Sunday, June 24, 2012

Everything to Everyone

Nearly every Sunday, I leave church feeling invigorated, excited, full of hope and optimism, and ready to share that with the world. Not today. Today I left feeling confused and questioning so many things about myself and God's will for me. In today's message, our pastor said many of us try to be "everything to everyone."

While he didn't say, "Mary Bell, you try to be everything to everyone," I felt eyes boring into me and turned to see my family glancing my way, wondering if I got it. Chloe gave me a little head tilt, and I whispered, "That's me, huh?" Smiling sympathetically--she has unwittingly been the subject of a sermon or two--she nodded.

He further illustrated his point by having a young man stand in front of our congregation while he tossed him water bottles. His arms full of water bottles symbolizing family obligations, work, volunteering, friendships, and more, he was unable to catch the big playground ball symbolizing God's will when it came to him. Oh my...that is me. My arms are always full of water bottles.

"Yes, I can watch your kids." "Yes, I will volunteer for that." "Yes, I can take you there." "Yes, I will proofread that for you." "Yes, I will help you with that." "Yes, I have a minute to listen to you. I have all the minutes you need." "Yes, I will be on that committee." "Yes, I will write that." "Yes, I will go with you." "Yes, I will sit with you." "Yes, I will call that person." Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.

On the way home, I said to Brad, "I think I am that person with all the water bottles." He laughed out loud and said, "You don't say!" I was a little surprised by his immediate confirmation of my suspicions. He didn't even try to make me feel better. Brad Bell is not an enabler.

I thought that was God's will for me. I thought by saying yes to nearly everything anyone asked of me, I was serving God. I thought that by being so many people's "person," I was doing what God wanted me to do. Not that I asked. I do always ask Him to put me where He wants me to be. But now I wonder if my arms are so full of water bottles that I am missing the big playground ball. I wonder if God puts me where He wants me to be, but I'm so distracted doing I miss why I'm really there.

Once, our pastor said that as long as we are changing, we will always be outside of our comfort zone. Am I? Sure I take little steps outside of it, but am I living outside of my comfort zone? Am I changing? Or am I just filling my life up with good things while missing out on something great?

Today, I am outside of my comfort zone. Today, I am feeling very uncomfortable. Today, I don't have an answer to any of these questions, and my stomach and mind are in turmoil. Thanks to a good client with a great product, I can quiet my stomach for awhile. My mind, however, will continue to churn.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Father's Day sucks.

After your dad dies, Father's Day sucks. Sucks more for Brad, really, because I mope around and cry and forget to celebrate what a great guy and dad he is because I'm caught up in the fact that my dad is dead. That's not fair. Fortunately, Brad doesn't get mad at me or even mention that I'm acting like a selfish two-year-old.

More than once, in conversations about relationships, women have asked me, "Did you 'marry your dad?'" Lots of people do, I guess, and I have always hoped that my girls "marry their dad." I did not, though. I married the opposite of my dad. He doesn't yell or even get mad. He has never hit me or the kids or even gotten mad enough to make me think that would be a possibility. He is as even and calm as my dad was unpredictable. So, no, I didn't marry my dad.

The funny thing is after I married him, I tried to change him into my dad. I would get mad at him for being indifferent, for not being passionate about things, for not getting excited all the time. Took me nearly 20 years to realize that along with that passion came a dark side. The dark side I was running from when I ran smack into Brad's protective arms.

My dad got excited about everything. That lives on in Beth, in her precious childlike glee over little things. His compassion lives on in Jonny, and his sweet gentle nature. His dark side lives on in me--and Rich. His impatience lives on in me--and Rich. His inability to accept less than the best from his children lives on in me--and Dave, a little bit. His vast vulgur vocabulary lives on in me--and Rich.

When I was one of the few children left at home, my dad would ask me to help him with various tasks. My favorite was sealing the roof. The two of us on the roof, usually in 90 degree heat, painting on some thick black goop. He would scream and yell and swear at me, and I would ultimately tire of it, scream back at him, climb down from the roof and go inside. Once, I asked my mom, "Why does he want me to go up there with him when all he does is yell at me?" She shrugged her shoulders and said, "He needs somebody to yell at."

