Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Lighten Up

I had another revelation today. Also on the way to take P to school. It wasn't so much a revelation as it was a notion I'd read somewhere that popped back into my head suggesting that it required deeper exploration.

All the books, blogs, articles I read drive the same points home. Obviously, because everything I read, see or hear gets filtered through my crazy colander of experiences. The holes let the same stuff drain through while the solid pieces catch anything my subconscious deems to be important. Imagining my mind as a colander makes me laugh because it reminds me of my dad's fondness for saying, "You need that like you need a hole in your head" about various and sundry things. But now that I think about it, I could use a few more holes in my head so that more stuff could slide through rather than cluttering my mind.

This illogical imagery--like most things in my life--brings me to The Four Agreements. Specifically the second: Don't take anything personally. This one is my nemesis. I do an excellent job of helping other people not to take things personally. I have long discussions with my kids when people do mean stuff it's usually because of some hurt inside them and no reflection on us. I'm even doing a better job of not getting my own feelings hurt as much, but I still have this one habit I need to work on...

When something happens and I strain it through my personal colander of experiences, often, I think what comes out the other side is...right or true or good or whatever positive self-righteous adjective you'd care to insert here.

A few of my friends and I even jokingly say, "Oh if everyone were only as perfect as us." But I'm realizing more and more, that sometimes, I actually do impose my own feelings about what's right or true or good onto other people. Often against their will. Like I'm perfect or something. I feel like an asshole right now. Thanks to this amazing article my fabulous and brilliant friend Molly posted, I'm gonna stay with this feeling. Oh, and I'm also gonna share it with you. Because...."Omigosh this is so disgusting. Taste It." Right? Well, something like that.

I'm not going to name specific examples of my doing or having done this because then I'd have to draw on a bunch of personal stories and my friends would start texting me like, "Was that me?" And then it would be a whole to-do of I'm sorry's and crying and I love you's, which is so awesome and one of my favorite things ever, but we have baseball every night this week so there's no time.

BUUUUUUTTTT, I can use my husband for an example because that poor guy is all to often on the business end of my crazy but shockingly knows I'm this much of an asshole and loves me anyway, God bless his patient soul. He's a prize of epic proportions.

So, when we were first married, he used to tell me, "Lighten up." That's it. He didn't mean anything by it except that I should stop taking myself, the situation, life, whatever so seriously. However, I filtered that phrase through a lifetime of seeing the destructive path carved by being critical, perfect, fake and uptight and was doing my best to be a lighthearted, free-spirited fairy princess. So, I didn't hear, "Lighten up." I heard, "You have completely failed and become everything you tried so hard not to be." That was 20 years ago, but it's still a relevant example. Also, that phrase has long been banned from our house.

That's just one of thousands of examples and only the tip of the iceberg really, but do you get it? So, my girlfriend then tells me that her husband told HER to lighten up, and I'm all, "Oh. No. He. Didn't," (cause I immediately get ghetto--I can say that cause I am straight up from the ghetto) and now I'm projecting my own experiences onto her situation whether or not she had any negative connotations associated with the phrase, "Lighten up." She does NOW.

Whew, I'm glad I worked through that. Aren't you delighted you came along? I only shared it because a few of you profess to share a compartment with me on the crazy train so I thought it might resonate. Also, if I've strained your experiences through my crazy colander...I'm really, truly sorry.  I'm a work in progress. We all are. Peace...

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Your voice DOES sound like that, but it's okay.

Yesterday, I had a near-death experience. It made me think about a lot of stuff. This is pretty erratic. You've been warned.

When I was a kid, my parents were hard on us. They expected certain things that most parents do: respect, good grades, honesty, responsibility. There was another unspoken expectation that no one outwardly acknowledged, but we all knew existed: Perfection. I'm not beating up my parents. They did the best they could with the tools they had to raise us into productive members of society, and I don't hold them accountable--anymore--for my shortcomings. I beat myself up instead.

As a young mom, I was super hard on Chloe. I didn't get on her about her weight or hair color, as my mom had done with me, but I pushed her to excel at everything she did. When she was about 15, and I witnessed the crazy high standard of excellence she imposed on herself, I realized that I had instilled in her not only a drive to succeed, but also a drive to be perfect. I really beat myself up about that. I still do sometimes.

Beating myself is something I have excelled at for decades. When I was very little, I was frightened by my dad's yelling, but I quickly learned that I could be just as mean and scary by yelling and saying mean things. I also learned that when you say mean things to yourself, it doesn't hurt nearly as much when other people say those things. Since I'd told my 100 pound 13-year-old self how fat I was, my mother's admonishments that I "didn't have the eating habits of a thin person," went in one ear and out the other.

Still, I am a world-class champion when it comes to being hard on myself. It makes me laugh sometimes when people say or write derogatory things about me. Sticks and stones, pal; I've said way worse to myself.

My quest for self-awareness threatens to be pathological at times. My husband says, "Baby, you're too hard on yourself." My girlfriends say, "You're a good person." My kids say, "You're the best mom." My mental health professional friend says, "Try not to overthink your parenting." I read and pray and try but still continue the complicated cha-cha of self-acceptance and self-improvement.

Today, however, I had a revelation taking P to school. Revelations often happen in the car, and I hear Anne Lamott advising, "Writers always have a pen and paper handy to write these things down." And I do, Annie, I do, but I'm driving!! So, I open the notes app, press the little microphone and blurt out my revelation as fast as I can before it gets lost in the great abyss of nonsense I fret about.

Then I come home, make a wonderful cup of coffee and sit down to write an encouraging piece based on this revelation. But I open my notes app and it says: "All of thenthings we thought made us unlocks let." What the fuck does that mean? Read it again...slower this time... "All of thenthings we thought made us unlocks let."

You know when you hear your voice on a recording and think I don't sound like that? Well, I do sound like that (my recorded voice is high-pitched and childlike, not at all sexy and ScarJo as I envision it) and evidently, I don't speak in complete thoughts but weird fragments of ambiguity instead. That. Just. Figures.

Now, if you're still here, I promise I'm going to get to the point. Or at least a point. Sometimes, Brad asks me, "What made you think of that?" And I give him a long complicated story such as the dog was dreaming of running and the way her toenails clicked on the floor reminded me of tap dancing which made me think of Chloe in her only dance recital and how she stood in one position tapping her heel in a little purple costume and the sequins scattered all over my car which reminded me that I used to pick up sequins off the floor at Joann Fabrics when I went there with my mom and she took me to the dairy queen after but wouldn't let me get a peanut buster parfait like I wanted and made me get a small chocolate cone. I hate chocolate cones. It's so exhausting to be in my head for even one minute, you guys.

Anywayyyyyyy, my revelation was this: Sometimes the people in our lives who are "supposed to" love us fall short. Our parents, siblings, you know...the blood people. When this happens, God, or the Universe, whatever you believe--personally, I think we quibble more on semantics than actual beliefs--provides other people. These people love us not because they are "supposed to" but because they choose to. They look beyond our brokenness and imperfections, our past mistakes and current shortcomings and actually see us. These are the friends who encourage us, the partners who forgive us, the kids who adore us. They are the ones who look at all the things that we thought made us unlovable (that is what the illogical fragment meant, btw) and see instead what made us so special and unique.

This past week, I've been on self-help reading overload. I've mined my childhood for memories of my mom and dad and found both delightful and disturbing ones. I've written personal mission statements and examined what annoys me about other people and how those traits manifest in me. I told Brad this morning that I was really tired, and I'm beginning to realize why. So today, I'm going to smile, relax and be kind to people. Starting with myself. And you too.