Sentence To Ponder

“The activities that make people happiest include sex, exercise and gardening.”

The findings of British researchers who pinged tens of thousands of people on their smartphones and asked them simple questions: Who are they with? What are they doing? How happy are they?

More here. Also worth pondering. . . how good is the sex if one partner is responding to survey researchers?

Sawing Against The Stream

I listened to this excellent “Why Are American Teenagers So Sad and Anxious” podcast yesterday morning.

In one part, Derek Thompson discusses his “displacement” theory of childhood. Meaning as children and adolescents have spent more and more time on smart phones and other screens, there have been direct and indirect costs to their well-being. One indirect cost has been the “displacement” of play meaning much less outdoor activity with others. In the podcasters’ views, it’s difficult to underestimate the negative consequences of reduced play.

Then, in the afternoon, at mile 34 of my bike ride, I was rolling through the blueberry farms on Gull Harbor Rd. And right before hitting Boston Harbor Rd, there she was.

A 6-7 year old blonde girl who single-handedly is bucking the alone, indoor, screen life. I’ve seen her before in her backyard from Boston Harbor Rd. Her family’s compound is a chaotic mess of animals, hard panned dirt, junk including an abandoned bus, and more animals. Barefoot and dirty, if you only saw her in her backyard, you’d think it was Appalachia.

Yesterday, she was sitting on her driveway where it meets Gull Harbor Rd. Still barefoot, next to a chicken and a “Chicken Crossing” sign, she was sawing a piece of wood with a saw three-quarters her size.

The only thing that would’ve been better is if she was risking injury with a friend or two. I’m sure she has friends, but they were probably indoors on screens.

How Well-Intentioned People Slowly Fall Apart

A clear, thought provoking excerpt from  Matthew Fray’s book, This Is How Your Marriage Ends: A Hopeful Approach to Saving Relationships.

Dig the last two paragraphs:

“If I had known that this drinking-glass situation and similar arguments would actually end my marriage—that the existence of love, trust, respect, and safety in our marriage was dependent on these moments I was writing off as petty disagreements—I would have made different choices.

I could have communicated my love and respect for her by not leaving tiny reminders for her each day that she wasn’t considered. That she wasn’t remembered. That she wasn’t respected. I could have carefully avoided leaving evidence that I would always choose my feelings and my preferences over hers.”

In one portion of my first year writing seminar, my students and I explore the concept of romantic love and the notion of “soulmates” more specifically. Next fall, in that context, we will read this essay. Eighteen and nineteen year olds don’t even remotely think about romantic relationships in Fray’s suggested terms because no one ever asks them to. In my teaching experience, when they are challenged to, they routinely rise to the occasion and reveal genuine maturity and depth.

More broadly, if you want to invite me to a dinner party, I would enjoy using this excerpt as a case study of sorts to engage other couples about the relative health of their relationships. It would be thrilling because it could go spectacularly wrong, but even then it would be revealing to hear people’s different perspectives on Fray’s telling of his divorce story.

Or I suppose, we can just keep talking about Elon Musk, the price of gas, and the weather.

Why American Teens Are So Sad

Derek Thompson in The Atlantic.

Somber opening that won’t surprise anyone working closely with adolescents.

“The United States is experiencing an extreme teenage mental-health crisis. From 2009 to 2021, the share of American high-school students who say they feel “persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness” rose from 26 percent to 44 percent, according to a new CDC study. This is the highest level of teenage sadness ever recorded.”

The rest is required reading for anyone seeking to understand teen mental health.

My Total Lack of Self-Awareness

The Good Wife and I are in marriage counseling, not because our relationship is bad, but because we want it to be better.

I deserve no credit for this, the GalPal has taken all the initiative. And therein lies one of the challenges. I think we should be able to improve things on our own if we carefully consider the different dynamics of the alternating peaks and valleys of our partnership. And then accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative. You know, easy-peasy, just use more of our brain power.

Now I know that assumption is terribly flawed. We can’t think our way to a better relationship, it’s much more about heart, and dare I say, feelings. If it has anything to do with intelligence, it’s solely emotional intelligence.

