Deciding to be Content

A search for emotional peace will likely succeed much faster if I start looking somewhere in the vicinity of contentment.  Scriptures hint at contentment as the secret of peace.  Motivational speakers protest contentment as  the path to complacency.  I think the answer lies somewhere inbetween; in the wisdom of changing what you can, accepting what you can’t, and knowing the difference.

Living in Michigan was a twenty-three-year-old’s choice for an entertaining 5 years.  Committed to being a California girl, hanging out in the Midwest for a while sounded adventurous.  Of course it would have to be Michigan. Who could possibly keep their sanity living farther than two hours away from endless water?

Fourteen years later, I still haven’t figured Michigan out. 

The cold:  wearing layers, obsessively talking about weather, men who think that houses should be kept at 62 degrees, companies that think stores should be kept at 80 degrees, schools that think that every room should have a different temperature, and finding out it’s the principal’s job to create individual temperature habitats for every employee.  Not to mention everyone’s eagerness to be hypnotized and paralyzed by the word “snow”. 

The culture:  In a single day, I can drive to up to five  distinctly separate worlds – Downriver, Detroit, Northville, Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti, and Royal Oak.  Now that I’ve started to keep friends in each of these pockets, I have to keep a cheat sheet to know if I’m supposed to be hip-hopping and blinging, singing country, wearing Chanel, exercising my political right to criticize, or choosing my words carefully and hiding from my students’ parents. Sure, California has distinctly different feels and cultural textures all over the state.  I just can’t drive to them all in a day or find a larger group of similar looking people spreading themselves out over such a wide range of attitudes.  

Living in Michigan is nothing I can change.  Every day I long to see my family, be warm all the time, hear and speak Spanish regularly, plan to be outside and never have the weather cancel my plans, take in the smells of agriculture and the mountains and the ocean. 

Accepting what I can’t change is a huge component of peace.

Indeed, I have come to be content.  Michigan has something over California.  Yes, every Midwesterner’s greatest trump card.  In any conversation.  It has seasons.  For 10 years, I pretended they didn’t exist.  But over the past four years, I have grown with and been comforted by the seasons.  Like every Michigander, my life now fits around a pattern of behaviors and activities that align with the seasons.  Flowers, decorations, foods, sports, yardwork, complaints, and conversations are uniquely assigned a season.  And there is something deeply peaceful about the routines, rituals, and variety. 

This picture shows the kind of seasonal irony I now anticipate.  The blanket of snow as a backdrop for my favorite flower:  the tulip.  I am so grateful that tulips are in season (a.k.a. sale) at this time of the year.  It reminds me that the snow is about to leave and the spring flowers are right around the corner.  There is no other sight that brings me such an endearing and affectionate feeling toward Michigan.

In the end, Christian is eternally grateful he was born in Michigan, NOT California.  Because this way he “gets to grow up with snow”.  And that is really all that matters.

Tiger Mom II

After a week of justifying, rationalizing, and excusing my own behaviors as a parent, the Tiger Mom standard finally broke me.   On Thursday.  While I would never condone intentionally orchestrating adversity for my son to work through, I admitted that I could probably be doing a lot more to teach him responsibility and work ethic.  And, like the average mother would do, I set up a rigorous schedule to account for every weekend moment with Christian:  93 minutes permitted for computer games, 47 minutes of reading, 62 minutes of working around the house, 32 minutes of outside snow play, 45 minutes of karate, 45 minutes of swimming, 29 minutes of trampoline jumping.

Or, at least I started to, and then I checked myself.  How often do parents swing to extremes to improve or correct their own failures at parenting?  Is it that Christian really needs to go from no schedule to every minute scheduled?  Or am I overresponding to relieve my own guilt?  I believe the latter is true.  Ironically, parenting isn’t the only area in my life that I operate in extremes.  I tend to skip and leap around life and I miss so many of the steps between.

So, I practiced moderation.  We got on our snow pants, coats, and hats and went out to play in the snow.  And he helped by collecting our firewood for the night, cleaning up after himself, and taking care of what he needed.  That was enough movement in that direction for one weekend. 

Tiger Mom

In this picture are loving displays of laptop computer games, X-Box controller, Garfield showing in the background, and Christian's favorite book. Don't overlook the trampoline, where we have our movement break..

I’m not sure if it is possible to be a Tiger Mom to a son.  But, I’m pretty sure I am not even close.  In fact, the closest I may have come is making Christian copy down his own cheat codes for his video game or making him earn his Dark Orbit money.  

But, it does make me wonder what kind of mother I would have been to a girl.  I imagine that I would have been hard on her.  I am generally intolerant of anything that I consider to be female weakness, anyhow.  Among female weaknesses, I include helplessness, dependency, and sensitivity.  Among males, I raise an eyebrow at evidence of laziness, neediness, or inaccuracy.

Maybe the difference between raising a male and female is my recognition and tolerance of the early formation of these traits.  I definitely know what they look like in a girl at any age.  Somehow, I have an intense need to protect my son’s ego.  I ignore the subject altogether.  Maybe that’s just the chemistry of mothers and sons.

Finding an Emotional Foundation

There is no way that the sight and sound of my son wouldn’t trigger the pain of knowing that a six-year-old child and his three-year-old brother were not given the opportunity to develop and grow.  If I could upload a picture of our student, taken the day before the tragic event, I would.  It would break anyone’s heart. 

But, it is my son that carries the key to my emotional future.  And here, as I look at this picture, I am reminded of how contemplative he is.   How much do I know about what is going on in his head?   The price of self-absorption is my child’s chance to develop and grow to his or her potential.  How much of my work robs us of our relationship?