Is Your Attitude More Important Than the Facts?

The news right now is worse than bleak. A new study has found that almost one third of American 9-month-olds are obese (can a baby be obese?), a nine-year-old girl was killed in the horrible shootings on Saturday in Tucson, Arizona, and I got a Facebook message last week warning me to keep my children away from one of my good friend’s colleagues–and a friend of mine–because he’s purportedly a convicted pedophile (”If you want more information, please call his ex-wife’s lawyer,” the note read).

It's cold and lightless in Ashland these days

It’s cold and lightless in Ashland these days

Out my office window I see frost on the branches under a colorless sky. Ashland is gray and dreary this time of year. We turn the heat down so low at night there are goose bumps on my skin in the morning.

I don’t do very well in winter. When the baby wakes up it’s still pitch black outside. I stumble around the house looking for my glasses and shimmying into my jeans, bumping into furniture and swearing loudly.

Then I’m angry at myself because it will be my fault if the other children wake up, because Leone’s smile is so winsome and innocent, because it’s a fleeting privilege to have this time alone with her but instead of appreciating it I’m mad.

The kids are invariably late getting out the door to bike to school. Even when they’re early or on time, it feels like they’re late. Seven-year-old Etani dawdles with his socks and wants me to put on his shoes. Instead of being glad that he still likes it when I do things for him, I stuff his feet into his sneakers angrily, asking out loud if he will ever grow up.

It’s hard not to want to be somewhere else. Somewhere with warm weather, twelve hours of sunlight, no alarm clocks, no school, and no deadlines.

A few years ago I read a book about positive thinking and wrote down a quote on an index card: “Attitudes are more important than facts,” wisdom attributed to Dr. Karl A. Menninger, an American psychiatrist.

Fact: Ashland is cold and dreary.

Fact: there’s hardly any light this time of year.

Fact: some cat is using the raised beds as a litter box, leaving big hairy turds in the Brussels sprouts.

Fact: the gate was left open and the deer have helped themselves to all our parsley.

But these ridiculously mundane complaints don’t really matter.

I can think of it all differently:

Attitude: it’s so nice that it’s raining because we can snuggle on the couch drinking red tea from South Africa (mine with milk, Etani and Athena’s with honey) and reading Eragon;

Attitude: the wind is bracing and if I force myself to run in the morning the chill wakes me up, the baby in the running stroller doesn’t mind the cold, and the bike ride to school puts color in the kids’ faces;

Attitude: though literally dozens of their classmates are out with a barfy bug my children are healthy;

Attitude: it’s Monday and the beginning of a new week always holds new promise;

Attitude: the Brussels sprouts will survive the cat feces and even if they don’t, who wants to eat Brussels sprouts anyway?

But Etani and Leone don't mind

But 7-year-old Etani and 14-month-old Leone don’t mind

The baby’s new phase is to take off her clothes, walking around the house fat tummy first. Forget healthy. Every time I listen to the news I’m grateful that my kids are alive.

It works. The sky outside my office is no longer ugly and nondescript, it’s open and inviting, clouds scudding across a blue expanse. The kids’ bickering becomes socializing and the cold house a reason to bake bread pudding. James tells me about the 20-year-old aid who courageously ran towards Representative Gabrielle Gifford when he heard the shots, propped her up so she wouldn’t asphyxiate on her own blood, and staunched her wounds with his own hands. There’s still hope that Giffords will pull through.

When my kids are grown, I’ll even miss these dismal winter mornings.

In the meantime, maybe next winter or the winter after that we’ll have the money to vacation somewhere sunny.

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