Archives for posts with tag: Marriage

I had big plans for my blog today. It’s Pay it Forward Friday to honor our friend Karen Sutherland’s late husband, Hugh. Today is his birthday. I committed to honoring Pay it Forward Friday with several posts this week about acts of kindness and gratitude.

Karen writes lovingly about her husband and their relationship. What better way could I honor she and her husband than to devote todays post to my appreciation for my husband, John and our marriage.

Then it happened about 20 minutes ago. John acted in a way and said things that really pissed me off. Nothing horrible was said. It was just a disagreement. But it was a disagreement with interrupting. Between my daughter who interrupts constantly and my husband who interrupts frequently, this has been a hot button for me for many years. Actually, interruptions are not bad per se but the ones that change the subject or serve to confuse communication happen far too frequently.

But you know what? I’m going to appreciate my husband, anyway.

John, thank you for being my best friend for the past 27 years. You are a wonderful companion, have curiosity about the world, are compassionate, and are damned funny. I had long thought that any romantic, passionate relationship that I had would need a basis in friendship to last. And so far, I am right about that!

Thank you for being a wonderful father. I still remember your absolute and unbridled joy at becoming a dad. You have one of the closest relationships I’ve ever seen a father have with his teen daughter. There are times that I envy that but mostly I’m just happy for the two of you.

Thank you for being excellent at your job and for your financial contributions to our family. You work more hours than I do and make more money. You carry the health insurance for the family.

I have such gratitude to you for being so good to my extended family. They love you a great deal but I also know that there are a lot of them!

Thank you for supporting my career aspirations and education. I remember when people would say to me, “Your husband is so nice to LET you get a Ph.D.” They were right about the “nice” part but for the wrong reasons. Thank you for not acting as if I needed your permission to be a highly educated woman.

Thank you for supporting my friendships and my life outside of our family. Thanks for being such an eager host for our many social gatherings. Despite your natural introversion, you have a demeanor that puts others at ease, you are a wonderful conversationalist, and help people have a great time.

Thank you for your forgiveness, time and time again for the times I have hurt you, often unintentionally but more often than I would like to admit, I have hurt you purposely. I have acted selfishly out of fear, lashed out in times of stressed, and stayed distant at times I felt most vulnerable and hurt. You have loved me through all of this. You have always been open to working on our marriage for the health and happiness of the both of us as well as maintaining a strong foundation for our daughter.

Thank you for taking a chance on me. I know that when we met and even when we were getting married, your frame of reference was one in which people didn’t stay married for more than a few years.

Thank you for letting me expose our relationship, bumps and all, in my writing. It shows trust in the strength of our relationship as well as your kindness in hoping that sharing our lives may help others.

I had a psychotherapy appointment today. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the work I put into being a happy person. I told Rebecca that at times, I wonder if I make life too complicated since I work so hard at happiness. But I also told her that I realized that I have the CAPACITY for happiness and that is a big deal. Yes, I work hard but I know how to be a generally happy person.

She made a really interesting observation, a profound one I think. “Elizabeth, you have a lot of happiness in your life. Because you have so much, being mindful of all of it from the smallest flowers to the love in your marriage, is a lot of work.”

I said, “Oh it’s like happy money! I have to work hard because I have so much to count.”

Finally, Karen I am so sorry that you lost Hugh. I am so sorry for your cancers and your suffering. I so appreciate you. I know that in your sadness and suffering, you are growing stronger. You are a very kind and resilient person with much loving wisdom that you have shared with us. I consider not only your friendship a gift but also your relationship with your dear husband. Your love for him has always been incredibly apparent and incredibly strong. But the reality of the difficulties of living even with a soul mate, have always come through in your writing. I have felt encouraged and validated by the real, loving picture you have drawn, bumps and all.

Some problems are to be solved. Others cannot be solved and are to be accepted.

Today, my mood matches the weather outside, gray. It may rain today and it may not. It could go either way.

I feel discouraged today and fairly sad. Not horribly so, not a torrential downpour so but still cloudy.

Many of my expectations about the business side of marriage, dividing responsibility, having routines, making decisions and then implementing them, are reasonable ones. Ordinarily, they are not too much to ask.

