This June, I took the 30-day Orange Rhino challenge to yelling less. I started it not because I felt like a terrible mother – I’m not, I probably veer between an A+ and a B-, with a few Cs thrown in for good measure – but because I have learned that my daughter is a deeply sensitive and reflexive soul who takes to heart any slight reminder or scolding.
So I put the If a child lives with criticism quote on my fridge and set to work. Okay, so I cheated a little by being in Pakistan while my daughter was in the U.S. for 17 out of 30 days, but I re-purposed the challenge toward being a more filial and loving offspring while with my aging parents (frankly, I sucked at this endeavor). This, coupled with the heat, jetlag, and other logistical challenges, was a trial by fire. On my return, I find that I am much more patient, mellow, and easygoing (for now). How could I not be, when weather is so temperate, airconditioning is omnipresent, and most food I encounter is unlikely to give me indigestion? How could I not be, when the presence of poverty, hunger, and want is no longer perpetually in my face, grinding down my love for life in a miserable state of helpless empathy?
I am also less generally irritable, a less competitive driver, a kinder person, less likely to find people’s behavior unbearably irritating (such as the gross and deafeningly loud open-mouthed chewing of the woman across from me here in the public library’s cafe area right now).
One of the things that makes me more jittery and less patient is coffee. Coffee renders me too high-strung, too tightly-wound to be tolerant of such things as this woman’s chewing.
So one of the things I have done to ensure I meet my challenge successfully is to reduce my coffee intake by more than half. I have, in the past year, graduated from a small cup per day to a medium cup. This may not seem like much to you coffee-guzzlers, but my body is typically extremely sensitive to small quantities of medications and caffeine. So during my trip to Pakistan, I cut down on my coffee intake – basically because all I could easily and quickly obtain before rushing out for the workshops was instant coffee, which gave me nasty heartburn.
On my return, I have been working on inserting some no-coffee-just-tea-days into my week. On days like yesterday and today, when I have a big annual assessment report to complete, I’ve been drinking a small quantity of coffee – about 1/4 of a small cup. Yes, it gives me enough of a jolt to get my workout and some work done. After that, my body winds down – as it naturally should – and I prepare to go to bed early, almost at the same time as my 7-year old. I don’t do this always, because sometimes one must catch some TV with one’s spouse, but getting a full night of a sleep is very helpful to my workday.
(Let this be fair warning that I may behave like a new convert to a cause, bashing my old propensity for coffee and stridently counseling all of you coffee drinkers to abjure your unwholesome addiction.)
There is a price to this healthy living, I realize. I will not have that powerful jolt of energy that is sometimes a precursor to extended writing stints that result in elegant and powerful work. And maybe, exceptions will have to be made when a set of 60 mind-numbing student papers must be graded (and peppy, reflective feedback provided), when that journal article that has been in the oven for a year must be written at last, and when that tenure file must (soon) be prepared.
But overall, as a 45-year old woman with a family, I am starting to feel that it is time to stop putting my health, well-being and sanity on the back burner. In this economic climate, may I, despite the expenses of keeping an marketable academic profile and the costs of raising a child, put my health and happiness first? I am not the only one faced with tough choices in this world.