One of the habits that I'm still trying to cultivate is the practice of the examen. In a nutshell, the examen is the daily (though it can be practiced weekly, monthly, yearly, etc.) discipline of reviewing the events of the day (week, month) and identifying the low point and the high point. (Sleeping With Bread: Holding What Gives you Life, by Matthew and Dennis Linn and Sheila Fabricant Linn, is an excellent introduction to this simple concept.)
The examen has served as a tool for spiritual and personal growth in the Christian tradition and, I'm sure, in an array of other contexts. In my limited experience, the examen can be helpful as a way to pay attention to what's important in life, to connect with one's spouse at the end of the day, or to bring closure to the day and fall asleep. The valley and mountaintop moments recalled range from trivial to profound.
For example, today's low (which sounds like a weather forecast) was tearing open the mail from the State Department of Health to find a crisp, new birth certificate for NS...featuring not one, but FOUR errors. It didn't come as a complete surprise, since her social security card had arrived days earlier with a misspelled last name. What now? Send back the document with a letter of explanation, wait for the new certificate while holding my breath and hoping they get it right this time, and then re-apply for the social security card (probably in person at the local office, which means squeezing a squalling NS into her car seat and dragging her into town to wait our turn behind the red tape) with corrected birth certificate and who knows what other required forms of identification in hand.
How did I acquire these flawed documents in the first place? A month or two before NS was born, I called the local health department to ask if they had an application for a home birth certificate, and was instructed to stop by and pick one up. When I showed up, the staff could not locate the form. They asked me to write my name and address on a sticky note so they could mail it to me when they found it. Sure enough, the form arrived in the mail. CP and I meticulously filled in all the little boxes with a ballpoint pen (checking the box indicating we wanted a social security card) and dropped it off at the health department when NS was ten days old. The next step was to fill out another paper and mail it (with $12) to the Office of Vital Records to request a copy of the certificate. "But wait a few weeks until the application is processed," said the receptionist.
The ensuing bloopers conjured visions of inept secretaries in seventies-style cubicles, shuffling papers and pecking at electric typewriters--a frustrating image in this century of electronic ease. I did my share of grumbling before remembering that lots of people in this world have to put up with much more: long lines and exorbitant prices for basic necessities, blatant corruption, obsolete equipment, and/or staggering disorganization (i.e., in some countries it's impossible even to get a birth certificate).
There were two high points of my day. One was giving NS a bath. (I've decided we should do so more often because she enjoys it so much.) The other was reading her The Hungry Little Caterpillar. I kid you not--she looked at all the pictures, listened intently, and made happy sounds. Here she is, wearing her hungry caterpillar suit (thanks, Auntie G!).