A Love Poem for Azalea
August 10, 2010 · Posted in Buddhism/Parenting, Parenting, Toddlerhood · Permalink · Comments Off on A Love Poem for Azalea

by Bethany Saltman


Sitting on our deck in June,
you are surrounded by green
as if it comes from you, this outrageous life
of grass and sun and sprinklers, and the combination
of all three, plus you, marking this territory as divine, this funky cedar
table and these rotting benches, some burgundy pansies, spindly, drying up, in a too-small pot,
the entire effect just off enough to make it ours, and not someone else’s.
And your body, too, is real, bruised down the shin, elbow scabbed,
dried blood in a little chunk just above your ear, an old bug bite hidden in the depths of your hair,
so soft, so yours, so tendriled from all this humidity.


Watching you bite into a tomato sandwich
with mayonnaise and salt, it is like I am the one who has arrived.
That is one way I love you, and it.


This morning I woke up and heard a bumble-bee
pass my window. I thought of Emily Dickinson and how
much I love to be alone in a room with wooden furniture,
and how sometimes I worry about it.
How can I care so much about two things?

Instead, I lifted my body from sleep, feeling the length of these mountains,
the depth of my longing, the unlikely-ness of being alive at all.

Maybe some day you will rise like this, too.
And you will remember how to look in any direction for yourself,
the creek at the bottom of the hill, the owl calling out in the night,
and you will gather whatever shape hope takes into your hands,
offering every mistake, every good thing, into the curtain-calmed morning light,
releasing something, who the heck knows what it is, and giving it up
for good.

This poem first appeared online in Chronogram Magazine, June 28, 2010.

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Mindful Shoe Shopping-I Mean Parenting
July 22, 2010 · Posted in Buddhism/Parenting, Parenting · Permalink · Comments Off on Mindful Shoe Shopping-I Mean Parenting

A friend/colleague and I were window shopping and strolling up Broadway. We were commiserating about how hard it is to stay centered in the parenting trenches. A veteran meditator and psychologist, she talked about a class she teaches in mindfulness and parenting. Mindfulness is a moment by moment practice of trying to stay present, grounded, strong and aware. Practicing mindfulness allows people to truly experience their life, avoiding the waste of time ruminating over the past or worrying about the future. The practice helps people make clear, kind and healthy decisions.

We happened to pass a great shoe store and laughed that we should go in and practice mindfulness in the service of buying shoes! So with a few boxes in front of us, we began.

Step 1: Take a comfortable seat and get grounded. Check.

Step 2: Breathe deeply in and out and find a calm, relaxed breathing pattern. Check.

Step 3:  Observe. Check.

Hmmmm. The brown high heels with the laces, or the black wedgies? Brown? Black?

Step 4: Scan your body for sensation.

I wobble in the dangerously high wedgies. I take a few steps in the laces. They feel a little tight. I ask for a 1/2 size bigger and my feet feel comfortable.

Step 5: Let your heart speak. I sit. I breathe. The awesomely fierce wedges or the perfectly fitted, brown, quirky heels. A deep breath in and out and my heart chooses… The brown with the laces!!!!!!

So if you are faced with a similarly serious dilemma, use these same steps as you consider your options. For example, you walk in on your two children crying and one has a truck held high in his hand. Observe, breathe, consider your options. Scream? Separate them? Yank the truck? Timeout for the truck yielder? Comfort to the crier? Don’t react until you find yourself  in a calm place. Let your heart speak. Comforting the crier wins!!!!! Mindfulness is so helpful, be it sandal shopping or disciplining your children. It’s a way of being that puts you in the driver’s seat of your life.

