When conveniences cause excess stress
By LISA SMITH MOLINARI | Special to Stars and Stripes | Published: March 25, 2017
Lying before dawn under the rumpled covers of our bed, I squeeze the minute muscles of my eyelids in hopes of delaying the morning grind.
I don’t want to face the daily onslaught of snooze buttons, tartar control toothpaste, sassy teenagers and car pools. I’d rather not fluff the darks, scrape the burnt edges off the toast or rub mascara smudges from under my eyes. I’m in no rush to deal with my daughter’s latest wardrobe crisis, who took the phone charger again or where I left my cup of coffee this time.
I’d rather wallow in a dream state, riding in a convertible Camaro with the Muppets or having a cotton candy picnic while wearing a fancy hat. But often, in the “hour of the wolf” when I should be dreaming, I’m worrying about losing control.
These feelings could be caused by middle-aged hormones, third-month-of-deployment blues or lingering heartburn from last night’s tacos, but I’m convinced that the ever-increasing demands of our hectic 21st-century lifestyle cause increased stress.
Today, people can’t live without mobile apps, micro-fleece, coffee pods, lumbar support, hypoallergenic pets and teeth whiteners. We can’t eat without considering glycemic indexes, free radicals, growth hormones, corn syrup solids and gluten. It’s no wonder we’re so busy, coating our skins with PABA-free SPF lotions, updating our social media profiles, cleansing our colons and being concerned about green energy efficiency. Even our kids worry about antibiotics in their milk, “likes” on Instagram, helmet laws, game system updates and whether or not their peanut butter sandwich will send a classmate into anaphylactic shock.
Life was so much simpler in the ’70s. I’d thump out of bed in my highly flammable polyester nightgown and remove the faux-denim strap of my headgear before padding off to the kitchen for a bowl of gum-shredding Captain Crunch or non-free-range eggs with buttered Wonder bread and canned Donald Duck orange juice.
Over breakfast, I’d wonder what the day might bring. Would my mom agree to drop me off at the pool after she was done sunbathing in her rollers? Would the kid next door want to swing on our swing set, or was there still a beehive in the metal tube? Would my dad let me ride my banana-seat bike into town if I promised to pick him up a pack of Salems from the pull-lever cigarette machine in the diner on the way home?
The lack of modern conveniences meant that my biggest worry was whether my brother would chase me around the neighborhood again holding a stick with speared dog poop on the end.
Even as a teen, my life was unencumbered by the trappings of the modern world. I slogged through school like everyone else, gauging my enjoyment of each day by such mundane triumphs as staying awake in Geometry and having pizza burgers on the cafeteria menu. At night, I’d talk to my best friend on the wall telephone, sorting out our insecurities. On weekends, we’d sneak into the local drive in, walk around the mall slurping Orange Juliuses, or borrow her parents’ Ford Fairmont to cruise past the local arcade in hopes that the boys would stop playing Asteroids long enough to notice us.
Although I truly believed that my lack of curling iron skills could potentially leave me without a boyfriend and therefore ruin my entire life, I had no real worries other than a normal dose of teen angst.
Now as a stressed adult, I’ve wondered, “After such a carefree upbringing, why is it that I’m ridden with guilt over using incandescent bulbs, my eye twitches when I hear my smartphone message notifications and I can’t cope with the pressure to choose a sugar substitute?”
Surely, there’s a tipping point when the “conveniences” designed to make life easier become so pervasive that managing them takes more intelligence, physical energy and organizational skills than most human beings possess. This begs the question: What really matters?
In the pre-dawn, I remind myself: It might be different for each person, but for each, it’s always the same.
Read more of Lisa Smith Molinari’s columns at: themeatandpotatoesoflife.com