But I’ve been a marriage for nearly 25 years during which these expectations have never been met despite the fact that my husband and I adore one another and are smart, resourceful people. And I have no reason to believe that our lives will become less complicated any time soon or perhaps ever. Similarly, I have no reason to believe that either of us is going to change in any major way that will make this teamwork, which I have so desperately wanted all of these years, happen.

I am not without spontaneity in my life. I like new experiences. I like having fun. But it is not fun to be spontaneous about the stupid, boring parts of daily life. The stuff that just needs to get done so that there is time for fun and life is not just spent figuring out the same mundane tasks every day. Habits, routines, and rules are helpful because when they make sense, our brains don’t have to work so hard and we also have more free time.

I find that a substantial amount of my thinking time is spent on making these rules and habits happen. Twenty-five years of this thinking and it’s not happening.

I believe that I am one of the most reasonable people that I know. I am proud of how hard I have worked to live a life that is coherent and makes sense. That may seem silly but for me, it has opened a path to great joy, creativity, and happiness.

Ordinarily, my expectations of a marital partnership would be reasonable. But my marriage is not ordinary. In most ways, it is extraordinary, with incredible depth, humor, shared values, and passions. No one and no partnership can be strong in every area. We are not strong in the mundane aspects of daily living. I mean sometimes we do a better job than others but it nearly always requires a great deal of effort, regardless of the outcome. In contrast, we don’t have to work at laughing together, appreciating nature, or expressing interest in the world around us. That stuff is easy. Dishes are hard. Finding the broom because it was moved and not put back in its place is hard. Finding clean towels is difficult. Giving up on the idea that these things will someday change is difficult.

If you asked me whether I would rather have the marriage I have than one that ran like a well oiled machine but was lacking in passion, companionship, and laughter, I would so obviously choose the marriage that I have. Every day, I choose the marriage that I have. I have a wonderful husband.

Today, I realized that in my quest to feel better about myself as a wife, I have to give up these expectations. It is understandable that I want them. But it is unreasonable and irrational to continue expecting things to change.  I don’t yet know how to do this. This is not the first time I have had this thought. But it is the first time that the thought has been different than just giving up.

As I have been writing this, it has changed in my mind from a loss to a sliver of opportunity, an opening to a different path.

When I was in graduate school, I watched a video in class about a woman who due to brain damage had permanent anterograde amnesia. This is the loss of the ability to create new memories. Every time her husband entered her hospital room she greeted him like Penelope greeting Odysseus. “It’s been so long! I’m so happy to see you!!!!” There were hugs and kisses and more hugs and kisses. And if he as so much as left the room to use the restroom, the whole thing started over again.

This woman knew enough about the past to know that this man was her husband. It was pretty close to “living totally in the present” without her greeting him as a stranger every time she saw him.

Taking the husband’s perspective, the interchanges looked painful and exhausting. His wife clearly adored him but how could they move forward? Clearly, they could not. In time she would be distracted by the vision of herself in the mirror. With time, she would not recognize herself due to aging. And the same would be true for her husband. Time would pass and she would be confused by his appearance and then likely, view him as a stranger.

Making memories together is important in a marriage. It is a shared history that is constructed together. For day to day life, the logistics of life, it is crucial to have routines and shared understanding of not only the division of labor, but of what tasks are needed in order to run the family, the marriage, and individuals lives.

I have a very good memory for routines, agreements, and history. It is a strength that I have and that the rest of my family does not. With my daughter, her flightiness, her memory problems, her statements of “I did not know I was not supposed to do ______” despite countless conversations and experiences to the contrary, is frustrating but after all she is a child and furthermore, MY child.

My husband also forgets the mundane aspects of life. The agreements, the logistics, etc. I know he does not do this on purpose. He is a loving and a hardworking person. But sometimes, every day seems like starting over from scratch. We have a shared history, a deep and loving history together as a couple. We know each other and like each other. We’ve had wonderful vacations, traditions, and family traditions. We have a MEANINGFUL and RICH life together. But when it comes to daily life, the mundane stuff we all have to do, or even the less mundane agreements we have about parenting or communication, it can be like starting over. Like a whole new day when I want the old day, yesterday, when we made a plan together. Today, I did the dishes, for example. I also made dinner. I did not know who was supposed to do them but didn’t want to fight about it. So, I just did them because I didn’t want to start from square one, as a couple.

