Last weekend, I was feeling wonderful, and I was marveling that so many areas of my life were in the place I wanted them to be. My career has had some major recent breakthroughs in long-desired areas, my hobbies have begun to rear their heads more often in my busy life, my friendships are rewarding and pervasive, and my children are happy and healthy, weathering life’s storms in the ways I have hoped they would — for the most part.
Then my oldest son totaled his car on Sunday morning, with my two younger children with him at the time. The accident was completely his fault, and he managed to also take out another car that was towed away, with — luckily — no injuries to the three lovely women in that car who were headed to church.Although very angry, I managed to note that I was exceptionally grateful that no one had been injured. However, the scene of the accident began to overtake my thinking after my initial gratitude. In fact, pieces of my son’s car are still on the busy intersection where he took a badly-judged left turn into oncoming traffic. I couldn’t shop for groceries this week without encountering the site and asking myself, “What if he’d killed one of his siblings — his best friends?” “What if he’d killed someone else, and was facing manslaughter charges today instead of packing for college?” “What if I’d lost every one of my children in the blink of an eye?” I didn’t sleep for the next 24 hours, while we worked out a punishment to fit the crime of immaturity, recklessness and bad judgment.
Then my son graduated from high school on Tuesday night.
I was elated despite my mood and his shifting moods, because it was an important and well-earned milestone in his life, and we celebrated until almost midnight at a steak house. That late night crept into my exhaustion, though, and I slept through another scheduled swim practice, which I desperately need for emotional equilibrium. Within another 48 hours, my son was in trouble again, and came home in the middle of the night with a badly-sprained ankle that could jeopardize his swimming scholarship, which he has spent nine years pursuing with intensity bordering on insanity. He’d gotten the injury by being careless while stealing traffic cones and street signs with his best friend. The cones have all been returned, but it was another indicator of bad judgment, and my anger escalated again. The punishment quadrupled, and so did my bad mood.
My perceived quality of life had plummeted within five days from excellent to dismal, and I did what any self-respecting, cortisol-ridden, furious parent would do. I escaped. Facing writing deadlines for my upcoming book, “I’m Still Caroline” (Gurze 2008), I did a Priceline bid and got a lovely hotel room fifteen minutes from my house for a song where I’m happily ensconced while calming down, reframing my life, forgiving my son, doing yoga, and bringing balance back into my life. My children are being well-cared for by their dad, who admits that he’s not on the parenting front lines like I am, and everyone is much happier as a result.
Why am I writing about this topic?
Because I rank creativity, love, relationships with children and health very highly in my own life, I felt a huge drop in my quality of life this week. Every one of these areas was seriously impacted by the series of accidents and arguments we had, and my self-care deteriorated. With proper self-care — such as rest, exercise, proper nutrition, prayer, and adherence to familiar routines, we can better find happiness and bring it to others. Ethical lapses tend to occur when a clinician’s self-care was particularly poor.
A fascinating article in last weekend’s Sunday New York Times “Play” magazine, which is devoted to the topics of sports, noted that something called, “Fatigue Factor” is the “single strongest statistical finding” ever found to explain how throwing too many pitches can destroy a young pitcher’s arm. In fact, a study by the American Sports Medicine Institute shows that pitchers between the ages of 16 and 20 who often throw with arm fatigue are 36 times more likely to be seriously injured than those who do not.”
Fatigue Factor is something that must be addressed whether you are a pitcher or a working mom who has simply gone beyond her limits in terms of stress. If you want to have happiness, you must take steps to care for yourself in some type of immediate way, whether it’s a $41 night at a hotel, an emergency call to a set of best friends, a timeout from a relationship, or something else.
As I write this, I’m feeling better. I’m back in touch with more compassion, zest, perspective and joy than I had 24 hours ago. I will make progress towards valued goals this weekend instead of feeling exhausted, demoralized, and overwhelmed. I will make a comprehensive list of goals for next week and will be realistic about the fact that stress will probably return in a variety of ways, but that I have tools in my toolbox to address them.
If you’ve ever want to know how to get a $41 hotel room just outside Washington DC (room rate is $149/night), think PRICELINE. When I’m searching for Inner Abundance, this is the first “favorite” in my web browser, and it’s done the trick again!
