The stories we choose to tell ourselves

2837855969_63e4c584f9_zWe’ve had quite a few weeks of it at Chez Vanderkam (no one else in the house has that name, but we’ll call it that anyway). I’ve traveled to the UK and Boston; my husband was in Nigeria and Seattle. The boys both started school, with all the back-to-school nights and such. The almost-2-year-old had eye surgery. In the midst of all this, the almost-4-year-old did a loop-de-loop over the rail at the zoo, smashed his head on the concrete, and got staples in his scalp in the ER. He also had a birthday party to be planned. I had a book come out. I had a jury duty summons.

So it’s the kind of month that could be perceived as crazy-busy-crazy. But there were also plenty of chill moments too. I spent time wandering through the exhibits at the National Gallery in London. I read two books (Scarcity, and Daring Greatly). I went swimming a few times with the kids, biked a few times, ran a few times on the trail near my house that goes through a forest slowly mottling into its autumn color. I’ve done the Crocodile Creek 200-piece solar system puzzle approximately 20 times in the last week, to the point where I am now starting to recognize pieces by shape alone. These data points do not describe a life that wants for space.

So I can look at the crazy moments — dropping my husband off at the train station at 5:35 for a 5:37 train after the ER visit, with him then making his flight by roughly 30 seconds. Or I can look at the relaxed ones — floating in the pool looking up at the clouds in the September sky. I can lament the difficulty of coordinating my flight back from Boston in time to make the appointment to get my son’s staples removed. Or I can look at what an awesome support system we have. My mother-in-law moved in with us for 3 weeks, and diagnosed and solved all sorts of problems (oh yeah, the kids probably should own combs). Our amazing nanny coordinated all the birthday party invite sending, for instance, when I was out of the country.

And I can also choose to celebrate victories: the 3-year-old writing his name, the 6-year-old figuring out how to pack his lunch, the baby being remarkably brave about having her eye balls moved around. I’m starting work on a new book I’m excited about.

We can choose to tell stories however we want. The challenge is that we construct narratives from data points, and negative experiences tend to stick in the brain more than positive ones. In journalism we say that three anecdotes make a trend. Three tough moments can lead to a narrative that life is unsustainable in its current form. But life is more than a few data points. It is a complex and full mosaic. Better to look at the whole 10,080 minutes that make up a week rather than particularly crazy ones.

In other news: The Daily Mail reviewed — rather hilariously — What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast. Favorite line: “The author herself bounces out of bed each day to greet the rosy-fingered dawn, runs for a huge number of miles, puts in a good stint of work and then has a happy, relaxed family breakfast. How completely hateful is that?” It is. I only wish that described my life right now!

I was also on the Simon Mayo show on BBC Radio 2 last week; you can listen here. (Just before 1:37).

Photo courtesy flickr user Andreanna Moya Photography



8 thoughts on “The stories we choose to tell ourselves

  1. I just finished Scarcity yesterday, after getting it in the mail Saturday. Fascinating stuff. Although I have the same complaint I usually have after reading behavioral economics: I want a tidy, practical take-away message. 🙂 Bullet points and stuff.

    1. @Carrie – I guess that’s the difference between behavioral economics and self help. But I did come away with the take away to put slack in the schedule. That’s a practical tip.

  2. Yes, its never ALL bad (nor is it ever ALL good)…we choose what we want to focus on and its certainly better to focus on the good parts. Sometimes, though, I need to remind myself that its OK to admit that its been a tough time, just to give myself the freedom to let a few things slide…

  3. Although the Daily Mail review was extremely Eyore-ish about your new book (which I’m really enjoying at the moment!), given its usual sexist, miserablist, anti-European, anti-American stance, you probably got off lightly. To quote Oscar Wilde, the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about… But a little niceness doesn’t hurt!
    Hope your children are recovering from their medical encounters.

    1. @Karen- eh, I don’t expect 100% positivity. That’s why they’re called critics! I found the review pretty funny. I actually get a lot of this sort of feedback from people — I’ve had other interviews where it’s clear the person wants to score points about how miserable it must be to plan every minute or some such. Which I’ve never advocated. It just comes with the territory.

      The kids are doing very well. And I’m glad you’re enjoying the book!

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