All the Small Things

 “All the small things
True care, truth brings
I’ll take one lift
Your ride, best trip…

Say it ain’t so
I will not go
Turn the lights off
Carry me home

(Na-na, na-na, na-na, na-na, na-na)”

 ~ Blink 182, All the Small Things

I listen to terrible music when I exercise. When someone asks for my workout mix I am a bit hesitant to share, it’s that bad. It’s full of stuff that makes my husband give me that look that says, “Who. Are. You?” when it’s on in the kitchen when I’m making dinner. Mindless 80s tunes, a few boy bands, random one-hit-wonders, a-ha. Yes, that a-ha. Take On Me, a-ha. Is there another? Anyway, it distracts me while I’m running on the treadmill and that’s really the point. 

And that’s what it was doing for me in the early hours of a recent Monday morning.

Funny thing about running: Sometimes it’s just easy, and sometimes it’s really, really hard. No matter what music is playing. And you never really know what kind of run you’re going have to get until you begin. Runners like me keep coming back for more, because sometimes we find that sweet pace that feels effortless and there’s nothing like that I-could-run-forever feeling. I prefer to run outside, but with the subzero Chicago temperatures upon us, even inside workouts in our cold basement are a challenge. At least there’s no wind to deal with, just a few tumbleweeds of cat hair.

That morning, Blink 182 provided the motivation for my workout. I wasn’t feeling terrific, but at least it was done before the kids got up. I pulled the right earbud out, slowed to a walk for a brief cool down and took a drink of water.

I heard a noise from upstairs and called out, “Who’s there?”

It was my littlest boy. A tiny voice called out from the top of the stairs, “Mommy, Lucas is sick.”

Say it ain’t so, indeed.

I wiped my face on a towel and slung it over my shoulder as I headed to the boys’ rooms to investigate.

Upstairs in his room, my older son was curled in a ball under his Spiderman bedspread. His head was on fire when I brushed it with my hand and he had sweated through his footed pajamas. I grabbed a thermometer from his top drawer. 103.5 degrees. 

Oh baby, are you OK?

“No Mommy!” he cried, “And my head really hurts and OH NO I will miss the field trip and art class today!” Tears streamed down his flushed face. 

The field trip, right – crap. The week ahead was typically busy, starting with chaperoning a field trip for the first grade class, haircuts for the boys on Tuesday, a long-postponed medical appointment for me on Wednesday, some writing to do, class party to get planned for Valentines’ Day, Super Bowl party to bake for… Normal, busy-Mom-Wife-Friend stuff coming up.

This calendar of events was running through my brain as I went to the bathroom and ran water on a washcloth, grabbing the Children’s Advil and a sticky dosage cup from the medicine cabinet.

“Let’s get you cooled down and we’ll figure it out, baby. It will be OK.”

I got him into cooler pajamas and dosed him with the magic purple elixir (damn that illegibly-tiny chart on the box… how much do you weigh?) and resettled him into bed, under a cool sheet. I turned my attention to his brother who had been running up and down the hall shooting the cat with the laser of the thermometer. I rescued the device and got him dressed and situated downstairs with Cheerios and a sippy cup of milk and the Big Box of Legos. 

And it strikes me that this week is going to be very, very different from the last one.

Last week we really killed it. I worked out, I took some time to meditate, we had family dinners together. The kids had a great week of school and friends and we had mostly calm mornings. It always takes us a few weeks to get back in the swing of things after Holiday break but yeah, we had finally hit our stride.

Some weeks it all just clicks and it seems so easy, you don’t even think about it.  

I tend to subscribe to the Dire Straits Theory of Parenthood: Sometimes yYou’re the windshield, sometimes you’re the bug.

Last week, windshield for sure. This week, it looked like were seriously going to be that poor, squished bug.

As I opened my laptop to email teachers, ask for help getting little brother to school, apologize for missing the field trip, and what seemed like a million other little tasks I needed to sort through, I thought about a study I’d heard about on the Freakonomics podcast

Two psychologists, Tom Gilovich from Cornell and Shai Davidai from The New School for Social Research, wrote a paper in 2016 called The headwinds/tailwinds asymmetry: An availability bias in assessments of barriers and blessings.” 

