Monday, May 7, 2012

the stuff you hate

why is it that so often the stuff you hate doing - like getting out of bed to jump into a freezing cold pool, or eating a bowl of broccoli instead of banana bread, or dropping off the kids at school in the morning (or picking them up in the afternoon) - ends up making you feel so good? quite often, as soon as you've won the battle against inertia and gotten warmed up enough that the water starts to feel comfortable, you actually ENJOY it.

i swear i am eating broccoli right now. in my bathing suit, just about to go to the pool. see?

for years, my exhusband picked up the amazons in the morning and dropped them off at school. then, for reasons he will explain, somehow related to boundaries or something, he told them he would not.

so i took over. after i drag myself out of bed, rush them through breakfast and then grouchily get them into the minivan, i discover that i love the anticipation humming through the car. i sometimes ask them about their classes. we take stock of what was forgotten at home and how to deal with it. i hear about the plans for the afternoon. if we pick up a couple of their friends along the way, i eavesdrop on their gossip and get a sense of the temperature of the moment. there are good reasons why they should be more responsible and get there themselves - and some days i force them to.  90% of the time, i take them.

then when we get to school, if i can get a parking spot, i walk them in. mainly for one reason: so i can walk out into the stream of kids coming in.

the best thing about the united nations international school in nyc - apart from it being a vast range of cultures and races - is that it goes from kindergarten to twelfth-grade. i get to see the kindergarten's wide-open faces as they skip into school under their enormous, colorful backpacks. i love that so often, they still want to hold a parent's hand. i get to see the toddler siblings running and tripping, looking adoringly at their big brothers or sisters. the junior schoolers on their scooters or dressed in costumes for a class event. the middle-schoolers proudly balancing projects, dioramas and posters and boxes of cupcakes, as they march in with a sense of purpose. they feel so grown-up, they own the school now and they know where they are going.

and then those bleary-eyed teenagers, the girls still awkward in occasional heels and those tiny tiny shorts and skirts, dripping with make-up (they have to start somewhere!) the boys, still just boys, their faces sometimes red and smarting from the occasional shave, and in their big men's bodies that they don't know what to do with. even if it's spring, there's a bit of chill in the morning air, because the day is just beginning.

sometimes, i just start laughing to myself because i was once a kindergartener, a fourth-grader, a thirteen year-old and a high school senior. i can see myself and the amazons in every one of them.

don't you remember holding the hand of your first-grader and looking with terror at those enormous, threatening adolescents and wondering how yours would ever make it? and now, looking at those upper schoolers and realizing that they are just as vulnerable and fragile as the little kids.

because it's u.n.i.s., they are often speaking different languages and wearing vastly different clothes (until they turn into teenagers). sarah kay, the brilliant young performance poet, was a u.n.i.s. student. so was ishmael beah, the child soldier who wrote "a long way home," and sarah jones, the actor who can be 15 different nationalities consecutively in her one-woman show and john zorn, the experimental musician.

because it's u.n.i.s, the school guards and teachers have seen the kids go from bright-eyed five year-olds to defiant adolescents and they don't let them get away with anything. the authorities watch them walk in with a sense of care and discipline as well as affection. one guard i've known for 14 years said to me almost bursting with pride, "look at those kids, they are all happy to be here!" because it's u.n.i.s., the kids seem to walk in smiling - even the upper schoolers with their intense academic pressures and clear lack of sleep - and the excitement of the day to come is almost palpable.

when i get back into my car, i'm smiling too. i'm exhilarated by the optimism. i have perspective - that irritating job is just a job, the traffic and the weather will be different tomorrow.

 like finishing the broccoli and moving on to kale (i REALLY am right now), i'm energized and almost euphoric. it's a meditation in itself. how can anyone feel bad with all those smiling kids promising you a better world?

in my mind, the best way to stay healthy and happy is to stay engaged. to revel in the spirit of others and stay buoyant and purposeful.

you're here because they need you here. WE need you here. you need their energy and positivity as much as they need yours.

muslims are constantly told to be generous, that anything you give away, God will repay ten-fold. i believe that includes your energy. it's an effort but it pays off in a big way. every faith tells us that.

we're all in this together, that's what dropping the amazons off at school makes me remember. we're all on the same path.

that's why the stuff we hate to do is quite often the most crucial.

off to immerse myself in cold water! (lap swimming when i really would rather have another cup of tea, remember?)