The first part of your article reminded me of a passage from Cerebrum magazine that helped me understand a few things about my kids (p. 45):
Well, that explains more than it doesn’t! Good luck getting through the frontal pruning!
Szalavitz, M. & Volpicelli, J. (2005). Paradoxical profile: Alcohol’s risks and benefits. Cerebrum, The Dana Forum on Brain Science, 7(1), 39-52.
I had read this somewhere else several years ago, along with the observation that ADHD boys are considered darn near “mentally ill” until their mid-twenties, when everything settles down. But still …. Priceline will have to stay in business for me to survive this brutal frontal pruning. Thanks for reminding me that it ends!
Exceptionally relevant article! This is one application of PP that has a true impact on suffering. I’ve always been a fan of Frisch’s QOL therapy and coaching. Like so many PP concepts, it has a pragmatic, familiar feel but is as groundbreaking as neutrinos and quarks. Here is something that can make a dent in the years of flatlined happiness in the USA, a real empirical measure of quality of life!
C, you’re so seamless here in going from the horrific personal story to the research backing up the concept of cooling off and self-balancing. Seriously, the first part of the article about the accident and the then-sprained ankle got my adrenaline going – just thinking about what I would do in your shoes. Goooo, Priceline deals! Thanks for the intro to you and Michael’s course! I wish you the absolute best with it!
Thanks for writing this one. I like the articles that people can relate to and certainly many laymen and women will be able to relate to this.
I loved your solution of finding a getaway and leaving the home for solace. I will keep priceline in mind… (and I didn’t realize you lived near me, maybe I’ll make an emergency call to you if such a thing ever happens with my teenage boys!)
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Dear Caroline! Wow I am still shell shocked to read this accident about Haywood Jr. You are advsing us-all the mon out there: keeing positivity through all of this neagtivity in order to achieve or maintian balance in life? We wish Haywood a very speedy recovery and much blessings!
I don’t think I have any great advice on how to keep teenage boys from taking unnecessary risks, but what I have learned is that we all have to have stress reduction activities in our lives on a regular basis for these types of events, or we’ll crater quickly. Life is one darn thing after the next, and it seems like we have to know how to regain equilibrium if we’re really going to enjoy life!
Thanks for the post —
Caroline – I found your essay about your son’s recent mishaps on my “Google alert” for positive psychology topics. I too have a son, a rising junior at Vanderbilt who is interning and studying in London for the summer. I wasn’t thrilled to learn that he usually jogs in central city London with an IPOD plugged into both ears, no doubt at full blast and often forgets to look right and then left when crossing intersections! I found myself ruminating about his safety in a large strange city only an ocean away. After reading your essay, I found comfort in the fact that I was not alone in my motherly concerns and resolved that my worry and ruminating would not make him safer. I too took refuge but not in a hotel room but in my garden among the weeds.
Your essay brings this true story to mind too… When I was 15 my father was teaching me how to drive. I was frustrated with my father’s authoritative tone and excessively slow driving. I said, “Dad – let’s go, speed it up a bit, no one drives this slow. You are the slowest driver on the block.” In a deadpan voice he replied, “Lisa, I once killed a man.” I said, “What are you talking about. You’d never kill anyone!” He explained: “I did kill a man but not intentionally. I was driving on a dark and rainy night – an old man stepped out into the road, I didn’t see him – I killed him with my car. It’s called vehicular manslaughter.”
My father’s mistake stays with me to this day. His mistake, my lesson and you can bet I told my son about the day his grandfather killed someone.
What an eye-opening story. Thank you for sharing all of it.
And here in Washington, DC, we have just lived through yet another senseless tragedy in which four beautiful young girls were killed when the driver cut across traffic on the highway and was mowed down by a tractor trailer. Three of the four had graduated from high school six hours earlier. Alcohol has been found at the crash scene, and the assumption is that alcohol may have impaired the judgment of the driver, although toxicology tests won’t be back for another week or two.
So life is full of tragedies and near-tragedies, and I keep hearing from people like you who talk about the ways they’ve learned to deal with their powerful fears and anxieties around this common subject.
Thanks for writing —
My son has been in two accidents and totaled both trucks in six months. I did not sleep at all last night. I am curious and would like to know what your sons punishment was?