Like everyone in her acquaintance, she's overtaxed, overtired, overanxious, and in way over her head. Her question: is it possible for any of us to stop and smell the daffodils?
A friend once told me about the Buddhist concept of pain without suffering; it's a notion that fascinates me. I mean, is it really possible to say, "Yep, my stomach aches, all right, but I don't have to add insult to injury by letting that pain run amok: I can decide to skip the part where I moan, 'Now I can't meet my friends at the movie and I'll probably miss work tomorrow, which means I'll blow my deadline, lose my job and die penniless and alone, never having seen Dreamgirls.'"
Calming a frantic brain in the face of high anxiety is a pretty tall order, especially for a woman like me who tends to operate on two basic emotions: panic and barely suppressed panic. But assuming one can actually achieve pain without suffering, where else might this dynamic be applied? Is there such a thing as anger without brooding? Sex without strings? And the real question—my current obsession—can a person feel unbelievably busy without feeling unbelievably overwhelmed?
Lately, I seem to have this constant sense that I'm just keeping my head above water. I'm forever trying to catch up, stay in touch and be where I'm supposed to be when I'm supposed to be there. I bought a new pair of jeans in November, but I've never worn them because I've never had a chance to get them hemmed. The last novel I remember curling up with is Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret—and that was in sixth grade. I floss while sorting mail, while defrosting lamb chops, while searching for Mrs. Weinstein, my 3-year-old daughter's stuffed platypus.
But this is not just about being a single mother (though I do spend an ungodly amount of time wondering why my daughter is not on a first-name basis with her stuffed platypus). Almost everybody I know—whether they're wealthy or struggling to make ends meet, whether they're bachelor girls or celebrating their 25th anniversary, whether their kids are grown or toddlers or nonexistent—everyone seems to be suffering from some sort of culturally induced ADD. Our brains are swamped and our bodies are tired. Blood pressures are up, serotonin levels are down, tempers are short, to-do lists are long, and nerves are shot.
Here's how I spent last Saturday...see if any of it rings a bell:
I am awakened by the sound of Julia's voice. "Mommy, Giovanni picked his nose and it bleeded," she informs me. "Good to know," I murmur. "Now go back to sleep before Mommy kills you." Somewhere in England, the Super-nanny is appalled.
I have to pee. My bladder used to be legendary. As God is my witness, I could go three, maybe four months without ever needing the ladies' room; I could drive from the redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters sans bathroom break. But I'm 46 now, and believe me, it's a whole new ball game.
I live in mortal fear that the slightest movement anywhere in the apartment will wake Princess Bunny Pie. I will not move. I will not move. I will not move.
I will move, but I will move in stealthy, gazelle-like silence.
Here's the thing about stealthy, gazelle-like silence—it's doable only if you don't step barefoot on a Lego.
Miss Cuckoo Pants insists it's time to rise and shine. I offer her a check for $260,000 if she will sleep for just one more hour. But the kid sees through me like a bar of used Neutrogena and reminds me that I still owe her 85 grand from the time she tasted a parsnip.
On goes the TV. The rule at this time of day is simple: She can watch anything she wants as long as it doesn't star Harvey Keitel...no Bad Lieutenant, no Reservoir Dogs, no Taxi Driver. You have to draw the line somewhere.
My little Goof Noodle is contemplative during her bath: "What are you thinking about, Jules?" "Mommy," she asks, "is Big Bird a boy or a girl?" I explain that we used to wonder the same thing about cousin Dale and that some answers are simply unknowable.
We have painted, we have Play-Dohed, we have read Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus nine times in a row.
One of us is now wearing my lipstick, my jewelry, my sunglasses, my shoes, and two oven mitts.
I used to read the Arts & Leisure section and meet friends for scrambled eggs and a Bloody Mary. Now I skim the Week in Review, toast a slice of low-glycemic Ezekiel bread, and follow it up with 15 milligrams of Lipitor. Time is a thief.
The babysitter has arrived! I fully intend to have Lidra Basha babysit Captain Monkey Toes until the day she leaves for college, at which point she can babysit me. For the record, I am well aware that there are women with more than one child and nobody to help them out, and if I could, I'd buy each and every one of them a single-malt scotch and a ridiculously expensive pedicure.
The trainer has arrived...or as I've come to think of him, Hitler in Nikes. After approximately 15 minutes, I feel compelled to remind him that he has to marry me before he can actually collect on any life insurance policy. He ignores my plea for leniency, hands me two 15 pound weights, and tells me to "tighten my core." Where's Amnesty International when I need it? And, for that matter, where is my core and when did it get saggy? One minute you and your boyfriend are finishing off a mushroom pizza with extra mozzarella, and the next minute you're realizing he didn't actually eat any.