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The Truth, It’s Dizzying
July 8, 2010 · Posted in Adult Children, Buddhism/Parenting, Relationships · Permalink · Comments (1)
by Bethany Saltman
I just finished reading Andre Agassi’s memoir, Open. I loved it because it is actually a fascinating memoir, and also because in the 80s I had a big crush on Agassi, so it was almost like reading about an ex-(fantasy) boyfriend. Growing up, though, I had no idea how tortured he was, or that he had dropped out of school in ninth grade, or that he, in his own words, “hated tennis.” I had no idea he was suffering so terribly, doing drugs, destroying himself, but looking back, that certainly explains why I found him so attractive.
Another thing I had no idea about was the fact that Agassi was driven by a ruthless father who was determined to raise the world’s number one tennis player. It’s not like I had ever really considered Agassi’s childhood before, or pondered how such a talented tennis player comes into being, but there was something about the absolute power his father had over him that was, in fact, surprising. Comforting? Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like I am catching a parenting vibe these days that cautions us not to think that we are actually having an effect on our kids. Like, sure, go ahead, knock yourself out, but just remember that in the blink of an eye our sweet little “Look, Mommy, Buddhas are everywhere!” babes can turn into the neighborhood dealer, depressive, garden-variety A-hole, or much, much worse. And of course, ultimately, we have little or no control over what will happen to our children, or the kind of karma they come into this world carrying with them. And god help us all, it’s the most heartbreaking work in the world—to cultivate sincere intentions, make mistakes galore, and then not attach to any result. But sometimes I feel like we forget just how much influence we really do have on our kids. Or, more to the point, I deny how much influence I have over Azalea. And fancy this: in a good way.


Here’s an example. One of the things that we have been wrestling with lately is kindergarten. For now I would like to set aside the complex and fraught socioeconomic/political details of public v. private school, and just say that the questions concerning Azalea’s education, and whether or not we would even entertain the idea of sending her to a private school, brought up a wave of such deep confusion in me it was actually stunning.

As I have mentioned here before, I grew up in a pretty hands-off house. Grammar school…please…I just walked there, suffered alone at my little table, then walked home. Middle school? Were there books in that building? In high school, I won my one award for anything in my whole life, ever, in Mr. Martel’s Biology class: Most Talking During Filmstrips. I wasn’t even planning on attending college until my even-then professorial friend, Stephen Jost, who spent senior year slumming it with me in the back of Mr. Norris’s English class, said, “B, you should go to Antioch.” Lucky for me, Antioch was a truly “self-selecting” institution, meaning—if you want to come here, and you are not currently in rehab or jail, welcome! After my first semester, which was a continuation of my hang out, smoke, read, and resist life, I plugged into something new and found myself wandering around the beautiful 1850s Ohio campus, holding my head, wondering, Woaaaa, what’s that strange sensation? And then it hit me: This must be what learning feels like. And what do you know? I kind of like it!

Where were my parents during all this?

This article first appeared online in Chronogram Magazine, May 26, 2010.

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What’s So Hard About Having a Baby?!
May 13, 2010 · Posted in Buddhism/Parenting · Permalink · Comments Off on What’s So Hard About Having a Baby?!

by Bethany Saltman

Pregnant women and/or their partners often hear an annoying refrain from new parents. It goes something like this: “Enjoy that nice meal now, because soon you’ll be eating sucked-on Cheerios off the floor and calling it dinner. Going to a movie, huh? I remember those. Marriage? Romance? Time with friends? Spiritual practice? Ha! Maybe when the kids get into college….” In other words: Get ready to kiss your life goodbye. When I heard this encouraging bit of advice, I often thought, geez, what’s the big deal? People have been doing this for a really long time….What’s so hard about having a baby? It’s been a year now since Azalea was born. Some of what people said has turned out to be true. Mainly: Everything has changed. And I am mourning that sense of autonomy that we, as privileged people, are used to. It’s also true that I eat a lot of crap off the floor. And I don’t see many movies. But Thayer and I have been lucky to have a baby who responds very well to routine and has come to accept and even thrive from her 6pm bedtime (what a trooper), so we get lots of time together in the evenings. And I do manage to sit regularly and have even done a couple of sesshins (retreats). I think the scariest realization is that these things don’t mean much anymore, or at least not what they used to. My practice—as pared down as it is—is utterly necessary, not so much as a means to answer the sophisticated spiritual questions that had been burning in me, but to keep myself from going completely insane. The rest—movies, socializing, dinners out? Whatever. A) I could get a sitter if I really wanted to, and B) As nice as seeing “Dream Girls” in the theater would be, it wouldn’t really touch what is really so hard about having a baby. So what is it? First of all, a word about hard: To me, pushing boulders uphill, now, that’s hard. Having a terminal illness: very hard. Losing someone you really love: impossibly hard (how do people live through that? I hope I never find out). Marriage: sometimes hard, sometimes easy. Seeing my mind create difficulty: most of the time hard, occassionally not so hard. I make things hard (hard, hard, hard—it’s getting trippy, I know). The baby is just a baby. So that’s the Zen perspective. What’s hard is me, as they say, getting in the way.

