Learning to Dig

Asha Dornfest essays

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I call it the Spring Slog: the weeks in March when my kids’ enthusiasm for school is at its lowest ebb. My zombie-children drag themselves through the dim, damp mornings, groaning into their cereal bowls. School nights are sullen and homework-filled. It’s pretty bleak around here.

The Spring Slog is temporary; it comes and goes as predictably as the daffodils dotting the back yard. Soon enough, summer’s approach will rev up my kids’ engines and they’ll perk up. But this year has brought new challenges. My son is adjusting to the social and academic expectations of high school, and my daughter is finding her sea legs in middle school. The crunch of anxiety is particularly uncomfortable this year.

The other night, as my family silently ate dinner, my husband and I exchanged glances from beneath raised eyebrows. How could we pull the kids out from under this blanket of exhaustion and self-pity, even for a moment?

On cue, my husband’s eyes widened in mock delight and he chirped, “So, honey! What was the highlight of your day?” His exaggerated enthusiasm earned a half-grin from my daughter and an eye-roll from my son. “Hmm,” I replied, cocking my head and quizzically placing my index finger on my chin. I can never keep up the comic routine, however, and I slid into earnest reflection. What was the highlight of my day?

I recalled a moment from my morning walk with our dog, Teddy. The trees in Portland are blooming weeks ahead of schedule, and my neighborhood is as ridiculously floral as a Thomas Kinkade painting. As I walked by a flowering cherry tree, a breeze released a flurry of petals, and I was suddenly standing inside a shimmering, pink cloud. I felt like a princess walking through an enchanted wood. It sounds goofy now, but the moment was magic.

I sighed at the sweet memory. As my reverie faded, my attention returned to my kids.

The record scratch of their skeptical expressions yanked me back to the dining table.

The next few minutes were filled with tales of cruel PE teachers, illogical assignments and stressful tests. My kids were tired, frazzled, and committed to drinking from their half-empty glasses.

I consider it a parenting victory that I didn’t explode into shards of righteous indignation. Somehow I mustered the self-control not to lecture them about their privilege. I squelched my urge to point out how easy they have it and grappled for empathy.

I recalled how, as a kid, school filled my field of vision as well. If I had a bad school day, encouragement to “appreciate the little things” would have fallen on deaf ears.

This didn’t stop me from encouraging my kids to do exactly that.

I’m going to tell you the secret of happiness, I said. Every day you’re alive, there’s at least one moment worthy of celebration. Find it, even if you have to dig.

My kids checked my expression to make sure I was serious. Oh, yes, my eyes told them. I’m absolutely serious.

After a moment, my daughter said she was excited to read the stack of manga books I’d brought home from the library earlier that day. My son grunted, but I could see his eyes work as he reluctantly flipped through his mental bank of memories. My husband smiled and leaned back in his chair.

It was a moment to celebrate.


About the Author

Asha Dornfest

Asha Dornfest is the creator of , and the co-author of Minimalist Parenting: Enjoy Modern Family Life More By Doing Less. Her next book, an illustrated collection of the best of Parent Hacks, is forthcoming from Workman Publishing. Asha lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and two kids.

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March 2015 – Celebration
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