Work-Life Balance: Fundamental Disagreements – Part III

If you haven’t read Part I and Part II, you might want to catch up to the discussion by going there first.

My solutions?

1)      Ditch the dream (not the American dream, your dream). Tell our children that following your heart is pointless and unproductive (unless you are one of the lucky few who’s heart wants to be something that earns a good deal of money so they can avoid the pitfalls of always living paycheck to paycheck – although there’s no guarantee that being doctor or lawyer will provide them with that security given that there are a LOT of people pursuing those career paths and before long the market will be oversaturated).

This means that rather than viewing jobs and careers as passions, we ought to view them as necessary evils. Put up and shut up, you know? “That’s why they call it work, honey.” How many times have I heard that one? 

But why then offer our children all these choices if we are just going to take it away when they reach adulthood? It’s no surprise to me that teenagers and young adults are angry and rebellious! We sold them a sugar-coated story. We told them they can be anything they want to be if they try hard enough when the truth is they cannot. Someone who is not scientifically inclined will not survive in medical school.  

It’s like when they find out there is no Santa Claus or Tooth Fairy and that it was really just us all along. (Why DO we do that by the way? But that’s another post …)

2)      Ditch the American dream. Stop trying to climb the ladder and feel okay about it. Downsize. Get rid of your worldly possessions (or at least most of them). And whatever you do DON’T BUY YOUR KIDS TOYS FROM CHINA! You are only feeding into the more-more-more mindset upon which our consumer society thrives.

3)      Move to Canada. They have universal health care and are not a socialist country. 

4)      Exhaust myself so that I can pursue the arts on the side while also juggling work and a house with three kids and an equally strained husband.

Only I believe in my dreams AND have bought into certain aspects of the American one (white picket fences and manicured lawns slay me). I believe people need to pursue their passions. I believe that if you find the right thing you can work long hours because you are being internally fed.

I believe in the soul and that I’m here for a reason; and if I don’t fulfill the unique expression I have brought to the world this time that I am doing a disservice not only to myself and my family but also to the Whole. I believe in God and a higher consciousness or reality or whatever you want to call it – even if it is nothing but star dust and physics because Energy is still something. I believe in the magical moments as much as I believe there will be terrible, awful, dark and painful moments. To me, the two are not mutually exclusive, but rather necessities of our dualistic existence.  

So I’m just stuck. I can’t get out of the rat race, but I don’t want to stay in it both because it is KILLING US, and I don’t want to run towards death all willy-nilly. I don’t want to waste what precious time I have on this planet. Time is slipping away too quickly and I have unfinished business, unrealized goals and dreams. And from personal experiences growing up I know the standard solutions are recipes for disasters.

Am I the ONLY one who is uncomfortable with this? The only one who wants to break the cycle even though she has no clue as to how to do that?

Meh.

My husband complains that I complain too much about this topic (ahem!), but women talk things through. We need bouncing boards. We are collaborators. So, while I hope men get something out of this post, I ask for their respect, not dismissive comments that I am naïve or lazy or just completely bitchy. I’m none of those; I’m a mother of three and work full-time. Lazy is not possible in our house. I just don’t want to settle on suffering silently. That’s not naïve; that’s wise. When I’m 80 years old I want to see more than “put up and shut up.” Bitchy is a gut shot that doesn’t solve problems; only hurts feelings.

And, I would love to know what women think and where they stand on these issues because I’m sure I can learn from your experiences, too.

Maybe Sweden is the answer. ;)

Work-Life Balance: Fundamental Disagreements – Part II

First read this

The problem is I can’t seem to not buy it. Why?

