Yet again, sitting in that awkward silence that falls in the wake of a request no one in the room wants to answer, I felt the frustration well up. We were starting yet another acting exercise or project, and everyone was simply afraid to start it off and be the first to break the ice. Anyone with the least bit of intuition could hear the silent screams of “Please, not me first,” or “I don’t have any idea what he wants me to do. I’ll probably screw it up,” or “I can’t do this.” Breath stopped. We sat, willing it so that someone, somewhere would volunteer.
Then, a hand would inevitably shoot up. What a surprise; someone has a question! Actually no, it was never a surprise. It was a stalling tactic. Not a purposeful one, mind you, but one that ate up class time and that, again, put off the inevitability of the doing of the activity off. After all, maybe if we could just understand it a little bit better, particularly what it was supposed to look like if we did it the right way, well, then, these questions and conversations would prove totally justified!
It didn’t matter; someone had to budge. Our profs had to shut us up. Sometimes one of the boys would volunteer. Sometimes I jumped up, pushed by frustration and even a little bit of anger. But also, I was pushed into the water by the reminder that I was there for a reason—to hone my acting skills. If I was just going to sit around and talk about it all day and watch everyone else, then I might as well pack up and go home. I was mad at those in my class who constantly needed reassurance and extra cheerleading to get up and try an exercise or performance. They thought the extra time they bought through conversation would magically transform their performances into the right version, the perfect version, free of error, transcendental in its performance.
They were scared. So was I, but I managed to jump into the deep, cold end of the performance pool, not knowing what I would find. Sometimes I did “screw up,” but mostly the feedback focused on the experience. I had to try to get into the water to see how my body, my mind, and my spirit would react in that particular situation. Allowing myself to free fall into the depths of doubt, to see how my intuition would guide, and how I might emerge from the experience showed me more about my abilities than any approaches before.
In these acting exercises, in these moments I took some initiative, I shifted the focus off of myself and redirected it to my environment, or the other—inanimate, yet powerfully influential—character. The experience liberated me. I allowed the form to support me, to place its hands, to step out from the ledge and know that my faith would keep me…present.
That’s the issue: being present. I struggled with it then and continue to do so now. My faith couldn’t guarantee that I wouldn’t fail, but failure in and of itself would imply that there could only be one correct specific outcome. Concern about failure also gestures to a focus on the future; we were worrying about what might be. Take, for example, the myriad of projects I have scattered throughout the landscape of my house. Or even teaching as I walk into a classroom. I look at just a single project and I find myself fearful and sad, feeling defeated that “I’m never going to get this done.” I’m looking at the big obstacle and all of the things that can go wrong and get in the way of the original goal. Consequently, I slink in retreat from said pile, refusing to take just that first step toward a new outcome, a new experience. Sure, the pile probably contains some overdue…something or other, perhaps a portal into yet another project (like an endless project pyramid scheme), an outline of an idea scratched on a ripped piece of paper, and those things that I still have no idea where they should go. Really, the thought is less about, “I’m never going to get this done,” and more about, “I’m never going to get this done perfectly.”
But maybe, just maybe, that pile could produce a new idea for a piece of writing. Or a new approach to take to my classroom. Or maybe I’ll unearth a picture and I’ll need to put it in a photo album, which will take me down a different path. Taking one step at a time, I might journey down a completely new and uncontrived path. Each moment of presence in the present builds a future.
One of the notes I got often both as an undergrad and graduate actor was, “You are too hard on yourself. You waste your energy beating yourself up.” I beat myself up because I was too focused on what my work needed to look like in the end. Terrified of doing or being wrong, I deflected the criticism by heading it off. While I was busy judging my cohort of fear, fear turned me against myself. Emotions pulled at me from two different directions: fear from the future and anger from the past.
I’m not in that studio anymore, but I feel those familiar feelings tugging at me. At home. At work. In my friendships. There isn’t a whole lot that looked like I had planned it. Those are the moments I feel like a failure. Today, I’m going to start again. And this time, I’ll start the exercise with a simple inhale. Open my eyes and step forward into the present.
I’m just going to start at the beginning. Not at the beginning of my life. Or my story. Just this moment. Right now. Just in front of me linger the many minutes I should be considering and worrying over, and nipping at my heels those things in the past I should have done, but anyway, I need to practice this singular focus.
