First, A note to my readers:
A few of my readers have asked if I could kindly give my blog posts an upfront “depression rating”. I guess some readers would like to avoid the more “depressing” posts due to a fear of the truth. That’s ok with me. I’m not here to rub their noses in the truth, nor do I want to speculate as to what these people are running from in their own lives. I’m just here to share my life and with it all it’s hard-won wisdom.
So, in light of all that you, dear reader, have to go through, I’m going to offer this: For blog posts with a depression rating of “7” or higher, there will be included at the end of the post some pictures of half-naked ladies from the internet. Many of you will likely skip to the end, but know this…you won’t have earned the half-naked ladies, and you know how full-shitty that feels.
On Gratitude and Fun (Depression Rating: 9)
Gratitude is so important. That’s why I have a Gratitude Journal. I didn’t remember I had one but just the other day, while rummaging through old notebooks looking for a genius idea I may have had at some point for a book or movie or invention or something, anything, I happened upon a little red notebook with just two sad words on the cover: “Gratitude Journal”. I’d forgotten I had it but I did remember starting it. It was a few years back when my mother, a psycho-therapist, suggested I try to spend a little more time thinking positively and gratefully and with “ownership”. It makes sense that she’d suggest this because, aside from being a psycho-therapist, she’s the one I complain to mostly because it’s her fault I’m like this. Anyway, I opened it, more than a little excited to see what I’m grateful for, and there on the first page, at the start of what was to be my life-affirming list, were just two words: “My kids”.
My first thought was, “That’s so sweet of me.” My second thought was, “Yikes, it’s a good thing I had kids.” And then my third thought was, “Really? The kids? That’s kind of weird.” Not “weird” because I don’t love my kids and feel grateful for them –which is a double negative meant to confuse—but because I would imagine the whole point of the gratitude journal was to remind myself, while being infested with children, that there are other things in life besides my children that I really appreciate.
Honestly, I’d also just like to think that if I’d spent a little more time on my gratitude journal, I’d have come up with other things, like “ice cream” maybe. Or “wife”.
Also, I think if a gratitude journal is going to work, you have to be really honest with it. The solo inclusion of “my kids” is problematic. Not because people shouldn’t feel very grateful for their kids but I think if you spend, say, upwards of 80% of your day either trying to avoid the thing you’re most grateful for or yelling at the thing you’re most grateful for then maybe you’re not being honest with your gratitude journal.
Yet kids will top just about everyone’s “gratitude” list. Just as they will be the first things to pop into mind while on one’s deathbed, which, as an aside, I honestly feel like I’m climbing into every night due to my terrible sleep apnea. Point being, kids are super important. And, generally speaking, things only become super important after they’ve been super difficult. Like climbing Mt. Everest or running a marathon in under 2:30. Both are extremely difficult things to do and, therefor, are greatly rewarded in our society.
One wonders then why my mother-in-law (a woman, we should mention) finds it so important that I get a job when what I’m doing is akin to climbing Mt. Everest and running a 2:30 marathon? Another thing to think about is, what if stay-at-home parents were sponsored like other elite athletes? That would be cool. I would choose Ferrari and Tanqueray.
Anyway, kids are the ultimate challenge. And they’re the ultimate source of contentment because, just like difficulty and importance are intertwined, so too are contentment and discomfort, unfortunately.
But of course, while very challenging, kids can also be fun. But it’s a very different kind of fun than people who don’t have kids are used to. They’re fun like camping in the rain is fun. Or traveling abroad with no money or language skills is fun. Or skiing. You do it so you can later appreciate not doing it.
Being alone after a full day with three high maintenance children is like that soft, dry bed after a week of camping; like being able to buy the food you want from people who understand you after a week abroad; like taking off your stiff ill-fitting boots and sitting in front of a fire with a hot toddy after a day of skiing. In other words, when you’ve been banging your head against a wall nothing feels better than not banging your head against a wall. But at least with banging your head against the wall, you’re afforded the luxury of yelling, “ow! This sucks!” When I’m out with the three kids, say, at the grocery store, and an older man stops me (as they do, every time) and says, “enjoy them, it goes by so quick,” all I want to say back is, “I don’t know, this seems to be taking a really long time.”
And I feel terrible guilt over it. But I think it’s fair to not have to proclaim your joy and appreciation for your kids all the time. It’d be like running up beside the 2:30 marathon runner at the two-hour mark and going, “Isn’t this great? Don’t you love this?” Or, poking your head into the climber’s tiny tent as he’s curled up in a ball, rubbing warmth into his blackened, doomed toes, and going, “Isn’t this just the best?”
Maybe it’s not quite that bad. I won’t lose any toes over this. I’ll be glad I did this. Like I’m glad I got braces. My kids definitely make me a worse person now, much the way braces definitely made me an uglier person then but, like with braces, I know I’ll be a better person as a result of my kids. But uglier. Kids make you ugly.
So, to recap, kids occupy the top spot on most parents’ gratitude list and for good reason. They’re the ultimate challenge, thus, when dominated, the ultimate source of contentment.
But where do they go on the “FUN” list. The real “fun” list. Not high at all is the answer to that. It turns out having gratitude is not the same as having fun.
