Kitchen Wisdom

I looked up from my laptop and noticed quite a lot of smoke in the house. That sounds like a moment to panic, but it wasn’t quite THAT kind of smoke, and I’d been in this same spot just about 10 days ago.

berries-blueberry-breakfast-718739You see my daughter likes to cook. She’s 11. She’s got a few things down. She REALLY REALLY wants to master pancakes. She wants to make light, fluffy, perfectly brown pancakes in her mother’s cast iron pans.

She objects to some of my methods. And that’s okay because if she wants to learn it for herself I am down with that, until it sets off the smoke alarms, which it has twice now.

You see pancakes require at least two things to work reasonably well: a pan that is actually hot all the way through AND just the right amount of fat on that pan.

There’s a lot of room for error in that sentence, like a lot. How hot? How much fat? What KIND of fat?

I didn’t realize how many variations there were because I automatically made some choices that I knew would work well.

She needed to experiment.

And that’s when the pan heat being too high and the choice of butter as the fat combined to make for a smoky mess.

Now I don’t want to go all Alton Brown on you, but I will share the short version that different kinds of fats respond differently to different temperatures. It’s called “smoke point.” Each kind of fat has a different temperature at which it just creates nasty smoke and gets spread all over the house and wakes everyone up and gives the aging dog anxiety.

Once I realized what was happening (again), I quickly intervened: helped her cool the pans down a little with some water, gave her two better options for greasing the pan, and assured her (she was drowning us in apologies) that everything was okay. It was just something she needed to learn. It was okay. A little noise wouldn’t kill us. It was okay. She got to see the lesson in action instead of just listening to me spout on about it. I’m pretty sure she’ll make different choices next time. In fact, in true Life Coach kid fashion, she wrapped up our conversation by saying: “Next time I will not heat the pans so much and I will use coconut oil instead of butter.”

Awesome. The dog may live a while longer just because of that.

What I found interesting later in the day, when looking back on the incident was that nobody got upset with her. And once she had apologized a few times, she was completely open to the information about what would help next time. She was an active participant in learning a better way to do it next time. She just wanted to get the lesson – well, and eat her pancakes.

Once she had apologized she didn’t beat herself up profusely for “doing it wrong.” She didn’t rehash and revisit the great pancake debacle for hours or days, although I imagine there is the possibility of some teasing in her future on this front. She didn’t just collapse and cry about what a terrible cook she is. All of those options were available to her.

blond-blur-fashion-415263.jpgWhat she chose to do was to figure out what the lesson was and to get the people around her to help her learn it and to clean up the mess learning it made, something we did without complaint or even a heavy sigh.

How much easier would things be if we treated all of our mistakes this way?

How much more quickly would we learn?

How much more willing would we be to take risks?

How much more connected would we be to others?

How much more full and delicious would life be if we could treat the hard stuff like a failed batch of pancakes?

When You See the Cracks

This is the first week of summer break for my kids. So far things have been going pretty well. They’ve had volleyball camp for a couple of hours every morning and my husband had been doing pretty much ALL of the domestic heavy lifting in preparation for an upcoming absence. So, yeah, so far so good for me. No need to work out that balance when everyone else is doing the work.

adorable-animal-basket-167700Well, as luck would have it by the time he left my kids had worn themselves out staying up giggling (which they thought we couldn’t hear). I had worn myself out trying to get a bunch of stuff done in the evening. Even the dog seems tired. And we all know what a tired family means. Just in case it’s been a while for you, there’s a whole lot of grumpiness. In my case there’s a lack of good sense. I just don’t think as clearly when I’m tired and as a result everything seems to take longer. I make mistakes. And I’m not very nice about how all of that goes down.

Sounds like good old-fashioned summer fun, right?

I have a distinct recollection of my mother opening the door and telling us to come home when we got hungry.

We don’t roll that way as a culture anymore, and I’m not sure we’re better for that change, but that is a whole separate post.

I wanted to tell you about this moment I had today, in my fog and stupidity (don’t worry, I’m not berating myself, it’s temporary and totally sleep related).