When I got a little older, I started yelling back. Often, I got smacked in the mouth. It didn't stop me. Rich used to say, "Why don't you ever just shut up??" But I wouldn't. Once, in a heated argument when I was about 16, I told him, "You can hit me all you want, but you're damn well gonna hear what I have to say!" I did. Get hit, that is. But I'm certain that he heard me.

We used to play golf together, and he would scream and yell at me for everything I did wrong. Finally, I told him that I wasn't going to golf with him anymore if he didn't stop yelling at me. He continued to comment, but then he would say, "I'm just telling you that because I do the same thing. So I figure maybe if I tell you, I'll listen." Something about that cryptic statement made sense to me, and from then on, I imagined that all of his tirades were directed inward.

My dad had a hard life. His dad and two of his sons died at their own hands. I was always afraid he would commit suicide. My dad died in my mom's arms, which made his passing somewhat easier to handle. It's hard to reconcile the man who was so violent and abusive with the man who spent hours on the couch, while my tiny Chloe doctored him. It's hard to reconcile the man who criticized my every golf swing with the man who would wrap my little Peyton up in a hug and say, "Papa sure is proud of you, Slugger." I think in some ways my dad tried to make up for his shortcomings with me by doting on my children. I don't know. Maybe they were just more lovable.

I loved my dad in spite of his shortcomings. I love my husband for so many reasons, but one of them is for being all the things my dad wasn't. On Father's Day, while I moped around and cried, he built a deck with our son, telling him all the while what a great job he was doing and how much of a help he was. I didn't tell him how much I adored him while I watched this. I couldn't really say anything without crying that day. I guess someday Father's Day won't be such a downer, but in the meantime, I'm glad Brad puts up with my raining all over his day.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Suit Yourself.

One of my mom's go-to phrases is, "Suit yourself." Often, she modifies that to, "Shoot yourself," which is more accurate, because when she uses that phrase she's basically saying, "You're an idiot for [insert stupid decision here.]" I cringe every time she says it. I think if one of your children has, in fact, shot himself, you need to strike that phrase from your vocabulary, but that's really not what this is about.

I cringe a lot because I rarely make the decisions my mom would or thinks I should. My decisions are nearly always met with eye-rolling, shoulder shrugging, sighing, and, yep, "Shoot yourself." I am not the same mother as my mom. I'm not passing judgement on either of us; I'm just saying. In 18 years as a mother, I've tried to make up for all the areas in which my own childhood felt unfulfilled. If I were discussing this on a talk show, this is the point where Dr. Phil would say, "How's that workin' for you?"

Last week, I laughed out loud when I got a notification for a free Kindle book: Not Like My Mother: Becoming a Sane Parent After Growing Up In a Crazy Family. While it might have been a better idea to read this before I became a parent, what the heck, I still have lots of mistakes to make. Before reading it, I envisioned myself feeling totally validated, nodding in agreement and amen-ing a lot. Unfortunately, what I realized not too far in was that I was trying so hard to meet my own childhood needs that perhaps I wasn't meeting my children's needs. Oh crap.

Just the other day, Chloe and I had a conversation, and while the language was different--I never said shoot or suit yourself--Chloe said, "Mom, I feel as if you don't agree with what I'm doing." She was right; I didn't agree. But after closer examination, I realized that I didn't agree with the choice in question for myself, not Chloe. I always think of empathy as one of my finer character traits, but I realized at this point: I was being pathologically empathic. I wasn't just putting myself in Chloe's shoes. I was trying to put her shoes on and walk her path.