It can be exhausting. It can be guilt-inducing because I know that my husband loves me and his family. I can feel resentment because I work hard to communicate and at times, it just doesn’t seem to matter what I say or do or what we communicate to each other. I am also trying hard to move forward to live in the present. But living in the present when the recent past does not always exist is much harder than it sounds. When I provide the same rationale over and over for the same decision that I thought was already made, I get perceived as a “nag”. I totally understand why I come across that way. But I am also in an understandably frustrating situation. And he is, as well.

We are intensely working on our  marriage; we are trapped in the present. Eventually, the present will be an illuminating and freeing place.

Right now it is hard.

As a young girl, I remember my teacher telling us about solar eclipses. I was eager to learn more. We were going to have one. I had never seen one before or previously known what it was. This is also one of many times as a child, I was cautioned of the dangers of looking directly at the sun. We made pin-hole camera type contraptions that would allow us to view the event indirectly.

I have been applying my mindfulness practices to examining my deep irrational fears of being a bad wife. This is a fear at my very center and it hurts my heart. Looking at it has been like looking into the sun, scary with the potential for great power and insight. Looking into the sun causes damage. Looking into the center of oneself can also unearth damage but instead of being permanent, it can also open the way to healing, resilience, and strength.

Right now I am at the unearthing damage part. It’s pretty hard. It’s a bit disorienting. I need more time than ever for quiet contemplation. I did not think of this when I went on vacation recently, what it would be like to be with my family 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I found myself very anxious, feeling simultaneously vulnerable and aware of my own destructive powers to lash out and hurt others. Don’t get me wrong, parts of vacation were wonderful. But I had some difficult times. I found that I did better when I took breaks from my family to write my blog on the public library computers. I think my family appreciated the space from my anxious emissions of unpredictable solar flares.

I felt considerably less anxious after I returned home but as is typically true, John and I are working to re-connect with each other. We are both empathetic and sensitive people. Just as our moments of happiness are highly contagious, so is our anxiety, anger, and sadness. Our daughter is the same way. Fortunately, we all love and like each other and will rally to get things back on track.

I have been disappointed in myself. But today I remind myself that it is difficult to look into the sun, even if only looking at the edges as are visible during an eclipse. I have found that in the past, as I’ve examined my thoughts and feelings about other issues, time and time again, through mindfulness, I get an objective distance while still feeling connected to myself.

Many years ago, John and I camped in Shenandoah National Park. We happened to be there during major meteor showers. I had never and have never before seen anything like it.  We laid down side by side both looking up at the sky, full of stars, moving stars, cascading stars, tumbling stars, one after another. Many of those stars were as powerful as our sun. Many were likely more powerful than our sun. But the distance allowed us to look right at them, fully engaged with the wonder, the power, and the beauty of the sky.

That is the image on which I will meditate. Perhaps some day, looking at myself will be like gazing at the heavens, looking up with wonder, the appreciation that not all can be understood in this life, and that this is the way it should be.



With my strong reaction to the “there’s nothing wrong with you” Facebook posts, I knew that I had some thinking to do. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with my strong reactions per se, it’s just that when the intensity of my emotional reaction to things surprises me, it is often because I’ve hit a sore spot.

I have come a long way in accepting my imperfections. I am mostly okay with myself as an individual. I am aware that despite my faults and mistakes, I am a very good mother.

To be perfectly frank, I have complained a great deal in my life about my husband’s sensitivity to criticism. Although my complaints are not entirely unfounded, something else is also true. When my husband complains to me or criticizes me, it hits a very tender part of my heart. The part of my heart that wants to be a perfect wife. I’ve long thought that I am a good wife, maybe even a very good wife. But it is the role in my life in which I fall down the most frequently.

I am actually pretty good at taking critical feedback, in general. I had music teachers that poke and prodded and talked me through every note. I had writing teachers that had me change every single word. I’ve had patients and their family get quite mad at me. In my friendships, I would much rather be told that I am doing something that concerns or bothers another person than to just be left guessing. A former boss of mine actually told me that responding appropriately to specific negative feedback was one of my strengths as an employee. That was a truly horrible work situation, during which I experienced the onset of my first of two depressive episodes.

