Positively half full

Some days I wake up on the wrong side of the bed. On these mornings, my first thoughts generally run along the lines of “I have so much to do today, I’m so tired, can’t I sleep for just ten more minutes, it’s raining out. Again.” As these thoughts flow through my head, dragging my spirit down, I physically propel my body out of bed and into the shower. As the water rains down on me, I try not to let the negativity overwhelm me, resisting the undertow that threatens to engulf me and cast a shadow upon my day.

And then, inevitably, as I walk into my son’s room, listening to his squeals of delight as he talks to his brown and yellow bears, outlining his plans for the day, my spirits begin to lift. As I see his smiling face, radiating an expectation that only positive and good things will happen throughout the day, I am struck by how much our perception shapes our experience.

As a child, my mother tried to be positive. To this day, she thinks that she is a positive influence, emphasizing only the good. And, although she is supportive in terms of the bigger picture items, as an adult, some of my strongest memories are of her petty negativities that permeated our daily routine.

When I asked my brother if this was also his experience, he started to laugh. In response to my question, he reminds me of the times when my mother would inevitably pick the wrong line up in the supermarket and, as other shoppers in longer lines would be rung through first, begin to tap her foot in annoyance and complain under her breath, making the extra minutes not only feel longer but leaving a sour aftertaste our mouths that would bleed into our next activity.

And then I realized how much this all-pervasive negativity had become my own default mindset, occurring as if by generational osmosis. As a parent, I find myself in constant battle between the now innate negativity that I have absorbed and the parent that I want to be – positive, nurturing, and ever-hopeful.

Looking at my son, I see a clean slate. In his world, only the good exists. Snow coming down in white silver wet sheets is as fantastic as melting ice cream dribbling down his chin on a sunny summer afternoon. The world is new to him, unmarred by the scars of experience, each moment savored for its unexpected novelty and beauty.

And I know that if I can keep his rose colored glasses somewhat intact, he will always operate from a better vantage point. Since the ability to take pleasure in the world’s tiniest joys, from the gleam of a shiny green apple against a smooth slate brown plate to the warmth that a stranger’s smile generates, can make or break your day, having a constant perspective of the cup being half full means that the world seems infinitely more hopeful, with endless possibilities for delight around each and every corner. And, it is this expectation that often allows us to see the beauty that is otherwise hidden beneath life’s mundanity while allowing us to be open to its unlimited opportunities.

Social nerds

When I was a kid, I was a social nerd, often unaware of the pop culture that was taking place outside my front door. Until I was six, we never had a TV in our house. The day that my grandfather wheeled a twenty incher in on a movable stand, my world shifted. Suddenly, I was exposed to some of the secrets that everyone else was privy to. Although my brother and I were only allowed to watch a half hour a day, with our options fiercely regulated by my parents, I was enthralled with the new world that I came head to head with.

Over the years, my brother and I railed against the half hour limit that was strongly enforced while secretly indulging in our addiction whenever we could by visiting friends’ houses where TV was a free commodity and slyly arranging Friday night sleepovers so that we could watch Saturday morning cartoons to our hearts content.

Although I desperately hated the fact that we had a non-negotiable limit with no ability to rollover any missed TV into the next day and the fact that my parents would routinely get up and physically mute the TV during commercial breaks while providing social commentary about the manipulative and capitalistic nature of advertising and the effects that it was having on our brain, as a parent, I find myself doing the same thing.

At the age of three, my son still didn’t really watch TV. Since we don’t have cable, his idea of TV consisted of early Saturday morning Tai Chi. Although I sometimes worried that he too will be a social nerd, my concern is always tempered by something my dad told me.

When I was about eight and obnoxiously nagging him about our measly TV allotment, incessantly reminding him that everyone else was allowed to watch whatever they wanted, he told me that when he was a kid, he and his three brothers used to race home from school, run down to the basement, fight over who got to sit in the red chair, and watch hours of TV before and after dinnertime. Out of all of those hours of watching TV, he only remembered one episode clearly. At this point, he asked me if I thought that it was really worth it. I, being eight, naturally said yes, even though inside I knew the real answer.