Our counselor diagnosed our main problem quickly in a way that resonated with both of us. Most of the time, when we try to resolve conflicts, one or both of us are too angry, or emotionally “flooded” or “unregulated” to show genuine care for one another and have a constructive conversation. We ignore the flooding at our own peril, proceeding to get more and more angry, and ultimately, saying hurtful things we inevitably regret.

One epiphany came when our counselor asked each of us to describe the physiological changes we experience during the initial stages of a challenging conversation. The GoodWife aced that quiz describing in some detail several physiological changes. The weekend warrior athlete who constantly assesses how his body is or isn’t functioning while swimming, running, and cycling, couldn’t describe a single physiological change; earning a donut hole on the quiz.

The point of physiological self-awareness is to make sure we only enter into challenging conversations when each of us is regulated, meaning sufficiently calm to engage in a kind and caring manner.

I wasn’t as embarrassed by my total lack of physiological self-awareness as one might think, more intrigued. How can that be? Why the hell is that? That realization has me now trying to get into some kind of touch with my physiological married self. To quote Bill Murray, “Baby steps.”

I think the answer to “how can that be” and “why is that” is two-fold. I had two great parents, three older siblings who I tried to watch and learn from, and an overall positive childhood, but there was no intentional or deliberate conflict resolution or social-emotional teaching or learning more generally going on in our house. Ever.

Nor was there any intentional or deliberate conflict resolution or social-emotional teaching or learning going at any of the K-12 schools I attended. Extra-curricular activities included. Sunday School and church youth groups included.

So it’s not entirely surprising that I failed the quiz.

By this point, my older sissy has stopped reading, thinking to herself, “Ron, it’s not all about you.”

It’s too bad she checked out because I know my experience is that of damn near every male growing up in these (dis)United States in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. We talk about “food deserts” in poor communities, but what about “emotional deserts” in every community, irrespective of economics?

What would emotionally intelligent parenting for both boys and girls look like? What do emotionally intelligent parents know and what are they doing that’s different?

How can educators, coaches, art and music leaders, youth pastors, anyone in youth leadership positions begin fostering emotional intelligence?

How can parents better partner with other adults in their children’s lives to help their sons and daughters develop some semblance of emotional and physiological self-awareness?

We need more attention and better reporting on these things. Meaning engaging and accessible stories that will educate and inspire ordinary people who only know what they’ve experienced. Stories that spark imagination, challenge the status quo, and foster new and better ways of relating to one another.

Taking Our Union To The Next Level

Because I’m busy watching golf, the Good Wife agreed to pick up a library book that’s on hold for me.

Well, she tried. They had to call me to ask if she had permission to pick up books on hold for me. Or if I wanted, I could convey all of the privileges of my card to her.

Because I’m crazy in love with her and a big risk taker, I told the nice library person to go full throttle with la ultima card privileges.

Those of you who know the GalPal are right to wonder about my decision. She could easily run up a shitload of late fees, forcing me to return to work full time. Or she could purposely check out supe-embarrassing books in my name and then blackmail me for some ungodly sum.

It’s just the most recent example of me living on the edge.

The End of Mom Guilt

By Lara Bazelon in The Atlantic.

Bazelon, 51 years old, in an essay adapted from a book, writes:

“The feminism of my mother’s generation was rightly focused on equal pay at work; eradicating the abuses that drove women out of the workforce or caused them to switch to lower-paying, part-time work; and, eventually, equal division of labor at home. That project is far from complete. But feminism today must be about more than these structural changes. We have to redefine what it means to be a good mother.”

She then adds:

“No real change is possible until working mothers stop trying to be all things to all people—perfect at work, perfect as partners, and perfect as mothers, with each role kept entirely separate. Rather than hermetically sealing motherhood off from workplace struggles and triumphs, women should embrace the seepage between their worlds. For themselves, but also for their sons and daughters.”

Then she describes a few working mothers who do seem to be all things to all people, which left me somewhat confused.

She makes a strong argument for ambitious mothers, but I couldn’t help but notice the two marriages she describes in most depth both ended in divorce. Which makes me think, acknowledging the limits of my hetero assumption, another book is in order. One on how men can partner more effectively with ambitious, successful women.