There’s a particular pressure we Americans feel, I think, to be happy all the time. To prove to others that we’re “just great!” and that nothing, no nothing gets us down. Maybe that’s one reason why so many people are clinically depressed in this country – because they feel like they need a doctor’s excuse in order to be unhappy for a while.
Not only do we feel like we have to feign happiness at all times, but we have to appear productive all the time, too – especially in a place like New York where everyone is either an obsessive overachiever or a chronic underachiever trying to tap into their blocked potential.
So my heart began to sing and my head began to nod in agreement when I read Glennon Melton’s essay Don’t Carpe Diem over on Huffington Post. In it, Melton admits that (of course!) she doesn’t love every second of every minute of her life, and more importantly, she doesn’t feel pressure to.
While describing the mind-numbing chaos of every day parenting, Melton suddenly turns and says:
Last week, a woman approached me in the Target line and said the following: ‘Sugar, I hope you are enjoying this. I loved every single second of parenting my two girls. Every single moment. These days go by so fast’ …. I just looked at the woman, smiled and said, ‘Thank you’ …. That’s not exactly what I wanted to say, though. There was a famous writer who, when asked if he loved writing, replied, ‘No, but I love having written.’ What I wanted to say to this sweet woman was, ‘Are you sure? Are you sure you don’t mean you love having parented?’
She goes on to further explain what she means by the distinction, detailing her experience as a mother as it relates to her experience with time. She says:
There are two different types of time. Chronos time is what we live in. It’s regular time, it’s one minute at a time, it’s staring down the clock till bedtime time, it’s ten excruciating minutes in the Target line time, it’s four screaming minutes in time out time, it’s two hours till daddy gets home time. Chronos is the hard, slow passing time we parents often live in.
Then there’s Kairos time. Kairos is God’s time. It’s time outside of time. It’s metaphysical time. It’s those magical moments in which time stands still. I have a few of those moments each day. And I cherish them.
I have a lot of single, childless friends, so I don’t hear “it goes by so fast” as much as Melton might, but I do get asked all the time about how I’m doing. “How are you? How’s your daughter? How’s everything? How’s your career? How’s blogging? What are you up to?” Recently all I’ve been able to muster in response to these well-meaning questions is, “I’m fine. Everything’s fine.” The hardest one for me to answer, I think, is, “How are you?” Because really, I don’t know how I am lately. I’ve had so much going on in my life, and at the same time so little, it’s hard to give people what feels like a satisfying answer.
“Well, I’m fine. I drop my daughter off at school, I work, I pick her up, I work. We eat, I put her to bed, I work. I’m either writing or performing. I was dating someone. I’m not anymore. I was in court with my ex. For a long time. It was exhausting. I walk around in a fog a lot of the time. I’m isolated. It’s hard being a single mother in some respects. And yet I don’t feel like I can really complain. I’m happy. I think I am.”
I don’t really know how I feel. Not right now. I am going through so much personal evolution. I’m tired. I’m dehydrated. But I hardly drink alcohol anymore. I’m doing well. I’m not doing well. I’m learning. Constantly, constantly learning. I don’t really like the bougie neighborhood I live in, I can’t relate to most of the people who live here, but I’m happy my daughter goes to a good school. I have mixed feelings about New York City, the entertainment industry. I miss my mom. My mom and I don’t get along. I’m funny and brash. I’m feeling like I’d rather be quiet sometimes. I don’t know why my life has turned into a poor imitation of Alanis Morissette lyrics, but it has.
I moved back to New York City after having lived here for seven years, then choosing to leave to save my marriage. I discovered my marriage was a sham. I’m going to therapy, not to deal with that, but to deal with everything that led me to that. I’m being a good mom. I’m trying to have fun. I don’t know that I’ve yet mastered a balance. “I want to feel like I’m conducting my life.” That’s what I told my therapist back in May. I feel like I’m just going through the motions a lot of the time.
But like Melton, I experience moments of transcendental bliss. I so appreciate Melton’s feeling and writing when she says, “… when I actually stop what I’m doing and really look at Tish. I notice how perfectly smooth and brownish her skin is. I notice the perfect curves of her teeny elf mouth and her asianish brown eyes, and I breathe in her soft Tishy smell. In these moments, I see that her mouth is moving but I can’t hear her because all I can think is — This is the first time I’ve really seen Tish all day, and my God — she is so beautiful. Kairos.”
I have those exact moments with my own daughter, at least once a day, and to me, that’s enough. Because honestly — how many people can’t even say that? My mother never took the time to just stop and *be* with me, and I think as a result I have always known I would make that conscious connection a priority when raising my own child. But we can’t be present every second of every moment of every day, because as Stephen Sondheim so eloquently put it, “Oh, if life were made of moments, even now and then a bad one! But if life were only moments, then you’d never know you’d had one.”
And I don’t just enjoy kairos moments with my daughter, but in my personal life, too. Unlike Melton, I don’t have a husband to watch TV with at night, but I do have tons of great friends and fellow comedians and I love the chances I get to spend time with them. Being on stage is a different experience now that I’m living with the responsibilities of single parenthood. It’s not something I take for granted. Performing offers me an opportunity to exist in kairos, and hopefully to have that godly spirit move through me and out into the world for others to share.
“If I had a couple Kairos moments during the day, I call it a success,” Melton writes. “Carpe a couple of Kairoses a day. Good enough for me.” How about you?
Before I close, I’m reminded of something Carrie Fisher wrote in her book/solo show “Wishful Drinking.” She said, “Happy is one of the many things I’m likely to be over the course of a day and certainly over the course of a lifetime. But I think if you have the expectation that you’re going to be happy throughout your life–more to the point, if you have a need to be comfortable all the time–well, among other things, you have the makings of a classic drug addict or alcoholic.” I’m trying to learn how to be comfortable in moments that are less than exceptional. During the boring parts. I’m learning how to be comfortable being uncomfortable, dissatisfied, unsure. I’m trying to allow myself — for once in my life — to be gloriously normal and plain and simple without wanting to “explode into a rainbow of chicken nuggets,” as my friend Desiree would say. Because in the end, that’s probably the best thing I can do for my daughter. And I guess myself.