Like my crazy grandma before me, I am certain that the weather affects my sinuses, causing ridiculously bad headaches that follow changes in barometric pressure. (Scientists tend to doubt that this is a real thing, by the way. So I might be nuts, too.) The last few days have been particularly rough, with a weird boomerang from cool-and-pleasant to hot-and-humid and then right on back to cool-and-pleasant in the space of less than 72 hours.
I’ve been slightly less than fully coherent for much of this time: tired, but not sleeping well. Also, I can barely hear out of one congested ear – a fact I seem weirdly able to forget until I pick up the phone – and my balance is slightly off, keeping me from my customary long runs on the hilly trails near my house.
I’m not a person who often gets sick and, anyway, there’s not much to be done about it (other than writing very whiny blog posts, of course), as life – in the form of kids, business, home, etc. – does have to go on, regardless of whether I feel like managing it. I have found, though, that the state of being slightly, um, under the weather is a useful one, creatively. There’s something about being physically sluggish that allows your mind to engage with the world in a different way. All those consumptive poets probably were onto something.
In my own slightly altered state, I’ve managed two notable insights this week. I don’t what I’m going to do with them, exactly, other than jot them down here. But they’re informing my thinking and I’m still kind of wrapping my mind around them.
Insight Number One: It’s really, really hard to be a good parent when you feel crappy.
OK, sure, this is pretty obvious. You’re bound to be less patient when you don’t feel well. What I hadn’t fully realized, though, until it hit me last night, was how this connects to the challenges faced by struggling families around the world. I know that in many places in sub-Saharan Africa, for example, it’s pretty common for people to be dealing with chronic, low-level health problems all the time. Simple infections, food-borne illnesses and other conditions that could be easily remedied are, instead, untreated and they linger and worsen over time. I’ve often tried to explain this dynamic to people who are critical of the lack of productivity or initiative they see in the “developing world,” but, I have to confess, I’ve had a real blind spot for it, closer to home.
Then, last night—our usual “Board Game Night,” a favorite family ritual of mine—I found myself unable to deal with the prospect of even 20 minutes in CandyLand and ended up just sitting on the couch, eyes half-open, as the kids played iPad games. What if I felt like that all the time? What if untreated asthma or poorly managed diabetes—conditions far more prevalent among lower income communities in the US than in wealthier ones—tapped my energy like this every day?
My easy, comfortable life affords me the opportunity to go far beyond the basics of caring for my kids: we read and play together constantly. And, to the extent that this activity develops their brains, it reinforces the economic and educational advantages they already have over kids whose parents have fewer resources.
The book I’m working on now, my second novel, is, in many ways a meditation on parenting and its demands on women. I’m thinking hard about how to incorporate this new-to-me insight into the way my characters approach raising their kids.
I’m also thinking about ways to build some real-life advocacy around this point—that if we help parents feel better, we can make kids’ lives better. School-based clinics, open to families, can go a long way in helping parents manage their own health while also building community and goodwill around a neighborhood school.
Insight Number Two: Maybe “exercise” is kind of a dumb idea.
Many of my family’s regular household tasks are either hugely automated—thank you, dishwasher and washing machine, for your daily service—or are outsourced to folks like our landscaper and housecleaner. We pay for these services, of course, with the money we earn at our largely sedentary jobs.
We also pay money for a gym membership so we can get the physical and mental benefits of being active.
I run regularly because it keeps me fit, clears my mind and burns [some of] the calories I consume in the form of bread, cheese and wine. I also spend a lot of time on these runs, therefore creating the need for more household help to get stuff done and the need to do more work to pay for it all.
What if, instead of “exercise,” I just did actual, physical work?
I am daring myself to actually try this for a couple of weeks just to see what happens when you replace yoga with weed-pulling. But I guess I am also secretly hoping that I’ll turn out to have some horrible allergy to the weeds. Because sometimes these insights are just a big pain in the ass.