It was when we got to the orthodontist’s office.

Back Story: I had always handled the visits to the orthodontist for my son. When my seminarian left his day job and I started working a lot more, we enacted a shuffling of the domestic realms of responsibility. Kid teeth responsibilities were part of that shift.

I’ve talked before about the importance of me acknowledging that running the household with all of its various parts and responsibilities is no small feat and I had a good long run at it. My efficiency rating, not my aesthetic rating mind you, was pretty darned high. I had several years to get good at all of it.

The reshuffle has caused some bumps in the road as has the further offloading of some responsibilities onto our growing kids. There have been several moments where I’ve had to put my standards, my expectations, and my even my desires in check because things just aren’t going to work that way. Please understand that I don’t say any of that as condemnation. We’ve got a lot of moving parts and in some ways dividing them up instead of having me as the domestic dictator makes things harder. Decision-making is less centralized. Scheduling requires more communication in less time. Keeping the larder stocked for all of the different kinds of cooking happening causes a level of inefficiency that makes my little teutonic soul cringe a little.

We’ve had some problems scheduling this particular orthodontist appointment. It had to be cancelled for one thing. It had to be rescheduled because of a traffic jam. It got so bad that the doctor called to see if we were actually going to bring him in. I admit I was a little embarrassed about that. I went ahead and scheduled an appointment. They slipped us in quickly, and today in the middle of a whole slew of prep for an out of town trip, we breezed in, on time, and as we were walking in my son said: “I forgot my retainer.”

I stopped in my tracks, right there in the parking lot. Mostly because I needed to take some deep breaths in order to not yell at him. It’s possible that a quiet “Damnit” slipped out under my breath. We went into the office anyway, just to confirm that there was absolutely no point in proceeding, which I knew but thought we’d check.

As we drove to our next of several thousand errands, I looked around at the lay of the family land and I’m seeing a few places like this, where the train is off the rails a bit, where we’re not quite making connections. Things are falling through the cracks.

A couple of years ago this whole set of observations would have created a shame spiral. I would have been furious with my husband for screwing it all up in the first place. I would have been furious for my kid for leaving his retainer at home. And all of that anger would have been a cover for feeling like a bad Mom, like somebody who couldn’t keep things together, like a failure.

Those of you who finished your intense parenting phase before social media might remember some pressure to get it all right, but I’m telling you June Cleaver and Carole Brady have nothing on Pinterest and the blogosphere full of amazing ways to make your family’s life enriching, engaging, and picture perfect. The comparisonitis that can develop when you’re tired or unhappy or unfulfilled or desperate to be good at something is pretty intense. And I felt a lot of that pressure.

boys-childhood-children-51349Today was a little different. Today I saw the gaps. I saw where our transition is not going very smoothly. I saw my part in that. I also saw other people’s parts but immediately saw them as learning curves rather than deficiencies. I also saw the grace we gained by allowing those gaps, the extra minutes spent reading, or sleeping, or NOT obsessively planning.

And so I sit here in this moment, really tired, but more than a little proud. I am proud of the work I’ve done to feel better about myself and my choices. I am proud of the shifts we are all making to grow and learn together. I am astonished by the changes we’ve made and am so delighted to be able to see our collective progress even in the moments when I’d really like to just rewind the clock a few minutes to retrieve an orthodontic appliance.

Your Patchwork Self

I have a farmer friend. She lives in a lovely spot not too far from me. And on that property is the lovely old house she and her family have made their own. She posted about it the other day:

One of my favorite things about this house is the east facing wall. All over it are these little metal patches from when knots fell out of the siding or animals made holes (like a jackass woodpecker did two years ago). Only the east side has patches, but it probably has at least 15, giving it a patchwork quilt effect. Some are sheet metal, some are flattened tin cans, some are can lids. They just don’t build them like this anymore.

35628534_10213137051754012_5365022642195660800_nI saw the same thing she saw. I saw beauty. I saw pieces and parts and years. I saw weather and chipping and labor and pain. I saw time and sturdiness, nature, and effort. I saw all of the everything in that gorgeous east facing wall – the one that greets the day.

