Tag

Authenticity

A Blog Is a Funny Thing

Some things are harder to write about than others.

I try my best to do a lot of truth-telling on this blog. That often means admitting when things aren’t perfect. It means sharing the hard days of motherhood, the dark, embarrassing parts of motherhood.

It also means sharing the hard, scary personal truths. Like when you hoped for things and they didn’t turn out the way you wanted and you were sad even though you could see that, in the end, they would actually turn out better.

It would be really easy to talk myself out of sharing these things. You see, in the moment, it feels good to write it all out and get it off my chest.

But then I sleep on it, and the next morning I wake up and things look different. The stress and exhaustion have lessened and suddenly “honesty” looks more like weakness or oversharing.

I felt those feelings in that moment, but my blog post immortalized those feelings forever.

Is that really what I wanted to do? Maybe I should have let the moment pass.

But then, is writing about only the good moments deceiving? Like pretending the bad moments don’t exist too?

I’ve struggled with this dilemma for a long time. Before I even had a blog, I wrote in journals. Time would pass and I would go back and read the journal and what I had written would no longer be true. And I would think, “What if someone finds this and thinks this represents me and how I feel, but it doesn’t anymore?” So I would rip out the journal pages and throw them away.

I’ve deleted more than one blog for the same reason. The temptation is still there to edit what you all see.

But the truth is, trying to make this space a perfect representation of who I am is impossible. Because I’m constantly changing. And because writing the full range of the human feelings and thoughts and dreams in one tiny little blog is impossible, if that were the goal I would either delete everything I write or worse, never write at all.

Yesterday I wrote a post about not having it all at once. The post isn’t perfect and it doesn’t come close to capturing my feelings on the topic. But I could choose to spend hours agonizing over how to make the post perfect. Or I could write what I’m feeling to the best of my ability and then go play with my kids.

Or I could go back and feel frustrated that I didn’t get it exactly right and delete it.

Instead, I’m trying to make peace with the fact that this blog will never be perfect and sometimes how I feel will change right after I’ve written it down and so what once was true for me isn’t anymore and that’s okay.

At the end of the day I’d rather have a collection of imperfect moments to look back on than have nothing at all simply because I was too scared to not get it exactly right.

When You Can’t Have It All at Once

I wrote this whole post, and when I went back to re-read it, it sounded like a giant pity party. So this is take two.

Why the pity party, you ask?

Well for a the past couple of weeks, I was hopefully entertaining the very realistic possibility of having it all.

Having it all? Really?

Yep, that’s right. You see, it’s not too much of a stretch. I’m lucky enough (yes, even on the hard days) to be home with my sweet babies all day. I love this gig (yes, even on the hard days) and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

So what more could you want?

Great question. I love being a mom, but part of being a mom is being a human. I love being there for my kids but I also want to set an example for them. For me, that involves being something in addition to being a mom.

So I spend a lot of time thinking about what that means for me. It’s a surprisingly hard question. There’s a lot of things I could do with my time outside of motherhood, some more practical than others. And for somebody who writes about authenticity, it’s taken me an embarrassingly long time to figure out what my authentic path in this life is.

But a few weeks ago, I was pretty sure I had found it. An online masters degree in English with an emphasis in writing. I could finally check a masters degree off my bucket list, I could study the thing I’ve been most passionate about all along. I could suck it up and be brave enough to get serious about writing. And I could do it all online, meaning I wouldn’t have to put my kids in daycare to attend class.

I knew when I submitted my application that I was a few undergrad English credits short of the requirement, but I thought, “What the heck? Go for it.” Once they reviewed my transcripts then I would know how many I needed and could complete them. The previous graduate program I had been enrolled in just lumped all my required undergrad and grad work into my program plan.

Not the case with this one.

This morning I received a very nice email from the program director explaining that I was short the required credits. And this afternoon I received the standard “We regret to inform you…” letter.

Turns out, even though my logical brain knew that it was a possibility, a stamped and sealed rejection letter is still a blow to the ego. And the morale.

Thus, the pity party.

You may be thinking, it’s just a few undergrad classes. Just get them done and then enroll in the graduate program.

You’re right, it is just a few classes. Classes I would happily take.

Except they aren’t offered online. Which means time in class. Which means daycare. Which means giving up time with my kids.

