Thank you for your voicemail the other week saying you had a “funny story” to tell me. When I called back, you told me about orientation week at your graduate occupational therapy program. You said the director of the meeting asked the students to say what makes a good occupational therapist. Students said compassion and empathy. When the teacher asked you what you thought was an important quality for an occupational therapist, you said, “Enthusiasm.” The teacher got quiet and said, “Compassion and empathy are important for being an occupational therapist. However, enthusiasm fades.”
I wish I could say that when you told me this “funny story” I laughed and let it go. However, I wanted to strangle that teacher. After getting off the phone with you, I considered calling the teacher and yelling at her. I wanted to say, “You moron–You think I want unenthusiastic people playing with my kid? What are you teaching them? If you take away Melissa’s enthusiasm I’m going to fucking kill you.” Melissa, when you moved to go to graduate school, it was very hard for me. I missed you. I missed your amazing energy. I missed how excited you were to be in my house. I missed how much love and passion you had for playing with my son. You helped me be more excited about my life and my son. So when your teacher scoffed at your enthusiasm, I was pissed. I wanted to tell her that I wanted my money back(I had given you some money to help pay your tuition.) I wanted to tell her that you are coming back to play with Cal during Christmas break and if you are unenthusiastic, how will that help me? I’ve never walked out of a therapist or doctors office and said to my husband, “Boy that doctor was great! She was so unenthusiastic, bitter and jaded–that was so helpful.”
Before you called, I read a speech the headmaster of my son’s school said to seniors in high school. He talked about helicopter parents who went to job interviews with their kids who were applying for jobs as lawyers. I decided not to call your professor because I didn’t want to be one of those helicopter parents, especially since I’m not even your parent. Instead, I decided the best way to help you was for me to model enthusiasm. I already spoke to you on the phone about how your enthusiasm can’t fade because that would mean it’s something separate from you that can just go away. You have control over how enthusiastic and excited you are. You can choose to be enthusiastic or not. Its your choice. I decided then to have my top priority be that I was enthusiastic. God, Melissa, you really helped me out. Everything I did, I just said to myself, I’m going to be excited about this. When, I noticed myself being sad or bitter, I would remember how I decided to be enthusiastic my top priority and I would come up with reasons to be excited. It worked.
However since I spoke to you and decided to make being enthusiastic my top priority, I’ve forgotten about my enthusiasm a lot. Sometimes I remember to choose to be enthusiastic for myself because I want to be happy. But now, I’m not enthusiastic. I’m not choosing to be enthusiastic because I’m afraid of being disappointed. Last year I did a writing exercise from the book, “The Secret.” The point was when you imagine what you want and feel grateful as though it’s already happened, you can make it happen. This is what I wrote:
“I am so happy and grateful now that Cal is a happy, healthy teenager who is a sophomore at Paideia, gets straight A’s in History, English, Math, Music and Science. Cal has a girlfriend who he loves and who loves him. Cal has a boy best friend who also goes to Paideia. Cal is very popular on his Ultimate Frisbee Team. Cal is close to his little brother and tutors him in Math and English. Cal does garbage and laundry almost every day. He has a job at the Venetian Pool as a life guard.”
I’ve had this piece of paper on my desk (hidden under other papers) for a long time. For a while, when I read it, I got happy and hopeful. Now, reading my dream, I feel terrible–sad, embarrassed, disappointed, nauseous.
When I wrote my dream I was excited thinking this could happen. Now I think no way–it’s too late. I still keep the paper on my desk but I cringe every time I look at it. The other week I read a review of the broadway play, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime” about an autistic teenage boy. After criticizing the play for having a sweet puppy, “The New York Times” reviewer said, “(the play) wisely allows room for a lingering darkness. ‘It’s going to be all right,’ grown-ups keep telling (the autistic teenager) in bruised, self-betraying voices. No, it’s not.” “The New York Times” reviewer is saying himself, “No, it’s not going to be all right.” “The New York Times” is considered a smart newspaper. I think your occupational therapy professor and the New York Times reviewer should date. They could go to dinner and congratulate themselves for how smart they are for believing the world sucks.
There will be people who will tell me that it’s not smart to be too hopeful and enthusiastic. Now, I’m one of the people telling myself that. I’m afraid to feel good about my dreams for Cal because I don’t want to be disappointed. The thing is that I already am disappointed. I do feel like I’d be happier and more effective with my son and the people around me if I believed in my dreams and that’s it’s going to be ok. But I’m scared to believe what I wrote as my dream for Cal because I feel stupid. I feel like people will think I’m stupid and won’t respect me or listen to me if I keep telling them Cal is going to get better and he doesn’t.
If I live my life believing Cal is going to do all those things I wrote about, it makes me silly and stupid because I know it can’t happen–he’s too old. I’m afraid of being sad–that i’ll get excited again and then be sad. After having a long dialogue with myself, I realized the following: If I get sad, I’m choosing to. The more often I feel joy, feeling hopeful will become a habit. In the book, “The Brain that Changes Itself”, it explains how we develop habits. The more we do something(eat healthy, feel joy, throw a ball, smoke), the deeper that pathway develops in our brain. The more used a path is, the easier it is to travel on. It feels good to be passionate and excited. I am committed to making the joy and enthusiasm path in my brain very well used.
How we play with Cal is focused on our attitude. We are more effective with Cal, when we feel enthusiastic, loving, and accepting of ourselves and Cal. I have control over how I feel and act. I don’t have control over how other people feel and act. Therefore, I want to be excited about Cal because it feels good to me. It’s ok if your occupational therapy teacher and the “New York Times” critic make fun of my stupid optimism on their honeymoon. I can’t control them but I can control how I feel and what I do. I want to make being passionate, excited, happy and loving my top priority because I like myself and I want to be nice to me.
I just reread my dream about Cal being a sophomore at Paideia with the intention of me being nice to myself. I felt good reading it. I can picture Cal doing all those things and it’s nice. But really, I can picture Cal being exactly who he is now and that feels really good too. I love him exactly the way he is now. That image I wrote is a different person who I can also have fun imagining. So Melissa, be excited for yourself, not because someone like me or your teachers tell you to be–but because you want to be nice to yourself and it feels good to be excited. Also, you help the people around you(like me and Cal) when you are your wonderful enthusiastic beautiful self.