So, with that in mind, the times where I get huge and clumsy, thus, making having a baby “hard” are the times when I really feel like I need things to go my way, and they can’t because the baby has her own way. More specifically: the baby is a chaos machine. I don’t like that. One bit. I prefer things to be organized, clean, and focused, and when I say prefer, I mean with my whole body and mind prefer, like that’s what I have done with my entire life up and until now: get things together, pull myself into myself, focus on “very important things,” which has indeed been hard, in the conventional sense, but nothing compared to trying to contain myself and be someone when I am two people, and one of us couldn’t care less if she has Tofu Pups in her ears, socks slipping down into her shoes (God help her), or graham-cracker dust in her bed. She doesn’t get embarrassed that she doesn’t know how to get herself out of her highchair, or that there are two l’s on the end of “ball”. And, hopefully, if I can heed her implicit advice and relax, she’ll stay clueless for a long time. Relaxing: also very hard.

This article first appeared online in Chronogram Magazine, January 10, 2007.

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Detachment Parenting?
April 6, 2010 · Posted in Buddhism/Parenting, Fatherhood, K-5 Kids, Parenting, Preschoolers · Permalink · Comments (3)

VelcroStripsAttachment is a parenting “buzz” word.  Detachment is a Buddhist one. The combination of both is the dynamic duo of raising children. The western definition of attachment is a connection, a deep desire to care for, protect and be a part of someone’s life. It is the foundation of healthy emotional development.  Yet, attachment in the Buddhist lexicon has more negative connotations.

Attachment is like a craving. We hold on tight to ideas or things with the false belief that they are unchanging. We attach to moods, emotions, and phases as if they are constant and everlasting. This explains why we are blindsided by change, hopeless when things feel hard and get overly invested when things are going swimmingly.

Here’s an example:

Your child has been sailing into the classroom so far this year and says goodbye with a confident wave. You become “attached” to this phase and behavior.  The inner dialogue is self congratulatory, and you are flying high on the pride and gratification that comes from having an independent kid.

After your vacation, you walk into the classroom that first day back and your son is whiny and clingy. He doesn’t want you to leave. Your heart is pounding, your face is flushed, you worry “What’s wrong with him?” and “Why is this happening?”  Simultaneously you feel angry, truth be told, because your clingy, whiny kid is embarrassing. You finally peel him off and spend the rest of the day feeling sick with worry.

Detachment, in the Buddhist sense, means you have a separate observing ego talking you down off the ledge. The observer reminds you that all things must change, that being resistant to going to school is as common a phenomenon as loving to go–maybe even more common. The detached observer is not detached from your child, actually you are more tuned in because you are staying calm. Using detachment, you are caring for him by not escalating anxiety to the point where he believes that feeling hesitant to go to school one morning will become a major problem for his mother and therefore, him. Detachment approach helps you calm the choppy waters of your internal world so that your response is not reactive but helpful.

Don’t think for one second that this comes easily. Cultivating an attitude of detachment takes practice, practice, practice.  I wish I had this perspective twenty years ago when my kids were small. Since there is no lack of opportunities to practice detachment when you are raising children–by now, I might be at monk status!

