First World Problems

Broken glasses
h/t to John Lennon’s

My son is tiptoeing around me, asking questions about my blog and my race, trying to break the ice. He knows I am still angry with him.

I agree to bring him to his Saturday practice, alone, another touchy subject because he never arranges a carpool.

“I’m not pleased with you,” I say. “We still have to have that talk.”

“I know,” he says.

He had stayed up until 4:30 in the morning on a school night putting the finishing touches on a chemistry project, Skyping with a high-achieving friend. This questionable decision led to his not meeting other responsibilities the next day.

“And I’m not pleased with Dan either.” My other son has lost his computer privileges one week after getting them back because of letting his grades slip. He hadn’t felt like studying for a quiz. But he’s on crutches due to a stress fracture, which puts him off the track team for the season, the team he was so excited to join just two weeks before.

“And I’m not pleased with daddy either. And I don’t want to run that race today. And I know that none of these are real problems, so I feel terrible.” I “have” to run an obstacle race later in the day because I was asked on my “Say yes” day, but I feel I am the only one who has to live under crazy self-imposed rules.

I am sloshing in a pathetic stew of hormones that will subside within a few days.

“So you feel sad about feeling sad?” David said. “That seems like a vicious circle.”

I saw the first world problems video a few months ago, and I’ve felt guilty and inspired ever since.

“And at my book club meeting last night I heard about this woman I met through tennis who is friends with the book club women….”

I pause, struggling to contain my emotions.

“Mom,” my son says, touching my shoulder.

I lose the struggle and burst out crying, the left lens of my broken glasses steaming up. I am afraid the lens will fall out if I try to clear it because it is held in precariously with Super Glue. I broke my glasses the other day, and I only have an expired pair of trial contacts as an alternative because I somehow failed to schedule an eye exam and cannot get a new prescription for contacts until I do.

“And her daughter just got home from surgery on her skull because, I don’t know, ten years ago or so a nanny apparently smashed her head when she was a baby and she had brain damage and is lucky to be alive and the nanny never admitted wrongdoing and somehow served only three months in jail.”

I blurt out: “That’s real problems.”

We drive the rest of the way to the courts in silence.

“Thanks,” my son says. “Good luck.” He grabs his gear from the back seat and walks away.

And I drive away, grateful.


About Marcy

I blog about trying to get out of my comfort zone, completing 101 things in 1001 days (and beyond), and writing my memoirs. My book: Timid No More.
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27 Responses to First World Problems

  1. Flood says:

    I think the biggest first world problem is misplaced guilt for feeling whatever you feel. Teju Cole, who has lived in Brooklyn, Nigeria and Lagos, thinks it’s something else.

    Great post, lots to think about. The feeling of being overwhelmed is universal.

  2. I agree whole-heartedly with Flood’s comment. And while I see the guilt/anxiety/regret associated with the whole first world problem meme as overly harsh on individuals, I also see it as useful and productive when we allow it to be. Sometimes, not always, but sometimes, comparing our “problems” to more serious “problems” can help us work through that guilt and “Snap out of it!” (Love Cher in Moonstruck.)

    That said, I also believe that we all have our personal struggles, and we’re not quite there at measuring the emotional pain each of us feels. Pain is pain. (Although NPR recently had a story that hinted that it’s coming. Scary.)

  3. i constantly struggle with my own feelings, yet, i am so appreciative and aware that it puts me in conflict as well. that’s a good thing. we’re allowed our feelings but we need perspective as well. thought provoking read. thanks.

  4. Celeste says:

    This is such a beautifully written piece. Oof, how beautiful and complicated and sometimes painful it is to be human. Much love. (Also hello, just found yeah write last week and have been shamelessly fangirling over so many wonderful writers ever since.)

  5. Vanessa says:

    We’re allowed to have bad days and get upset about the things that matter to us. We’re allowed to take some time to grumble about our lot in life before we count our blessings.

  6. Joe says:

    I felt the same way whenever I went to Naval Medical Center San Diego. Whatever my medical issues were, they paled in comparison to the young Marines and Sailors I saw, too many missing limbs.

  7. Could so relate to this. How many times to I ask myself “what is wrong with me? Why am I down? Why can’t I get more accomplished?” Then I think of so many who really have reasons to be down and know that we all have seasons of trial and this calm moment is a time to be grateful for. And I also get the struggle with an almost teen. That in itself is enough to bring me to tears some days.

  8. What an amazing son you have. Despite the wrong-doing and trials of teenagers, sometimes they surprise you with their sensitivity.
    I agree with some of the above comments about misplaced guilt over feeling sad, I go through it all the time.

  9. Erica M says:

    I like you, Marcy.

  10. What a thought provoking piece. I want to feel all my feelings and have perspective – not always easy to do. I count on my friends to call me out when I’m in victim mode and to remind me that all my feelings are valid, no matter what others in the world are going through. Good stuff!

    • I think Mary is right-it’s all about the quest for keeping perspective. We know that there are others with hardships, but that doesn’t mean it has to turn into a competition of “my problems are bigger than your problems.”
      By writing this piece, you show that you know that there are others with struggles that you can only imagine. But it is okay to feel the way you feel.

  11. I can identify with this. So many times I will be all wrapped up in my own problems and crap and them I remind myself or someone else reminds me of what a “real” problem is and I spend the rest of the day feeling upset about my not “real” problem and on top of it feel guilt for focusing on something trivial when there is so much greater suffering in the world. Double whammy.

  12. mamarific says:

    Whether our problems are big or small, compared to the masses, they are our own, so they are real. I tell myself this every time I feel guilty. You expressed the internal tug-of-war very well here.

  13. Larks says:

    First World Problems are tricky. On the one hand, they are real and yours and often times it’s the little things that kill. On the other hand, like a thousand people have gotten blown up this week so my being irritated by my kid’s seeming inability to pick up her room is a tad bit ridiculous. Maybe it’s all about keeping perspective and letting guilt be a tool to remind of us that rather than a means of self flagellation. I really loved this post.

  14. OH, you have no idea how much I relate to this! I live in Kenya and face people with “real problems” every day. Still, it didn’t stop me from bursting out in tears when I traveled to 3 different places to find the interenet and failed each time and then lost my phone. It’s impossible to compare miseries across people. But knowing that others have it worse and are persevering in spite of it does somehow inspire me to pull myself out of self-indulgent wallowing. Sure, you can’t walk around feeling guilty about feeling sad, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing to put your problems in some kind of global perspective either. Anyway, great piece!

  15. Marcy says:

    I have so appreciated the thoughtful comments left by all of you. You have given me so much to think about and a better perspective on how to view these issues. Thank you.

  16. iasoupmama says:

    The thing is, first world problems are first in YOUR world, even if they aren’t life-and-death situations. And feeling overwhelmed because of them is beyond normal, but so is recognizing perspective. It’s more than OK to be human…

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