It’s good to write words on a page without imposing too many expectations on them. Maybe just the mindless babblings of a middle aged mommy, like my daughters, toddlers not so long ago themselves, making funny noises simply to feel the sounds emanate from their bodies.
What does my voice sound like?
I’ve been so busy filling my life with noise and stuff and activity and obligation that I have not taken a simple moment to listen for myself. Just be. Hear. Feel.
So I say to you: good morning. Good night. Good afternoon. May good be wherever you find yourself.
Eight years have gone by and I’m still dogged by the same feelings of failure every day. Now, I don’t see myself as a victim. Life hasn’t dealt me a bad hand, done me wrong, or anything like that. I constantly sabotage myself. Every day I wake up and tell myself that it will be different, and that today will be the start of a different way of thinking, doing, being in the world. I promise myself each day that I’m going to be focused, productive, organized, fit, and happy. Instead, I find that I have a difficult time concentrating on much of anything, I waste time doing mindless tasks, I’m buried in piles of papers and things I’m desperate to either sort or just plain throw out. Oh, and I’ve gained 30 pounds, making me the heaviest weight I’ve been at any point in my life aside from my pregnancy.
Even now, I have so many feelings and thoughts coursing through my head that I find it truly challenging to separate them out. Where do I start? I’ve tried making lists. I pray. I exercise (OK, sometimes). I can’t seem to get myself grounded or organized. I feel…untethered, adrift. It feels as if my greatest fear is coming to fruition, that when I left acting full time, I would lose my sense of who I was, of who I am. I have this desperate sense that I need to do something, but I just don’t know what it is. Of course, part of that is being the best mommy I can be to my girls, but I do feel that a large part of that role includes modeling a happy, productive, purposeful life. And part of it, quite honestly, is that I’m not solely a mother. I am me, without the roles, without the labels. How am I just me in my own skin? How do I teach two little girls how to be secure in their own emerging hearts, minds, and bodies, when I can’t seem to get a handle on my own?
So getting back to my original question about the self-sabotage- in my search for the key to success, I layer new and interesting things to do onto my daily/ weekly/ short-term/ long-term plan. I feel like I’m chasing some moving target without having a real handle on what that particular target exactly is. Instead of defining the goal then actuating a plan to achieve it, I reverse the whole set up. I just keep adding “interesting” things, blindly trusting that it all will lead me, eventually, where I need to go. Like right now, I’m working part-time, I’m doing a show, I am leading a Girl Scout troop, I am the primary caretaker of the house and the kids, I volunteered to teach religious ed, and just because I have nothing else to do, clearly, I’m the chair of a committee at my kiddos’ elementary school. Because, why the hell not? Now, I expect to be the best at all of this, but in weighing myself down with so many things, I know that I set myself up to fail and to disappoint myself. I go around believing that my talents will show themselves if I do enough stuff; throw enough crap at the wall and something is bound to stick.
This strategy isn’t working. I’ve known it has not been working for 8 years. I know something is inside me; I’ve lost sight of what that might be. I’m terrified I might never discover the essence of who I am.
This is something I wrote from a while back, but apparently got stuck in the “drafts” pile.
Sometime in 2013…
I’ve been stuck because I don’t know where to begin. So I thought I might try approaching things one at a time. (Good luck, she says to herself.)
It was late afternoon a couple of days ago- the worst time of day for me- because I just want to crawl in some cave and sleep until dinner is ready, which is a problem as I’m the one that does dinner, so cave slumber= mass starvation. Anyway, I try to do some sort of physical activity with my little ones (two four year olds) so that they don’t turn into couch potatoes and I don’t have to start an IV caffeine drip. This particular day I thought, “Let’s try the Just Dance 2 Playstation game,” otherwise known as “The Dancing Game.” For those of you not familiar with this rockin’ timeless, Billboard-chart shattering music collection brought to life with equally mind-numbing blowing choreography, here’s an earworm that will devour your soul:
So, we begin. Now I’ve taken a LOT of dance; I had some sort of dance instruction for close to 10 years, and that’s not including all of the miscellaneous theatre movement training. For some reason, this choreography seems just “off” like a quarter of a beat or something. I can’t place it. It’s just so damn awkward and I find myself not as graceful as I imagine myself to be, although it could also have something to do with the fact that I’m 25 years older than when I first started dancing; however, that latter explanation is clearly the inferior one, I’m positive.
