Wednesday, October 14, 2009

what do you hope for

At work yesterday, I was standing by the printer, waiting for something to print for a meeting I was getting ready for. There is a basket next to the printer where people put extra documents that have printed out but haven't yet been claimed. On the top was a sheet of paper that said "what do you hope for". I looked closer and realized the bottom half of the paper was covered up by another blank sheet - it was an announcement for a public meeting, not some divine message left there for me. It kind of made me laugh, because just a moment before I had been thinking "I just want this day to be over", which then prompted me to think, like Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets, "shouldn't it be better than that?". What am I doing wishing my days away like that? What is it I'm hoping for, really?

I had to work late Tuesday night, so Dora went to play with her friend Clara for a little while. It used to be that I would drop Dora off at a friend's house and she would cry when I left. She still does, a little bit, but she cries a lot more when I pick her up and we leave her friends. She was in the back, crying and saying "I want out" over and over again. I thought, as I often do when driving, about how worried I am about the world. Earlier I had listened to "Living on Earth" on Public Radio, listening to stories about fisheries collapsing, acidic oceans, global warming impacts on sea life, on and on. I truly believe it is important to be informed, to listen to and learn about these things so that we can do something about them. But sometimes it is just too much. Sometimes I just have to turn off the news and listen to music on the drive home from work. Or I just listen to Dora saying "I want out" about 800 times.

I was worried about the world before I had a baby. I was angry at people who seemed to have absolutely no regard for the environment, who used resources like they were the last ones who would ever need them, who littered or didn't recycle or who drove giant SUVs. I would get so angry at greedy people making unfathomable amounts of money by destroying the earth, or other people, or themselves. If nothing else, I could not understand how those people could sleep at night knowing their greed was destroying the inheritance of their grandchildren. Even greedy, selfish people want to see their DNA perpetuated, don't they?

When Dora was first born, my fears about the world became very exaggerated. I have always been a "worrier", but I entered a whole new level of worrying during Dora's first 9 months. It got pretty intense for a while - enough so that I had to get some help to overcome it. I was intensely afraid of everything, afraid of what might happen to Dora, afraid of myself, afraid of being afraid. It was kind of like having a baby had turned up the volume on the fear frequency in my brain. Gradually I have been able to turn it back down, to get things back in perspective - but now and then there is still a finger on the volume knob, bumping it up just a bit to make sure I'm paying attention.

For the most part, I've sort of settled back into my usual level of worry - sort of a general malaise kind of worry. I worry about little things, like whether the rain will knock all the leaves off the trees before I feel like I got to enjoy them enough, or whether or not I'll get Dora to bed early and smoothly enough to do a few things before Brian gets home from work. I worry about the black widow spider we found in our kitchen on Saturday, that ran under the stove before we could get it. I worry about money - I wonder if everyone, even the extremely wealthy, worries about money.

I do often drive around worrying about the world, though, thinking of all the things that are wrong, how many of them seem irreversible, unfair, catastrophic. I wonder what things will be like when Dora and her friends are older. How much more difficult will it be to have teenagers in 15 years, when iPhones and Blackberries are totally obsolete and wireless electronic technology has reached heights we can't even imagine now? What will happen to the ecosystem if things continue in the direction they're going now? When will we decide that we have to drastically change what we're doing, and will it be too late?

When I get overwhelmed about all of this I try to be comforted by the hopes I have for Dora and her friends. I look at them and I think they may be able to help us. I'm not thinking of this like we're passing the buck to her generation, but instead thinking of it as if my responsibility now is to work towards a solution, thereby teaching my daughter that she has to work towards a solution, too. I know my other friends who are parents or who are involved in children's lives are doing this, too. I have to believe that is making a difference. When I think about all the kids I know now because I'm a parent, I am amazed by all of their intelligence, wonder, and beauty. I don't want them to grow up any faster than they already are, but I can't help but imagine what they'll be like as adults, sharing all their gifts with the world. Perhaps I am being overly optimistic. Perhaps every generation has assumed that the next will solve the problems, thereby relieving themselves of the responsibility.

I have a lot of hopes - from inconsequential to monumental. I hope the black widow spider finds its way outside. I hope we continue to be able to pay our bills. I hope the flea medicine kicks in and the dogs stop itching. More than that, though, I hope Dora has a beautiful, wonderful, exciting life filled with adventures (only safe ones!), great food and friends, music, art, literature, nature, pets, children, a career that has meaning, love. I hope I can teach Dora about who she is and where she comes from, that I can teach her about who her Grandma Carol was in a way that does justice to all that my mom means to me. I hope I can teach Dora to be a good, honest, thoughtful person. I hope I can teach her to cook and take pictures while Brian teaches her to play piano. I hope that Dora and her friends can meet this challenge, solve these problems, raise us up to a new level of humanity that respects everything and everyone. I hope that in 30 years when Dora is driving around in some carbon-neutral, emissions-free vehicle with her baby in the backseat, she can listen to Living on Earth and it will be an hour of stories about how the human race has reversed climate change, the oceans are flourishing, species are re-established, and the ecosystem is in harmony. I hope she never has to think about how much she is worried about the world. Maybe that's overly optimistic, but as a "worrier", I could use a little optimism. So, for whoever asked, that is what I hope for.

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