Which means NOT “having it all”. At least not all at once.

So, quick u-turn before we end up back in pity party land, that is where I’m at. I’ll admit, I was majorly bummed to have felt like “having it all” was so close to possible, only to have the hope dashed. Mostly, I was excited about this new possibility.

And it’s not that it’s not possible. It definitely is. I have several different choices of ways to make it work.

But I’m not going to. At least, not right now.

Because the truth is, it isn’t about the details. It’s about a big picture choice I have to make. I can either make it work, which means making sacrifices, the biggest of which will be time with my kids. Or I can be patient. Waiting a few years until my children are in school means a lot more flexibility when it comes to pursuing my own educational goals.

For me, it’s an obvious choice.

I know this time with them is a gift. One that I’m not willing to sacrifice.

And just to be clear, it’s not because I feel obligated to stay with them. It’s because I want to. With all my heart. Even on the hardest days, this mom gig is my dream job.

Waiting to start the program isn’t a sacrifice for me. Giving up time with my kids would be.

So the more I think about it, the more convinced I am that this isn’t a simple rejection from a graduate committee. It’s actually a quiet little nudge from the universe. To stop trying so hard to move on to the next thing and just enjoy this thing. This time where I have the privilege of making motherhood my priority. This time where I don’t have to juggle all the things. I’m choosing to believe that someone up there is looking out for me and knows I need a little reminder to use this time wisely. There will be a time for classes and degrees. Right now is the time for little people. Because classes and degrees will always be there. Little people won’t.

Frankly, I’m a little embarrassed to have needed the reminder.

This is also a good time to mention that just because this particular path isn’t the right personal growth path for me right now doesn’t mean there isn’t a personal growth path for me right now. It’s just not one defined by a university.

Someone who inspires me recently wrote on her own blog (in reference to her music career) that if there isn’t a gig, create one. In other words, don’t wait for someone to offer you a path. Make your own.

Just because my current personal growth path isn’t nationally accredited doesn’t mean it isn’t worthwhile. I have piles of books to read and mountains of ideas to write. I don’t need someone else to assign me work for me to do work of value. And the best part is, when I’m writing my own curriculum, I can make sure it never interferes with the real work of value, soaking up the beautiful madness of motherhood.

Not having plans work out the way you thought you wanted them to isn’t fun, even when you know deep down it’s for the best. I will own that. So tonight I have scheduled a real-life pity party with a good friend, complete with beer and possibly some form of nachos.

And then tomorrow I’ll get back to work.

Swimming in Paradise

Sunset in Key West

This weekend was a rough one on the baby sleep front. If you’ve read anything I’ve written lately (or read between the lines of what I haven’t had the energy to write), then you know we are in one of “those” phases of child rearing that feel extra hard.

Saturday night I had plans with friends at 7:30. The baby goes to bed at 7 (that’s the goal anyway), so this was somewhat ambitious. But I thought we could make it work. Of course, rather than fall asleep nursing like she will do on lucky occasions, she finished eating and was wired. So I decided to lay her down awake, since that’s the goal, and since it has been working pretty well at nap times. I stood outside the door of the room for a few minutes to make sure she would settle in.

But in her usual over-ambitious attempt to calm herself, she stuck her fingers in her mouth and gagged herself. My husband and I rushed back in and scooped her up to make sure she didn’t choke. She seemed fine, so I left her with my very capable husband and headed for the door, just in time to catch my ride.

At which point she threw up everything that she had just eaten. Into her bed. And her pajamas. And all over my husband.

SIGH.

So I helped change pajamas and sheets and dug out a new sleep sack and heated up a bottle and made escape attempt number two.

Which worked. My much-more-patient husband put her to bed and I had a wonderful, much-needed dinner with dear friends.

And the baby, who had slept through the night for the two previous nights, woke up when I went to crawl in bed at midnight. And stayed up until 1:30 a.m., something she hasn’t done for a long time. And then got up before 5 a.m.

And then decided to get up every couple of hours all night the next night as well, just to make her point.

Have I said SIGH yet? SIGH.

Okay so back to my point. During my friend dinner, we were talking about my situation, and parenting, and drowning, and life, and plans. At one point in the conversation, my friend asked if there was a part of the day I looked forward to every day.

And I had to think. I actually had to think about it.