My girls are doing an OK job with The Dancing Game. They love it. It doesn’t matter how good they are, although it’s clear that one of them is more coordinated than the other. It could also have to do with the fact that Slightly More Coordinated Twin is serious as a heart attack about her choreography. Slightly Less Coordinated Twin gets caught up in watching the video and doing some half- hearted attempt at what seems to be a possible voluntary physical movement—or maybe it’s just a twitch. Sometimes I can’t tell.
Still, an awareness rears its ugly and awkwardly-timed head. And the self-comparisons—which have already begun in other areas—emerge, paralyzing and self-depreciating:
“Momma, I can’t do this. She does it better than me.”
Ohhhhh crap. So I go into problem solving mode.
“You’ve got to make your moves bigger,” I tell her, in an effort to cajole her into making some more definitive, more distinguishable moves.
“Mommy, I lost. She got more stars than me.”
“No, honey, you didn’t get as many stars but you have to keep trying. Don’t worry so much about the stars your sister has. You have one. Keep trying.”
“Did you have fun dancing? Then you just have to keep dancing and you’re going to get better. You can’t just stand there. You have to move!”
And then it happened. I heard what I was saying for the first time, as if Morpheus for a moment stepped out of “the desert of the real” reached into my world, stopped time, and shoved my face up against a mirror.
I’ve been feeling stuck, you see.
“Momma, I can’t do this. EVERYONE does it better than me.” As an actor, I’ve been trained to put my focus on the “other”- the other actors onstage with me, the “other” that I allow myself to inhabit. Somewhere along the way, I forgot myself a bit, and was so focused on everyone else, that I just got lost. Particularly of late, I am seeing so many of my friends and colleagues garner well-deserved accolades and success, both professionally and personally. And I am genuinely happy for them- seriously. But then I look at myself and can’t help but think how everyone I know is a better mother/ wife/ teacher/ scholar/actor/homemaker than I am.
“Mommy, I lost. She got more stars than me.” I’m still a big believer in winning and losing. I don’t think everyone should be a winner all the time. But I have been feeling lost- and like I’ve lost a lot. I feel so behind and am a little perplexed as to how this “behind” situation happened. I feel tired, like I’ve done a lot, but I just haven’t seen any payoff, and that is frustrating. I see other people getting some acknowledgement, but I don’t see it happening over on my end. There’s no anger toward other people, only anger toward myself for not being better, although I’m unsure as to what “better” actually means.
“No, honey, you didn’t get as many stars but you have to keep trying. Don’t worry so much about the stars your sister has. You have one. Keep trying.” Of course I will keep trying. I’m like a damn terrier. Ask my husband. I relentlessly pursued him (minus the Lifetime Network dose of psychosis). But for a start, I think perhaps I need to put some of the focus on myself for once. On my work. On figuring out what it is I really want to achieve. Setting goals. Ugh, that one’s a tough one, and I realize that I have not been good at defining what I would like my future to look like. I always believed that if I just worked hard enough, “good things” would come to me. What these “good things” were- exactly- I couldn’t specifically say, only that they were really good. Seriously. I mean like, totally. I’m totally serious.
“Did you have fun dancing?” Yes, nothing I’ve done I regret. Very few things in my life do I wish I had done differently because I never would have met my husband and had these daughters and that hypothetical prospect looms most regrettable of all.
“Then you just have to keep dancing and you’re going to get better.” Fine. Fine. FINE.
But really what it comes down to:
“You can’t just stand there. You have to move!” I tell my students this all the time, but it actually sounds more like this: “Be strong and wrong!” The sentiment remains the same: do something, even if you don’t know what to do, because in all likelihood, a definitive, strong choice reveals the path to follow (or at the very least will slam a door in your face and you probably needed that). I can’t just stand around and watch other choreography. It’s off because it’s not mine; I’m trying to ape someone else’s trajectory and that simply won’t fly. Doing this only sets me up for failure and defines me as a victim, someone things happen to, not someone who can impact the world around me. Deep down, I have faith I can make this change.
So for me, the first move I make requires setting my fingers to the keyboard and writing, writing, writing. And yeah, I probably should get off my butt and workout. That too.