  1. Health care coverage requires a job that offers affordable benefits.
  2. Jobs for creative, sensitive types are few and far between, which means that those individuals (like me) have no choice but to select careers that will provide a means to an end (even if that end is simply to put food on the table and provide basic needs).
  3. Childcare is expensive. If I follow my passions, I don’t know that I can afford to pay for childcare. Trying to watch kids AND fulfill my other innate callings is basically undoable. (If you don’t have kids, I don’t want to know your opinion on this matter. No disrespect but one day you will eat your words so I’m going to stop you now or else I’m going to go apeshit.) 
  4. I don’t want to let people walk all over me. Even though I am a sensitive soul and can “see” the subtle, quiet, emotional aspects of life, the group recognizes only the extrovert ideal. That means if I want respect I have to pretend to be like them.

It’s the same problem that women of my mother’s generation faced in trying to prove themselves as equals to men: they had to show that they could be as cold and calculated and tough as men. Only women aren’t men. They are women. We want to be respected for being WOMEN, not our ability to imitate men.

Look at it this way: the corporate world and our government were designed by men. To play the game, to have respect and honor and recognition, women have had to figure out how to maneuver in a man’s world.

While we have succeeded and made tremendous inroads, I am hopeful that the next change women AND men can bring is one that allows women to be women – a change that honors our menstrual cycles and natural rhythms and embraces our maternal, care giving side without a reduction in pay or respect, without a glance down the nose as being “less than.”

That is my dream for my children – both male and female, for our boys need to see that respect for both sexes is beneficial for everyone. I don’t want to denigrate men by wishing women were honored for their contributions. Many men don’t buy into the corporate ideal and would like to be more available to their families, but they also don’t want to come across as weak and jeopardize the safety of their family through insufficient income.

Work-Life Balance: Fundamental Disagreements – Part I

I fundamentally disagree with the notion that as parents we should work in jobs that kill our souls, barely pay the bills, and simultaneously require us to bend over backwards to provide educational opportunities for our children beyond what is provided during the school day.

My reasons?

1)      By working ourselves in jobs that do not spiritually or emotionally sustain us and only minimally meet our economic needs we are setting poor examples for our kids. They will do as we do, not as we say.

2)      Losing sleep to “get ahead” and “obtain the American dream” are a foolish concepts:

a. How far do middle class Americans really think we can get ahead? Is it honestly more than 1%? If not, is that meager 1% really worth it? At the end of the sacrifice, we will feel not only cheated but also duped.

I have too much personal experience that shows me that realistically I cannot expect to substantially advance in economic terms without sacrificing quality time spent with my family. My father was never at home because he was climbing the ladder and fulfilling the outdated concept of the male provider. The strain that placed on my mother made her a single mother for all intensive purposes and that ultimately led to their divorce. The strain also wore on us as children who only interacted with my dad when he was exhausted or emotionally unavailable.

That model was therefore unsustainable, and still is today. Perhaps even more so, as more and more women join the workforce and burn the candle at both ends as full-time employees and nurturing homemakers that handle their children’s homework and extracurricular activities so that they will have a chance at a fulfilling life – a fulfilling life that will never materialize as adults because they will invariably be forced into the same catch 22 lifestyle where music and dance are relegated to hobbies (or cease to exist when they have kids of their own), and dreams of building exquisite structures, fighting bad guys, or (blah) are smashed because they have a middle class upbringing that prevents them from networking with the puppet masters that really control and brainwash the menagerie into thinking they have a chance at the American dream!

(Okay – that was a mouthful and most likely grammatically incorrect, but I hope you can forgive me; I’m a geologist and an artist, not an English major.)

b. There is no such thing as a middle class American achieving the “American dream” anymore – white picket fences, single family homes lining quiet streets in suburbia, stay-at-home moms who bake apple pies and wear aprons without complaint, and content fathers who work reasonable hours and come home to dinner waiting on the table where happy, respectful children love and adore them.

  

Or there’s the version where a person from meager beginnings can rise to the top and make a name for him because he worked his way up the ladder.