And so, more than thirty years later, I find myself acting in keeping with what I know to be true. Although I sometimes fear that my son will also be a social nerd, unaware of the vast popular culture that lies out there from Archie comics to the hippest movie, I remind myself that my status as social outcast has not lasted into adulthood. And so, it’s my hope that my son’s childhood, like mine, is filled with activity, discovery, friendships, learning, books and excitement that will lay the foundation for a curious mind and interesting life, unencumbered by the habituation of watching life as a bystander and used to experiencing and living each moment to its potential.

Having a posse

When I turned six, my family imploded. From the outside, we looked like a picture-perfect family: my mother was a stay-at-home mom and my dad was a university professor who was around most of the time. But, as we all know, appearances can be deceiving. Underneath the Cleaver exterior, the 70s political and social hippy revolution was alive and kicking in our home.

By the time I was eight, my parents were engaged in full-blown open relationships, my dad was openly bi-sexual, we had an anarchist press operating out of our basement, and my parents were constantly trying to convince me that it would be best if my brother and I were home-schooled, an event that was to take place in the idealized school bus that we would purchase and convert to tour across the country. In all reality, I was probably the only child who begged and pleaded to be allowed to go to school. For me, it and all the friends that I had there represented a haven of sanity.

When we reminisce about this time, my cousin constantly reminds me that it’s amazing that we all turned out so normal, functional and successful. And I can’t help but agree.

When I reflect on why things turned out this way, the only answer that I can come up with is that, no matter what, we always knew that we had a posse. Regardless of what crisis or upheaval we were experiencing, we always knew that when push came to shove, our parents would drop whatever insanity they had embroiled themselves in and be behind us one hundred percent. And, in spite of the myriad changes to our family constellation, this fact has remained strong and true to this day: I know that no matter what is happening in my parents’ and brother’s lives, and no matter what was said or done in the past, if I need them, they will be there for me, rearranging their lives to give me the physical and emotional supports that I need to get through a particularly difficult situation. This fact has proven true time and time again.

For myself, knowing that I am part of a unit that will circle the wagons in closed and protective ranks has created a deep-seated sense of security lasting well into adulthood. Fundamentally, I know that I am never alone. And, the adage of there being strength in numbers seems to hold true.

As a parent, I find myself consciously trying to create this same sense of security for my son. Although formally, from the outside looking in, it is currently just he and I, I find that this is not quite an accurate depiction of reality. By extending my notion of family to include not just blood relatives and immediate family, but all the people who care for and love us, I find that my son already has a sense of security in his place in the world, confident that if he needs help or assistance someone will be there to provide it. And, by fostering the conditions that allow him to be showered in various forms of love while maintaining the illusion that the world is going to love him for as long as possible, I believe that his equilibrium and ability to cope won’t be fundamentally rocked when he realizes that the world isn’t only a joyous place to be but often requires fortitude, resilience, strength and a belief in oneself to succeed.


When my son was nine months old, he would play on the double futon I had installed in his room. For hours on end, he would stand up, hold on to the window ledge and then let go, spiraling into a free-fall. In the small span of time between letting go and landing, bouncing softly and comfortably into the mattress, a smile enveloped his face depicting his delight in being out of control while knowing that a safety net was firmly in place.

Watching him, my heart would race, aching for the naiveté and absolute trust required to capture that heedless sensation of wild abandon. It would make me remember how, when I was first taking ballet at the age of six or seven and, having recently fallen in love with the nutcracker, I would pirouette and jettée across my living room floor, convinced that I was experiencing a novel sensation of free-floating headiness that no one had previously experienced but, given the minutest chance, would do anything to.