I remember sitting in class one day, the FIRST time I was in graduate school. We were talking about stillness, probably in the context of how we were sitting and breathing. Our professor coached us through, engaging questions, asking us to be aware of our bodies in that moment. I have a vivid recollection of discomfort throughout my body; it was so very restless and the practice of stillness felt…almost painful. I could not get comfortable in the chair, so I couldn’t sit still. At the time, I thought the physical pain had a clinical origin. Perhaps I was so very out of alignment, or out of shape, or maybe even there was just something wrong with me. Or, all of the above, more likely. I was a walking, talking, breathing living history of my experiences and that wasn’t good or bad…just simply was the way it was. Me.
Going back even further, again back into my acting training, I recall my movement classes. Aside from the fact that—while I firmly believe in the techniques and theories taught—they are sort of caricatures of themselves, there is an irony about them. I know I went into movement class as an 18 year old thinking I would learn how to move, so OF COURSE there should be a lot of moving involved because, you know, movement. But so much of movement class involved what appeared and felt to be decidely not moving. We were instructed at the beginning of every class that it was “the ten minutes in which you do nothing.” When we first began this ritual, our instructor verbally led us through the experience in a sort of guided meditation. But the anxiety crept in when we were supposed to clear our minds and think about nothing. No. Thing. It was at that point when I became silently desperate, trying to push thoughts out of my mind, and in fighting those impulses, created even more thoughts. I panicked. On the inside, of course. “HOW DO I DO NOTHING?” came the silent scream. “I am not DOING nothing right because I have all the thoughts! I’m thinking about not thinking!” I felt a little like Ray Stanz in Ghostbusters:
Still, the idea of just taking a minute to be fully present in a space took practice. What I found was in opening myself up to allowing thoughts to pass through, I had more autonomy about engaging with thoughts, than if I tried to shut them out.
I settled into stillness. Well, more precisely, I came to a place where I could coexist with it. I welcomed it. Sometimes, the restless discomfort was there, but I had to acknowledge it in order to move on.
Flash forward to now. I’m trying to tune the noise out. It’s a noise addiction. Even now, as I’m writing, as I’m enjoying the quiet hum of the fan above me (and a little indignant at the sound of an airplane flying overhead, intruding on the night quiet)–with no television, social media, radio, internet—I’m longing for it. I yearn for this time, this place, this space to hear my thoughts, and my first impulse is to drown them out. Like some messed up sugar addiction, I try to cut out the sweets, and savor the lightness in my body and the energy it begins to feel, only to hear my inner voice thinking, “As a reward for feeling so good, you should get a treat. Sugar!” And while social media can get me amped, it quickly exhausts me, leaving me deflated, numb, and reflexively reaching for more of… less.
Maybe I think the noise will give me my thoughts, will set me on the right path toward self-enlightenment and what I hope to do in this world. But these inputs merely obfuscate the whole situation. They crowd out—and sometimes even work to replace—my own thoughts. I’ve been moving and filling the space with so much that I no longer recognize my own thoughts through the din.
So I’ve made pledge to myself, imperfect as it is. Among the million and one self-improvement promises, I am starting with some silence each evening. Some pause. Some breath. Because just as I learned those many years ago, many times over, that singular breath will both birth and ignite my impulse. My truth.
Then you’d never know you had one.”—The Baker’s Wife, Into the Woods
Walking with the girls tonight, I had one of those lightening moments, suspending me in its hyper reality for the briefest time. The girls rode their scooters up ahead of me, lit horizontally by the sun setting behind us. Between myself and the girls, a newly paved path rolled, comfortable and certain in its relative newness. On either side, green grass- so vibrant, especially in contrast to the blackness of the asphalt path-already thick and lush from the dutiful and probably bloodied, calloused hands of some landscaper, seems to insist on spring’s arrival-which, for the record, is fine by me. Adolescent trees mark the age of the immaculately coiffed subdivision, thankfully old enough for leaves to endow the wind with a fair bit of rustling voice. But on this evening, the wind is not in a hurry. It lacks the urgency of a storm front; now that we’re on the western end of the suburbs, this weird transition zone where sprawl meets small town, the weather changes show their faces pretty clearly. Together, everything moves and suspends, simultaneously, at this singular point in time.