I shower, change, and head for the supermarket, the dry cleaner, and the pharmacy, where I run smack into my evil neighbor. We are currently having a huge fight, but because I am not good at confrontation, she doesn't realize that we are having a huge fight and regales me with stories of her upcoming trip to Nepal. I glare at her and say in the iciest tone imaginable, "You, madame, are a gravy-sucking weasel, and I hope that you're forced to fly coach with an Ebola-riddled gibbon monkey stuck in your lap for 16 straight hours." But because I am not good at intentional bitchiness, it comes out, "Great! Have a safe trip and let me know if you need someone to water your plants." Somewhere on the Upper West Side, a psychiatrist is cringing.
1:30 to 2:00 p.m.
I miss my friends, so I try to hop off the hamster wheel and return a few calls. But Valerie has her daughter visiting from college, Brenda has her parents visiting from Detroit, Francesca is buried in paperwork, Mark is seeing clients, Jack and Sarah have four couples coming for dinner, Steffi has three weeks to find a new apartment, Peter is finishing his book proposal, Michael is in rehearsals, and Tori has set the day aside to "have a complete nervous breakdown." She assures me she'll be fine by 7:00, as she's got to get to Jack and Sarah's for dinner. 2:00 to 2:01 p.m.
I take a minute to wonder why I wasn't invited to the dinner party...and decide to be deeply relieved.
2:02 to 3:30 p.m.
I pay bills, fold laundry, write two thank-you notes for gifts I received last January, throw away everything that's gone furry or blue in my refrigerator, and wait for the nice man from Bloomingdale's to come and clean my filthy, horrible sofa.4:00 p.m The nice man from Bloomingdale's actually turns out to be a nice man. He tells me not to waste my money—cotton velvet isn't cleanable. The news hits me hard. I can roll with Iraq and global warming, but somehow the thought that cotton velvet doesn't clean well makes me want to crawl under the throw on my filthy, horrible sofa and never get up again.
The nice man from Bloomingdale's actually turns out to be a nice man. He tells me not to waste my money—cotton velvet isn't cleanable. The news hits me hard. I can roll with Iraq and global warming, but somehow the thought that cotton velvet doesn't clean well makes me want to crawl under the throw on my filthy, horrible sofa and never get up again.
I get up again. I am ghostwriting a book, and four chapters are due by Wednesday morning. Clinical depression is a luxury I can't afford.
Suppertime. I cook wild salmon and broccoli for Colonel Cranky...of course, that's only if you define the word cook as "go to the little gourmet shop on First Avenue, buy and reheat." In any case, she will end up having spaghetti with butter and ketchup.
Before leaving, Lidra changes her clothes to go to a party. Did I mention that she's stunning? Did I mention that she's a size 0? Did I mention that I pulled a strand of ketchup-coated spaghetti out of my bra? 8:00 to 10:30 p.m.
Sing "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes." One of us is exhausted (it's that special kind of exhaustion that can only be achieved by singing "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes" for two and a half hours) and would very much like to go to bed.
10:51 p.m. The three-book limit is imposed, and to my great relief, Senorita Knobby Knees dozes off without much protest. It's absurdly late, but because I don't get home from work until 7:00 each night, she doesn't want to go to bed at 8:15. Do I feel guilty? You bet I do.
11:00 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.
A little more ghostwriting.
12:31 to 12:35 a.m.
This is my time. I opt to spend it getting an MBA, locating those weapons of mass destruction (turns out they've been on the upper shelf of my linen closet—to the left of the washcloths), force North Korea to stand down, cure cancer, and eat a small piece of cold chicken. Anyway, that's my plan, but knowing I have to water my evil neighbor's ficus tree tomorrow makes me skip straight to the barbecued chicken thigh and call it a night.
Sometimes I think pain without suffering, anger without brooding, being a parent, earning a living, maintaining friendships (hell, maintaining hair color), connecting with the universe, and dancing as fast as you can without screaming, "Stop the music; I want to sit this one out," just isn't an option for anybody anymore.
We shoulder-roll out of bed in the morning and gulp coffee from Styrofoam cups on the way to wherever we're trying to go. We catch the sound bite, not the speech. We send the e-mail, not the love letter. We wait our entire lives to exhale. But I don't want to wait my whole life away. Nor do I want to wait until I retire 18 years and 11 months from now...though I'm secretly hoping to develop one of those bubbly personalities that get you picked for Deal or No Deal, where I will win $400,000 dollars from Howie Mandel. We'll save for another column what it means that even in my fantasies I don't win the million...
My point is this: Spring is here! So this Saturday, I'm taking back my life or, at the very least taking a nap. If something's gotta give, it's not going to be me. I'm confining my work to regular business hours, forcing a friend out for coffee, reading for pleasure, bringing home daffodils, and eating a neon pink marshmallow Peep with Miss Julia Claire Labusch. It's far from a solution, but it's a start.