And I got to thinking… you know how I do.

I got to thinking about our own east facing walls: the part of us that faces every new day, the part of us that gets the bad news first, the part of us that has things to do, the part of us that interacts with the rest of the world while the rest of us shakes off the sleepies. I thought about the things that happen to that part of us: how we come face to face with nature and aging, how we bump into others who may not be as ready for daylight as we are, how we discover what has gone on in the night, while we rested. We discover what people think of us. We take the hits of societal pressure and being in community. We face the thoughts that make holes in our peace of mind.

And then we hide all of that. We show our other sides – relegating our relationships to the guest room, the parlor, the bathroom with the fancy soap and unused towels. “Is this my best side?” we ask the photographer. We tilt our heads to hide our chins and smile a little smaller to make the wrinkles a little more shallow. We hope nobody caught the eye roll or the frustrated sigh.  We turn our attention elsewhere and it takes quite a bit of energy really.

I think all of that hiding and fault-finding really is a lot more trouble than the repair and maintenance of that character-laden East Wall. It really can be so simple to do. Just some sheets of aluminum, an old tin can, a note from a friend, a call to a loved one, a moment with a particularly inspiring book, a walk outside without any entertainment, a few moments in stillness. We can apply the patches. We can do the maintenance. It doesn’t get rid of the damage that was done, but it does shore us up for another day, another trial, another jackass woodpecker.

And when we do that work, when we care for that part of ourself that takes all of the hits, we can continue facing the new day, continue seeing things we wish we hadn’t seen, keep on fighting the good fight. And then we can stand back and look at it, our handiwork and all of our efforts, and see those parts for what they are: complete, serviceable, strong, and magically beautiful.

Fighting With My Body

I’ve been fighting with my body lately.

I’m not sure exactly when it started. I sense that it has been a progression, a slide into rather than a snap change.

animal-canine-dachshund-1139797You see there was a long period of fighting with my body in the past: thinking horrible things about it, avoiding looking in the mirror, being angry about its failure to perform or serve me as I deemed perfect. I thought unkind thoughts. I sent unkind messages. I treated it poorly.

I worked really hard on all of that and I really did overcome it. I knew I had really gotten somewhere when I noticed that instead of jumping into my terrycloth robe after my shower I was taking my time drying off in front of the mirror before donning my robe and that on warm days I would take the robe back off as soon as it had helped suck up the drops of water I couldn’t reach. Just kind of parading around in my bathroom in my birthday suit, even with HUGE mirrors around. That never would have happened.

And then I happened on a series of physical mishaps and biological realities. Discomfort made itself known in many ways. It’s a long and boring story, but there was a series of ailments. And I began to sneer. I began to roll my eyes at my body. I began to put “stupid” in front of body parts that weren’t behaving the way I wanted them to. I didn’t even notice I was doing it.

I didn’t notice until just today when I realized that I felt heavy – not in terms of pounds, but physically heavy, like carrying myself around was a burden. As I went up the steps to say goodnight to the kids, I cursed the pain in my foot. I sighed at the stiffness in my hamstrings. I grimaced at the tightness of a T-shirt I wore proudly (at same size) last month. Every noise, every gesture, every irritation an insult aimed at myself, the most concrete, tangible part of myself. Hurling punishments for bad behavior like some kind of stereotypical evil foster parent in a bad family movie.

What on earth am I doing? How did this happen? I know how it happened. I forgot. And things got stressful. And stuff didn’t work the way I wanted to and instead of answering all of that with tenderness, I got pissed off and resentful and I took it out on myself, my favorite target. Now because you are reading me rather than hearing me speak, you may think it sounds like I’m all kinds of mad at myself, like I’m scolding myself. I’m really not.

I admit I’m a little frustrated with myself, but really it’s just part of a trend I’ve noticed.