Often, my kids have shown me that they need different things than I needed as a child. Of course, that's logical since they didn't have the same childhood, but obviously I didn't really get it. Peyton told me in a very grown-up fashion, "GET OUT," when I walked into the dugout after he was injured on a play. Heartbroken, I sulked back to my chair. If I had gotten injured as a child, I would have wanted one of my parents to comfort me, which rarely happened. When we got hurt, we weren't picked up and loved on, we were usually told which facet of our stupidity had led to the injury. Later, Peyton told me, in a really grown up fashion, "Mom, I didn't mean to hurt your feelings, but you can't come in the dugout because that embarrasses me." I got it, Buddy.

Reading this book has opened my eyes in ways I never expected. I realized just how often I'm subconsciously making choices based on what I would have wanted or needed as a child rather than paying attention to what three of the most important people in my life need. At any given drama in my life, one of my best friends will show up asking, "What do you need?" And she really means it. She has no agenda, and I'm certain that no matter what I told her I needed, she'd do her best to accommodate me. I rarely ask my kids what they need. I assume I know. And way too often, I'm wrong.

I'm never sure where to go or what to do after these revelations. My kneejerk reaction would be to feel incredibly guilty for all the ways I've fallen short as a mother over the years, but I've at least learned that is extremely non-productive. Move forward, make changes, maybe have another baby so I can try to get it right from the start?Just kidding, Brad Bell. Juuuuuuuust kidding.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Help. Me.

The past month has flown by in a blur of dances, t-ball and baseball games, graduation, and now yard work and graduation party preparations. I feel like I did before we got married. I wake up every morning wondering what tasks I can accomplish and usually go to bed at night feeling as if I haven't accomplished enough. I had to start keeping a notebook next to my bed for fear of forgetting one of the eight million things that goes through my mind before I go to sleep. My purse is full of little scraps of paper on which I've written vitally important reminders.

In the meantime, I haven't made the picture boards, I haven't rented tables, I haven't finalized a menu, I haven't gotten Chloe a dress. I did mail invitations. Most of them anyway. Part of me wonders if I'm subconsciously avoiding it all so that I don't have to deal with the reality that my baby girl is moving away in two months and 14 days. I guess it isn't subconscious if I'm acknowledging it, but I don't feel as if I'm consciously dragging my feet.

All I have been consistently doing in preparation is praying. Childish, helpless prayers of desperation. "Please God, don't let me have a nervous breakdown." "Please protect my girl." "Please let grass grow in the back yard." "Please help me find homes for these kittens." "Please don't let me have a nervous breakdown." That seems to be a key element in the equation, so I usually pray for that repeatedly. I don't think Brad has been praying as much, but if he is, it's probably something like, "Please, God, don't let Mary have a nervous breakdown."

And I realized that my family history taught me very well to project these emotions onto other less vital things. For example, my mom barely cried when my dad and my brothers died, but when my cat died 6 years ago, she sobbed. Evidently, it's much healthier to focus on a broken dryer than a breaking heart. It's more productive to worry about the fate of eight little fluff balls than one little girl. Yes, I know she's an adult, but when I look at her, I don't see an adult, I see my tiny little girl. It's far less painful to nag said girl about writing thank you notes, than to start packing up her belongings so she can leave for college in two months and 14 days.

I guess I'm pretty aware of my inability to deal with these milestones, but I'm not sure what to do about it. In a group therapy class years ago, the professor/therapist asked me, "What do you think will happen if you let yourself focus on that emotion?" I wasn't too sure, but I'm pretty sure now if I focus on Chloe leaving for college that I'm going to curl up into a fetal position and cry until all that's left of me is an empty shell and a soaking wet pillow. Brad will have to institutionalize me, and I will be of useless to all of my children. Then the little ones will resent Chloe, whose moving away, they will see as the catalyst for my breakdown. The overthinking is endless. I hear that same professor/therapist asking, "Does that seem realistic?" Well, no, but lots of other things in my life happened that weren't very realistic either.

I know that God is bigger than all of this silly human stuff. And time has taught me that even though these things may be very minor in the grand scheme of life, because they're important to me, they're important to Him. So today, I just prayed Anne Lamott style, "Help me, Help me, Help me, Lord." And even if I don't accomplish one other thing, I guess I accomplished one very important thing.