Last week, I argued with reality:
“She shouldn’t just push her empty plate at me and expect me to pick it up.”
“He should help, or at least call.”
“I should be making more progress on my book.”
Every ‘should’ pointed to an argument with reality. Arguments with reality result in anger (negative energy directed outward) or sadness (negative energy directed inward). They are a waste of time and don’t solve the problem.
Last Saturday night, lying on the air mattress in my mother’s bedroom, I decided to have a better week this week. I remembered what I had read in a book about adrenal fatigue, that whenever I am in a situation I don’t like, I have Three Choices:
- Change the situation.
- Change myself in the situation.
- Remove myself from the situation.
On Sunday, as Leda and I took our morning walk, I thought about how to apply the Three Choices to a situation I didn’t like. My mom wakes up a little after 6:00 a.m. She gets up, gets dressed, goes to the living room, and turns on the TV. The volume is loud because she is hard of hearing. I don’t enjoy waking up to the morning stabbings and shootings report.
As Leda sniffed a spot of grass, I worked this situation through the Three Choices:
- Change the situation. I could ask mom not to watch the news in the morning before she goes to breakfast. But mom has been turning on the TV when she wakes up ever since she started living alone, when she was fifty-two. I did the math. Mom has thirty-seven years of waking up with the TV. Asking her to change would be an unfair request.
- Change myself in the situation. I could use the morning news as an opportunity to remind myself that my mother is still on the planet and I am lucky to have her. I could wear earplugs. I could join her to watch the news. The last two options didn’t appeal to me and I thought I would struggle with the first, that it would be difficult to hear my own positive thoughts in the din of the morning news.
- Remove myself from the situation. This one had possibility. If I woke up earlier, I could walk Leda while mom watched the news, before she went to breakfast. I could get back after mom had silenced the TV and left. That would give me quiet and alone time to do my morning stretches and meditation before mom got back. When she returned, we could coordinate our plans for the day and then I could go to the library to work on my book while she watched her morning programs. We could meet up for lunch back at her place.
I selected choice #3: remove myself from the situation. We are only a few days into this plan but so far it is working well. Last week I did my morning stretches and meditation only twice, but this week I’ve done them every day. Leda is enjoying our walks because we need to be gone long enough for mom to have left before we get back. And I enjoy coming in from the walk to a quiet place.
I’ve also had the opportunity to apply choice #1: change the situation. It was yesterday morning, after mom had come back from breakfast, during our coordination time. I wondered how to bring up something but she brought it up first.
“Could you hear the dishwasher last night?”
“Yes! Why did you turn on the dishwasher at three in the morning?”
“Because it’s so loud, I don’t like to hear it during the day.”
“Mom, I can always run the dishwasher while you’re at breakfast.”
We agreed that would be our new plan.
The choice I make most often is choice #2: change myself in the situation. I remind myself that mom and I are both a ball of feelings right now. Although she’s glad I’m here, she probably feels unsettled by another person and a large dog living in her home. She’s probably frightened about her health and the future. I’m probably frightened too. Yesterday, I saw that a runty hosta had pushed its pointy shoots farther up through the black dirt, getting ready to unfurl its broad, seersuckered leaves. It made me realize that there will be a spring when my mother is not here and that I need to take advantage of this one. It made me find my mother that afternoon and sit with her to work a jigsaw puzzle. One of her friends joined us and we were able to finish the 1000-piece puzzle. My mom looked at both of us as soon as the last piece clicked into place. “I never worked a jigsaw puzzle with six hands before. That was so fun!”
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Chewing the Cud of Good
Last night mom and I listened to a discussion among foreign-born residents of her retirement community. Countries represented included Germany (4), China (2), Austria (1), Ireland (1), Jamaica (1), Norway (1), and Russia (1). Everyone who spoke was at least 70, most were in their 80s and 90s. Their faces and bodies sagged but their eyes were bright and voices animated as each held the microphone in a shaky hand and told a small part of their life story. They fled persecution, they fell in love, they fought in wars. One woman’s family fled the Nazis in Austria and sought refuge in the Philippines. Then, when Japan bombed the Philippines, they fled again and sought refuge in the United States. One man was conscripted into the German army at age fifteen. He fought in Europe for two years, then received permission to emigrate. He immediately got on a boat to the United States. When he turned eighteen, he was conscripted by the US army and sent back to Europe to fight in the same war a second time. Each person who spoke was proud of the life they had made and grateful for the opportunities they had taken in the United States. They were amazing.