I haven’t gotten depressed in over a decade and I am a happy person. But part of me feels like my heart is about to be shot whenever my husband criticizes me. It doesn’t happen every time, or even the majority of the time, but it happens enough so that it is a problem. My perfectionism is gets in the way of solutions and communication, two things that build a healthy and close marriage. I put a lot of stress on myself to be the “better person” in a relationship, to function better, to need less, and to give more. That’s appropriate for a mother. It’s also appropriate for a psychologist. My parental and professional relationships are not supposed to be reciprocal. But my husband is my a partner and a peer. Being the “better person” is not an equal relationship, nor is being dependent.

This is a work in progress, people. I am a work in progress.

In the early 90’s, John and I drove to rural Pennsylvania from North Carolina. His research adviser, a computer science professor at UNC-Chapel Hill, was throwing a 50th birthday party for his wife, who was an English Professor at Syracuse University in New York. They owned a Mennonite farmhouse from when they were both professors at Penn State University. He had a pilot’s license and a small plane. This was the house he flew to when he and his wife spent time together.

The distance between North Carolina and Pennsylvania is sizable. We were newly married and both in graduate school. We didn’t have a lot of money and hence, no form of reliable transportation. But we wanted to go to the party. So we rented a car, packed our bags, and drove north.

The drive was really quite beautiful especially through Appalachia. If you have never been through the eastern U.S., the Appalachian Mountains are beautiful and old. Because they are old, they are worn. They are not snow-capped. I’ve always thought of them as lovely broccoli-green hills speckled with charming farm houses and old grain mills. Ah, there are also the fireflies that light up the hillside.

It was so beautiful. Ahhhhhhhhh. The drive was so relaxing, so breath taking… And then I took a look at the gas gauge. “Hey, John, you’re down to a quarter of a tank.”

“That’s plenty of gas”, he replied.

“John! We are out in the middle of nowhere!”

“Don’t worry about it.”

I relaxed and as I get ever so slightly car sick, I fell asleep. I awoke to John frantically saying, “There’s something wrong with the car! We’ve lost power.”

“John. We. Ran. Out. of. Gas.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”


This was before cell phone days and we really were out in the middle of nowhere. We hitched a ride to the nearest gas station (‘OH-MY-GOD-YOU-MADE-US-HITCH-HIKE!!!!”), bought gas and hitched a ride back to the car. Then we drove to a gas station. I would say that we went upon our merry way. I mean, we actually had a wonderful time on that trip, in the end.

But in the mean time, we had what has become an age-old argument between the two of us:

Me: “There’s a problem coming; here’s what you need to do.”

J: “There’s no problem. Stop worrying about it.”

Me: “See? There was a problem. You don’t listen to me!!!!”

J: “I could have handled it. You are treating me like a child. Also, whatever problem MIGHT occurred is your fault, anyway.”

Me: “Don’t you remember that time I TOLD YOU that we were running out of gas”…

There are many versions of his argument. Since it’s my blog, I started out with an example of a time when John truly did blow me off and then blamed me for the outcome.

Oh, I so dislike it when he does that! It is so frustrating and then the “and it’s your fault” part really hurts.

But there are other versions of this fight, ones that I am not as likely to remember.

E: “I am feeling anxious. Anything could be a problem right now. Hey look, there’s a problem. DON’T YOU SEE THE PROBLEM! HEY, YOU NEED TO RESPOND TO ME. THERE’S A PROBLEM!!!! SEE THE PROBLEM!!!! HEAR THE PROBLEM!!!!”

J: (Actually trying to get his wife to CALM THE HELL DOWN): “There’s no problem. Don’t worry about it. I will handle all of this.”


And then it ends up that the problem didn’t occur.

E: (Thinking to herself) “Wow, good thing I went ape shit there. Otherwise, WE WOULD HAVE HAD THAT PROBLEM I KNEW WAS GOING TO HAPPEN.”

Those are two versions. In one version, John is not at his best. In the other, I am not at my best. Of course, there are many other versions of this conversation. But they are not as memorable because they are healthy and functional.