I “know” that compassion is the only answer when things get tough, but that muscle needs more exercise: gentle, sweet exercise. I know that compassion is the best answer when things get tough, but I’m still learning and there’s a lot of programming that I’m undoing. It will surface. The old beliefs, the old habits, even the ones that aren’t good for me, they’re the ones that show up when I’m stressed.

adventure-blue-sky-cape-town-920038And so here I am, seeing the change. Here I am noticing and, because I’ve worked on it and reflected on this relationship so much in my BARE training, I see the effect those insults have on me. I see the heavy feeling. I see the sadness growing. I see the impatience with every imperfection showing up. I see my impatience with everything increasing. I see my lack of compassion with myself reflected in my impatience with everyone around me. I am literally connecting all of these dots as I type these words with my bum finger, my achy foot, and my distressed belly. I am connecting these dots and remembering how far we’ve come this body and I. I am remembering everything this body has done for me, on my feet, with my hands, even with my poor old mommy parts (full-term, full-size twins is not a small thing). I am remembering that I love me, even when things aren’t perfect and that I deserve to feel that love, even in my creaky knees and arthritic joints and tempestuous middle-aged mommy parts.

bath-blur-brush-275765And I’m tearing up a little bit. I’m a little sad for myself and a little sorry for these parts of me that have been calling out for love. I need to pause and remember what that looks like. I need to apply love bodily. I need to use ice and heating pads and take long, hot showers. I need to make sure I’m getting enough sleep and that I’m eating things that make me and this body feel great.

It is the week leading up to my 49th birthday (holy shit when did that happen). This is a week of promises to myself, covenants of self-love, self-respect, and devotion. It’s also a week of awareness, seeing what’s going on, noticing the patterns, and gently moving in the direction of love because that’s the only direction this body and I want to go.

Facing the Music

I have a phone call with a master coach today.

blank-branding-identity-business-6372It is a follow-up call for training I received.

I am dreading this call.

I am dreading it because I am ashamed.

I am ashamed at my “lack of progress.”

I am ashamed that I haven’t put all of her teaching to good use.

I am afraid of admitting that I am unsure what I’m doing and why.

I am afraid of facing someone I respect with my interpretation of the current facts.

There are so many parts of this story that are wrong (and I hear you being oh so kind about them – don’t worry my self-abuse is temporary and not terminal), including the voice in my head, the old adolescent voice, who is so afraid of facing the truth that she is desperately trying to reposition. “I didn’t do these things because… I couldn’t do them because…”

Excuses.

And I say that not like a personal trainer might while urging me to go to the gym (not gonna happen, BTW). I say that as the wise woman who sees that repositioning is merely a distraction, an attempt to dodge the point, a failure to learn the lessons by avoiding the truth of the matter (which I’m not entirely clear on and that’s okay).

There are things I have not done.

I can sit here and fight with that and simultaneously feel ashamed OR

I can accept that I have not done these things – it is past. I cannot do them all by the time of my call. Those decision moments are behind me.

I can forgive myself, because really, what choice is there? I can keep beating myself up but that is not proving to give me any kind of result other than not being able to act for a new set of reasons. Forgiveness is the only choice that will create space for progress.

I can then pick up that list (color-coded even) and look at the items and be brutally honest about why they are untouched. What have I left undone and why? All answers are allowed without judgment.

I can get clear about the thoughts and feeling that are preventing me from acting.

I can take those to my master coach because really, like so many others, she only wants to help.

I tend to think of responsibility as meaning I do everything I’m supposed to do, but I think that there is more to it than that, because humans. None of us do everything we’re supposed to do, at least I haven’t met those people. And that’s because there’s an awful lot that goes into the determination of what we’re “supposed” to do.