Neither version of dream exists except in rare, lucky cases, yet men and women – at least in the Caucasian community – still vie for that ideal! Men work harder thinking that one day all their work will magically transform their careers and their homes into that picture perfect ideal. Women, too, convince themselves that they can have brilliant careers like men and can climb the ladder to higher prosperity, but many eventually realize they also want to be mothers. When that happens they are then torn in half. There are just not enough hours in the days to be effective in both roles to the degree that makes them feel successful. Instead they walk around feeling like chronic failures – unable to get ahead at work because they also want to be available for their children, unable to be there for their children to the extent they are needed because they have to work just to make a modest stab at helping their family achieve the dream.

c. Lack of sleep leads to an increase in mistakes at work, on the roads, and at home. Lack of sleep makes us more susceptible to angry, impatient, emotional outbursts toward our children and our spouses and other loved ones when our reserves are constantly low. Lack of sleep negatively affects our moods, our physical health, our marriages, and our sex drives.

3)      Doing something that does not feed our souls leads to burnout. Sacrificing all our own interests for the sake of our children undermines our wishes for them to lead a soul-fulfilling life as well as undermines our own mission and purpose in this life. Again, the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree.

Yes, we should prepare ourselves for the real world by pursuing higher education and passing required tests to obtain licenses that will benefit our careers. Yes, we should strive to challenge ourselves because challenges are fulfilling and give us a sense of accomplishment. However, I’m suggesting there are limits to what we should envision and that we need to align ourselves with a higher consciousness before blindly proceeding on a path that others insist is the only “right” way to achieve one’s dreams because that is how they did it. We can use their advice as guideposts, but without a connection to God, something I also call Flow, and a sense of spiritual fulfillment, all our efforts are in vain.

On top of that, I don’t know that what our egos want is always what our higher selves want. I struggle with this concept at times because I swear those cute shoes are really going to make me feel better and that single family home is going to solve all my problems. HGTV also makes it look sooooo easy!

At the same time, though, I don’t know that our society is prepared to support God’s way. Our model is capitalist: mo’ money, mo’ money, mo’ money! We envy movie stars and the lives of the rich and famous. We drool over Escalades and $2 billion dollar homes, convinced somehow that there’s an “if only” clause that keeps their riches at bay and if we could just win the lottery or get “discovered” we, too, would live like them. In America, the illusion is that you or I are only one step away from making that fantasy our own.

But, you see, it is an illusion. Fundamentally, we are genetically predisposed to wanting alpha dog status. These days, though, corporations and perhaps the government play on that innate human drive. If they convince us that working harder means living the Life, then they have succeeded by making us their slaves.

Only I’m not buying it.

Top 10 Reasons I Love to Ride My Bike to Work in the Summer!

First I should say that my ride is on trails that go through the woods, which means most of the time I am under a canopy and off the road (otherwise I think I’d be too scared to ride a bike on the major roads). I also live approximately five miles from where I work.

10. I don’t have to wait for the A/C to cool the car down before I can go. Instant A/C!

9. I get to park closer than any of the cars in the parking lot!

8. I can zone out and let my mind wander without worrying about getting into a car accident or honked at by crazy, irritable, impatient, stressed out drivers.

7. I feel great about not adding to the poor air quality and wasting fossil fuels!

6.  It takes me about the same amount of time to bike as it does to drive when you consider the traffic lights and waiting for the interior of the car to cool down.

5. I feel like a kid for 20-30 minutes even though I’m going to work.

4. Free music: birds chirping, bike wheels rotating on the pavement, rhythmic sounds of my breath, shifting gears, distance hum of cars on the road, and wind rustling through the trees.

3.  I get exercise in the easy way!

2. I have more energy and a more positive mood throughout the day. Or, at least I set my day off on the right foot.

And the #1 Reason …

  1. I look like sexy in a bike helmet. :P

Dog Poop Dilemmas & More

I am in a bad mood.  No, wait.  Don’t stop reading.  This won’t be a sob story about poor little me.  I promise.  This is about dog poop dilemmas.  Or more, if you’re lucky.