(Face palm)

So I’m not making excuses or anything here. There are moments that are so overwhelming that I can’t see out of this hole I’m in. I think five months of exhaustion, three years of being pregnant or nursing, hormones, and possibly a touch of seasonal or postpartum depression are adding weight to an already heavy load.

And sometimes the stress feels so big that it’s all I can see. And when I do write, it’s all I can think to write about. And I don’t like that, because it doesn’t feel good to write (or live) all in the negative. I’d much rather create and share something positive. But I also want this to be a place where I share the real, authentic moments of parenting, and you can’t do that without telling the truth about the darkness.

So I do. But I think it’s also worth saying, that just because sometimes the darkness is all I see doesn’t mean it’s all darkness. Sure there have been a lot of moments lately that feel like I can’t keep my head above water. But then suddenly I find a foothold and come up for air and realize that the water I was drowning in is this beautiful bay of crystal blue water with white sand beaches and dolphins and sunshine and palm treas.

I got so caught up in trying to keep my head above water that I didn’t (couldn’t) notice that I was swimming in paradise.

I thought back to my conversation with my friends and the question, what do I look forward to each day, and I had to smack myself and laugh. Every day I get to watch my toddler learn new words. Right now she has learned how to add “peas” (please) to her requests, which is about the most adorable thing ever and she pretty much gets whatever she wants when she says it. (Hey, it is the magic word.) I get to listen to her sweet little voice sing and see her mischievous smile when she sneaks up on me and tickles me. I get to watch her sit and pour through books and “read” them to herself. I get to sit and build legos with her.

I get to watch my baby smile. I get to hear her laugh because she is so ticklish that even changing her clothes makes her laugh. I get to watch her trying to sit up and trying to pull her knees up under her and soon I’ll get to see her succeed at all of these big brave things she is trying. I get to watch her eyes get heavy and I get to nurse her when she is hungry and hold her when she cries.

I get to pick the oldest up from school every day. I get to see what she’s working on in school, I get to help her make Valentines for her classmates and celebrate with her when she earns a certificate for “compassion”. I get to hear her reading harder books every day. I get to see her sisters’ faces light up when she walks in the room.

I get to be there when they don’t feel good and need extra love. I get to be there when they feel amazing and brave and full of life. I get to be there for it all.

The hard days are worth writing about because they are real. But so are all the other moments. There’s not just one thing I look forward to every day because my day is filled with beautiful moments, both good and bad, with the people I love most in the world.

Even on the days where swimming is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, I’m still swimming in paradise.

 

 

Getting Back to Each Other

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If you have participated in social media this week, I think you’ll agree with me when I say: It’s a jungle out there.

People are grieving. People are protesting. People are feeling scared, hurt, angry. People are feeling judged, criticized, demeaned.

And just like everyone else, I have an opinion.

But here’s the thing about my opinion: it doesn’t just make me want to say what I believe. It makes me genuinely curious about the other opinions that are different than mine. How can we see the same thing so differently? There are so many different opinions right now, and so much that I desperately want to understand.

Because when we have different opinions, we are separate from each other. We are divided. And human beings, by nature, are social creatures. When we feel divided, separate, it creates a deep and unsettled yearning in our souls to get back to each other, whether we realize it or not.

It’s why we passionately argue our own opinions. Because we desperately hope to persuade people to join us so we won’t be alone.

But there’s something we often forget about opinions. Togetherness doesn’t come from agreeing with each other. It comes from understanding each other. It comes from listening to each other. It comes from connection deeper than opinions.

Which is really good news. Because it means that neither one of us have to compromise on what we believe in order to get back to each other. We simply need to open up space to listen. To be genuinely curious about where the other person is coming from. To try our darndest to stand in the other person’s shoes and see what they see. Even if we don’t choose to stay there.

Even if we never agree, we can work to respect each others’ beliefs. The bridge across the divide isn’t built on our opinions; it is built on our humanity.

These are not easy days. Every time I see something that hurts my heart or confuses me or makes me angry, I get the impulse to write. Because writing is my outlet. And so often I struggle and stumble and fight to get the right words out. And then I question whether I should be saying anything at all. I worry about offending people and alienating people.

And mostly, when I share my opinion, I remind you that my opinion is different than yours. I remind both of us that we are separate. Divided.

And human beings don’t like to be divided.