I have the urge- or rather, the conditioned response- to quickly scroll through my phone to take a picture, worried that I wouldn’t remember this exact moment, that I need to preserve and share it or it never happened (i.e., if a tree falls and it doesn’t get put on Vine/FB/ Instagram, did it even happen?). I don’t know if it is laziness, anxiety about missing the moment altogether or what, but my hand never makes it to my pocket. My phone remains undisturbed. I lift my eyes. I walk forward.
I breathe it in and realize I am happy.
For just a breath.
Then wafting, ever so quietly, the doubts weave themselves back in through my consciousness: “Are you sure you’re happy? What is a city girl like you doing being happy here?” Then, more insistent and cruel: “This will never last, you know. It never does. Something awful will happen, it’s inevitable.” In an instant, all of the specific worries of my life- kids, my husband, employment, health, career, finances, and oh my lord, will I ever get this house unpacked or will we just live out of bins and chaos indefinitely- come tumbling with reckless abandon, washing over this lovely, peaceful moment.
Good Lord, those voices are LOUD. At this point, the cerebral chatter devolves into a cacophony of bickering. I ignore it as best I can; it’s background noise. So the moment’s gone, and I didn’t record it- not for posterity, for me. I’m at a place right now where I don’t trust I can remember anything without recording it, particularly these small, deep moments of joy. I manage to remember the difficult/ painful/ angsty ones, and I never have any trouble feeling at times like those times dominate my timeline.
Maybe, in actuality, it’s less about remembering these moments of joy and more about sustaining them. After all, as I just said, I don’t have trouble recalling the string of painful times littering the chronology of my life. I’m certainly not holding my phone up to them, recording them to play them back in some weird, masochistic ritual. In my awkward, human animal way, I’m trying to materialize my experiences to touch them, smell them, see them, feel them just a little bit longer. But in order to make them tangible in the form of video and picture means that I miss the actual experience altogether; the camera casts me as an outside observer trying to capture a fleeting moment, and shoves me out of participating in my own life, even those moments of happiness. The camera displaces me; it experiences the event, while I remember recording the event. For me, the memory becomes about recording something, and no longer about the actual something.
But aside from this complex and complicated 21st century relationship between me and technology, I also realize that moments of joy, of clarity, of happiness are so characteristic because of what they are not, which are the very places they originate: pain, struggle, confusion, sadness. No, I won’t always feel elation, nor will I be stuck in the abyss of despair. Mostly, I will reside in the middle somewhere, working to make things better, hoping to avoid the worst. But there are no guarantees, and sometimes I think that’s simply an uncomfortable place to be.
“When you parent, it’s crucial you realize you aren’t raising a “mini me,” but a spirit throbbing with its own signature. For this reason, it’s important to separate who you are from who each of your children is. Children aren’t ours to possess or own in any way. When we know this in the depths of our soul, we tailor our raising of them to their needs, rather than molding them to fit our needs.”
― Shefali Tsabary, The Conscious Parent
I have to preface this whole situation by saying that I get enough homework by proxy through my daughters’ first grade experience to rival graduate school. Nope, can’t work on that writing to finish my thesis; I have to make sure that I’ve quizzed my kids on their mandatory “free” reading (which they would do anyway, but I wouldn’t have to quiz them AND they’re like three grade levels ahead- ENJOY READING, DAMMIT!), made sure they’ve done a bunch of spelling exercises, and some math sheets. They’re in first grade. Fine, it’s fine.
Seriously, though, if I was relaxing, reading a book (Ha! Like that would ever happen for fun- such a frivolous waste of time literacy is) and my husband abruptly came up to me and started demanding random-y plot points from the chapter, I’d be forced to…oh wait, my kids do that. Minus plot point inquiry. Which is why I don’t read. Except when I can sneak it. Like the bad habit that it is.
THUS ENDETH THE PROLOGUE
After school today, I helped my daughter, Baby A, begin this project for school, which admittedly is a little extra something and not really mandatory. However, in the spirit of exposing her to a fun little project with a little competition thrown in, I figured why not. So, it’s a diorama. You remember these things, right?
Actually, this is sort of a kick ass one, cooler than anything I remember ever doing. But you get the picture, right? Standard issue shoe box with the top arranged as the floor/ kickstand for the whole piece. That box top is KEY as it provides essential extra square footage that can be reappropriated and exploited by the likes of Love it or List It. In fact, this is an EXCELLENT example of our task, since in celebration of the spring season (I can’t say Easter because it’s a public school- or can I? I have no idea, but either way, we all know what the candy’s for) the kiddos are invited to make a story diorama of any book, tale, keynote speech—whatever– and (age appropriately) use Peeps. No monsters or mutilation, y’all. The flier did say “no monsters”; “y’all” is flavor.
