I remember meeting a woman many years ago at a writing workshop (or conference of some sort). She struck me as very hippy-dippy at the time. Somehow we got to talking about my mother and my husband. I honestly can’t remember how or why, as that’s not typical for me (even with long-standing friends, much less new acquaintances). What stands out in my memory is that she told me I’d married my mother. I immediately dismissed this as ridiculous, because they are very different people in so many ways.
My mother always expected the worst of any sort of opportunity or scheme that caught Daddy’s eye or ear. My husband Norm is similarly quick to point out the flaws in any idea I present, though in a less judgmental fashion (he claims he’s just being realistic). When my daughter Nikki was planning her wedding, Norm and I visited all the state parks in the area to consider possible venues. He pointed out so many potential problems to the manager at Ken-Lake (the one we chose in the end) that she nicknamed him Mr. Negativity.
In contrast, my dad was such a believer in the power of positive thinking that it was almost annoying at times. He remained consistently optimistic that I could be president of my undergraduate university (or probably the U.S.) if I’d encouraged him, even though I hadn’t an ounce of administrative experience or ambition.
When Nikki was dating a high school boyfriend named Mark, she told us a story one day that has stayed with me. Mark’s parents had been expecting a windfall from their insurance company. They had not received it yet but were already contemplating how they were going to spend it. Nikki didn’t comment to them, but she later confided to us her feeling that they were inviting disappointment. To her surprise, the insurance check came through as they expected. As she told us this story, she said she’d realized to what extent we had trained her to always expect the worst. Until then, I hadn’t realized that both Norm and I were pessimists, though of slightly different types. If being a pessimist protects us from disappointment, it also shields us from joy.
As an academic trying to publish research, the best you can usually hope for when you submit a paper to a journal is a “revise and resubmit” with a list of suggested changes. Often you get another list on the second round and maybe even on the third. If you don’t celebrate on the first, second, or third round, by the time the paper is actually accepted for publication, it feels like old news and you’re starting to get tired of the paper anyway.
I’m trying to learn to celebrate the moments without delay, or I may never truly rejoice. Am I too old to learn?
Thank goodness for my dad’s positivity as he deals every day with my mom’s declining health and constant demands. Would that I become more like him, at least in this respect, as I age.