Thank goodness it is never too late to start. The muscle of attachment/detachment in it’s wonderful east/west combination becomes stronger the more it is used. You are more grounded, less reactive and a much sturdier rock for your kids to rely on. So maybe there’s a movement here, “Detachment Parenting”?

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Mistakes Are Our Teachers
March 9, 2010 · Posted in Buddhism/Parenting, Fatherhood, Parenting · Permalink · Comments Off on Mistakes Are Our Teachers

mistakes-happenFirst time back in yoga class in five months. The shoulder tear I incurred had me in pain and out for the count for quite some time. I settled into a seated position as we chanted a Sanskrit sentence that translates to “Birth is our teacher, Life is our teacher, Death is our teacher.” Guru, the word for teacher in the chant, really means the removal of darkness to see light. The teacher talked a bit about how life, and our mistakes, are our Gurus. They remove some blindness, some darkness, and something becomes clear, illuminated, something learned, movement happens.

Good timing. The shoulder tear was my mistake. Pushing myself, denying my age – not listening to my body. The teacher had said to me “you can just stay where you are” as I continued to bend backwards. Inside I responded like a four year old stamping her feet. “I WANT TO DO THIS!”  A moment of satisfaction and pride quickly turned into an MRI and five months of pain.  So much for side plank into full wheel!

Five months later, overjoyed to be back in class, I felt grateful of my mistake. I had learned (again) how ego leads to pain, learned patience and respect for the healing process, and learned to be kind to my body instead of feeling angry at it for not performing.

In parenting, we constantly worry about doing “the right thing.” The mistakes we make – too harsh a tone, disciplining when comfort is needed and comforting when discipline is needed, all the many things that feel so not right are our teachers. If we pay attention to our actions and try with all our might not to beat up on ourselves, we grow, we make adjustments, we apologize.

What better lesson to model and teach our children. Harmony, disharmony, repair. That’s the best we can do.

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Anna Karenina’s Kid Went to Daycare
February 11, 2010 · Posted in Buddhism/Parenting, Caregivers, Parenting, Work/Family Balance · Permalink · Comments (1)

kramskoi-neizvestnaiaby Bethany Saltman

Ok, so it wasn’t daycare—it was a governess. And yes, I know Anna threw herself beneath a train and died, so it’s probably not going to help my cause to be comparing myself to her. But wait: Tolstoy, the original family man, believed that Anna loved her son so much that she was afraid to divorce her dull, mean husband for the fabulous (-ish) Vronsky because the kid’s life would be ruined. In the end, she was so tortured by having to choose between her son and her lover that she couldn’t take it anymore.

But Anna is no super-mom. Far from it. This is how Anna feels coming home from some lovely evening out as her son runs to greet her:

“Her son, like his father, produced on Anna a feeling akin to disappointment. Her fancy had pictured him nicer than he was in reality. She had to come down to reality in order to enjoy him as he was. But even as he was, he was charming, with his fair curls, blue eyes, and plump, shapely legs in tight-fitting stockings.”

My point is that EVEN Anna—depressed, obsessed, tragic, not exactly playing on the floor in stretchy bottoms—is portrayed by someone I respect as a loving mother. And I—nursing, feeding, playing, sure, a bit melancholy, sometimes down, but mostly pretty present, but sending Baby to J’s for home daycare 20-odd hours a week so I can teach, work, write, be alone, run, do this—feel totally guilty and shamed by the world (notice I said “feel,” not “am”—I don’t actually believe that everyone is scorning me, well, maybe a little).

The last couple of weeks I have been on break from school, and had this idea that I should not send Baby to J’s since I wasn’t technically working. For the most part she went as scheduled, but boy, did I pay for it in anguish. Turns out I worked my ass off—beating myself up is a full-time job!