Indeed, one question we parents, not just the depressed ones, often ask ourselves is: “Now that I have kids, how do I have fun?” It used to be pretty straight-forward: You’d go over to a friend’s house, have some drinks, go out and try to hook up (if you were sensitive like me, you substituted “searching for your soul mate” for “hooking up”). You rarely, if ever, did hook up/find your soul mate (until your wife, of course) but that potential was always there and it was the potential that was exciting. Excitement = fun. That’s the crux of the problem: There’s no excitement when you stay home with your kids. There’s some contentment perhaps but there’s no excitement. You may argue that there were other ways you could have fun. Like…collecting comic books…or hosting Three-Stooges movie marathons or….honestly, I don’t know what people who didn’t know how to have real fun did. Regardless, the main one, the one all “funs” are sub-categorized by –getting drunk and trying to hook up (searching for soul mates)– is no longer on the table. This poses a real problem for people who are married with kids and still have an interest in having fun.
Here’s a story (D Rating: 8-ish): A couple months ago, some old friends and I decided to plan a weekend together. Here we were, modern men, husbands in the trenches, dads who played parallel. We deserved a break the same way wives and mothers needed a break back in the 80s when they did everything. “Will your wife let you?” we asked each other. “I don’t give a shit, man!” we all cheered in response, ironically. What would we do though? Where would we go? There was some definite excitement building. This was starting to have the feel of something that could actually be fun. We sent a few emails back and forth with ideas. After the requisite suggestions of Vegas and camping died off, necessarily, we were left with a practical plan: A dude weekend in the City. New York City. I lived close by, the others were familiar with it as a place for potential fun. The conversations continued, some on conference calls. “What would we do though?” One of the friends, an architect, suggested we plan the weekend around lectures and museum visits. Another, a businessman, suggested a fitness weekend. We would literally exercise all weekend with each other. My own depression rating was close to a 10 at this point. Is this what was left? Exercise and lectures?
It’s really hard making new male friends later in life, especially when, as a SAHD, I’m spending all day with guys’ wives and the guys are coming home from work and I’m opening the door with their last beer in my hand going, “Oh, hey Steve, how was work?” More importantly, even if I was able to make new, better, friends, we couldn’t very well be going out trying to hook up with girls. Besides the fact that no one would hook up with us because we’re old and creepy, I don’t want to lose my family.
We could get drunk I suppose. But, honestly, ever since we lost the “trying to hook up with girls” half of the “get drunk and try to hook up with girls” thing it’s never really felt the same. Drinking, like everything else, has been coopted by the kids. It’s now just a means of coping with children after a long day of children.
Kate and I sometimes talk about our lost lives. There, in my apnea deathbed, as Kate and I appreciate the stillness and await the inevitable takeover by the scurrying child or gaseous dog, I often ask her about her previous life. “Previous life” usually turns into “previous hookups”. We met late, age 30, so we each time to catalog some interesting “history”.
“Who was the ugliest guy you ever hooked up with?”
“Who was the hottest guy you ever hooked up with, besides me?”
“Who did you feel worst waking up next to the following morning?” (Note to male readers: With women, it’s not necessarily the ugliest one.)
“Who had the smallest wiener?”
“Who had the weirdest wiener?”
“Who had the worst wiener?”
Kate is usually asleep by this point. But I try to wake her because she knows this is how I get to sleep at night –my “counting sheep”– and she needs to be at least half-awake for it.
“Kate!” I jostle her. “C’mon, who had the worst wiener?”
“Stop, honey, I don’t know who had the worst wiener … they were all bad.”
Kate had a good amount of time to log some good wiener stories but, it needs to be said, she was kind of a nerd. In other words, there aren’t a lot of sheep to count. And the sheep there are were almost all “snogs”, which is English for basically just kissing. I give her a hard time about it because it makes for terrible bedtime conversation but secretly I’m pretty happy about it.
All this (above) will be cut shortly after Kate reads it.
Anyway, we live in the past, us midlife parents. Some have better pasts than others. The ones with worse pasts do better with living in the present.
So that’s what it is now then: Lectures and exercise. I pulled my groin over a year ago and haven’t been able to exercise since. Doctors tell me they only do this type of surgery for elite athletes. Kate doesn’t believe I am one so won’t let me get the surgery. That leaves lectures/museums.
Before we hit Defcon 10 on the Depression scale, perhaps I should revisit the Gratitude Journal, see if I can’t dig up some positivity, gratitude and ownership, whatever the hell that is.
Note: The best song to listen to while writing your Gratitude Journal is this one by Tom T. Hall, called “I Love.” *
My (revised) Gratitude Journal:
- Kids (blah, whatever, we’ve been through this one)
- Old friends who have aged more gracefully than myself
- New friends who, even though they’re stay-at-home moms, are actually kind of interesting.
- My ferret, Vito. He’s so cute, I love him so much.
- Our home. It keeps us warm and protected from the snow, wind and rain.
- My wife. She has pretty lame wiener stories but I love her.
*Stay from the Tom T. Hall song, “Sneaky Snake”. It’s really not good for a Gratitude Journal.
Good job. Now, as promised…
(I have both male and female readers so I figured I’d include photos that would appeal to both. Enjoy!)