So I set up the play room with the craft table as she decides she wants to start by painting the exterior of the box. That’s cool, although the one thing I hate about our bonus/ playroom is that there’s carpet in there and I have control issues (working on it!), what with the paint and the carpet. But whatever, it’s washable, which is more than I can say for the paint we used yesterday. (Yep- and it’s a new house with carpeting about 6 weeks old, so let’s just say the shine is off the proverbial apple). Now my other daughter, Baby B, wants to get involved and I’m kind of excited, you see, because this daughter has been whining, “I don’t want to enter any contest” and now, she’s at least going to engage in the gateway behavior that leads up to a bona fide entry into said competition so OK, sure, I say, totally casual-like. While I’m feeling jazzed about luring my daughter into a competitive opportunity, my daughter’s saying, “Just for fun, Momma. I’m just doing this for fun.”
Sure you are, I think. Sure you are. Because to me, you see, competing is fun. Winning is fun. Ergo, this activity is fun IF YOU ARE COMPETING.
Now before anyone starts thinking, “Damn, Tiger Mama, down gurl,” understand this is the child for whom dressing in the morning is a task for which she finds herself “Toooooooooo tiiiiiiiiiirrrrrrred.” So a little entry into a diorama contest in the school library is pretty low stakes way to encourage her to try something new. She might learn she’s good at it, I explain to her, although if she doesn’t ever “play the game” she’ll never have the opportunity to know what she’s capable of.
At six, my daughter feigns little interest. She is resolved.
And so they have some fun. Baby A has already picked out her story, and I am trying to help her figure out how to depict it within the dioramic medium using some gummy Lifesavers, marshmallows, Peeps, and jelly beans (both tart and sweet). I look around for more Crafty MacGyver type things, and come up short handed, although I have a ton of ribbon, a stack of colored construction paper, some clothes pins, and popsicle sticks. I also have random fluff.
But no matter, they are happily painting, painting, painting the exterior of the box and lid, when I say, “Hey, maybe we should start thinking about what you want to show, what part of the story.” The book is “If You Give a Dog a Donut” so , for those of you unfamiliar with this series, you give an animal something they want and then they just keep wanting more and more and more until they’ve come full circle and want the first thing again. Not unlike children. In the non-fiction version, I would probably follow this with, “He’ll vomit all over your new couch and rug, you’ll be out a donut, and probably a couple hundred bucks for the vet” but as it is, the fictive text reads, “He’ll want a glass of apple juice.” I ask her whether she thinks this is an inside or outside snack and she decides on an interior motif. I’m trying to figure out in my head how we’re going to create a lush (ok, competitive, yes) interior with the aforementioned materials, and I hear, “You can look in the Duplos and Legos for some pieces for the little detailed stuff and to make your table,” fall out of my mouth. That’s a great idea, Self. Good for you! So I go off to do some “mom stuff” (start dinner to feed children). I casually wander back in and suggest that maybe we could go the more comic route and use a real sized cup filled with some stand in for apple juice next to a Peep cast as the Dog/ Protagonist. Deadpan blankness meets me. Apparently, this is not a helpful mom suggestion.
Some minutes pass, and my daughter comes out to say, “Mommy this is what I’m going to use and here is the apple juice! Here it is….
Do you see it? Let me help you.
While my mouth is saying, “That’s great, sweetheart,” my heart falls. I’m having a plethora of reactions in what seems to be forever and instantaneous. First, I’m thinking, “What the hell is that?” A shiver of panic runs down my spine hoping, praying that she doesn’t ask me follow up questions about it. Then I recall the conversation- right, she said “chair and table and apple juice, but shit, WHERE IS THE APPLE JUICE?”
Right. There it is.
Then, I’m thinking she’s not that great with disappointment, particularly in a competitive realm. Of course, she’s 6 so that’s part of the landscape. I’m having the sinking feeling this is not going to go well and she’s going to have a bad time.
And the most ludicrious part of all of this is my reaction of frustration because my idea is better and why doesn’t she just do it my way?!
WTF just happened there? How old ARE you?