There’s the whole part where that list gets made. Some of us are really good about being focused and clear during that part. Following our gut-level intuition, using our prior knowledge and experience, thinking about what it means to be love in the world, taking into account the hours in the actual day. Can you tell I’m maybe not so great at this part? Who can think of all of those things at the same time? I frequently rely on some interstellar guidance at those moment because good grief my emo-intellectual cosmic calculating spreadsheet only has so many columns! So that list is the first place where slippage can happen because sometimes the things that make on the list don’t belong there. Sometimes things that do belong on the list get left off. Sometimes we lose the list.

blur-close-up-handwriting-131979Where else does it get messy? Well, with the giant chunk that follows that – the execution. There is a bit of an intermediary step in prioritizing, but I’d say that falls prone to the same problem as I just described in the whole list-making phase. Execution is where the rubber hits the road, or where we stay in park. Maybe we’re in park idling, just not moving. Maybe we keep trying to go and the kids keep hopping in and out of the car needing assistance and snacks. Maybe we’re driving a few inches forward and then backing up, never really completing anything but dipping our toes into all of the items on the list. Maybe we’re just sitting in the damn car with the keys in our fist crying because we remember when we crashed. So many things can get in the way of execution.

Humans are messy. Doing things is far more complicated than it sometimes appears, and far more involved than we give it credit for when we beat ourselves up for inaction. To say that we are irresponsible when we don’t do it all seems unnecessarily judgy and mean to me. I think a human standard, one that acknowledges imperfection and complexity, focuses more on responsibility as being the moment when you honestly face what you have and have not done and what’s going on there; when you look at your decision-process and either make a new choice or sort out what’s going on in your head; when you let go of the crap that didn’t belong on the list in the first place and you add the things that you were crazy to leave off. That sounds responsible and real to me.

Or maybe that’s just a story I tell myself so I can get on with things. And really, that’s okay too.

What do you make responsibility mean? Do you use it as a weapon against yourself or do you let it help you grow? There is a choice there. Every day.

Saved from Perfection

adult-annoyed-blur-133021I’ve been beating up on myself pretty hard lately. Judging my business efforts, judging my personal efforts, judging my parenting efforts – it’s been pretty all-encompassing – which is usually a pretty good signal that it’s not really about any of that.

I have been measuring myself anywhere that I can and bemoaning, scolding, raging at the disparities between what I think SHOULD (oh, that word) be happening and what IS happening. I didn’t even really realize I was doing it. A few coach friends and my seminarian tried to tip me off, and I kind of got part of it – the ease up on yourself part, but I missed the point. This is the way that it works sometimes. Sometimes we need to hear a message many, many times before it really gets all of the way in. Those of us who are layered up (oh yes, like an onion) can take even more time.

This Sunday my minister preached on the promises and perils of utopianism. And while he was discussing perfection as a goal for society, he quoted another minister and the message got through. He quoted Elizabeth Nguyen who works for the Unitarian Universalist Association who said: “We are already saved from perfection.”

Now Ms. Nguyen was talking about our society, our culture, our country, our world and the point is that perfection is really probably not possible, because humans. Being who I am, I heard it on the personal level as well.

YOU, you are already saved from perfection…

Especially if what we’re talking about is a perfection that cries out for good behavior, excellent manners, well-dressed children and a spotless home; a thriving business and an engaged community presence; a committed adult relationship that is always supportive, nurturing, and fulfilling.

You are saved from perfection because humans.

Humans are messy.

Humans are complicated.

And so often, humans are scared.

Scared about what will happen when the jig is up and our imperfection is made plain,

Scared about what will happen when we don’t achieve the things we are striving for,

Scared that we will be left lonely and heartbroken when people see what’s inside.

But friend, you are already saved from perfection.

See, I know that you aren’t perfect like that. And really, if you think about it, you know I know it. We ALL know it. There are no secrets about any of us being “perfect” like that. We’re all onto all of it. And that endless effort to get closer to that kind of perfect, sometimes shoots us straight past the realization that we are already good, great even, that the “imperfect” way that we do things brings gifts that are unimaginable in a spotless house with clean children and an overflowing work schedule. When we keep aiming for that magazine perfect, we fail to see all of the ways we are already doing good, being blessed, having opportunities all around us.

How do we get there? How do we get to see all of that goodness? We have to stop being blinded by the perfect. How do we do that? We become, as Christina Pratt calls it, unseduceable. We become so grounded in our own values, our own sense of what is important, and so clear about who we actually are that we cannot be taken in by the glowing perfectionism that gets sprayed at us everywhere we look.

