The day after we returned from New York, I spent all day in bed, feverish, rising only to run to the bathroom. Thirty-six hours later, I patted Lucy’s back as she hunched over the toilet in the middle of the night. There’s a pernicious stomach flu that turns into days of terrible aches and malaise racing around our island. Entire families are getting sick, then infecting the other members of their families. From the stories we’re hearing from our friends, we had a mild case, which feels impossible. Just when Lu and I were finally recovered, Danny spent an entire day in bed, mostly incoherent. The next day, he rose up feeling better, then fell to the bed again. The man who never rests, who sits still only for 20 minutes at a time, tweaked a muscle in his back by lying down all day. He’s been hobbling ever since then, in spite of massages and water aerobics classes and yoga-like exercises. Desmond has blessedly been mostly free of being sick. But he’s in a big-time sleep regression, being just on the edge of walking and making all kinds of cognitive connections that a 10-month-old suddenly makes. He’s awake and standing in his crib, reaching out his arms to me when I walk in at 3 am. And it’s me waking up every night, since Danny can’t pick up the kiddo with his back acting the way it is.
There isn’t enough coffee in the world right now.
However, these past couple of weeks, there has been plenty of time for reflection. Life has slowed us down, against our will. But slowing down gives me time to think more deeply than a day full of knocking things off a to-do list can ever give me.
Basically, I find the light in everything. It’s in my nature.
We’re just about to launch our gluten-free flour blends into the world. I’ll share more of this process with you on Wednesday. Before we get into the daily mechanics of shipping flours to you directly, Danny and I have been doing a lot of thinking about what we do here. With the help of our wonderful and wise friend Tricia, who has a deep background in marketing and cares about us both, we’ve been thinking about what we’ve been writing and creating here for nearly a decade. What are we really offering you?
I don’t want to write about it too much yet, because it’s new. And I’m pretty weary tired when I’m not writing. I’ll say this, before I share some of the pieces that have been dancing around my head these last couple of weeks. It’s about the power of story. It’s about accepting imperfections. And it’s about joy.
Sometimes, it’s even about food.
If you don’t follow Humans of New York on Facebook or Instagram, I’m pointing your way there now. Brandon Stanton is changing the world, one kind and wide-open photograph at a time. I check in every day, just to see the faces I have never met and hear the stories that are not my own. Recently, Brandon found a young boy who sang the praises of his school principal. His story struck so many people that Brandon found the principal, found the school in Brooklyn, and began a fundraiser to send these young kids on a trip out of their difficult neighborhood. So far, people have donated more than $700,000. Go back and see all those photos and read those stories. I imagine you’ll cry, the way I did, for these connections and the chance we all have to spread more joy in the world.
Speaking of education, this piece in the Atlantic mirrors the problem I see in the system now. There’s so little time for joy. “Building on a child’s ability to feel joy, rather than pushing it aside, wouldn’t be that hard. It would just require a shift in the education world’s mindset. Instead of trying to get children to buckle down, why not focus on getting them to take pleasure in meaningful, productive activity, like making things, working with others, exploring ideas, and solving problems? These focuses are not so different from the things to which they already gravitate and in which they delight.” Teaching kids to sit still for hours, stay quiet unless asked to talk, and fill in worksheets instead of follow their own creative delight leads them to believe that being perfect is more important than feeling alive.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the terrible effects of perfectionism, all the ways we steel ourselves against the moment of vulnerability, and how much it can damage us. I don’t drink much anymore, but this piece on alcohol as an escape from perfectionism for mothers really resonated for me. “Lean in, lean back: I’ve done both, sequentially. I’ve sat at home, in tears, believing I would never enter the workforce again. And I have sat at the office, exhausted, knowing I was missing a precious evening at home. Both positions have their downsides and their sweet rewards. One thing is for certain: Straddling both roles can turn you into human Silly Putty. I remember when my son was born, receiving a card from the writer Marni Jackson—author of The Mother Zone—who wrote, perceptively: ‘Welcome to permanent ambivalence.'”I know that fathers have a tough job too, but being a working mother in this culture amidst the expectations of perfection on every level can be devastating.