This is the conversation I’m having with myself:
“My idea is better and why doesn’t she just do it my way?”
“Are you really saying that? What is happening? How old ARE you?”
Because I want my daughter to win. Because I want to win. I’m being ugly honest here. But I also wanted to do right by her, and in that moment, I really wasn’t sure, so I got mad at myself. I SHOULD KNOW THIS! I have a uterus, so doesn’t that endow me with the starter pack for this type of encyclopedic parental knowledge AND I studied educational psychology; I at least know the basics of how to handle these kinds of situations. It’s just so much easier when it’s about other people in a book of case studies.
Should I use “tough love” and be honest that it’s not that great (hell, I can’t even really tell what it is, but maybe it will pop against the abattoir red she painted the rest of the box)? Should I push to do my way and show her how to do it? That sounds awful because, while she might be my monkey, this is certainly not my circus, it’s hers. I know the best way for her to learn is to muck through it herself. I don’t want to hurt her, but if I don’t say anything, she’s going to lose and THEN be disappointed. And when that happens, I have to deal with…
Oh. Uh oh. There it is.
I. I. I.
I did back away and sort of pouted over the soup and grilled cheese because I had reached an impasse with myself. A stalemate. I got everything on the table, called the girls, and then my daughter came racing into the kitchen screeching to a stop right in front of me, throws her arms around my legs, looks right up at me and exclaims, ” Mommy! I’m so excited! This is the best project ever! I’m so glad we’re doing this!! Thank you, Mommy!”
Complete lucidity, calm, peace, and yeah, happiness. I watched my daughter as she settled into her seat blissfully unaware of the existential crisis roaring in my head and began munching on her grilled cheese, while her sister lumbered over to the table and plopped down.
Munch, munch, munch.
The frustration and anger, even, comes from that place for me- wanting her to be successful. And of course, I do. But as any parent has to ask him/ herself, “Is my reaction more about me and my baggage or them?” I think it’s more complicated than a simple either/ or. Sometimes it’s not; sometimes it might be simple, but I think, for me at least, it’s important to take the time to figure it out. In the end, I know the project must needs be what it is, Harvard be damned.
Her happiness simply washed over me. The joy of the process fills her. Will she be disappointed if she loses? Yes. Maybe she’ll ask how she could have done it better (“Mommy, why didn’t I win?”) and I will offer my help, asking her what she would have changed if she could. Maybe we’ll do another diorama afterwards. Maybe we won’t again until she has to. I guess my biggest fear is not that she’ll lose, but that she won’t try again. That has little do with her. Recently, she tried a spelling bee at our encouragement; she was apprehensive, particularly because her sister had already declared a “No Freaking Way” platform on the spelling bee issue. Turns out, she didn’t win, but she did a great job and made it through 4 rounds. After being a little bummed, she asked if there was a way she could be better and if there were any other spelling bees.
What the hell am I worried about?
I have trouble getting out of my own way. I don’t want to get in hers.
And yes, I ate the jelly beans (both tart and sweet).
“I’m, like, the WORST friend EVER! I hope you can forgive me. It’s great to see you!”
“I just need a minute to veg and then I’ll zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.”
“OK, I really can’t let her stupidity soil the virgin-white purity and truth that is Facebook, so I’ll just reply to this one comment on the thread and be done.”
“Shit, that was a 2-hour Facebook post. How does this HAPPEN?!?”
And now it’s July. Much has “happened” as it were.
Oh, wait, see there it is. Right there. No, RIGHT THERE!
Yes, over here. Well, actually, right next to the word “were.” It’s that point- right there that is the problem. There was a pause. A momentary lapse, or rather, RE-lapse into my habitual rabbit hole vortex waste of time. It goes something like this:
Aaaaand I’m coming to the end of this sentence, this idea…and I’m done. Huh. My fingers aren’t moving on the keyboard. The tapping sound really is quite relaxing and comforting, reassuring me that there are thoughts (even interesting ones) bouncing around my skull. So it’s a little unnerving that they’re not mooooving. What next? Oh no. It’s quiet. Too quiet. Like the radio: dead air. Someone SAY SOMETHING!
