon certain realities sink in, like the fact that if she’s around all the time, her boys will expect her to play infinite games of Mousetrap.
“Did you know Grandma made me have quiet time every day after school?” Jennifer asked the boys. “And did you know that parents never used to play with their children? Like in Little House? Mary and Laura don’t ask Ma and Pa to play with them. Can you imagine?”
“We know, Mom,” said Julien. “But we don’t live on a prairie. We live in an apartment building. We can’t go around looking for animals and Indian beads. We can’t even go alone into the elevator.”
Have you read All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood? As the book jacket says: “Thousands of books have examined the effects of parents on their children. In All Joy and No Fun, award-winning journalist Jennifer Senior now asks: what are the effects of children on their parents?” I loved this book, and it was often on my mind as I tried to imagine how Jennifer would actually feel about doubling or tripling the amount of time she spent with her kids. (I find no joy in playing Mousetrap. But I do think Seven Wonders and Settlers of Catan are super fun.) This NPR interview with Jennifer Senior is a great listen. And if you use this link to buy the book, you can support NPR, too. Who knew?
Do you think making plates with your kids will bring you joy? I’ve done it with my boys and I’d go as far as fun. (I confess I, not the boys, drew the ones pictured at the top of this newsletter, but my kids did make the ones below.) Check out MakIt plate kits here.
Jennifer often thought wistfully of a day a year before when she had proclaimed it “family sick day” and the three of them had played hooky at home and made couch forts and taken a three-hour walk along the Hudson in the sun. You couldn’t schedule that kind of time as a Wishful Thinking appointment—the kind of time you can find only by losing track of it.
Tara Brach. This woman changed my life. My therapist introduced me to her book Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With The Heart Of A Buddha, during a very difficult time in my life, and I credit it a great deal for my healing. But it has been listening to her podcasts that’s given me sustenance, perspective and succor in all the years since. (I even sometimes listen to her meditations at night with my boys.) Brigid Schulte quotes her in Overwhelmed: “Sometimes it’s as if we’re racing to the finish line our whole lives, skimming the surface and never dropping into life, as if life is a problem to be solved rather than a mystery to be lived.” Yeah. Wishful Thinking was partly inspired by Tara’s teachings—in the end it is about acceptance, and presence, too. Many of us are two places at once even without the app, rushed and distracted. I wanted to help my main character, Jennifer, see that, and by helping her help myself to remember it, too.
Andy Goldsworthy. My eight-year-old son came home from school and said, “Mommy, we have to watch this documentary called Rivers and Tides.” You have to watch it too. After we watched—Goldsworthy is a sculptor and environmentalist who creates works from, in, and of the land, and many of them are as ephemeral and changing as nature is—we went to Prospect Park to have an Andy Goldsworthy day and together we made this. Which is what I will leave you with: