The Quagmire of the Subjunctive Mood

When my niece was about three years old, she suddenly experienced horrific separation anxiety from my sister. The toddler would cry inconsolably saying that she “didn’t want a stepmother.” Since my sister was healthy and not thinking of divorce at that time, she was puzzled at this sudden, very real, very dramatic fear of her daughter’s. Then, one day, I was watching Cinderella with Shelby and….


Think about it for a minute: Cinderella’s mother dies, then, years later, her father dies. Bambi’s mother dies. Snow White’s mother dies. Aurora has parents, but they send her away for her own safety. Neither Ariel nor Belle’s mothers are ever even mentioned. Mufasa gets trampled. Yep, the happiest place on Earth makes movies where parenthood is a seriously dangerous occupation. Being a Disney parent is like being a Cartwright girlfriend on Bonanza – it’s the kiss of death, honey. The writers have already shot you or given you TB before you even show up in Virginia City. You may as well go ahead and get Hop Sing to brew you up a big, ole bowl of hemlock. You know you ain’t gonna be around for next week’s episode.

I saw the new live-action Cinderella this weekend and while I liked the movie a great deal, it reminded me of the little Shelby’s fear of what might have been. This reminded me of an interview with Phuc Tran that I heard on NPR this week. (It’s very thought provoking. If you haven’t heard it, I suggest that you do so. If you’re a grammar nerd, my suggestion is a strong one.) Tran talks about how the subjunctive mood in English allows us to consider and fret over all sorts of things that might or might not be. His parents’ Vietnamese language doesn’t have a subjunctive mood; so, his parents, aunts and uncles think only of what is or what isn’t. They don’t create worry about possibilities since their language doesn’t have the capacity for it. I had never thought about that – about language allowing us to create our own worries. Of course, it also allows for creative thinking and great progress when we imagine what might be; but, I think that it is the source of as much anxiety as creation – at least for me, it is.

quicksandWhat if I can’t get this weight back off? What if I can’t change my habits to include exercise? What if I never find what I’m meant to do? What if? What if? What if?

That kind of thinking has me burning up the gears on the hamster wheel in my head; but, it’s getting me nowhere. The 12-Step Programs all say to take it one day at a time. Stop borrowing trouble. But, how do I do that when I’m setting goals? Don’t I have to consider and map out the possible hurdles between me and the goal? Of course, I do. Developing a strategy to achieve my goals is the only smart thing to do. However, the problem comes in when I focus too long or too intently on the hurdles. That focus is likely to end with my mental feet getting stuck in the quicksand of the what ifs. Then I sink.

There must be a way to avoid getting stuck. Zig Ziglar says you can and successful people do it all of the time. They recognize and plan for obstacles without getting caught in the consideration of them. How do they do that?! I don’t know. I’m still working on getting the sand out of my shoes.


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