Most of our communication is healthy and functional. And what I mean by most, is the vast majority. But we do get stuck on those two examples, the first of John’s under-responsiveness and the second of my insistent and anxious problem solving.

I have no tidy answers for this communication problem. I am describing it as part of my mindfulness practice in hopes of continuing to chip away at the way these conversations trigger strong emotional reactions from each of us.

I do know that we have had versions of these arguments hundreds of times in our 27 years together. I have learned in studying marriage and marital therapy that there are perpetual arguments that even happy couples have. There is a difference in how these perpetual arguments are handled, however, John and I are working hard.

If I keep working hard, I know that he will FINALLY start doing what I tell him to do.

I kid, I kid, I kid!

I come from an Italian American family on my mother’s side. Her great grandparents were farmers in northern Italy who immigrated to the U.S. to raise children and work the coal mines near Seattle. In other words, they were not fancy people. They were poor. But they were smart, hard working, life loving, and resourceful. They not only loved food but had a lot of mouths to fill. They knew how to “make something out of nothing”.

My mom knew how to do this, too. It wasn’t as if we were poor but money was tight and there were a lot of people to feed in a family of eight. Mom is also masterful at re-purposing leftovers into new meals so that food is not wasted.

The week has continued to exhaust me. I rallied in the writing of my last post, only to have an extremely fragmented and stressful evening, during which my irritability peaked, and I became quite irrational. My daughter had gotten rather angry with me because she told me that she had another parade the next morning and I had reminded her that I had asked her to tell me about all of her events and she had just told me, “Don’t worry about it, Mom.” I was not able to sacrifice half of a work day to get her there. She got very angry. It was kind of a last straw for me and I mostly took it out on my husband because she had treated me extremely disrespectfully and he left the room instead of backing me up. Realistically, he was probably doing what he needed to do to keep from yelling, with which I was already doing a good job.

I spent a good deal of the early part of yesterday fighting the urge to go back to bed. I have not had a day like this in a very long time. My brain and my heart were utterly exhausted despite the fact that it was a gloriously beautiful summer day in which I had much to do. I forced myself to stay out of bed. By late afternoon, I was sitting on the couch with a head both full of everything and nothing, swirling in eddies of acute pain and numbness.

My husband came home early from work and asked what I wanted to do for dinner. I said, “I am not doing well at all. I know I will be okay. Right now, I can’t think. I can’t answer questions. I need 15 minutes to finish up work.”

Then I started on my unfinished progress notes, one by one, and with the completion of each one, I gathered a tiny but noticeable bit of energy. In about 45 minutes I was done. I had accomplished something. I told John, “Sorry, that took longer than 15 minutes. I’m going to cook dinner.”

I walked into my kitchen. I had a perfectly ripe mango, a perfectly ripe avocado, and some limes. They were not planned for a particular meal. In general, that is often the way I shop. I just buy what looks good. In my freezer, I had some large shrimp. I also had a bit of simple salad left over from another meal. It was made from jicama, radish, and lime. I thought that might be a nice textural and flavor contrast with sweet mango but I wasn’t sure but I started getting excited to try. And as I sliced, zested, crushed, sauteed, and mixed, my spirit continued to lighten and I felt myself filling up again. When I tasted, I could tell that I’d made a lovely summer salad full of good things. My husband and I had a nice meal together, which led to a nice evening.

I had been depleted and feeling in utter need, just an hour before. I needed to give myself an experience of creating from start to finish, to remember that I am capable of making wholes and not just carrying an armload of loose fragments, which keep falling to the ground, and then others fall as I stoop over to pick them up.

Remember what you have and make use of it.

That is my meditation for today.

Shrimp and mango with lime, avocado, radish, and jicama.

Shrimp and mango with lime, garlic, avocado, radish, and jicama.

Here is the recipe:

About 1 pound of large shrimp, peeled and deveined with tails left on.
1 lime, zested (put zest to the side), then cut into quarters.
1 large ripe avocado, peeled, pitted, and cut into large dice. (Squeeze one of the limb slices on it so it doesn’t discolor).
1 large ripe mango, peeled, pitted, and cut into large dice. (If you have not cut up a mango, read some directions on doing it. It’s not hard but it’s different than other fruit.)
1/4 of a jicama, peeled and cut into matchsticks.
3-4 mild-flavored radishes, peel on, sliced thinly. (I used a small portion of a large watermelon radish, which was about the size of my fist and cut it into match sticks.)
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed.