The idea is that when you face a challenge, it’s like having the wind is in your face (headwind), you can’t stop thinking about it and it’s quite distracting. But when the wind shifts and it’s giving you a push (like a tailwind, or some other advantage that behooves you), are grateful for about a minute, if that – and then you don’t notice it anymore. What’s true in running/cycling is true in life generally, the study concluded. When things go don’t well, people feel strongly that there’s some broader force working against them. When things are good, it doesn’t register as forcefully, if at all.  

More broadly, the study shows that people who show gratitude are generally happier, in many ways. They sleep better, they experience overall better health and they are more able to overcome obstacles instead of simply deciding the deck is stacked against them and it does no good to fight the headwind of opposition.

It dawned on me that last week had been the tailwind week. So easy, so fun, and I’d barely noticed. I’d even chalked it up to – pardon my hubris – parenting skill and artful scheduling. The truth was, I’d had luck and privilege on my side in countless ways. But this week was shaping up to be something quite different. The headwind was swirling around, and it wasn’t even 7 am yet on this Monday morning.

On auto-pilot, I began the morning routine: Turn on the coffee, empty the dishwasher, feed the cats… and I realized that I was still in my smelly workout clothes. And now I had a headache, too.

No no no no, I can’t get sick… I retreated upstairs for a grown-up Advil nd checked in on the patient who by now wanted to move downstairs. I resettled him on the couch with a pillow, cup of orange juice, his favorite stuffed guy, his blanket. I smoothed his damp hair and sighed to think how much he still looked like my baby when he closed his eyes. I kissed his forehead. My throat burned.

Yeah, I’m gonna get sick.

And so started the week of complete shut down. Other than a trip to the doctor to confirm my worst suspicions (The Flu), I pulled the plug on everything: Field Trip, Haircuts, my own doctor’s appointment. By Wednesday I was officially ill, and for the next two nights I retreated to bed almost immediately upon my husband’s arrival home for 12 hours of fever-dream-filled sleep.

We spent our week in three lumps on the couch, cocooned in our favorite blankets, drinking juice, watching way too many hours flipping between Puffin Rock and Angry Birds and, during Nap Time, maybe a West Wing episode or two.  We napped and got saltine crumbs everywhere and somehow the week passed in our pod of viral isolation. 

By Friday, the boys were wrestling/playing/fighting with each other again and I felt good enough to shower and find fresh sweats. We all needed space and sun by the weekend, so on Sunday I bundled them up and let them roll around in the freshly fallen snow, even though it was in the low double-digits and colder with the wind chill. The icy wind burned my lungs but I breathed it in deeply, filling my body with clear, cool air. Breathing out the old, breathing in the new. Filled with gratitude for this cold, cold, fresh air and the blinding daylight.

Monday morning I woke up early and lay in the dark silence of a sleeping house. I thought of our week of Down Time and was deeply grateful that it was an anomaly in the normal flow of our lives.

During last week’s headwind, when things were so easy, my gratitude practice should have included thanks for health, thanks for school schedules, thanks for family dinners and regular bedtimes. And during my week of tailwind challenges, there was still so much to be thankful for: The flu passed through our house quickly with no residual effects; we can afford the care of doctors and the cost of medicines and treats to help them go down; we live in a safe, warm house where we can hide until the viral storm passes.

This week I’ll march the boys off to schools, try to make it to my rescheduled appointment. But each night I’ll take a moment to thank my lucky stars that all seems right in the world again. In our little world, anyway. The wider world can fend for itself.

Hopefully, this week we’re the windshield instead of the bug. And I’ll be hoping for a bit of a tailwind to push us along. But if not, I’ll be grateful that there’s a song for that, too.

“Sometimes you’re the windshield
Sometimes you’re the bug
Sometimes it all comes together baby
Sometimes you’re a fool in love
Sometimes you’re the Louisville slugger baby
Sometimes you’re the ball
Sometimes it all comes together baby
Sometimes you’re going to lose it all.”

~ Dire Straits - The Bug