Maybe I’m in a bad mood because it’s raining outside.  Maybe it’s because I’m nearly nine months pregnant.  But, more likely, it’s because I’ve been reminded once again that people are selfish and lack sensitivity beyond their own shallow existence.

Yesterday, I arrived home just in time to see my neighbor’s dogs running loose in our postage stamp front yard.  As I drove into our parking space they attempted to run up to the car.  These are small dogs, like Maltese dogs or something.  The last small dog this neighbor had got run over by a car because it was off leash and ran into the street at night.  My neighbor, in spite of this tragedy, still lets the replacement dogs roam around without supervision from time to time.  She has, on the whole, tried to improve her dog tending, but when I arrived home yesterday she was nowhere to be found.  When she did appear, I asked her – in what I thought was a polite tone – if she could check to make sure the dogs didn’t poop in our yard. 

Over the weekend we discovered the hard way that there was dog poop in our yard so I was hoping to avoid a repeat.  Not that her dogs were responsible for the last turds, but she wasn’t out there monitoring them so I had no way of knowing whether they had pooped in our yard or not.  Looking back, even if she had been out there monitoring them, I’m not sure she would’ve picked up the dog poop anyhow.  Still, she balked at my request and became confrontational.  I repeated my request and probably sounded irritated myself at that point because she refused to even look beyond a quick glance at her own feet. 

She – my husband’s nickname for her used to be Vile Beast – wanted to know if I had seen them pooping.  “No,” I said, “I just pulled up and they were in our front yard.  I am just asking you to check to make sure they didn’t poop.”

My neighbor continued to argue with me over the matter and told me that I could find a nicer way to ask her, which just baffled me.  I hadn’t started out asking in a mean tone.  I simply wanted her to make sure they hadn’t pooped.  Given that they aren’t my dogs, I figure she needs to take responsibility for them.  Clearly, I was wrong.  Somehow the fact that she was in the house exonerated her.

In retrospect, I don’t think any tone of voice or way of requesting would have gotten through to her.  She doesn’t want to take responsibility for her dogs.  She doesn’t care if I step in dog poop.  She doesn’t care if my kids step in it or – Heaven forbid – touch it out of toddler curiosity.  She cares only about herself and getting out of life the easy way.  In essence, she wanted me to turn a blind eye to her negligence.

So, I am left to wondering the following:

1) Is it unreasonable for me to expect dog owners to pick up their dog’s poop?  Would it be wiser for me to assume that people won’t pick up their dog’s poop so that when they do I can be happy and feel grateful?  Because right now I feel chronically pissed off at them for routinely failing to scoop the poop, and I’m not enjoying the chronic irritation.  The evidence suggests – pardon the pun - that there are a good number of dog owners who just refuse to pick up their dog’s poop.   Perhaps my expectations should change in accordance, lest I blow my lid every time.

2) But, if I stop expecting people to be responsible, where do I set the bar?  Am I just supposed to roll over, play dead, and let people do whatever they want with their dogs?  Or not do what they don’t want, as the case may be?  Do I pick an arbitrary number of turds and excuse them because the real world dictates imperfection?

3) Am I being unreasonable in wanting my property to be treated with respect?  I mean, that’s how I regard other people’s property.  We are taught to obey the law of the land.  Obviously, not everyone takes those lessons to heart.  But if I stop caring, if I no longer expect others to respect what little property we own then what am I saying about the value of ownership?  It seems foolish to make such a big deal over such a small spot of land, I know, and yet the law (and our HOA agreement) dictates that we take care of it.  How I tend to my postage stamp says a lot about me as a human being.

4) Why am I surprised or frustrated by the inability of the police to enforce the ordinance that people curb their dog’s feces?  I mean, the owners can’t be held accountable without proof.  And how do you have proof in the world of dog poop?  It’s a $200 fine at best if you don’t scoop the poop.  Big whoop in the larger scheme of things, right?  Maybe that’s how the offenders rationalize their offenses.  ‘Hey, man.  It’s just dog poop.  It’s not like I’m murdering anyone.’  Better yet, I can hear them thumbing their noses at the cops, ‘You can’t catch me!  Ha, ha, ha, ha.  Take that, Authority!’

