This Post Brought to You by Nina Simone and Pollyanna

14 Feb

At the end of every semester I have a couple of weeks of sitting around the office doing office-y things (grading, paperwork, planning, etc.). It always starts as a nice change of pace, a much-needed break from the normal teaching schedule. On day one I’m like “Yes! No students! Finally I can respond to all my emails!”

By day three I’ve answered all my emails and googled some important matters, such as “why does my 3 year old want sandwiches all the time?” and “lyrics to Beyonce video.” In addition I have most of my grades calculated, half of my paperwork completed. I’ve done some online shopping (did you know I can get cashew butter sent to Mexico!?) but then discarded the items before paying as I calculate how many pesos that is. I’ve congratulated and scolded students on their grades, and made my first trip to the dreaded vending machines.

By day six I’ve read more news than my optimism can handle, know 300 more useless facts about childhood development, and have gained 3 pounds from sitting around snacking all day. My anxiety’s up- between the news and the extra coffee I’m drinking, my eyes are red and strained, my body’s cramped and bloated and I’ve driven all of my coworkers crazy by roaming into their offices to chat constantly. I’m like, “When do classes start again? Where are the students?” Even when I have plenty of office work to do, I can’t stay focused on it for eight whole hours, staring at a screen, alone in my cubo.

2d886f1177bc9ea8853cdc65fc62de7c I ask myself, “How can anyone be productive for a whole 8 hours a day, while sitting the whole time, 5 days a week?” Y’all who do so are obviously made of stronger stuff than I am.

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Yoga time at the office when there are no students (this is not really me, but it could be!)

 

But I’m trying not to be like this:

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I mean, complaining about this is a bit crazy anyway. “Woe is me, I’m getting paid to sit down and work and still have some time to surf the internet!” And after I hit my news website, the idea of complaining becomes not just absurd, but also callous, offensive, and self-absorbed.

“I’m sitting in an office while other people are having babies with underdeveloped brains, thanks to Zika virus. Woe is me!”

“I could be getting deported to a home country where I’ll probably be killed, but no, I’m stuck at the office all day!”

“I could be fleeing war and death, watching my family suffer or die on the journey, but instead my butt is going numb in this chair. Damn!”

“My only venture out for the day is going to the snack machine, while folks in some places get to spend all day running around trying to procure safe water. It’s not fair!”

“Other moms are praying that their kids can stay alive if they’re stopped by police, but I’m forced to sit around googling about positive discipline for toddlers instead. Alas!”

You see what I mean.

Thinking about others doesn’t make my butt less numb, but it does change my perception about it. This semester’s end, I’m all about the reframe. “It’s so great that we normally have students!” I exclaim. “We’re so lucky to have a job where we can sit some and stand some, be introverted and extroverted, think and talk and move, all in the same eight hours!” I enthuse to my coworkers (on one of my many trips to annoy them in their office). “I love my job!” I shout, especially when I’m leaving at the end of the day.

I’ve been applying this reframe to other areas of life, too, with pretty sweet results. Here’s another example.

Before my reframe: “Getting up at 5AM is the pits! And it only nets me 20 measly minutes of exercise! I only squeeze out 10 minutes of me-time while I drink my coffee! I’m so tired! When am I gonna not be tired?”

After my reframe: “Getting up at 5AM allows me to have 20 whole minutes where I can feel the power and strength of my body functioning.  I can appreciate my fully-functioning body. I also get a few minutes for quiet, child-free reflection with my locally made, delicious Oaxacan coffee. And I get to see a beautiful sunrise every day. I’m going to be tired for most or all of these child-rearing years anyway, so I might as well make the most of it.”

When I’m mumbling curse words about my children and my bad luck in having children who hate to sleep, I can take a step back and remember that moment 15 minutes ago when one or the other of them made me laugh or knocked something over in their excitement over seeing Mommy (Me! That’s me! I’m a Mommy! Already a win.). I can remember that they fill me to the brim with joy more than they fill me with frustration. The moments of frustration and Mommy-rage are worth it. The fog and delirium of early mornings is worth it. The days at the desk are worth it. My life is freaking fabulous!

Of course things aren’t perfect, and they’re not supposed to be. Everyone has their own struggles, and even when they’re not dire, sometimes you need to vent about them sometimes to get it off your chest. However, I don’t want to spend more of my life entertaining thoughts about the negative than feeding thoughts about the positive. I’m working to stop and think before I complain out loud, to decide if it’s something worth complaining about or not. I don’t want my main conversations (with myself and with others) to be full of complaints. It makes me so much lighter to reframe my complaint in my own head meanwhile and see if I can’t find the upside.

It works a little like this: I think something like, damn dirty dishes! But instead of saying that I cancel it out and say “That was a great meal!” Never ending laundry? I’m still so happy that we have electricity and a washing machine! Sweating like a pig? I’m not cold! I love the sunshine! Screaming children? We have screaming children! (That’s good right? They’ll be vocal and opinionated like me.)

And when that doesn’t work, I can listen to this Nina Simone  song and dream of one day being as vibrant, brilliant, beautiful and alive as she was.

 

 

 

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