Thoughts play tricks on us. On one hand, they may lead us to worry needlessly. We take a pretty mundane concern, and we turn it into the end of the world. Jewish mothers wrote the book on this. Trust me, I live with one.
On the other hand, thoughts may cause us to neglect serious stuff. Overconfident boys wrote the book on this. Believe me; I also have one of those.
My wife Ora is a “catastrophizer.” My son Matan is a “minimizer.” They make for an interesting life. Best part: they make me look quite normal.
When Matan was young he used to cough. Ora thought it was cystic fibrosis. When the doctor ruled that out, Ora thought it was tuberculosis. When the tests ruled that out, Ora thought it was pertussis. When that was ruled out, Ora moved to another line of worry. Matan is now 26. He recently called us from New York City, where he lives. He reported neck pain. Ora thought it was meningitis.
When Matan was four years old, he came home one day with half of his chin hanging out; an accident on the swings. He came to tell us that he needed a Band-Aid and that Andrew, his buddy, was waiting for him to go back to the swings. Containing our panic, we calmly said that perhaps we should go to the hospital, where Matan got several stitches. Matan was as cool as a cucumber.
When Matan was 20 he called me from the racquetball court at the university to let me know that a ball hit him in the eye and that he was having trouble seeing. I called Ora and told her that perhaps we should have a look. The three of us quickly congregated at home, which is fortunately across the street from the University of Miami. Matan could not just “not see clearly” — he nearly lost his eye.
On our way to the hospital, Matan was making jokes that he was going to look like Moshe Dayan, a pretty sexy thing. Ora, meanwhile, was struggling for air. When we arrived at the hospital, all the nurses rushed towards Ora, who looked like she was going to faint. Matan, meanwhile, was making jokes.
With parents like us, it is a miracle that Matan came out as worry free as he is, which shows that he is either someone else’s son, genetics is baloney, we did a pretty good job at parenting, or, most likely, he never listened to a word we said.
Not only is Matan worry free, he also has a marvelous predisposition. He was born happy, optimistic, and with a great sense of humor to boot. Once when he was five years old we were driving through pastoral Southern Ontario where we saw lots of cows grazing. He quipped we should rename the country Cownada.
Making lemonade out of lemons is not my strong suit. Ora recently bought tickets for Matan and Elizabeth, his wife, to come to Miami for a few days. After a great visit we drove them back to the airport, only to find out that Ora and I had made a mistake with the tickets and they didn’t have a flight to go home that day. Ora and I showed spectacular restraint and fought valiantly the urge to blame each other for the mistake, which we nearly did.
While we were totally devastated at our incompetence, Matan reconstructed the whole experience as an opportunity to go once more to one of his favorite restaurants in Miami. He radiates positivity, charm, charisma, and warmth, which leads me to think that he probably is somebody else’s kid, which has me really worried now.
Albert Ellis, a famous psychotherapist, used to say that people often engage in “musturbation:” I must do this, I must do that, I must, I must. We must ourselves to death. We let our negative thoughts control us and make us miserable. Here is a list of my top musts:
I must be loved by everybody.
I must leave the house with my clothes on.
I must buy life insurance.
I must stop worrying.
I must stop buying brown things.
I must get a job with UPS.
I must stop making lists.