The bottom line is that I find dog poop in my yard offensive and annoying.  If I didn’t, I suppose I wouldn’t be bothered by any of it.  The part that goads me, though, is that I feel powerless to effect change.  If my husband and I go out and buy thousands of dollars worth of cameras and surveillance equipment we might catch the dog owners, but what will we have proven?  Will we have created in these people a sense of personal responsibility?  Will they suddenly “see the light” and become respectful, conscientious neighbors?  Probably not.  So our win would be a shallow win.  A form of tit for tat.  Which I don’t believe gets us anywhere.  It only engages the ego and our personal defenses.  It only antagonizes and escalates animosity.  It, essentially, shuts down the soul.  In my opinion, that’s still a loss.

That being said, I still wish these people would curb their dogs.  From now on maybe I’ll try not getting so upset about it, but beyond practicing a little more tolerance and patience I am at a loss as to how to feel and how to act around my neighbors.  Clearly, the people who act out of disrespect are not individuals with whom I want to maintain any kind of connection.  We could, as a neighborhood, raise HOA dues so that we can hire a dog poop scooper upper.  There is at least one business in our town that will scoop poop for a fee.  I kid you not.  That might alleviate frustration and punish those who don’t follow the rules, but it also lets the dog owners off the hook and might even encourage them to leave more shit on the ground.  It also forces those who do pick up their dog’s poop or who don’t have dogs to pay the price.

Oh, I can hear the outcries now.  Each side beating their chest over who’s right or who has to pay.  In fact, I hear that battle cry a lot these days in countless other areas like politics, religion, education, health care, foreign wars, you name it.  Only the battle cry sounds a lot like whining to me the more I hear it.

Is that it then?  Is that what being a community is all about, People?  Staking your claim and sticking to it at all costs, just to prove you’re right?  It is really just us versus them?  Is that as good as it gets?

Maybe it is.  And that’s why I’m in a bad mood today.  We are so highly UNevolved as a race, as a country.  My heart wants to believe we’re better than that, but maybe I’m wrong.

And, btw, I’m not leaving the comments section open in this format because I only get spammers trying to get lure me to some other website, which just furthers my irritation with the general human population.  Besides, if  you want to comment on this post or discuss the topic more with me, you know how to reach me in other ways.

Beginnings of Change

Both my husband and I are on the brink of making major life changing decisions about where we live and how we live.  For years we’ve longed to live in a place where there is a stronger sense of community and where work is considered something you do, not something you are.  The problem is that we don’t know where that place is and we’re trying to also locate ourselves so that we’ll be close to our respective families.  His is in the midwest while mine is in the southeast.  The end result is that we’ve developed analysis paralysis.

The more we think about it, the more we come to the realization that we are looking for something that perhaps doesn’t exist.  That is, our happiness may be totally unrelated to our surroundings.  Sure, the environment in which we live has some impact on our overall state of well being, but there are other factors that contribute to our happiness.  Maybe we’d feel just as isolated in a small town as we do in the city because the mindset of the locals doesn’t match ours.  If we can’t connect to the people around us, does it matter that we have a single family home and land on which our kids can run around freely?

Job security plays into our difficulties as well.  Small towns just don’t offer as many opportunities as cities.  Truth is that I think a lot of people struggle with finding balance.  There are probably more people that are unsatisfied in their jobs and in their lives than the opposite, more people who long for something more rewarding and personally satisfying, with less stress and isolation.  Maybe it’s time to compare ourselves to the norm rather than the exception.  I mean, I am not going to be a movie star or super model.  Shouldn’t I stop comparing myself to them?  That’s just a recipe for feeling really rotten about myself (though these days movie stars and super models don’t seem to have the best lives either, as countless numbers of them end up in rehab or jail or some other misadventure).