1. Put all of the ingredients into a bowl except for the shrimp, garlic, half of the lime zest, and all of lime wedges into a bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste and the juice from 2-3 lime wedges. Mix gently with your hands so the avocado does not lose its shape.

2. Heat 1 teaspoon of oil and about 2 teaspoons of butter in a large saute pan, on medium to medium high, taking care not to burn the butter. Add garlic and cook for about a minute, stirring frequently. Add the shrimp and cook for a minute or two on each side until curled up and opaque, but not rubbery!

3. Put the salad into a serving bowl and top with the shrimp. Sprinkle the remaining lime zest on the top so it looks pretty!

Last week I dreamed about my kittens. (Yes, I know, despite my formative years as a “dog person”, I have become a “cat lady” in my middle age.) My kittens are litter mates, brother and sister, both with pure black coats.

In my dream, they were conjoined twins. People looked at them and remarked, “Oh, look at the cute kitties!” Then the heads of the kitties started looking in different directions and the front right and left feet did the same. The kitties looked distressed. They were not working as a team.

When I awoke from the dream, I thought, “I need to use this image in a blog post.” Yes, really I did. As I’ve mentioned in the past, I am not someone who makes fancy dream interpretations. But I do think about my dreams, especially when I think they signal distress. At the time I was having the dream, I was concerned that John and I were not parenting as a team as well as usual and that we were having trouble communicating about the logistics of our lives. I think that is probably what the dream was about.

I have been pretty stressed during the last couple of weeks. I am an energetic extrovert. Nonetheless, I don’t function well if I am pulled in a hundred directions, living a fragmented life. I am not good at perpetually switching gears. That’s one of the reasons I was attracted to pursuing a research career rather than a career as a clinician. Clinical work means switching gears between people, situations, and goals, quite frequently. When I did research, I worked on one or two projects for years at a time. But I ended up being a clinician and thank goodness, I learned how to switch gears much better than I did previously.

Right now my workdays consist of switching constantly among work, driving my daughter around, getting to my healthcare appointments. My daughter has needed to be driven to one to three locations all around Seattle, every day, starting in the middle of the day. She takes the bus when she can but there are logistics to be worked there there, too.

Yesterday, I reminded her of what time she needed to be home from school (she is volunteering each morning to help with a band program for younger kids) so that I could take her to an activity at 2:00 pm in northeast Seattle. (We live in southwest Seattle.) The original plan had been for her to take the bus downtown and then take a transfer to get to the office. However, we’d tried that the day before and she missed the bus. Since it was mid-day, there was not another bus for an hour. I cancelled my annual physical so that I could come home from work and drive her. Seattle is not an easy city in which to get around. It is long, narrow, surrounded by water, and hilly, for starters. This means that there are a rather limited number of highways and streets available to get from one place to another.

As I complain frequently, I find driving to be taxing and stressful. I am a good driver and it is not that I feel really anxious when I am driving. It’s mostly that I have to think so hard. And it’s not that figuring out bus schedules and directions is that hard, especially with the Internet. It’s hard to remember to do it and to make sure my daughter has the information she needs and understands where she is supposed to be at what time and how to get there. (This is one time when I kind of wish we’d allow her to have a smartphone, but I digress.) Riding the bus involves a surprising number of steps and also, some background knowledge that a non-driver doesn’t necessarily know. Consequently, I need to break it down in my mind and then make sure she knows things I would otherwise take for granted. For example, “You have a parade after your appointment. It is north of where you will be. Do you know what side of the street to be on to take a northbound bus?” The answer is “no”. And she does not yet know north, south, east, and west. When I was her age, I didn’t either. Then there are the fragmented questions I throw out, “Remember your bus pass!” “Remember to pack a lunch!” “Remember your phone!” “Remember your band uniform. You’re not going to have a chance to come back home before the parade!”

