I love Mother’s Day. It’s such a nice, if slightly cheesy, way to celebrate where we’ve all come from as well as our own part in shaping the next generation. Since we mothers are human, after all, it’s nice to celebrate our collective success rather than dwell on the wild roller coaster ride that inevitably accompanies it.
I want to discuss how an event that looks bad or troubling can somehow morph into something positive – a blessing in disguise. Achieving that transformation depends, in part, on your attitude.
I’ll give you several examples. My son, Michael, whom I’ve written about numerous times, is graduating from high school in two weeks. Since he was a tyke, he had his sights set on the University of Michigan. His big sister, Yael, went there. His grandfather also attended, albeit for only one semester. His experience in Ann Arbor, however brief, made an outsized impression on him. Before my father died, he would often start a thought and then drift off before completing it. Even when he could barely remember who we were, he could always sing along to the Michigan fight song, fist aloft. For Mick, Michigan was college life. All his dreams of college featured the familiar maize and blue color scheme, his wardrobe heavily accessorized with Michigan paraphernalia. Even Emma, our dog, sported a snazzy Michigan collar for a few months until it fell apart.
Things are a lot different than when I applied to college. In those days, you chose your college/s, based on whatever (often flimsy) criteria made sense at the time, sent in your application, and held your breath until April. Nowadays, there are many options – early decision, rolling admissions, regular decision, and early action. A college can let you know as early as November, or as late as April 15th, sometimes even later. Students must make a final decision by May 1st, a mere two weeks later, so a tardy acceptance can be a major source of stress for them, their families, friends, and college counselors. It would be a major understatement to say that tensions run high and tempers flare during that period.
Here’s how it went for Mick. By the very beginning of November, he began to hear from schools. He was raking in acceptances, but no word yet from Michigan. Finally, the suspiciously thin envelope arrived. Mick had been deferred, which means “maybe, but if so, we’ll let you know at some later date, when we get around to it.” He was crushed. All of his childhood dreams – smashed to smithereens in a second.
When we headed east for his basketball tournament and college tour , Michigan was still an unknown quantity. Because of Ann Arbor’s indecisiveness, Mick was able to look at his other options with an open mind. Maryland clearly knocked his socks off. It had so many of the things he was looking for: a gorgeous campus, good academic reputation, attractive girls, good sports teams and great school spirit, close to D.C., active Jewish life, and better weather than we have in the Midwest. It didn’t hurt that the day we were at Maryland was the only sunny day of the trip. Was it a sign?
As Michael prepared to turn down the other schools and make his acceptance of Maryland official – you guessed it – he got into Michigan. Time out for major soul-searching. On the one hand, there was Maryland, looking mighty good, and a heck of a lot less expensive, to boot. And, on the other hand, there was that forever image of himself as a Wolverine. Could he give up that dream? Should he?
In the end, Mick followed his gut and chose Maryland. He feels good about his decision, but there was a tricky moment right before he finally let go of his lifelong aspiration and quietly let Michigan go. The reason I bring all of this up is that if Mick had been accepted to Michigan early on, his decision would have been a no-brainer. Because they took their time deciding that they wanted him, he ended up making a choice that wouldn’t have been otherwise viable. I think he made the right decision and it has all worked out for the best.
Which brings me back to silver linings. I had minor surgery a few weeks ago. To be exact: I had two small lumps removed from my left breast. No need to panic –we have already gotten the pathology report and the suspect cells were benign. No chemo, no radiation, no disfiguring scar, no hair falling out in clumps, no nausea, no special equipment or accessories, no major disruption of my life except for a temporary moratorium on swimming. Thank You, God! I cheerfully accept that minimal sacrifice.
The back story
In the weeks preceding the surgery, I was far busier than usual – with two out-of-town trips, Mick deciding on college, Ariella figuring out what to do about graduate school, and that little matter called Passover. There really wasn’t a chance to get too hot and bothered about the surgery. This was definitely a plus, since I have a semi-adversarial relationship with traditional, conventional medicine. By choice, I had two of my three children at home, and I’d do it again in a minute. Conventional medications tend to make me sick, and often have weird, unintended side effects. I prefer homeopathy, chiropractic, healthful eating, and acupuncture. Sometimes, however, the more conventional path cannot be avoided. Several years ago, I had a routine out patient surgery. I was so sick from the anesthesia that I ended up spending an unexpected stint in the hospital. That’s why I was so nervous this time around.
In the end, they put me in a twilight zone – where I was conscious but not in pain. That worked out just fine, my recovery was greatly simplified, and I went home that afternoon.
Just as I was resting on my laurels, the various pre-op test results started trickling in. Blood tests – fine. EKG – pretty good. Echocardiogram and stress test – stellar, actually. Glucose test – well, that’s the kicker. The good news is that I don’t have diabetes, but I’m not in the clear, either. I’m in that grey area called the “pre-diabetic” stage. I was warned to get my act in gear immediately – take off weight, carefully monitor what I eat, and increase my exercise level.
I was crushed. I had let my guard down. I had been busy celebrating surviving surgery and the anesthesia, not to mention the good path report. Suddenly, images of amputated toes tapdanced into my dreams. Our dreams mirror our darkest fears, surfacing when we are powerless to keep them at bay. I really like my feet. They’ve faithfully gotten me where I’ve needed to go without any call for fashion footwear. High heels, needless to say, are not even a blip on my radar screen. Once I discovered The Secret - Dansko clogs - I’ve meandered through life in footloose comfort. Feet can sometimes be mighty unattractive. Not mine: my toes are straight and even, my hooves bunion-free and unblemished. My feet are extremely ticklish, but that’s neither here nor there.
I’m attached to my earthbound appendages for practical reasons. I swim and walk every week. I enjoy life, which gives me a spring to my step. Without all of my toes, my balance, which was never great in the first place, would undoubtedly suffer. I have many happy memories of dancing around my kitchen with my family, preferably to loud music, while we cook or clean up. It would be harder to drive carpool or keep up the pace I do without all my toes. Even the imagery I use in my writing is foot-full. I often refer to this marathon (as opposed to a sprint) for those of us working for election reform, how each journey starts with the first step, advising readers to become activists and jump into the fray.
If I were to fail at this task – protecting myself from harm – it would also change the way I look at myself, literally and figuratively. Let me explain. I recently saw a rather tasteless stand-up comedian who joked about his type-2 diabetes. He said that that’s the worst kind because if the patient would just clean up his eating habits, lose some weight and get some exercise, the condition could be reversed. A minute later, he launched into a shpiel about going to a Krispy Kremes outlet and buying five donuts. He was clearly staking out his territory with his “what, me worry?” attitude.