What, then, is our best solution, our best course of action?  I don’t know.  Not a very uplifting message, I know, but it’s the truth.  Right now that’s as good as my answer gets.  Either time will tell or it won’t.

Boredom Busters for Work

If you’re like me and periodically experience slumps at work, where you have to sit there doing nothing for hours on end in case someone suddenly needs you to do something and also because you’re still tied to that stinkin’ paycheck, you reach the end of your rope with:

before you sort of go numb from it all.

I mean, these people are being productive after all, but you are just sitting there feeling aimless, counterproductive even.  You could distract yourself with occasional tweets and Facebook posts if you’re able and not under the watchful eye of your company (which I am).  You could even spend time playing any number of on-line games, none of which ever appeal to me, but apparently appeal to the masses in general.  My dad even plays solitaire sometimes to break up the monotony of work. 

Or, you could be like my husband and get lost on Reddit or Chowhound.  You may even have started perusing smaller news outlets (Highlander, Columbia Tribune, Billings Gazette) in hopes for a different viewpoint.  You’d be surprised how many exciting things happen in a small town.  And, somehow, the fact that these things happen in a small town makes them all the more intriguing. 

Yet there is still something missing from your day.  So, what are you going to do about it?

Here are some suggestions:

1) Connect with other people in your office or in a similar field as you.  You’d be surprised how the simplest exchanges can refocus your energy and put you on a path to a better day.

2) Listen to NPR or put on some music.  There’s nothing like hearing other people discuss news, music, or art to distract you from the humdrum; and music alone can transport you to new emotional landscapes with relatively little effort.

3) Make plans to volunteer in your community.  Giving back to others is a great way to improve your sense of well being.

4) Exercise.  The release of endorphins might inspire you or at least put an extra oomph in your step.

5) Call your mom or best friend.  A chat with someone you love can always boost your outlook on life.

6) Draw pictures for your kids so that they can see you think about them during the day.  They draw pictures for you, after all.  (This probably only works when your children are younger than 12 years of age, though.)

If all else fails, try to find time at some point during the week to do something you love.  It’s a start.  The journey of 1,000 miles always begins with a step.

Trashing the Zines

I have come to the conclusion that at this point in my life looking at magazines is a defeating endeavor.  My house will never look like the cover of Country Home or Elle Decor.  All those fun crafts and activities to do with children I read in Parents magazine or Parenting will never get done.  Or, if they do they will never look as shiny and “together” as the glossy photographs I see.  They will also probably never be as fun to make as the articles suggest.  Most of the time I will end up doing half of the work, jump through hoops to get my kids excited about doing the activity or craft, then bend over backwards to get them to do the craft as instructed, and finally use up the last of my patience and energy cleaning up after them.  Even when they “help” me clean up.

Sure, there is something to be said for trying the craft or activity in the first place.  My kids will probably remember those times as “fun” so I don’t intend to give them up forever.  I just plan on giving up stressing about doing those things.  I intend to stop berating myself when I’m not up for it, especially since our third child is due in just over a month.

Martha Stewart just does not live in my house.  In the long run, I am probably okay with that.  I mean, Martha may be an empire, but she doesn’t seem to be the happiest person on earth.  I can’t imagine trying to be in control as much as she is, to adhere to that same degree of perfection.  And, to be honest, the woman is alone.  She has one child, isn’t married, and can function on five hours of sleep. 

That just isn’t me!

If I didn’t have a husband and only one adult daughter I’m sure I’d have a lot more free time and free space on my hands.  But I love my husband.  And I love my kids and if they come with chaos and messiness and gobs of imperfection and whining then so be it.  I wouldn’t be happy with an immaculate house if it meant being alone.  I’d like a little moderation maybe, but I don’t want to sacrifice kindness and love for the sake of cleanliness and order.

This means that I have to recycle or donate all those magazines I’ve saved, the ones that I thought would inspire me to improve our house or get me creating that next masterpiece or finally bring us together as a happy, creative, cooperative, clean family. 