And then it occurred to me. Falling in love is similar, without the safety net. My first experience of love was like being struck by a bolt of lightening. It came at me, unexpected but strong and sure, changing my chemical and genetic composition forever. It made me happier, nicer, and more loving in general.

At that time, it never occurred to me that things wouldn’t work out and that there wouldn’t be a happily ever after. When the relationship ended, my complete faith in fairy tale endings was destroyed.

Watching my son execute his spirals of innocently sinful delight, it occurs to me that love is much like his actions. Until you come up hard and fast against the realization that there is no safety net in place, you can abandon yourself completely and give your heart away on a silver platter as if an offering of delectable delight that’s impossible for anyone to refuse.

Once you realize that no one can guarantee a happily forever after ending and that, by definition, love and relationships are risky, you also realize that therein lies the magic. And, in a heartbeat, I realize that this is something that I want my son to learn.

Falling in love is part something that happens to you and part a conscious choice. When two people meet, and there is that spark and recognition of the other, there is often a point at which you have to decide to take a step and let go. The step may be small, but, once aware that a safety net doesn’t exist, it’s the hardest step you’ll ever take. It requires you to take a leap of faith built on vulnerability and hopefulness while trusting in something entirely intangible and out of your control. But, if you willingly suspend disbelief and open yourself up, the rewards are usually unexpected and unquantifiable.

The body vs. intangibles

I recently dated a ‘beautiful’ man. At first, it was a pleasure. Looking at him and taking in the contours of his form while exploring the hard but defined hills and valleys of his physique filled me with delight. But, as I began to notice that this pleasure was uniquely one-sided, my own joy in the physical and visual quickly diminished.

When I looked at the dynamics of our relationship, I realized that his behavior was not personal. His mother repeatedly extolled his virtues, stating “my son, the hunk… he could have any woman he wants, you know.” And it was obvious that he had absorbed this message wholeheartedly, coming to believe his own press.

Thinking about this, a memory from when I was fourteen came to mind. At the time, I was friends with two sisters, both of whom were older than me. The eldest, at nineteen, was undeniably beautiful – tall, sleek, with long dark curly hair and blue eyes so large that you had to almost pull yourself away. The younger was her sister’s physical opposite – short, chubby, with a square face that lacked in delicacy. But, she had something more: a warmth and vitality that pulled you in, making you feel loved and safe while creating a haven from which it was hard to escape. And, when you did, you wanted to fight to get back inside the strength of her energy.

One night, sitting around her mother’s kitchen table, we were talking about the bikini commercial the older sister was going to be shooting in the coming week. As the discussion took place, I noticed that their mother was supportive but not ecstatic about her daughter’s endeavor.

When I asked her why she didn’t seem more thrilled, she told me that although she thought that it was great that her daughter was able to make some money by making a commercial or two, she didn’t want her girls to think that the only thing important about them is the shell in which they are encased. And, to this day, her answer sticks with me. “My girls are so much more than their bodies. I want them to value themselves and others for their skills, talents, and intrinsic worth, not for what they were born into, have no control over, and will eventually decay.”

Looking at the man I dated, I realized that he was an extreme example of what my friends’ mom had feared her daughters were in danger of becoming: he had valued his outer shell so deeply and had this belief reinforced for so long that he had forgotten that he had other, more important attributes on offer. As a result, he had lost the ability to develop his talents and appreciate another for their intangible qualities.

As a parent, when people comment on my son’s good looks I quickly thank them for the compliment. But, for myself, my son, and those close to us, I find myself consciously trying to emphasize the value of his happy personality, generous nature, and multiple aptitudes. Although I believe that it is important for him to carry into the world a comfort and confidence in his body, ultimately I believe a stronger confidence in the value of the intangibles that make him him and his ability to develop these is what will allow him to develop a strong sense of sense, value himself and others, create deep relational ties, and keep him away from the danger of being immeasurable potential that remains unrealized.