I just got off the phone with my dad. He's hundreds of miles away, but I love that the telephone connects us. His optimistic voice booms through my receiving end, and I feel peace. Just before we hung up, he asked me if I was writing. I laughed, "Oh dad, I don't write anymore. I don't have time for it. Between the girls and work and basic survival, I just can't fit it in like I want to." His voice instantly deflated with a long "Ooooohhhhh, I understand." And then there was an audible sigh.
So tonight, in honor of my dad's audible sigh, I will write a little something because apparently I do have at least one reader. ;)
Over the past few months, I have undertaken a mammoth-sized personal project of becoming an optimist. Do you know how hard it is to become an optimist (isn't that something a pessimist would say)? I actually just told my brother that very thing this morning, and he just laughed and laughed because he knows me. He knows me well. I knew this goal would be hard, but I didn't realize what hard actually meant. The thing about my pessimism is that it seeps deep into the fleshy fibers of my heart, and its grumpy voice wraps around the neural tissue in the cerebrum and makes me feel like whatever experience I happen to be going through is meant to be dreary and dark. I've long known that this is an absolute lie, but man, changing behavior and thought patterns is an uphill battle.
This weekend Tim attended the Michigan/BYU football in Ann Arbor. I was so excited for him to go. He never does anything for himself. He's so dang selfless that he always allows me to go on my trips while never asking for a weekend away for himself. (Disclaimer: He really wanted me to be with him in Ann Arbor because being by himself actually sounds terrible to him, but we just couldn't swing it.) So I put my happy face on and pushed him out the door, reminding him to buy himself a shirt or something for his birthday since the only selection of shirts I find around here are the wrong shade of blue.
I had all these plans for the weekend. I was going to paint the girls' nails. We were going to eat popcorn and watch movies before bed. And I was going to color with them during Felicity's nap. But as luck would have it, I was sick for the better part of the weekend, and the girls clued in to my weakened state, and they pounced. They were like a pack of lions attacking a poor gazelle. (If I could be an African animal, I would totally be a gazelle. They are so beautiful. A gazelle or a hippo. Sitting knee deep in cool mud sounds really nice too. ;)) Anyway, I digress.
By Saturday afternoon, I had thrown in the towel. I was willing to do just about anything to get the girls to bed by 4pm. My mom called, and I cried. Then she cried. Then we both cried until I asked, "Why are you crying anyways?" My mom is always really good at giving me a good empathetic cry. She told me not to give up on myself. Her little pep talk, corny as it was, propelled me off my bed and back into the kitchen where I asked the girls to help me make dinner. I talked to the girls about what had happened throughout the weekend and how badly I felt because of they way they treated me. They stared at me in disbelief. I even uttered the words, "I failed you this weekend even though I wanted to have a fun time."
Mya came running over at those words. She looked at me and said, "Mom, you didn't fail. You just aren't as calm as dad is when he's home with us. It's like you look for things to get mad about. Dad doesn't do that." That little piece of truth hit me square between the eyes.
The pessimist in me has a hard time letting go of the little mishaps or mistakes that occur during the day. The optimist I'm trying to become sees light at the end of the tunnel but doesn't quite know how to get through the dark tunnel. There are days I succeed at reaching the light, and there are days I fail. I am obviously happier on days I succeed.
Unless it is innate, I believe optimism is something to fight for. There are a million reasons to feel down about life, but there are just as many reasons to feel joyful about it too. Every morning on my walks I try to say prayers of gratitude. I don't ask for anything. I just say thank you for the sunrise, the wind, the trees, the green patches of grass, the smell of donuts, the families piling into minivans, the women out walking their dogs with coffee in their hands, etc. When I come through my front door and am immediately bombarded with chocolate milk or Mickey requests, it would be easy to forget the gratitude I so recently felt, but I try to keep it present in my mind as I routinely pour the milk and add the chocolate while being poked by a little 3 year old.
This was and still is the first step in my process to becoming an optimist: being grateful. There are about a dozen more steps I have jotted down in my notebook that help me stay on the bright path of life. Even if I am not in the moment something is going awry, I am eventually kind to myself when it comes to optimism. I've spent the better part of 31 years living with a wary eye, and it's not something that can be changed over night, but I know it can be changed. I hope you'll stick around as I document some of what I've learned over the past few months.