You know that family, right?  The family who has the clean house, where they serve nutritious home made food that the kids eat without complaint, well-behaved children who work out their problems with words and reason, happy, fulfilled parents who earn enough money to make dreams come true? 

That’s the family everyone is trying to emulate, only in secret I think they are only driving themselves crazy because they are incapable of achieving that image.  It’s like trying to look like a supermodel without the aid of appetite suppressing drugs and plastic surgery and designer clothing and professional photography and airbrushing.  Even if you ARE good looking you just can’t compete with that!

So, I’m dropping out of that race.  I’m giving up June Cleaver in her 1950′s TV set and searching for the messy, dirty, chaotic, crumb-filled places.  I’m looking for the real family that we are.  Because the real us deserves love and happiness, too.  Even if that means we are rough around the edges and still sport ketchup stains on our faces and shirts when someone snaps a photo.  Ragamuffins, as my mother used to call me and my brother.

Somehow we will make it through this middle class life.  We’ll look exactly like all the other struggling families.  We’ll blend in at the restaurant, shopping mall, gas station, grocery store, town hall, you name it.  We’ll be just another grain of sand on the beach, and it’s okay.  Because when you step back you’ll see the whole beach and feel inspired by the beauty that suddenly comes into view.  And when you look real close you’ll marvel at the distance we’ve traveled, the travails we’ve endured, just to get to the shore in the first place.

We will be, like my mother always says, “as ordinary as sunshine.”

The Smell of Things

I recently purchased a Gaiam yoga mat from Target.  When I unrolled it at my prenatal yoga class, I was surprised to find it smelling like chemicals, particularly because Gaiam touts itself to be eco-friendly.  While being pregnant makes me especially sensitive to weird smells, I am someone who has always been sensitive to smell in general, particularly those of a chemical nature.  (Alas, my sense of smell does not come in handy in the kitchen.)  My classmates in graduate school used to refer to me as the canary in the lab; I always held acids as far away from me as possible even when others weren’t bothered by the smell of them.  I also was the first one to know when a hood wasn’t working properly.

Earlier last week, we had our kitchen updated, which resulted in a house that smelled like various adhesive products.  The chemicals that are used to adhere tile to the floor and granite countertops to the cabinets prompted a week long battle with nausea and difficulty sleeping. 

Due to the heat, the laborers were not able to open all windows to allow proper ventilation.  Even if all the windows had been opened (which I suggested they do) the air was stagnant due to the heat and humidity.  The ceiling fan was circulating on high, but the fumes were not going anywhere.

I shudder to think about the men who work with these products every day, men who generally do not have health insurance either.  And then there are their wives, many who are maids and inhale chemicals from cleaning products all day.  There is a Latino health crisis in this country just waiting to happen.

Once the contractor finished the kitchen update, my husband and I had to wash all the dishes to clean off the dust that had accumulated.  We cut and placed sheets of contact paper onto all the empty shelves, inhaling another round of glue-based fumes.  Luckily for us, we have a small kitchen and limited exposure to these products. 

I can’t help thinking, however, that the price may be — in the long run — too high to pay.  Sure, we updated our kitchen so we can sell our house in a year.  And potential buyers will undoubtedly fall in love with our new set up.  But what about the damage we are doing along the way?

This is the argument in which I always get trapped.  The idealist vs. realist attempt to duke it out: 

Side 1: No one will buy your house unless you update your kitchen, but you don’t have the money to make more environmentally conscious purchases.

Side 2: You are selfish for wanting to sell your house at a decent price while the people helping you are not able to afford health insurance or a house of their own.

And bad things happen to good people.  Usually unwitting people.  Innocent people.  It’s the luck of the draw.  I think the mistake is that we believe we are entitled to more.  When we are born, though, we are born into a cruel world, given gifts and curses regardless of socioeconomic class.