So my inner voice argues that it’s better just to keep my mouth shut, to keep my opinions to myself. Because then we don’t have to face the fact that we are so far apart.

But then I remember this: the way back to each other is through understanding. And you cannot understand me if I do not share these parts of me. You cannot understand my beliefs if I choose to keep them to myself.

Granted, sharing my opinion on social media may just seem like dumping buckets of water into the ocean because social media is so flooded with opinions right now.

But I’m also aware of the power of social media as a connective tool. I have watched millions of people use it to connect to others who share their beliefs.

Why can’t we use it to connect to those who don’t share our beliefs?

Last night, I shared a heated post about the increase in hate crimes since the election. I typically try very hard not to share heated posts without thinking long and hard about what I say. But last night, I impulse posted.

And after I did so, I fought the urge to take it down. More than once. (More than twice.) Because I am human. And humans don’t like to be divided.

But what happened next gave me hope. People offered their own perspectives which were different than mine. In some cases we didn’t agree. And in some we did agree but from different angles.

And no one was disrespectful or unkind.

I was pushed to see opinions that I did not understand. I was given a glimpse into perspectives that I don’t share. And we found common ground in perspective we did share.

And most importantly I was reminded that the person on the other side of the divide was exactly that: a person. A thoughtful, intelligent human being with experiences and opinions and beliefs that were different than mine but that were no less important or valid.

Suddenly, it didn’t matter that we didn’t see eye-to-eye on everything. Because our differences were no longer a threat to our togetherness.

The way back to each other isn’t dependent upon agreeing with each other. It simply requires that we listen to each other. They saw me post about what I believed and, rather than ignoring me or criticizing me, they shared what they believed. We didn’t try to change each other. We just listened.

And it may seem like a small moment in the expanse of the chaos right now. But it felt big to me. Because even though neither side waved a white flag on their own opinions, I saw a bridge where before I had not seen one. I felt togetherness and kindness and respect. For people I didn’t agree with.

It may seem impossible sometimes, but there is a way back to each other. It’s up to us to find it.

 

 

Book Review: “Play” by Stuart Brown

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Yay! It’s my first book review! Confession: I have no idea what I’m doing. This will be fun!

In case you don’t want to read my whole review, here is the bottom line takeaway:

“Play” is different for everyone, but it basically boils down to doing what feels authentic to you. It’s doing what you love. “When an activity speaks to one’s deepest truth, it is a catalyst, enlivening everything else.” The act of play “is a profound biological process. It has evolved over eons in many animal specials to promote survival. It shapes the brain and makes animals smarter and more adaptable. In higher animals, it fosters empathy and makes possible complex social groups. For us, play lies at the core of creativity and innovation.”  “Ultimately, this book is about understanding the role of play and using it to find and express our own core truths.”

In other words, it’s a book about authenticity. Like, actual scientific proof that we are our best selves when we are being authentic. That the act of being authentic is actually good for our brains. Which is cool, since that’s kind of my jam.

Okay. On to the nitty gritty details.

Why did I choose this book?

School is starting up again, and I’ve been reading research on the importance of recess in developing well-rounded children because it offers opportunity for unstructured play time. This gives kids a chance to explore and to learn to self-regulate their behavior. For the past several years, education has been in a trend of cutting recess in favor of more time on content. We are now starting to figure out that this isn’t a good trade, for many reasons. I picked this book to help add to my collection of literature supporting the benefits of play in whole child development.

And this book does have some awesome info on the benefit of play in kids. It even talks about the benefits of different kinds of play. But it doesn’t stop with kids. It talks a lot about how adults can benefit (or suffer) from play (or lack thereof).

What was my biggest “aha” moment from this book?

I think the biggest surprise for me was in learning the science that shows how play (or lack of) affects the brain AND learning what that means for us as humans. For example, I had no idea how important play was for our social-emotional development as humans. I knew it helped with creativity and problem-solving. But play actually allows us to develop the skills necessary to connect with others, read social signals, and collaborate.

What was the best part of this book?

I would say it was probably expanding my definition of play and realizing how easy and beneficial it could be for me to work on developing a play attitude in my own life.

How was the reading experience?

Honestly, I’m not sure if pregnancy exhaustion played a role, but this book was a little tedious at times for me to get through. However, I had highlights and notes in every chapter so it’s not like it was dull. Bonus: it’s not too long of a book so even if it wasn’t the fastest read for me it was still manageable.

