Several weeks ago when driving home from swimming lessons, my husband asked me if I had heard about what was going on in the north Memphis neighborhood of Frayser. I glanced in the backseat at our girls as if they might know...and realized that they were most likely the reason I didn't have a clue. I'm a mom of two relatively small children; I live under a rock.
My husband quickly gave me the abbreviated version of the complicated story of the US Marshal involved shooting that incited riots. By then the events had made national news, and I didn't know a thing about it. I had been so wrapped up in the goings-on of my little bubble that I wasn't aware of something so newsworthy happening mere miles from my house.
Man. I really live under a rock.
It shouldn't be surprising, really. I can't stay up late enough anymore to watch television news, I'm not "allowed" to listen to radio news in the car ("too much talking, Mom"), and all I see on my social media feed are cute kid pictures, birthday party reminders, park meet-ups, and pediatrician recommendations.
I used to consider myself up-to-date on current events. But somewhere along this motherhood journey, I lost the time and the energy to be as well-informed as I once was. Add in the polarizing state of politics in this country, and I just can't. I sometimes just want to hide under my rock!
When I do catch snippets of the news, it's often too confusing, too depressing, and too overwhelming. I'm a doer, and when I hear about all that's going on in the world, I feel so helpless. What can I do about it besides feel anxious and outraged? So I mostly don't.
As if these feelings weren't enough, I also have plenty of mom guilt about not modeling how to be an informed citizen to my girls. I was a high school English teacher in my past life, so I also feel like I am letting my former and future students down in this regard as well.
When I lamented all this to my husband, his response was to recommend a book. We don't really have the same taste in reading material, so this doesn't happen very often. And when he told me the title of the book, Trees of Power, I was even more confused about his recommendation. But being the dutiful student I am, I read the suggested pages and discovered that it was more relevant than it sounds.
This book describes in detail how to grow and care for trees. It also lists ten types of trees that serve as allies to humankind. Interesting, sure, but the relevance to my dilemma is located in the book's introductory section. In it, the author Akiva Silver explains why he invests so much time and energy into planting and cultivating trees when there are so many other environmental issues to advocate for, like climate change and saving the whales.
I don't ignore those issues, but I would be less effective if I thought I needed to fix everything [...] It is overwhelming unless we work within our personal sphere of influence and trust others to do the same (Trees of Power, pg. 16).
Silver is talking about trees, but I think this concept is applicable to my role as a mother as well. Right now, my sphere of influence is centered on my family and community. I can't solve--or even worry about--all the world's problems, but I can focus on raising my children to be decent human beings in a community I'm proud to call home.
So what does this look like for me? Rather than get frustrated about all the bad news out there, I can teach my girls to be kind, to care for others and for themselves. We can pick up litter at the park, take muffins to the new neighbors, say "thank you" to the trash collectors, mail a handwritten card, volunteer for the elementary school PTO, eat food from the garden or CSA, exercise regularly, and go to bed early enough. (For the record, these are all things we try to do, not things we're always successful at.) None of these are earth-shattering actions, but they do fall within my sphere of influence. These are things I can do, and I believe that in some small way, they do make a difference.
When I think in terms of my sphere of influence, (some of) that mom guilt is alleviated by Silver's assertion that
[w]e can create real changes if we are not overwhelmed. I can work efficiently and productively within my sphere. The ripple effects of my work may carry much farther than I imagined, but I cannot get caught up in trying to save the whole world (Trees of Power, pg. 16).
I may be living under a rock for now, but at least I feel comforted by the fact that I have the influence to make that rock into the most stable, secure, and solid home that I can.