Big feelings, small thoughts
A small sampling of the things bopping around my mind.
On Saturday, my daughter turned two. Yesterday, she attended her first day of preschool. Tomorrow, she’ll go to the pediatrician for her 24-month appointment. This week is full of milestones and transitions—reminder after reminder that our little girl is growing up fast, right before our eyes.
A lot of the parenting advice out there is aimed at helping children get through big transitions, but I’m finding that they’re sometimes more challenging for us adults. Whereas Cass is breezing through these milestones with curiosity and joy, Billy and I are feeling somewhat anxious, trying to stay calm and find our footing as the foundation we’ve built over these past two years shifts dramatically.
So much of this time is about letting go. As Wyatt Cooper wrote about his sons, Carter and Anderson, not long before his death in 1978, “Their rise is my decline.”
This is a big moment, one of many notable parenting moments to come. As you might expect, there are some big feelings happening around here. My mind feels full with thoughts, excitement, and worries. And so, instead of a cohesive essay, today I’m offering a selection of small ideas—things I’ve been thinking about or have been recently inspired by. I hope you enjoy it.
‘Beauty cleans the mind’
“Wherever you are, at any moment, try and find something beautiful. A face, a line out of a poem, the clouds out of a window, some graffiti, a wind farm. Beauty cleans the mind.”
I love this idea. It’s something I’ve written about before, but the way that Haig describes it is so wonderful. When the world feels ugly, finding something beautiful is like a reset for your brain.
Come back to it
I listen to podcasts whenever I go on walks. By the end of the week, I’ve usually heard a number of interesting interviews, new ideas, and funny moments. Sometimes, those things stick, but more often, they just wash over me; a fun thing to listen to while I’m getting some exercise.
The other day, the hosts of Forever35 interviewed Amanda Yesnowitz, a crossword-puzzle creator (also known as a cruciverbalist). Yesnowitz offered up a helpful strategy for solving tough puzzles, especially on those days when you’ve hit a wall and run out of answers.
“I guarantee you, if you come back to that puzzle, 24 hours later—having slept, having eaten, having exercised, whatever—you will pick up that puzzle and you will know something you didn’t the day before,” she said.
Yesnowitz explained that our brains are designed to keep working on problems while we’re doing other things. Our minds are always working in the background. Like any other organ, it needs nutrients, oxygen, and downtime to perform its best.
This was one of those times a podcast takeaway stuck with me: Give yourself permission to put down the crossword—or whatever it is your brain needs to mull over.
A new way to think about time
At the start of 2022, I announced that, instead of making year-long resolutions, I was going to set weekly intentions. It’s worked well! I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the effectiveness of weekly intentions versus longer goals, and I plan to write about this in greater detail later.
In the meantime, though, I wanted to share this thought-provoking blog post from Ross Zurowski, about exploring different ways of measuring time and setting time-based goals.
“It seems like there’s merit to finding more personal ways of chunking out time,” Zurowski wrote. “Especially in an era with such powerful means to represent time, finding novel and more meaningful timescales seems like fertile ground for exploration.”
Do you set weekly intentions, or do something similar? Let me know. I’d love to hear from a few readers before I dive into this topic more deeply!
Practice makes not quite perfect, but close
Something I’ve discovered, again and again, is that the way I parent my daughter, or at least the way I aspire to parent her, is how I should treat myself. Lately, that applies to talking through events before they happen.
Parents with children of a certain age probably know the Mister Rogers’ spinoff show, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. In one of the first episodes, Daniel apprehensively goes to school and the doctor. His mom, teacher, and pediatrician all sing the same catchy ditty: “When we do something new / Let's talk about what we'll do.”
And they do just that. Before Daniel steps foot into his classroom or the doctor’s office, he and his parents talk through what will happen. It’s a solid strategy.
I’d forgotten how effective visualization can be. It’s been years since I’ve given a talk or presented in front of an in-person crowd, but my most successful performances were always ones I’d properly walked myself through beforehand. Talking about what we’ll do doesn’t just apply to kids; it’s something we can all benefit from.
An incomplete list of things that almost always help (cont.)
Going for a walk. Writing down your thoughts. Taking a slow sip of whatever you’re drinking and saying “ahhh” afterwards. Closing your eyes, if even for a second. Putting on more comfortable clothes. Reaching up to the sky. Doodling—and not caring what it looks like. Saying, “Hey, I love you,” to someone you love.
Will she be warm enough? And other hard questions
I dropped off my now two-year-old for her second-ever day of preschool this morning. It’s a nature-based school, which means that the children and teachers spend almost all of their time outdoors, no matter the weather. And today—Cass’ second-ever day of outdoor school—happens to be an unseasonably cold day.
I sent her off wearing a fleece sweater and puffy overcoat, a wool hat and warm boots. I think she’ll be fine; she loves being outside and enjoys the novelty of winter clothes. Still, I can’t help but worry. Will she be warm enough? Will she have fun? Is she going to get along with the other kids? What is she going to learn at school that I haven’t yet taught her? Did I properly prepare her for this moment?
The answers to these questions are mostly yeses, with a number of unknowns. Which is the way of life, I suppose. There will always be unknowns, no matter how much planning or research you put into things. This can sometimes be frustrating. But I try to remember that it’s also what makes life special. Every day is unknown. Every day is a new adventure.
A quote for the week ahead
I recently finished reading John Green’s beautiful collection of essays, The Anthropocene Reviewed. Several Sweet Dumb Brain readers recommended it to me. It did not disappoint.
I highlighted multiple passages in the book, but this was one of my favorites:
When my breastbone starts to hurt, and my throat tightens, and tears well in my eyes, I want to look away from feeling. I want to deflect with irony, or anything else that will keep me from feeling directly. We all know how loving ends. But I want to fall in love with the world anyway, to let it crack me open. I want to feel what there is to feel while I am here.
This is a breastbone-aching, throat-tightening, tear-welling week for me. Maybe it is for you, too. But I’m with Green: I want to feel it all while I can. Here’s to big feelings.