Would I recommend this book?

Yes. I think any book that offers this kind of insight into how our brains work AND encourages authentic living is a great thing for people to read.

Favorite Quotes

(Why Play)

“Play is how we are made, how we develop and adjust to change. It can foster innovation and lead to multibillion-dollar fortunes. But in the end the most significant aspect of play is that it allows us to express our joy and connect most deeply with the best in ourselves, and in others…. Play is the purest expression of love.”

(Why Play is Important for Kids)

“Once kids enter school, the importance of free play doesn’t end. All of the patterns that induce states of play are present and remain important for growth, flexibility, and learning. Unfortunately, we often forget this or choose not to focus on play’s necessity under intense pressure to succeed. No Child Left Behind is a perfect example. While it is an admirable (and even necessary) goal to make sure that all children attain a certain minimal level of education, the result has often been a system in which students are provided a rote, skills-and-drills approach to education and “nonessential” subjects like art and music are cut. In many school districts, even recess and education have been severely reduced or even eliminated.

The neuroscience of play has shown this is the wrong approach, especially considering that students today will face work that requires much more initiative and creativity than the rote work this educational approach was designed to prepare them for. In a sense, they are being prepared for twentieth-century work, assembly-line work, in which workers don’t have to be creative or smart–they just have to be able to put their assigned bold in the assigned hole.

In fact, Jaak Panksepp suggests that depriving young animals of play might delay or disrupt brain maturation. In particular, his research shows that play reduces the impulsivity normally seen in rats with damage to their brains’ frontal lobes–a type of damage thought to model attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) because it affects executive functions such as self-control…. Without play, Panksepp suggests, optimal learning, normal social functioning, self-control, and other executive functions may not mature properly.”

(Play and Learning)

“Play isn’t the enemy of learning, it’s learning’s partner. Play is like fertilizer for brain growth. It’s crazy not to use it.”

(Play and Authenticity)

“…the self that emerges through play is the core, authentic self.”

(Play in Life)

“I think it is important for kids to keep a sense of perspective. It is important to recognize that taking care of responsibilities, getting good grades in school, and all the other teen duties are important, but they are not the be-all and end-all of life. These things are all, paradoxically, important but not important…. A playful attitude about life–not really taking everything like popularity or competitive academics or adult criticism so deeply seriously–is key, while at the same time tending to the necessities of growing up, staying within the boundaries of the law, taking no inordinate risks, avoiding addictions, and so on.”

(Play and Mastery)

“People always say that you can reach the top by ‘keeping your nose to the grindstone’, but as sports performance specialist Chuck Hogan observes, this is not true. People reach the highest level of a discipline because they are driven by love, by fun, by play. ‘The greatest performers performs as they do, and do so with such grace, because they love what they are doing,’ Hogan observes. ‘It is not work. It’s play.'”

(A Life of Play Doesn’t Mean No Discomfort)

“Making all of life an act of play occurs when we recognize and accept that there may be some discomfort in play, and that every experience has both pleasure and pain. That is not to say that bliss is suffering. My take is that following your bliss may be difficult, demanding, uncomfortable, tedious at times, but not really suffering. In the end, the good feelings we are left with are far greater than any difficulty we encounter as we played.”

 

My Children Changed… And I Didn’t Notice

diving board

It has come to my attention that parenting requires staying on your toes. I don’t just mean when it comes to chasing a toddler or making sure your six year old doesn’t cover the floor with choking hazards. I mean that kids are constantly growing and changing and so you basically wake up to a different human every morning.

Ok, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration. But sometimes it feels like that. There are the changes they make on their own to surprise you. Like when they magically start sleeping at night. Or when they suddenly decide to STOP sleeping at night and instead devote that time to new skills like climbing out of their crib.

And then there are the changes that you expect, like learning to crawl and learning to walk and talk. And the changes you know are coming but somehow they still sneak up on you, like using the stairs, feeding themselves, and jumping off the diving board.

Those are the ones that catch me off guard most often. Not the big milestones we work toward, but these sneaky little milestones that are so easy to take for granted.