Sounds pretty good, right? How might you do that?

The first step is almost always the same. The first step is breathing. Breathing in and out slowly and letting the stress of chasing the perfect flow out of your mind and out of your body, releasing it. This is a really great step and can make everything a lot better, so it is quite tempting to stay there, especially because the next step is not quite so comfortable.

adult-close-up-eye-946727.jpgThe next step is to see what IS, to see ourselves, to know ourselves – to see who we actually are, which is glorious and perfect INCLUDING all of the flaws, idiosyncrasies, and individual quirks and tics; because of and including the “mistakes” of the past, our bad decisions, the things we’d love to go back and do differently; even with our scars and sore hearts and insecurities. We have to be willing to see all of that and stay with it long enough that we move from discomfort to acceptance, from self-loathing and self-criticism to self-love (or at least self-like).

And I say this is a step as though you do one thing and then you do the next and then you will be done with that, but those of us who’ve been active participants in this particular game know that cultivating self-acceptance and self-love is not a one-time deal, not a one stop shop. It is a practice, a devotion, a way of being in the world that becomes easier with time, but may never become completely reflexive.

back-view-backlit-city-847483But doing that, becoming more accepting of who you are will allow you to see what is important to YOU, what you actually believe in, what you want from this life, and how you want to be in the world. When you can accept yourself and figure out what you really want, the magazine version just really doesn’t matter anymore, at least not very often.

You are saved from being perfect, or at least you can be, if you choose it.

 

Behind the Self-Sabotage Curtain

I have a photoshoot scheduled for later today.

It has been many, many years since I had a photoshoot.

bass-guitar-blur-close-up-167483The last one was during the tail end of my professional musician era and included lots of guitars, sunglasses, and highlighted hair. I knew exactly who to be for that one. And no, this isn’t me, but my seminarian is looking for the shots from that day for our collective amusement.

The photoshoot prior to that was my wedding day: June 5, 1999. That photoshoot featured unseasonably warm temperatures (I think it was about 150 F) and humidity that would have made Louisianians (it’s correct, I looked it up) uncomfortable.

We (my female posse) spent time getting my hair and makeup just right and after about 15 minutes it really didn’t matter. The careful curls were gone. The skin was a little too shiny to be cute. There was dripping.

But none of that is the real reason that I’m approaching this photo shoot with some trepidation. The truth is that for many years I was THAT mom: the Mom who avoided being in the picture at all costs. My inner critic was so merciless that any picture of me was unacceptable.

And here I am thinking I’m on the “other side.” The inner critic has pretty much left the building, although she makes the occasional appearance.

And so in scheduling this photoshoot, I had hoped to be excited about it. I had hoped to really be looking forward to it. I had hoped to get a little giddy in preparation mode – really girl-ing out.

But I’m not.

I thought about buying new clothes for it… and waited… so didn’t.

amplifier-analogue-audio-306088I thought about making a hair appointment for it… and waited… so didn’t.

I thought about getting a mani/pedi (my guitar playing nails are long right now for some reason)… and waited… so didn’t.

So there’s something in there that’s making me screw this up.

There’s something in there that has gotten in the way of my making this as fun and special as I possibly could.

There’s something in there that has told me to tone it down.

And in toning it down, I have let the air out of the proverbial tires.

I have toned it down, and now it doesn’t seem like it will be much fun, or like such a great idea, and hey, it’s probably going to rain again anyway so maybe I should just cancel.

There’s a little cycle happening in there. And I didn’t see it until just now.

I felt it as I worried with my hair the last few days, in our endless rain with a chance of lightning and flooding weather. I felt a kind of inadequacy. “This is never going to work, so maybe I should just skip it. I will never be happy with these pics, so why go to so much trouble?” And so I didn’t go to any trouble. And now I’m stressed and grouchy and pretty sure that all of that is what’s going to be on my face. I’ve never been very good at making the face say something radically different than what’s going on inside.

