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June 20, 2006

The Thing About Acclimating

Kelly Corrigan's column, GRAIN OF SALT, appears with permission from The Hills Newspapers.

I HATE to hear a pregnant woman complain. I mean, think about it; it smacks of thanklessness. Sure, thousands of women get pregnant every day, but others never do. And those others, what they would give for morning sickness, back pain, stretch marks…In the same way, I make a mental note when rich people grouse about their gardener or their roof guy or their painters. A lot of people still paint their own walls, after all, and a garden, in the Bay Area, is a luxury.

I get similarly annoyed when I watch rock stars or overpaid actors or published writers find a way to upend their velvety lives. I wonder what they really have to be upset about, or what they would do under the strain of an actual problem, like disease or poverty. Rush Limbaugh, Russell Crowe, Kobe Bryant – have you forgotten that you are being paid millions of dollars to do what you love?

So, now that you know about my awful, judgmental side, get this:

Last week, I, Kelly Corrigan, a rich person who has a gardener, a painter, and a roof guy, a lucky writer whose first book has been bought by Hyperion for publication, a mother of two merry, untroubled girls, bellyached for a good twenty minutes to my husband about our whining three-year-old and our stalled deck project, the combination of which threw off my writing schedule by two whole days!

There’s more.

After I hung up with Edward, I roared so loudly at Claire (my “vocal” three-year-old) that my throat hurt all morning. That’s right, I said morning. I cracked early. It wasn’t at the end of a long hard day of button-pushing and limit-testing. I was screaming “Stop crying!” at my three-year-old by 9am, after sleeping for eight uninterrupted hours.

The shame.

It is a childish, black and white worldview where riches equal happiness, pregnancy equals bliss, and fame equals satisfaction. I should know better than to demand such, from anyone, including myself. Life is complicated. Many poor people fighting disease are infinitely more blessed than their wealthy, healthy counterparts. But, as a healthy and wealthy woman, may I never stop hounding myself to be more grateful.

The enemy of appreciation is acclimation. Acclimation is a good idea for hikers and mountain climbers, who couldn’t think straight without pausing on the way up to adjust to the ever-thinning air. It’s acclimate or bust for new parents too, who need to survive on less sleep, fewer cogent thoughts, and less carnal interaction.

But often times, we acclimate to things we needn't, like settling into a bad movie or adjusting to five new pounds by wearing jeans less and sweats more. (Inertia and acclimation are good friends, often working in partnership.) But making room for five extra pounds is no tragedy.

Forgetting your fortunes is. Every day, some mundane irritant, some nagging chore, some inconsolable child will jump right in front of us, waving frantically for our attention, and blocking the view to the larger picture. And I guess our job is just to step a little to the right so we can keep our eyes on the spectacular mural.