MAYBE I SHOULD CHECK FACEBOOK!!! Yes, absolutely. Visiting The Book of Face will creatively inspire me in the same way that oh, say, the sun breaking over the eastern horizon, spills light and life over the sleeping landscape. Something like THAT, oh Facebook you creative font! I know there exists a growing, but not a consensus, body of scholarly work that debates (here, here, and here, for example) what many already know in our collective guts, at our most basic level about Facebook— that it is, as Homer Simpson might say, “the cause of and solution to all of life’s problems.” Without all of the extra baggage that the “solution” part might afford, at least in my own personal experience which is, admittedly, a focus group of 1.
But this is not a post about the scourge and evil that is Facebook. No! That’s low hanging fruit in the quest to answer the eternal question: “What is the cause of my particular and peculiar brand of bullshit emotional baggage?” Tonight, I don’t have a whole lot to say on the subject, to be honest. In fact, I should check my EMAIL!!
Yes, email. I should do this. Checking the email….surely, there’s something brewing in one of my FIVE email addresses comprised of two work addresses, my Professional/ Personal account, my Personal/ Personal account by which my friends and colleagues from a certain era in my life know me, and my Personal/ Coupon/ Address I Give to Nigerian Royalty email. I’m headed for a world of hurt here. I’m seeking out more stressors, and this behavior must have a clinical name that I do not yet know (but since I am a bit of a hypochondriac I will probably Google that shortly- BTW, what IS Kate Middleton doing nowadays?), and OH MY LORD WHERE IS MY BED BATH AND BEYOND 20% EMAIL COUPON!?! Can I at least depend on its mundane regularity in my….oh look! Another installment of the Slow Cooker Chronicle. Yes, I would like 10 “Summertime and the Slow Cookin’ is Easy” 5- ingredient recipes with BACON, you say? Damn, that looks good, and I’m all hungry now, but this is not very productive, so I’m going to go over to check my work email.
Yes, it might be 11:00 (oh shit- already?) at night, but I really can’t think of a better time to open my email and find some festering, overdue, rotting turd of a request for me to wax myself into an anxious lather over. In all honesty, it’s not the nature of the request itself (all the time) that feels fecal. Rather, it’s the length of time I’ve allowed it to stay on my to-do list.
A LIST! That’s what I should do! This will be the first step on my path leading me clearly and steadfastly in the opposite direction of those poor poor people who end up on Hoarders. Because you know, all they need to bring them into a more balanced state of mental health is a lined pad of paper, a good solid #2 pencil (sharp for decisiveness and with an eraser- because we all make mistakes!), and some plastic bins (clear and snapping handles preferable). I will make this list and then place it atop my mounting oeuvre of lists I have created and nursed into a hearty stack. And my list will start with all of the, as Rick Grimes would say, “stuff and things” I will harvest first from these emails, then merge alongside the Greatest Hits from the other languishing lists. But unlike me, Rick’s “stuff and things” are zombies and sulky dead wives. He has earned the right to wander around the post-apocalyptic woods all sweaty and confused, which is very different from my real world situation, in which I am similarly sweaty and confused, but where I am faced with “stuff and things” I have been too busy/ disorganized/ scared to do for fear of failure.
Well, then. There it is. The fear of failure. Or the fear. And the failure.
My unfinished masters degree (I really would like to finish this, but I never seem to “make time.”)
My changing, aging body and the fact that I can’t work out right now (More on this later and also- hey, I’m thankful I’ve made it this far, but I’d like to keep my physical and strength with me.)
Our house search (Is this the right house for us? What disaster are we stepping foot into?)
Laundry. (Because it never ends.)
Potentially new job (WTF am I getting myself into?)
Do I really only think about myself? Am I really self-centered? (My parents would tell you I am.)
The garage is full of photo and “crafty” projects I want to organize. I want to do this before the chronologies slip from my mind.
How badly am I damaging my kids? I try every day to be a good mom, a fun mom, a consistent mom, a teaching mom. But by the end of the day, I’m not always my best.
My writing: Will I ever have a chance to write consistently, and not in my car, my right hand fumbling around for a pencil to write an idea on a sticky, crumbled McDonald’s coffee receipt?
My husband and kids- Am I making enough time for them? For us? To make those “core memories” (Yes, I saw Inside Out, what of it?)
Am I living my life to the fullest? Am I enjoying it? Am I spending time with people in my life? Because the fact that I have had a number of people get critically ill with cancer and have lost two of them in the span of six months has made me a little introspective.
I just made another list. And it’s 11 PM. Oh shit. Already.