Example: toddler eating. We taught her how to pick up food pieces, so we knew she could feed herself. But when it came to putting a meal plate in front of her it was easier to just feed her than to give her a pile and teach her not to shove it all in her mouth. One meal turned into another and it was just how we kept doing it. One day it occurred to me: she should be able to eat from her own meal plate now. So I gave her a plate. And she ate. Like it was no big deal. She was ready. She was just waiting on me.

It’s a similar challenge with the stairs. Our house is full of stairs. (Insert loud sigh.) We never had an open staircase when my oldest was young so this is a new ballgame for me. Believe it or not, it took me a while to figure out that in order for her to learn to navigate stairs, I had to LET HER DO THEM. Over and over and over again.

And she has been doing great. But I’m still terrified to let her near the top of the stairs. I think she would stop and go down them the way she has learned. But in order for me to know that for sure, I have to let her have access to them without me grabbing her. And that’s surprisingly hard to do. She’s probably ready, but I’m not sure I am.

Last week the six year old finished swimming lessons. She has made amazing progress this summer. At the beginning of the season we stayed safely in the kid pool, but by the end we were comfortably navigating the big pool. She couldn’t touch the bottom everywhere but she could hold her own with a grownup nearby.

But the deep end was still a no-go. She had been off the diving board once with a swimming teacher at the bottom to help her, and that was our only venture to that end. (Even that made me cringe a little). But at the last lesson, the whole class headed to the deep end. I held my breath and silently threatened her to “stay by the wall” from the edge. But she did great and the teachers were attentive so eventually I relaxed.

Until the last five minutes when they announced it was time for the diving boards. AND ALL THE TEACHERS GOT OUT OF THE POOL.

UHHH….WHAT IS HAPPENING??? My mom brain didn’t know whether to panic or video tape, and I was already preparing to deal with the shame of having to jump in the pool to save her while fully clothed and enormously pregnant.

But she jumped off the diving board, popped right back up, and swam to the edge like a pro.

Huh.

I literally have no idea how long it would have taken me let her do that completely on her own if it had been up to me. I wasn’t ready.

But she was.

And that appears to be the trend, doesn’t it? They are ready, but I’m not.

Perhaps it’s because I’m just not ready to let go. But I think it runs deeper than that. I think most of the time it is because I’m still seeing them the way they were rather than the way they are. I think I still see the baby who doesn’t regulate how much she puts in her mouth and isn’t coordinated enough to navigate stairs. I still see the girl who can’t swim.

But they are not those people anymore.

Staying present with who people are isn’t easy. If I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in years, we wouldn’t truly know each other anymore, regardless of how close we were in the past. That isn’t surprising. People are constantly changing.

Even though we see our children every day, we still face the same challenge of staying present with who they are. Each day they grow and change. Every experience they have impacts the humans they are becoming in tiny ways that add up over time. If I get caught up assuming that I know who my daughter is because she is my child and I see her every day, I will miss out on the chance to truly know her and appreciate each stage of her growth.

A swimming teacher who had known my child for two weeks was more aware of her capabilities than I was. They knew she was ready before I did.

Staying present as a parent may not be easy. But it’s worth it. Because, as parents, we have the privilege of having a front row seat to watch these amazing little people becoming who they are, one change at a time.

Authenticity and Being Present

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Every experience you have changes you. Sometimes they are big, sweeping, overwhelming, sudden changes. Sometimes they are slight, unnoticeable. But even the slight and unnoticeable compound over time.

That means we are constantly changing, whether we realize it or not. We are constantly becoming someone else. Therefore, true authenticity requires presence.

What does it mean to be present with yourself? It means being able to listen to your feelings and your thoughts. To truly listen requires curiosity; the desire to seek and see. It means not assuming. It means not “knowing”. It means listening and accepting what you find.

I think it’s hard to be present with yourself, to stop to listen to your true self at each opportunity and then be open to what you find. It’s hard and then it’s easy. It takes practice and then it becomes habit. A habit worth creating.

When my oldest daughter was born, it quickly became obvious to me that I could never be a stay at home mom. When my second came along, I was aware how fleeting time was and how precious these moments were. I had changed and what I wanted was different. Rather than assume that my original feeling was “who I was”, I stopped to check in and found a different answer.

There’s a second layer to this challenge: finding people who can stay present with you. We like to think we “know” people. It’s comforting. Sometimes we take comfort in thinking we know someone better than they know themselves. It’s not easy to think about people in our lives changing and becoming someone different. We often assume such changes are negative and will take people away from us.