This morning I dropped Baby off in my running gear, all ready for when I returned home. On the drive there I was prepping myself, wondering if I would lie if J asked me casually if I was going for a run. Would I say that I already went, embarrassed that I would do such a thing while my child in is the care of another? What kind of woman must I be?

She never asked.

This article first appeared online in Chronogram Magazine, January 15, 2007.

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Oh My Goddness! A Dispatch from Planet Princess
January 14, 2010 · Posted in Buddhism/Parenting, Toddlerhood · Permalink · Comments Off on Oh My Goddness! A Dispatch from Planet Princess

tutu-7by Bethany Saltman

When Azalea announced that she was going to be a spider for Halloween, I was thrilled and relieved, as if our family were being spared the princess thing for one more year. Unfortunately, our little town’s Halloween parade took place an entire week before October 31. So when Azalea figured out that there was another opportunity for dressing up on the horizon, she made no bones about it: “I don’t want to be a spider for the real Halloween. I want to be a princess.”

When I was a little girl, of course I wanted to be a princess too. Or at least treated like one. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting to be an uber feminine, royal, even magical being. But princesses aren’t what they used to be, not since Andrew Mooney, chairman of Disney marketing, sniffed out the perfect way to hook little girls (and their moms) by launching a whole new brand called, simply, Disney Princess. Even Azalea who lives in a home without a TV, or Cinderella anything, and has watched Snow White once, halfway through, is vulnerable to the princess pandemic. When we go to Target to buy a pair of sneakers or sunglasses (or, alas, a princess dress the night before Halloween), and I find the plainest, least branded items I can find to offer her as choices, she sees all the princess paraphernalia in the background and, like a good little puppy, can hear the high-pitched call.

Andrew Mooney is psyched, but nonchalant: “We simply gave girls what they wanted, although I don’t think any of us grasped how much they wanted this. The counsel we gave to licensees was: What type of bedding would a princess want to sleep in? What kind of alarm clock would a princess want to wake up to? What type of television would a princess like to see? It’s a rare case where you find a girl who has every aspect of her room bedecked in Princess, but if she ends up with three or four of these items, well, then you have a very healthy business.”

Healthy, and how! In 2000, when Mooney was hired, annual Disney sales were around $300 million. Five years later, after he launched the Princess line, Disney was raking in $3 billion a year. That’s a tenfold increase! Clearly, something primal is being tapped into. A desire to be loved? Beautiful? Passive? Honestly, I’m not sure, but$3 billion dollars worth of whatever it is going to add up to some seriously widespread (and monotonous) gender conditioning.

I know that compared to some families, we may seem kind of fruity, or a little precious. And lots of seasoned parents like to razz us for all our intentionality, for thinking we actually have a hand in Azalea’s fate. I get it, and as much as I do understand that you can’t sequester a child from “reality,” I am not ready to completely give in to Mr. Mooney’s, or any other corporate sponsor’s version of that reality. In terms of the princess thing, clearly what a lot of parents say is true: It’s a phase! They’ll grow out of it! Indeed, there aren’t a lot of grown women walking around in taffeta, toile, and tiaras. But that’s missing the point. I admit that I think Disney stuff is supertacky and I just don’t like it. But what feels worthy of a little old-fashioned resistance is the way the Princess Industrial Complex takes advantage of and gives life to little girls’ fantasies. Offering all the products, theme parks, games, and getups makes their trip to the Magic Kingdom so real that a) kids’ imaginations are bound to become less active, and b) the message that life is always fancy may be difficult to let go of as they grow up and are confronted with the ordinariness of the world. And what else am I supposed to be doing as a parent if not helping guide my kid through her environment and her own mind? It’s not a good idea to make mainstream culture some kind of forbidden fruit, but we’d be crazy if, as parents, we didn’t offer some alternatives when we can.

Princesses aren’t the only game in town.

