The truth is, I get irritable. This was brought to my attention last summer when Johannes—known in some circles as "the boyfriend"—likened me to "Caligula with an earache." Now, in my defense, we were on an airplane with our squirmy 3-year-old at the time. And, if memory serves, I had carefully dodged the drink cart and was making my way down the aisle with the aforementioned squirmy girl when we were trapped behind a guy who suddenly decided to store his trench coat in the overhead compartment as if he were part of the color guard folding the flag at Arlington National Cemetery.
In any case, I don't want to be the mean mommy. I don't want to be the PMS-riddled girlfriend. I don't want to be the bitch in the house. So as I see it, there are three ways to achieve a little karmic retooling...
Plan A: Buck Up! Things Could Be So Much Worse
I have compiled a list of five key talking-myself-down points for those moments when it's so tremendously tempting to complain bitterly, curse fate, or just plain mope.
- Does the word Darfur appear anywhere in my address?
- Was my address located in the ninth ward of New Orleans?
- Is my post-military address a gurney at Walter Reed?
- Am I trying to support my family on a minimum wage of $5.15 an hour?
- Did I somehow manage to get cancer without getting health insurance?
No, I will simply head back to the A&P secure in the knowledge that while I may occasionally forget the milk, I'm still able to remember the important conversations I have at work. And when you think about it, that puts me way ahead of guys like Scooter Libby and Alberto Gonzales.
Plan B: Give in!
According to a 60 Minutes piece I recently watched—with the help of two glasses of a rather full-bodied Shiraz—our future is being built on a deficit so gargantuan that it will have a cataclysmic effect for generations to come. To make matters worse, according to my cousin Rita, there isn't a decent pair of bone-colored espadrilles to be found in the entire state of New Jersey.
For those moments when it's so tremendously tempting to draw the blinds, mash the potatoes and rent every mindless romantic comedy I was too embarrassed to see at the cineplex, I have written a permission slip to do that and more. A permission slip is a magical thing. It got me out of seventh-grade gym when I had my period, and it gets me out of grown-up life when I've had enough.
To Whom It May Concern:
Lisa Kogan has been ridiculously wonderful for the last 16 days in a row, and now she needs to eat bacon in her underwear. Please do not phone, e-mail or make eye contact with her under any circumstances. You may approach only for purposes of foot massage (giving, not receiving) or to wonder aloud how she got so thin. Note to anyone currently sharing a home with Miss Kogan: In the event you happen to catch on fire, be sure to drop and roll. Do not waste precious time attempting to smother the flames by wrapping yourself in a blanket, as the blankets will all be in use—and possibly covered in a light dusting of bacon bits. As for any other health crisis that might arise during Miss Kogan's time-out: You will find Bactine in the bathroom, Band-Aids in the pantry and detailed instructions for giving yourself the Heimlich maneuver under a Marge Simpson magnet on her refrigerator door, just above the phone number for the poison control hotline (which Johannes quietly posted the first time he tasted her vegetarian chili).
Plan C: Figure Out What's Really Going On
On my better days, I try to keep in mind that a rose is not its thorns, a peach is not its fuzz, a human being is not his or her crankiness...and this realization generally serves me very well. I only hope to God that the people I love will remember this during my occasional cold snaps. If, every once in a while, I turn into a big fat drag, there's usually a reason. I guess for me the reason isn't just that Johannes has described my coffee as "chewy" or even that the French are no longer the only people in the world who seem to hate our guts.
No, I find that my crabbiness factor skyrockets when I'm feeling overextended and undervalued. And I'm pretty sure I'm not alone. Everybody wants to matter, and when we think we don't, it's shockingly easy to retreat into misery or impatience or sarcasm, or something else that's going to make us hate ourselves in the morning.
But I'm here to tell you that to indulge in a fine whine—no matter how momentarily satisfying—leaves a helluva hangover. It curdles the heart and corrodes the world. What we do when we're scared, what we say when we're pissed off, how we treat people from our friends and family to our soldiers and prisoners of war—all of it counts. It's going to determine not only who we are as a country but who we are to each other. Everybody wants to matter, and guess what? It turns out everybody does.
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