But the truth is, people are always changing whether we want to see it or not. In truth, the friend you had yesterday is someone different today. Even if the change is so small it isn’t noticeable.

Do you surround yourself with people who stay present with you? It is always fascinating to me to meet someone I haven’t seen in a while and consider who I was back when they knew me… to think that the person they think they are interacting with no longer exists. Even more dangerous are the people who see us every day. When we see someone every day, it’s easy to believe we know them and it’s too hard to see the little changes that build up over time.

And on a similar note, do you stay present with those around you by accepting their present authenticity? Or do you assume you already “know” them?

And perhaps most importantly of all, how does this affect how you interact with your children?

It is easier to assume we know ourself and others, but the truth is, the “self” is like a landscape: it is constantly being changed. Sometimes drastically by a tornado. Sometimes slowly like the growth of a blade of grass. But always changing.

It is only when we are aware of that change and curious about its impact, both in ourself and others, that we can truly embrace our own authenticity and that of others.

Have Courage and Be Kind

 

We went on a mommy/daughter date to see the movie Cinderella.

It was actually a pretty good movie. I don’t really want to get into picking apart Disney movies regarding the unrealistic love stories or why everyone’s parents always have to die. They probably have a lot of “hidden” messages, maybe even some I’m not aware of.

Instead what I’d rather point out are the obvious messages. The first is a theme throughout the movie, Cinderella’s motto, “Have courage and be kind.”  Any movie that has my daughter whispering that to herself on the way out of the theater is a winner in my book.

The second was slightly less obvious, but still plainly stated. Cinderella was locked in the tower when the prince came to try the shoe on all the ladies of the house. By chance, they discover her. On her way down to face the prince for the first time as a “plain”/”servant” girl, she catches sight of her ragged clothes in the mirror and wonders out loud if the prince will accept her for who she is. She says the following:

“This is perhaps the greatest risk any of us will ever take. To be seen as we truly are.”

And that’s the whole reason why this blog even exists. Because if authenticity was easy, it would be the norm rather than something we have to strive for and if that were the case I might as well be writing about something as common as brushing your teeth. Being yourself in a world that is full of opinions about how and what you should be takes more courage than anything else. Letting other people see you feels like a risk that even the bravest of us shy away from sometimes.

Why is that, I wonder? Do we need other people more than we need our true selves? But if the relationship is based on something other than your true self, it is rarely fulfilling. Perhaps it’s a little of both. We need our true selves in order to find the kind of people we need. We need authenticity in order to create the authentic connections we crave.  We need both. To have courage and be kind.

As a parent, we not only have to figure out how to do this, we also have to figure out how to teach our children how to do it.

Unless they are the ones teaching us…

Broken

 

Years ago, I met a teacher of mine who taught the mantra, “You are not broken. You don’t need to be fixed.”

At the time, it was a profound message for me. I had spent a lot of time in my “younger” years trying to fix myself. Making endless lists of what to do to be better, setting unattainable goals. Always trying to fix myself. Focusing on the flaws that needed to be corrected.

That phrase released me from the battle with myself. I stopped trying to fix myself. I stopped focusing on my flaws. Instead, I focused on what i was creating, who I was becoming. There were still plenty of times where hard lessons about things I needed to do differently would smack me in the face. But I didn’t feel stuck in an endless cycle of fixing anymore.

“You’re not broken. You don’t need to be fixed.”

But somewhere along the line, the phrase became a threat to the peace it had oNce created. Instead of a message of encouragement, it was a statement on how I should feel. Which, sometimes, was different than how I actually felt.

You see, I embraced the message “not broken”. I believed it with all my heart.

And then life happened, as it usually does. There was no crisis, no devastating turn of events, just a gradual shift, a slow wearing down. Life cycles like this. At the high point in the cycle, I was “not broken” and free. At the low point in the cycle, I felt broken.

Not only does it suck to feel broken, it sucks to feel like you’re not supposed to feel broken. Like you’re supposed to know better.

I was living a wonderful life. I was blessed beyond belief. I had no reason to feel anything but gratitude and joy.

But I did. I felt confused. I felt tired. I felt sad. I felt like I didn’t belong. I felt like every place that I had ever felt like I belonged was gone.