In one of the most well-known Mahayana Buddhist sutras, “The Holy Teaching of Vimalakirti” (the story of a famous layman who fell ill and was visited by all the Buddhist dignitaries— human and celestial alike), a goddess appears and has an exchange with one of the great bodhisattvas of all time, Reverend Sariputra. Even though the Buddha’s official word on the topic was that women could realize enlightenment, the Buddhist tradition, like any other, has its share of misogynist views and adherents. After the goddess displays her magical powers in several impressive ways, Sariputra, who believes that only men can experience true realization and is thus baffled about why she is still in her second-class female form, asks her, “Goddess, what prevents you from transforming yourself out of your female state?”

The Goddess answers, “Reverend Sariputra, if a magician were to incarnate a woman by magic, would you ask her, ‘What prevents you from transforming yourself out of your female state?’”

To which Sariputra replies, “No! Such a woman would not really exist, so what would there be to transform?”

“Just so,” the Goddess answered. “All things do not really exist.”

She went on to change Sariputra into a woman, which took him by surprise and helped him realize the emptiness of every single thing, including gender.

Kind of the opposite of what Mooney’s princesses do.

Every day, Azalea wants to be someone new—either someone from a book she read, or a movie she watched, or a made-up name from the recesses of her imagination: A-kalea-shina. Even though sometimes it feels a little dissociative, not to mention irritating when I am trying to communicate with my daughter and she refuses to respond because I forgot to call her “Lucia” or “Sofia” or “Mei,” I know that it is her imagination at work, her experiment with reality, her version of shape-shifting a fundamentally empty identity, which is very cool. And if at some point, by osmosis, she learns the names of the Disney princesses—Snow White, Mulan, Aurora, Jasmine, Belle, Tiana, Arielle, Pocohantas, Cinderella—and wants to manifest their princess form, that’s cool too. The point is that by avoiding the onslaught of Disney details, she may be freer to actualize her own version of Snow White.

And who knows? Maybe Snow White isn’t so chipper all the time, cleaning up after all those thwarted little men. She may actually be a powerful goddess who, as Vimalakirti says, “can live wherever she wishes on the strength of her vow to develop living beings.”   

This article first appeared online in Chronogram Magazine, December 1, 2009.

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Tired but Happy
January 6, 2010 · Posted in Buddhism/Parenting, Parenting · Permalink · Comments Off on Tired but Happy

by Bethany Saltman

This morning Thayer and I slept in until 7. Again. We had stayed up late working. Again. Since Azzie is going to sleep later — between 7 and 8 — she is waking up later, thus, so are we. She is so totally in charge. But this morning, in Thayer’s fog, he said he was tired. But happy, he said. Tired, but happy. It was so cute. And it’s so true.

Right now, my Mt. Tremper comrades are in sesshin — a week-long silent meditation retreat. These retreats used to be the cornerstone of my life, not just my “spiritual life” but my life, period. I would like to sit more, no doubt about that, and I wish my altars were cleaner. If wishes were fishes. Something is happening to me. I guess it’s just change. I dreamt last night of one of the monks at the monastery who confided in me that we are a lot alike, that we both struggle with the same things, which in waking life, I have always suspected was true. But in the dream it was so nice to feel that connection, even as I feel so, so far away.

We recently returned from a vacation with my in-laws to the Caribbean. In many ways it was lovely — the sun, the beach, the company, the time away, and in many other ways — the snowstorm, the cancelled flight, the marble floors ripe for cracking baby skulls, the vomiting, the night waking — it was a total nightmare. But the thing that I keep thinking about is the day I came back from my facial (I know, poor me). As readers can easily imagine, we are raising Azzie in a total bubble — no tv or videos, no sugar, organic cheerios, you get the picture. Absurd, I know. And even though it may seem like all I do is blog and obsess and work a bunch of jobs, I actually spend the majority of my time parenting — if not actually hands-on parenting because I am at work or whatever, then thinking about it, conceiving of it, trying to work on it in some way. What is best? How do we deal with X? What comes next, is she happy, is this working, etc. etc. In other words, even when I am not physically with my girl (who, by the way, is now saying MAMA, usually in tandem with a big girlish hug), my eye is always on the ball, and what a lovely ball it is! So you wouldn’t imagine that letting down my guard for a couple hours would matter. Well.

