It’s that time of year (my birthday approaching on Sunday) when I tend to spend some time contemplating what I’ve accomplished in the past 12 months compared to what I had hoped to get done. I look at where I am/we are and where I expected I/we would be and plan for the coming year. So I’ve been doing this. And I’m disappointed.
I’m not sure I’ve made any progress at all this year. We are no where near where I anticipated we would be as I got into my 2nd year of teaching. We are certainly worse off financially due to no raise whatsoever to my meager salary thanks to the backward teacher evaluation system and increases in expenses – mainly health care costs and car insurance and having a child in college.
Things are falling apart faster than I can fix them – house, car, health – and I find that the endless grind of poverty at a time when I had thought/hoped/and assured the children we’d be doing better has depressed my spirits. I am at the best of times a pragmatist and truly believe that has stood in my favor as I’ve confronted the various challenges of the past five and a half years. I’m prone to saying “It is what it is.” and “you have to roll with the punches.” and likely to strongly counter anyone who spouts such Pollyannaisms as “It’s all good.” or “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
Sometimes I’m a pessimistic pragmatist and sometimes, when I begin to identify with Sisyphus a bit too much, I’m quite negative. That negativity is not just related to my own life and circumstances but also to the state of the world. As someone who has worked in environmental sciences for the bulk of my career I am very aware of the inexorable decline in the health of the natural world and the breakneck speed with which we approach the tipping point in global warming.
I feel like we are on the Titanic and the iceberg is looming in front of us. If I did not have children I might just shrug and say we’ve brought it upon ourselves and I’ll be dead before the worst of it but I’m scared for my kids and deeply worried about their future. And sometimes I voice those fears. I comment upon the news and argue against the policy makers who have their heads in the sand or their eyes only on their pocketbook. I read, daily and deeply, the scientific reports from NOAA and NASA and the Union of Concerned Scientists and the National Center for Science Education and I talk about what I read.
And apparently I scare people. Recently I discovered that my personal little gray cloud had begun to drown the very people I’m trying so hard to keep afloat – my kids. My youngest daughter started saying things like “what difference does it make, we’re all going to die anyway, we might as well just be dead now.” I was taken aback and told her that while, yes we were all going to die eventually what counted was what we did with our lives before then (even while feeling a complete failure in that regard myself). When her negativity persisted I questioned her – she’d been visiting friends when the terrorist attacks happened in Paris and I thought she’d seen disturbing news coverage. I was deeply chagrined and concerned when she explained that it wasn’t the news, it was my discussion of the global changes and challenges ahead that made her feel that way. Arrgh. Another year of Bad Mommy awards.
I have to admit to feeling fairly hopeless about ever regaining the life I once had – the nice job with a nice salary and benefits, the nice home, the feeling of security and prosperity. I cling to the hope, however, that my kids can rise above the poverty and privation we continue to experience, and that their experiences will breed resilience and determination and the ability to face hardships and overcome them. But I am realizing that somehow I need to also give them hope and that I’m not sure how to do. I do believe they have the capabilities – the intelligence and abilities – to do well in life and I do try to convince them of this but I need to find some way to mask my feelings about my own life. I am very isolated here and sometimes forget that children can’t really enter into the sort of intellectual debates that another adult could or understand all the variables in play. I wish they were all old enough to fly the nest to better times and their own adventures and successes. But they aren’t so I need to hang in there for another 6 and a half years at least. Gotta keep rolling with the punches and keep my mouth shut.