Meagan Francis has a blog I've been following, The Happiest Mom, which is about how to a large extent we can choose to be happy (at least, that's my reading of it).
Recently she wrote about those times when something happens which makes you angry, and then, after a while, you have a choice to either get over it or feed the negativity.
She says: "I am convinced that a huge percentage of marital discord and parental bitterness comes from people making a choice to stay angry or disappointed or disgusted or resentful."
"I know because I’ve made that choice myself, many many times, especially early in my life as a mom and wife," she continues. "And it has never, not once, made my day better, improved a relationship, or given me any real, lasting satisfaction. Now I go out of my way to make the other decision: the decision not to nurture the annoyance or resentment, to forget about the self-pity."
I've had a choice like that this week.
It's been freezing, rainy weather here. The dampness and darkness in our 80-odd year old rented house is more noticeable during winter as well. On Saturday I found that a couple of boxes in the one built-in cupboard in the house, which is adjacent to the bathroom wall, had grown mouldy. The laundry wall and ceiling is starting to blacken and needs a good scrub down as well.
Now, I have a problem with mould. A big one. You could almost say I have a phobia about it.
The very thought of some black, stinking, rapidly reproducing mould colonies sending out their posionous little spores to be sucked up into our lungs while we eat, and work and relax, and play and sleep, makes me feel sick.
The fact is that our rent is cheap for the relatively well-to-do area we live in and we don't want to spend the money to move right now. We live in quite a humid, damp little pocket of Sydney - a former swamp area in fact, which I didn't know when we moved here.
I should have been tipped off by the fact that almost every tree along our street has patches of furry green bark - because algae and mould grow on them all year round (see picture above).
The nasty cupboard discovery would have been the last straw that sent me in a spiral of alarm, frustration and despair, except for one thing - that's what happened to me last winter, our first winter in this house.
And I will not let my peace be disturbed by those filthy little spore breeders this time.
Psychologists know that a large contributor to people's feelings of happiness is their perception that they have some control over their lives. When, one afternoon last winter during the first spell of rainy days we had in this house, I found that mould had started growing in our kitchen cupboards, under our sofa cushions and on some of my clothes and shoes, I freaked out. I got angry, and then depressed.
What I felt was a lack of control. I felt that we were stuck in an unhealthy house because we couldn't afford a decent rent, because we couldn't manage two incomes and had a bunch of unavoidable extra expenses. I felt frustated thatI hadn't nipped the problem in the bud, because I couldn't keep up with the housework (with a newborn baby and two little children underfoot all day and no day-to-day support apart from my husband).
I was afraid all our stuff would be ruined in a matter of a few more rainy weeks and we couldn't afford to buy new beds, new furniture and clothes. And I obviously couldn't control the unrelentingly wet weather. I felt angry at myself and my husband.
That was not a nice couple of weeks. But I found that we do have some control. We could always move to a cheaper suburb, or rent a newer apartment, instead of an old house.
Or we could stay and fix the problem. Which is what we did. We spent a weekend hauling everything out of the cupboards, washing everything that was musty, and throwing out a few things that we hadn't been using anyway. We ran the fans on humid, still days to improve air flow. We asked the agent to send someone out to check for leaky plumbing. Then we kept on top of the housework with better organisation.
It worked, until this rainy spell. But at least this time I know that it's a containable, and above all, a controllable problem. And I tell myself that there is no reason to allow a couple of mouldy boxes to elicit sinking feelings of personal, professional and financial inadequacy.
Instead, I've decided to see the reappearance of mould in the house as a great excuse to step up our regular cleaning and de-cluttering practices, in readiness for when we do, in the not-to-distant future, get to move into a house of our own, or a better rented one.
There's much to look forward too, and I can certainly look forward to chalking all of this up to experience.