So when I got home from my facial, I walked into the house we were renting and Daddy, Grandma and Grandpa were all so happy, so was Azzie, and why shouldn’t she be?! All chilled out in her high chair with a sippy cup of Gatorade, watching a some bizarre baby video. Cat! Cat! She was saying. My jaw dropped.

The point: NOT the video, NOT the Gatorade. Control. I don’t have any. That’s the point.

That night, Thayer and I sat out by the pool and looked at the stars and I told him that I realized why Daido, our teacher is such a control freak. When you love something so much — the dharma, your baby, your farm animals, whatever — you are the only one who can take care of it. Truly, you are. And yet, the world lives, too. And it finds its way to us. And hopefully we are awake enough — even tired, but happy — to take care of that, too.

This article first appeared in Chronogram Magazine on March 28, 2007.

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Pretty Much the Most Important Thing
December 10, 2009 · Posted in Buddhism/Parenting, Parenting · Permalink · Comments Off on Pretty Much the Most Important Thing

lf3gracesThe Day of the Decision Maker

by Bethany Saltman

“The Birthday Book” is this great coffee table item with a whole page devoted each day of the year, telling you what kind of person you are. And each day has a name. My day, July 27th, is “The Day of the Decision Makers.” It basically describes me, painfully accurately, as someone who is kind of bossy, but a can-do girl, good with “theoretical structures, working organizations, social groups or leading a family.”

However, so says the oracle, “difficulties may arise…when these dynamic planners attempt to make personal decisions for themselves….the crisis arises when a secondary activity begins to assume primary importance in their life. Not uncommonly this activity has a strongly emotional admixture—it often demands passionate commitment.”

It goes on to describe my current life in some broad but correct strokes: malaise, paralysis, problems with aggression and anger, etc. Ok, ok. Uncle, already!

So now that you’re so smart, Birthday Book, what is my primary activity? And which is my secondary activity? Mom=primary? Writer/obsesser=secondary? What about my day/weekend/nights/always on my mind job? These days I have been STRUGGLING with how to make my life work on a moment-to-moment basis, i.e. am I the kind of person who takes Fridays off in the summer to spend more time with my daughter? Am I the type of person who holes up on the weekends to read and write? Am I the type of person who goes on a diet, or am I the kind of person who is so concerned with my intellectual life I don’t care about such trifles as what I look like in a bathing suit?

I didn’t used to be like this. In fact, before Azalea was born, I didn’t really even know what decision making was, exactly, in the sense of having to choose one thing over another. Things were always pretty clear and I never felt like I was sacrificing all the other men in the world, for instance, to marry my Thayer. Or all the other ways of being to be myself. But since becoming a mom, all of that has changed. My primary identity and “flow” as they say, feels so deeply in question that I just can’t seem to get it together.

Toni Morrison has this to say on the topic:

“I think it is a mistake to think of one’s life in compartments and as conflict. We are trained to think that we have either/or choices all the time and I think this is inimical to what women are required to do. There are so many things, even if one has no career…it’s important to think of them all as going together, and I tend to think that I don’t have to make a choice between motherhood or a career—I just regard them all as pretty much the most important thing.”

I will keep this posted above my desk for another year, or as long as it takes to sink in. I understand what Morrison is saying here, that in general, it all has to be one thing, but this decision maker has some decisions to make about how to spend her time, about what really matters to her. She can’t keep trying to do it all and not really doing anything.

The damn “Birthday Book” warns against July 27th people agonizing over decisions for too long. According to the old me, five minutes is too long.  As we used to say at Antioch, “Subvert the dominant paradigm!!!” Indeed, I feel like a paradigm shift is required here.

Who am I?

What is pretty much the most important thing?

This article first appeared online in Chronogram Magazine, June 23, 2008.

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