I really love this piece from Molly Watson, a food writer in San Francisco, about the arrogance of telling people they should embrace cooking and the family dinner. Like her and so many other food writers, I used to exhort everyone to cook. It took me years of working as a food writer and having two children to realize what a burden cooking can be on working moms and dads. Cooking seems like a joyful ease to me because I already love food and the process of cooking. For me, cooking is meditation and a chance to drop the rest of the day, as well as a creative act and a full sensory experience. However, I know cooking doesn’t feel that way to everyone. (And there are still plenty of days when I don’t know what’s for dinner an hour before we’re supposed to eat.)
If you don’t love to cook — or if you feel intimidated or scared of the process — being told you should love it only creates anger or guilt. I love this line: “There would be a whole lot [fewer] labor abuses in the garment industry if we all sewed our own clothes, but can anyone imagine suggesting more home sewing as a first step towards changing that system, much less present it as a key component of a long-term workable solution? ” Cooking can be a joy but it’s not a joy for everyone. Those of us who love it shouldn’t think less of those who do not.
After reading this piece about how bad the modern world can be for our brains, I’ve been acting on something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time. I’ve put down my phone. Technology can create such a false sense of urgency in our lives. We used to write letters and wait days for them to arrive.
“There are also important differences between snail mail and email on the receiving end. In the old days, the only mail we got came once a day, which effectively created a cordoned-off section of your day to collect it from the mailbox and sort it. Most importantly, because it took a few days to arrive, there was no expectation that you would act on it immediately. If you were engaged in another activity, you’d simply let the mail sit in the box outside or on your desk until you were ready to deal with it. Now email arrives continuously, and most emails demand some sort of action: Click on this link to see a video of a baby panda, or answer this query from a co-worker, or make plans for lunch with a friend, or delete this email as spam. All this activity gives us a sense that we’re getting things done – and in some cases we are. But we are sacrificing efficiency and deep concentration when we interrupt our priority activities with email.” I don’t want to measure out my life in text messages and likes on Facebook. That’s not what I want to teach my kids.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot. Since I first got a smartphone — one that can access the internet and go on Twitter and Facebook, allow me to look up anything instantly — I have more and more been measuring the success of my days by how much I have accomplished. It used to be — and I want it to be again — that I measured the success of a day by how much of it I truly lived.
We’ve put limits on technology in our home now. And from now on, I’m keeping office hours, a clear and firm work schedule. If you send me an email or message or request, you should know that I will only be dealing with work on the computer on the weekdays, from 9:30 to 3:30 (Pacific Standard Time) from now on.
Without the computer and the phone and the made-up sense of panic that can come from the way that work bleeds into every part of our days, what are we trying to do instead? Pay attention.
“Attention without feeling, I began to learn, is only a report. An openness — an empathy — was necessary if the attention was to matter..” Do read this piece about Mary Oliver, who is like heartbeat to me, and like everyone I love, almost entirely unknowable.
Finally, even though I am sometimes queen of to-do lists, getting things done, putting new structures into place, and learning ALL THE TIME, I’m going to be going back to read this piece on radical self-acceptance from Zen Habits again and again. “What if instead, you loved yourself, fat body and all? What if you loved yourself, laziness and all? What if you loved yourself, all that is ugly and incompetent and mean, along with the beauty and brilliance and kindness?”
I did promise you a little food, didn’t I? I highly recommend popping popcorn in coconut oil, then drizzling it with a bit of butter, lemon zest, and fresh thyme. You’re welcome.
Finally, an image that stays with me lately. On one of the first days Lucy was finally feeling better, I blasted music from the Aretha Franklin Pandora station. “Proud Mary” came on and I told her, “Lu, you hear how this song is slow? We can dance to it, but just wait. Wait for it. You’ll hear something different in a moment.” She looked at me, confused. When the pace changed, her eyes opened wide and she started to move, unable to stop. “Mama! Mama! This song makes me dance my butt off!” she shouted. And then we played it again.
I love introducing her to Tina Turner, one of the fiercest women alive. And then we started listening to Stevie Wonder and Otis Redding. Desmond isn’t getting any kid music. And I’m fine with that.
Every day since, Lucy has been asking for That Song That Makes Me Dance My Butt Off. When Desmond hears it, he starts clapping and moving his butt too. We’ve been doing this every night before dinner.
January has hit us hard but we’re dancing, together.