In short, I felt broken. And I felt broken for not being able to stop feeling broken.

What do you do?

Honestly? I don’t know yet. But here’s what I do know:

Sometimes people feel broken. Sometimes life is confusing and hard and it hurts and you can’t help but wonder if you can handle it all. It doesn’t make you wrong or bad or “broken” to admit to feeling broken. In fact, I think it does the opposite. I think being able to walk through every part of the cycle, the highs and the lows, and be honest and present in each part, makes you whole, not broken. I think it makes you human.

It’s ironic in many ways: the act of allowing yourself to feel broken actually means you’re not broken.

This is what it means to be human. To feel joy, hope, enlightenment. To feel sorrow, hurt, betrayal, regret. Feelings are every color of the human rainbow, a rainbow that isn’t complete without all of its colors. To deny our human feelings is to deny part of this rich and vibrant experience. For we all know it to be true: you can’t understand sorrow without joy, you can’t understand hope without fear, and you can’t appreciate wholeness until you have been broken.

“You are not broken. You don’t need to be fixed.” It’s still true. You are not broken. When you feel broken, you are simply experiencing one of the many phases of being wholly human. You are not broken, you are whole.

And you don’t need to be fixed. You simple need to be you. Perfectly imperfect. Wholly human. When you find yourself in the dark nights, the lowest point of the cycle, you don’t need to be fixed. You simply need to keep going.

The Real Truth

 

Years ago while working in education, when I first began planning curriculum/activities for students and teachers, I had a revelation. We always had a “goal” or an intention we would use a teaching strategy to accomplish. A basic example would be to have children repeat something in order to remember it.

At the same time, we were skirting the edges of the educational reform movement, questioning the status quo and tearing down old assumptions about the way things had to be done. Our goal was to help students become self-directed learners, so they could take charge of and responsibility for their own learning. Naturally, one of the first questions to address was how to motivate students.

Sometimes repeating and remembering information can be quite dull. It’s not necessarily something children love to do naturally, so we looked for ways to make it fun. One day, in an idea brainstorm during which we were trying to come up with strategies to “use” on the kids, I thought, “What is stopping us from just letting them in on the process?” If we explain that we repeat things to help us remember, they will learn something about how their brain works and they will understand WHY we are doing something. It’s my belief that people should always understand why they are doing something. Always.

I wanted teaching to stop being something we do TO them and become something we do WITH THEM. It wasn’t necessarily a revolutionary idea to the more experienced teachers around me. But it was to me.

And the revelation stuck with me and carried over into other parts of my life.

The other day, I had a friend who had been in a confusing situation. I’m a pretty passionate person, so it doesn’t take much to get me fired up. I ended up doing more ranting and sharing of my opinions than listening and supporting. Afterward, I felt crummy about it.

I was thinking through how I could be better. And then it occurred to me: why not just be open about the process of trying to be better?  Instead of waiting to be a finished product, why not just be a work in progress? After all, friendship is something we do together.

So I sent her a message and explained that I felt like I hadn’t listened as well as I thought she deserved and that I didn’t feel good about it and that I was working to be a better friend. Because I valued her friendship and I wanted to be kinder, more respectful, better in the friendship.

Sometimes I feel like we do too much “manipulating” each other. We want others to see us a certain way, we want others to believe something or do something or change. We want to teach people something so we strategize about how to say it and how to present our case.

But there’s such relief in just saying clearly, “This is what I want to do but this is where I’m at.” I want to be a good friend but I didn’t feel like I succeeded just there. I want to be a good mom, but I feel like I lost my temper and I wish I hadn’t. I’m trying to be more patient. I want to teach you how to do this but I’m not sure what the best way to do that so you can learn it is. I want to be a good boss, but I don’t know how to handle this situation.

Or when I’m in an uncomfortable situation, saying, “I’m not sure what to do here. I’ve never been in this situation.” When I don’t know how to help, saying, “I want to help but I’m just not sure what to do.”

Really, it just comes down to saying my truth.

Because I think we all feel a little awkward and vulnerable sometimes. As teachers, as parents, as friends, as family members or coworkers or neighbors. We all have situations where we could choose to be a little more transparent, a little more human with each other. Where, instead of digging for the “right” thing to say, or worse, saying nothing at all, we could simply say the real thing.