If you are a long reader of this blog, you will know that I live with some rather forgetful people who actually need frequent reminders, even if they are not always happy to receive them, in the moment. And by the way, it is not enabling if your child is actually getting better at remembering these things on her own, which is the case for her. But she is only up to remembering these things about 50% of the time. Think about what your daily life would be like if you were not where you were supposed to be with the what you needed, half of the time. Also, you carry your bus pass in an old eyeglass case and your money in a ring box. And this is a major improvement in organization from years past. Finally, you don’t drive. See, having a nagging mom would be annoying but handy.

About two paragraphs, I was telling you about one example day. Then I veered off course. What you don’t know if that while I’ve been writing this post, I’ve stopped and started it many times. I actually wanted to write it last week when I had the dream. Right at this moment, I am fighting the impulse to walk out and investigate the bird sounds I am hearing.

When I am switching gears too much, coordinating multiple goals, I find that it is hard to stop switching gears. I find even more goals and they aren’t priority either. Instead of being a two-headed cat, I turn into a creature with an ever changing number of heads, all on one body. There is effort to do things but none of the cohesion required to get things done in an efficient way.

The first thing that happens to me is that I start getting forgetful. Then I start making mistakes. Then I start getting anxious that I am making a lot of mistakes and I am so distracted that my level of self-awareness waxes and wanes. Then I make more mistakes. Then I start a flurry of unecessary reassurance seeking. “Are you sure you have the bus pass?” “Hey, friend, did I just treat you badly?”

There is an expression that people use referring to feeling “centered”. It is a positive thing but honestly I can’t exactly articulate what it is. But what I can tell you that at this time, I don’t feel centered or “grounded”, another common description that people use to refer to a state of balance.

I don’t feel centered. I don’t feel grounded. I feel like I have an infinite number of heads and none of them contain good working brains. Now, these are subjective feelings. In reality, I am functioning. I am carrying out my life with competence. But I feel icky in the process.

My natural inclination is to think of the happy, balanced, reasonable, bright, organized, empathetic, and energetic version of myself as “the real me” and the other times are aberrant.

I am becoming increasingly, aware, however of how unreasonable this belief really is. I am always me. Who else would I be? The person who gets irritable with her husband because she is overwhelmed and fragmented? That’s me. The person who asked her husband to take care of a responsibility this morning because she was exhausted, even though she’s been irritable with him? That’s me. The real me is not that perfect and it is unhealthy for me to maintain a vision of myself as needing to meet that standard in order to be “real”.

The person who is feeling a little more grounded and centered after having sorted through her thoughts and feelings while writing this post?

That’s me, too.

I have goals in my life. Some day, my life will end. But my life, itself, is not a goal or an end point.

My life is an experience, with lines of continuity as well as flux.

What else would it be?

My husband is out of town this weekend. He left this morning. I came home from driving my daughter around town this evening. The kitties were hungry. I couldn’t find their food. It wasn’t where I had left it earlier today when I last fed them.

They were pestering me for food. I knew that we were not out of kitten food, having bought a large bag of it just last weekend. I spent about ten minutes looking all around my kitchen, in the cupboards, on the counter, and on the small tables that are there. Then I thought, “John must have moved it. John is a very tall person.”

I lifted my head up to the plane of my husband’s vision, where he sees and where he can easily reach in our kitchen. There it was, the kitten food. It was set on a high cupboard above the microwave. I got out a stool to stand on so I could reach it to take it down.

Perspective taking is an important part of marriage. It is not just putting oneself in the life situation of another. Perspective taking requires thinking and feeling like another, as if you were that other person, with that other person’s life view, attitudes, capabilities, likes, wishes, strengths, weaknesses, and feelings.

My husband is a very tall person. I am tall for a woman but much shorter than he. My experience of our kitchen, what I can see and what I can reach, is much different than his, just because of a basic difference between the two of us. It doesn’t matter that the kitchen is the same. We are NOT the same.

That’s just a simple example of a difference in physical stature and how that impacts our perception of the kitchen in our home, as well as what consequences that has on our kitten food storing behaviors.

Intimate relationships can be extremely complex. There are many differences between people in a relationship and mind reading is not yet possible. And honestly, I think that mind-reading abilities would make healthy relationships even less possible. I have some pretty dumb thoughts and feelings on a regular basis. I don’t want people knowing about them! Further, sometimes, my thoughts and feelings are not completely expressed, they are disorganized and incomplete. I don’t want to communicate them until I have time  to process them.

