When people ask me how I am, I try to respond with, “I can’t complain.” Because really, I can’t. There’s a roof over our heads, food on the table, I have a husband who loves me and children who are healthy. I don’t want to complain. I want to be grateful as much as possible.
Lately I’ve been noticing that complaining has become almost a mode of conversation, a way of commiserating with and relating to each other. We complain about the rain, or the lack of rain, or the heat, or the slow lady at the grocery store, or the terrible service at a restaurant, or the carpool line that is agonizingly long, or the amount of homework our kids get, or the butt loads of laundry that pile up. I am guilty of this complaining conversation just as much as the next person. I complain about how hot and humid it was today, or how I could lose a few pounds but it’s just so hard (especially because I don’t want to give up wine or carbs), or that I am really tired of schlepping everyone around, and did I mention that I have to drive freaking forty-five minutes during rush hour to take my son to ice hockey practice tonight?
I guess everyone has a pity party every now and then, but lately I’ve been trying to catch myself and quit all my complaining. Before another complaint escapes my mouth, I try and remember our friend Kate.
I met Kate in the 7th grade. She was exceedingly bright, especially when it came to English and History. She was kind to all, soft spoken, funny and friendly. After high school graduation, she went on to Trinity College. She became an English teacher at our middle and high school Alma Mater, engaging middle school students in young adult literature. She had three boys of her own. She was the alumni liaison for our graduating class, and we kept in touch at reunions and through other friends. During her third pregnancy she was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer. A couple years later, she died at the age of 39. Her youngest son was only two years old when she passed away.
The last time I saw Kate alive was at our friend Jo-Anne’s house. It was June and Jo-Anne was having a birthday party for one her kids. Kate was there with her boys. Her cancer was in remission, and she was as vibrant as ever, engaged with her kids, always with a smile on her face. She had a quiet resiliency about her. She really listened when you talked with her. She was never rushed. In October her cancer came back everywhere. By Thanksgiving, she was gone.
Whenever I am having a particularly bad day, the kind where I am annoyed by everything and everyone, and all I really want to do is complain, I think of Kate. If I am standing at our kitchen sink doing the dishes, I remind myself that she would give anything to be here, scrubbing the freaking pots and pans. When my alarm goes off on a school day at 6:00 am and I am tired, so tired, and I feel like complaining about the early hour, I think of Kate and how she would happily trade places with me in a second to go wake up her kids. Whenever I am carpooling kids around to various activities and I am tempted to complain about the traffic, I think of Kate, and how lucky I am to be here in this mundane moment.
So I am trying to be more mindful of what I am saying, and practice positive conversation by commenting on all the good things instead of pointing out the endless crap. It’s not easy to change the conversation and not complain, but it’s a choice, and I’m working on it.
It reminds me of a dad I see at my son’s hockey practices. I typically say hi and ask him how he’s doing, and his response every single time is, “Living the dream!” He says it in a joking way, but you know what? He’s right. We are living the life that Kate and so many others could only dream about. So ask me how I’m doing today, and hopefully I’ll respond, “Living the dream! I can’t complain at all.”
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