When you feel crushed by an avalanche of diapers to be changed, dishes to wash and laundry to fold, it isn't easy to see beyond the next mountain of disarray. In early motherhood, sometimes every day feels like Groundhog Day. You do the same things over and over (even if you work outside the home, too). There you are, at 7:30pm, once again crawling under the kitchen table scouring the floor for the blobs of dinner baby insisted on hurling every which way. I mention this cycle because it is this redundancy that can make you feel like you are stuck in time and isolated from the rest of the planet. You know the world is going on without you. Yet it seems impossible to step back, catch up and make a contribution to the universe that exists outside the family.
I mention this because one of the most amazing gifts I received this holiday season was the chance to indulge in reading for pleasure. I love books. But with twin toddlers and my recent return to work, it has been hard to make the time to curl up with anything beyond the newspaper. There are two books I read in the past couple of weeks which really reinforced how important it is both as a "mom in pursuit of wellness" and as a citizen, to take time to get involved in the world at large. The Septembers of Shiraz by Dalia Sofer and Kabul Beauty School by Deborah Rodriguez are both entertaining and insightful books that reminded me once again how lucky I am to live in this country. We have our problems - a growing wealth and education gap; a broken healthcare system; an ongoing war in Iraq; Osama still on the run; race, gender and sexual orientation biases and so on and so on...But on the eve of the Presidential primaries, reading about the repression faced by millions in Iran and Afghanistan deeply resonated with me.
Author Dalia Sofer, who was forced to flee post-revolutionary Iran as a young girl after her own father was unjustly imprisoned, draws on her family's experiences in The Septembers of Shiraz. Sofer paints a riveting picture of a family torn apart when a father is accused of spying for Israel and tortured. While I was finishing up Shiraz, I made it a point to drag my husband to see the film Persepolis. The animated movie by Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud is also set in a similar period in Iran and provides a moving narrative of a spirited nine-year-old girl during the Islamic Revolution. The film is based on Satrapi's graphic novels and echoes her own experiences growing up under a tyrannical regime.
New in paperback, Kabul Beauty School is the true story of a Michigan beautician who launches a vocational training program in post-9/11 Kabul for women looking to earn a living. Not only does Rodriguez succeed in arming these women with viable, money-making skills, she instills in them a sense of community and confidence they had lost while shrouded in burkas and rarely allowed to leave their homes.
Coincidentally, last weekend as I was finishing up the books and saw the movie, I received my California primary voter registration guide in the mail. Still swept up in the stories, I suddenly felt compelled to read the legislative analysis of every ballot measure. I felt the funk of crying children and sticky sippy cups fall away as I delved into the pros and cons of Proposition 92, an act to amend the state constitution with minimum spending requirements for K-12 schools and community colleges (okay - I will admit I used to be an education reporter so this kind of stuff is wildly interesting to me). The point is that amid the chaos of caregiving, there is something to be said for seeing yourself in the larger context of the world and for taking the time to make a difference. I think this is another essential part of wellness that gets short shrift (compared to diet, exercise, managing stress, etc). It is one area I will continue to write about this year - here on The Huffington Post and on my website, TheWellMom.com.