Or: How to Run and Stop Running from your Problems
Everyone who’s had a child or been a child in the last 45 years probably knows about Judith Viorst’s book, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.
If you’ve been living under a rock since 1972, this children’s classic tells the story of a boy, Alexander, a kindergartner who has everything go wrong. The day in the book really is terrible, from waking up with gum in his hair to losing his best friend, having a cavity at the dentist to the shoe store having the wrong sneakers, no lunch dessert to hateful pajamas.
Throughout the book, every time Alexander runs into another problem that’s too much to bear, he says he wants to “…move to Australia.”
For a long time, that was me.
Every time I had a problem, I would think “I don’t have to do this — this isn’t real,” or “This is my fault — I can fix it.”
Louise Hay’s essential message in her books (like “You Can Heal Your Life” and “Experience Your Good Now”) is that, through the power of affirmations, you can improve your health, you can call money to you, and you can make your circumstances or even the circumstances of the world better than they are.
For adults who feel like they can’t accomplish anything, this is probably really good advice. Affirmations can help an adult: affirmations about health might get you to the gym; affirmations about money might get you into a second job; affirmations about the state of the world or your life could, possibly, inspire you to do something about them.
For an eight-year-old with advanced reading skills, affirmations were pretty toxic.
I’ve not reread Louise Hay’s books as an adult, but I think it’s unlikely that she was telling her readers that every single thing wrong with their lives was their own fault.
I do know that that’s the message my prepubescent brain took from my reading.
I also, either from the pseudo-eastern religious thought popular in my mother’s circle of friends or from some extrapolation of my own, got the idea that if affirmations could change the world so thoroughly, the world itself must not be real, and if it was we probably got reincarnated and so this life didn’t matter.
This led to a lot of thrill-seeking behavior, like smoking, driving too fast, drugs, climbing things I should not have climbed, and bad relationships that should never have started. It also led to me being thoroughly convinced that if I wanted something to work, I could make it so.
And it led to me being totally uninterested in working anything out when it was going badly.
Which brings us back to Alexander, and Australia.
Alexander’s day doesn’t get better with his plan to run from his problems and go to the farthest-away place he can think of, and my life wasn’t improved by my pretending it wasn’t really my life. I have gained some things by jumping from skill-tree to skill-tree like some overcharged RPG character, but the most useful lesson in my life happened because I got pregnant.
Now, pregnancy and parenthood are things you can avoid, and you can also get out of them once they’re happening either through abortion or adoption. The one thing you can’t do is pretend they’re not happening. When you see two lines on the pregnancy test, the reality of the world snaps right into place.
I’m sure other people have other events that tear away a veil of unreality surrounding their lives; this was mine.
Not that I didn’t try. I wished for a week or so that I wasn’t pregnant, but it turns out that doesn’t work in real life. I thought about an abortion, and even talked about it with my then-boyfriend, but it turned out I wanted a baby more than I wanted to have an abortion.
So a baby I had, and that has led to a lot of other things: a wedding, a divorce, a girlfriend, four moves to various parts of the country, buying a house, another wedding, sending a kid to college, and a ton of good and bad days.
There are times on bad days when I wish I still believed that life wasn’t real. It’s much easier to live life when you pretend the bad things don’t matter. You miss a lot that way, though: if you remember that what’s happening is real, and solid, and will not come again, the good times are unbearably sweet.
I will tell you that on the bad days, it helps me get through if I remember that some days are like that.
Even in Australia.