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Point of Clarification

Certain friends and family members who read my posts have asked me how I really feel about life, the kids, our family, and my general day-to-day existence: are my funny, exaggerating stories about shrieks and misery really funny to me, or am I letting this time pass me by in a whirl of anger and frustration, setting myself up for a deathbed revelation that my bitchy, pessimistic outlook completely screwed up my life, and the lives of my kids?

I've realized that the friends and family members who ask me this all share a few significant personality traits. They are maternal, optimistic, socially gifted, and - this is pure conjecture on my part - were probably influenced primarily by a parent or parents who emphasized external, visible contentment and who discouraged external displays of life's "negative" emotions like disappointment, sadness, frustration, anxiety, anger, fear, or self-doubt. I love all of these people, and I'm glad they're in the world as examples of something I don't happen to be, but of something that is critical to any community: hope, optimism, care, concern, wonder, and generosity - all with no negativity attached even with a flimsy string of mini-cynicism or narcissism. The world desperately needs these people in the mix. I'm not only glad they're in the world; I'm glad they're in my life if only to remind me that variety in human community is essential to its growth and self-awareness.

I once attended a seminar or training class about something corporate-life-related, and the only useful tidbit I took from that seminar was a side note one of the speakers made about use of the word "but" in conversation. He said that "but" is an eraser. When someone says, "your hair is really cute but your sweater is hideous," the listener comes away with an insult to his/her clothing. More tragically, when someone says, "I love you but..." the "I love you" portion is deleted as far as the listener is concerned. The speaker presenting this piece suggested to replace the word "but" with the word "and" when at all possible. It needs to be "I love you AND I have to tell you something you might not like" as opposed to "I love you BUT [you're too negative] [you have spinach in your teeth] [I killed your hamster]." I've made a point never to say, "I love you, but dot dot dot" because I thought the speaker made a good point.

Given that fact, I'm saying this: I love these people, you who are concerned and curious about my "true" state of mind and being, AND I'm going to tell you something, something I view as much a significant point as you view the quest for happiness and contentment, and your quest to bring what you view as success in life - happiness - to your loved ones.

What I want to tell you is this: It's okay that I'm not expressing myself in this forum the same way you would prefer if it were your forum, with 100% sweet, reflective gratitude and 0% anger or frustration or guilt. It really, really is. There are people who identify as "pessimists" who actually are capable of loving their children, and successfully expressing that love to them. I've said before that I disagree with the notion that I'm a pessimist anyway, because I think "pessimism" implies an unwillingness to see good or have hope. I see good. I have hope. I'd argue that the only reason I'm capable of writing about very real challenges in a way that makes me laugh when I look back on it is precisely because I am very hopeful, in a broad sense of the word, which to me is the most hopeful kind of hope there is - broad hope.

The disappointment and frustration I feel about certain major issues in our lives is directly related to the expectations I place on myself and our family - expectations based in hope. This doesn't, believe it or not, take away from the love I have for my kids, or my ability to relish each distinct phase of their lives, even in the midst of the storms. It does require that I DEAL with the issues, though, and often that act of management - crisis management, issue management, behavior management, anger management - can be exhausting, as anyone who reads here over any time period will glean from my posts. Is this me time-wastingly "fretting" or "worrying" about the situation, as some of my well-meaning loved ones have suggested? Or is it simply what is required, action in place of fretting, action in place of worrying, action driven by the very hope-based expectations that a "pessimist" would shun, that a "worrier" would overshadow with, well, worry? I think you know my answer.

My answer is that on my death bed, my regrets won't consist of setting my expectations too high, or of taking measures to confront the challenges directly and in absence of denial or surrender to the storms. I'm not the type of person who sees life as something that "should be" a certain way; things are complicated, messy, unpredictable. Sure, I'd like it if there were more order and calm. And if there were, I would absolutely be writing about that, and this site wouldn't exist, because fringe life wouldn't be fringe life, it would be something entirely different. But things aren't calm and ordered, and likely they never will be. I write about my experience, and that may be different from your experience. My interpretation of the exact same experience is probably different from what yours would be. Optimists, that is okay. I still see my kids as pools of mysterious, fierce, gorgeous potential, even if I write about the violent waves on the surface more than the quiet stillness below. And what's more: I don't want to forget the violent waves on the surface, I don't want to leave that out of these records. Those waves are the complexity and the unpredictability that comprise life - our life. On my death bed, I want to have all of it. That's not regret. That is fullness, that is beauty. My kids are fiercely beautiful beings in a swirling vortex of complexity and confusion and chaos. Not every moment can be what I hope for, but I'll never stop making the attempt, and that might mean I write about hardship sometimes. The struggle is part of the hope, it is my act of hope.

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