Meanwhile, a new law signed by President Obama will limit the amount of formaldehyde used in the manufacturing of wood.  The EPA is working on writing the rules for the new law, including how products will need to be labeled to show that they comply with the new formaldehyde regulation.  Potentially, it will be difficult to distinguish a low-formaldehyde product from a “green” product in which no formaldehyde was added.  [See the USA Today article for more information on this issue.]

Even so, the measure is comforting to me.  While the world may be a cruel place, people don’t have to be cruel when armed with knowledge.  That’s why we are human beings and not just animals.  Together, slowly but surely, we can make a difference, one that focuses on more than just the bottom line.

Getting Creative

I have this weird love affair with the Ideal Mother.  You know, the one who bakes all her food from scratch with only organic ingredients.  The one who sews cute little outfits for her children and makes dainty crafts and quilts.  The one who practices yoga and channels the Earth Goddess in her spare time.  Not to mention writing books and keeping an updated blog with beautiful photos of her daily handiwork.  This is also the Mother who has at least three children, makes her own lotions and detergents so as not to introduce harmful chemicals to her wee ones. 

You know her, right?  She’s out there.  Somewhere.  I see her manifest on other women’s blogs: Angry Chicken, SimpleMom, and countless others that I’m only beginning to find.  I mean, I really want to be Her.  I want to embody Her.  Or, at the very least be exactly like the women who more closely resemble Her.  There’s evidence out there that the modern hippie woman exists and manages to be successful in the world.

It’s just that I can’t be Her.  I can’t even seem to find the patience or the time to let Her root in my life.  My kids are constantly whining or fighting with each other.  Even if I am home with them and we’re hanging out, it’s a continual ploy to play Princess or some other melodrama.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been married.  Or how many birthdays I’ve had.  By this point, I probably qualify for mention in the Book of Genesis.

If we do crafts, we are messy and chaotic.  I can’t possibly post those pictures!  Even if something comes out cute, my house is a cluttered mess.  It’s far too easy to tell what a Ragga Muffin Mother I really am.  The gig will be up for sure!  I mean, I can post the pictures, but nobody is going to pay much attention to them.  (Okay, aside from my friends and family.  And thank God for them or I’d really be miserable.  Hugs to you all for reading this.)

My dilemma is that nobody will ask me to write a book about all my fantastic crafty ideas or sell my creations when it’s so obvious that I can hardly stay focused on task long enough to bring my ideas to fruition.  To be honest, I just have the terrible habit of beginning something new and not finishing it.  My children just exacerbate that tendency.

So, why the love affair with Her?  Why do I insist on torturing myself?  Why not replace Her with the Goddess of Mediocre?  The Messy Mother?  Surely She has qualities I can admire.

I don’t know.  I hate giving up entirely, I guess.  Maybe somewhere, deep down, I still think there’s a chance for us.  I’m hopeless, I know.  Because sometimes I feel Her.  Sometimes She IS there. 

Is She just teasing me?  Torturing me?  That’s not like Her, is it?  Or maybe it is and the other women just aren’t talking about Her in that way.

Just me.  Right?  I just have to believe that these other women are imperfect, too, that they sometimes yell at their children, that they buy cheap cosmetics on a whim or because they were impulsive or distracted or frazzled by exhaustion and hunger.  That they throw away a few vegetable scraps in the trash rather than the compost because the walk over to the compost bin is just too far away this time.  That they give in when their children cry and whine for a product Made in China or Pakistan or wherever human rights are probably being violated today.  That sometimes getting them chicken nuggets from a McDonald’s is as good as it gets.  Even though they’ve seen the videos that show what goes into them and vowed they wouldn’t do it.

This is what plagues me.  It’s the slow deterioration of my ideals with reality, with my humanity.  It’s the desire for Her when all I’ve got is me.  I just don’t know how to bring Her into my life more.  I don’t know how to make more space for Her. 

I still believe there’s a chance, though.  For now, that’s good enough for me.

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