John and I are currently working extra hard to communicate better with each other. We are also trying to understand one another better. This is a time of transition for us. My level of functioning has been in flux for over two years now due to my cancer, it’s treatment, and my physical and emotional recovery. My husband is dealing with his own issues, some of it related to my cancer. We both navigate the shifting tides that are our teen daughter’s unpredictable ups and downs.

The logistics of our lives in the past two weeks have been particularly challenging. We are getting better at working things out. Right now, I no longer feel like I’m jugging water, as I was a few days ago. We are talking and listening. I am working hard to focus on what I can do as a wife and my own responsibilities instead of focusing so much on how I think my husband should be behaving differently.

I am working on thinking tall.

There’s a vaudeville theater in my neighborhood, Kenyon Hall. It’s about two blocks from where I live, located in an old house. They have an antique Wurlitzer organ, which is occasionally played as live accompaniment to old silent films. They used to sell root beer floats for a dollar each on these movie nights.

We haven’t been there in a long time. There was a change in ownership and the types of entertainment offered there has narrowed. About ten years ago we went there with friends along with our daughter for a comedy juggling act, Brothers from Different Mothers. They were very funny and excellent jugglers. I laughed a lot.

Now, when I laugh, I do so loudly and with my whole body. Kenyon Hall is a small venue with no stage. We were sitting in the front row because we’d arrived early and wanted to make sure that we could see. I was quite noticeable and also conveniently close to the two performers.

I’d not seen them perform before so I didn’t know that they used audience members in their act. When it came time for that part of the show, I was promptly asked to go up front with them. I can’t remember everything that they had me do. But I remember being a very good sport about the whole thing.

But one part of the performance actually got a bit stressful. I was to grab one of the balls from one of the guys while he was still juggling. PERFORMANCE PRESSURE. I missed 2-3 times and I noticed that the juggler was holding the ball for increasingly longer times in order to make it easier for me to grab from him. I knew that there was only so long he could do this before having to attend to the other balls in the air. I also knew that if I didn’t get it soon, the act would drag. I mean, a woman hyena-laughing while trying to grab a juggling ball gets old after a few failures. Each time I tried to memorize the timing and rhythm of the balls in the air. On the next attempt, I got it, much to my relief. I had not spoiled the joke with ball dropping ineptitude.

I know it is cliche to compare one’s life to juggling balls. We all try to keep the balls in the air. However, when we parent, we are also trying to do a hand off balls or take balls from another, all in order to make sure no one’s load is burdensome. And we do it while each of us is juggling a full set of balls.

When my husband and I have an established and coordinated routine, this can go pretty smoothly. We know what to expect, can plan for it, and we’ve handled it before.

Then there are the times when the unexpected happens or we have to learn a new routine. At these times, it can feel like juggling water. I feel all of the responsibilities but can’t put my hands around them. What’s worse, I can’t tell which responsibilities are mine and which ones are John’s. They just splash to the ground, undone, and making a huge, undifferentiated mess. “Who’s water is this?” “And who stepped in it with muddy shoes?” “Who’s going to clean it up?” “What happened to the mop?”

I have been more irritable lately. I initially attributed it to the heat as well as my hatred of driving through downtown Seattle, something I am doing at least once per day right now in order to get my daughter to activities. All of these things do contribute to my mood.

Today, I woke up feeling sad and it took awhile to shake it. I realized that part of the reason is that each day is a different set of logistics and responsibilities. Our daughter’s schedule is different, every day. My schedule is different, every day. And not only am I taking my paperwork on the road, John and I have to figure out who is doing what, every day, almost from scratch. This means we have to remember to talk to each other about logistics and texts and phone calls from each other need to be exchanged. As a couple, this is not our strong suit. I over-communicate and my husband doesn’t communicate enough. It makes both of us a source of aggravation to the other.

Our daughter has two more years of high school. She will likely be driving in a year or two. There are some wonderful things that come out of spending time with her in the car. Yesterday, she told me what a fun time she’d had talking with me on the way to and from her activity.My husband and I have more evening time together during the summer, just the two of us.

Those are opportunities I can grab and hang onto.




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George Lakoff

George Lakoff has retired as Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is now Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society (


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