I know what my friends would say. It would be something nice about me being gorgeous and it will be great. And that’s nice, but I’m not feeling it. I’m feeling like a frizzy headed poor planner who’s going to have to act like someone else to make a go of this thing.

AHA!!! I found it. Thank you for playing backboard.

I’m afraid I’m going to have to act like someone else to make a go of this thing, and I don’t want to do that anymore. I’ve done enough of that. I’ve done enough of that for a lifetime. It’s why it was okay to have a photoshoot in the armpit heat on my wedding day AND why I struggled to be in photos when my kids were young.

On my wedding day, there was no question of who I was going to be. I have always been myself with my husband, bless him. I wasn’t thrilled that I wouldn’t have a Pinterest perfect wedding picture, but I didn’t really care because I was there and I knew who I was and what I was doing.

When my twins were younger I was only one thing: really tired. And I didn’t want to be really tired Mom in the photos. I am in a few, and of those, I’d say 75% show really tired Mom. Like really tired Mom. I didn’t want more evidence of how I felt. I thought I’d have to be someone else to make a nice picture. I thought I’d have to act to have pictures that my inner critic could tolerate.

So there it is. Two pieces: my pictures have to be great (a thought) and I can’t be myself to get great pictures (also a thought). Well, no wonder I don’t want to do this.

What I am going to choose to believe is that I can be myself and be successful (including on my photoshoot).

What changes if I believe that? I relax (which means I’ll feel better and maybe smile without strain). I also remember that I hired a photographer to take a whole mess of pictures so we could be sure to get some shots that even I am happy with. As I believe I can be myself the worries of what to wear and exactly what to do about my hair diminish. Because no matter what I do on those fronts I will still be me, and I just need to remember that that’s okay, like really deeply, fundamentally perfect. Really.

What signals do you get when you’re engaged in a little self-sabotage? Do you procrastinate? Do you diminish yourself/your work/your talent/your beauty so that if the results aren’t what you want you won’t be disappointed? Do you tone it down and then find that you’ve let all of the air out of the tires?

If that sounds like you, I want to ask, what are you thinking? Not like what are you thinking in Mom voice as rhetorical question, but what are you thinking as in what’s the thought that’s at the bottom of that mess? Is it a fear of success or failure? Is it some notion of not being good enough as you are? What if you’re more than that?

coat-dancing-face-794062What if you are more than that and you’ve never had the chance to see it because of all of that toning it down? What would happen if you went full-volume?

I’m going to go listen to some music and pick out some clothes, both at high volume.

XO,

j

The Scorecard

I’m reading Shonda Rhimes’ The Year of Yes for a bookclub I’m in. I’m also, honestly, reading it because it speaks a lot to the rebalancing of my own personal yes and no distribution as mentioned here. Ok, I’m also reading it because it was finally so cheap on Kindle that I figured I would save myself the inevitable library fine and just read it digitally. (Are you deeply saddened to find out about my consistently poor library record?)

As I was reading, just before I allowed myself to doze off for a brief afternoon siesta, I read her description of The Mommy Scorecard.

The Mommy Scorecard is a thing I keep in my head. On it is an imaginary series of zeros and tens that get dished out by some imaginary judge-y bitch who looks an awful lot like me. The zeros hit the card when I fail: when I miss a recital because I’m traveling, when I forget that it’s my turn to provide food for preschool snack day, when we don’t make it to a birthday party because the introvert in me just can’t face the magnitude of all the social interaction.

She continues to talk about The Mommy Wars (where women argue over what the BEST way to parent is in excruciating detail) and she caps it with this: “The only mommy I am ever at war with is me.”

Boom.

I had to breathe for a minute after I read it. This is one of my big bugaboos. I’ve been working on it, but it’s, well, BIG so it’s going to take some time to unhook myself from all of the insane ideas I’ve fed myself about parenting, setting up nearly impossible to meet expectations even as I feel the pain of failing to meet the ones I set up yesterday.

Today I took a nap, even though I had work to do, even though I was resisting it with every fiber of my being, even though I didn’t want to need a nap. But I was SO tired. So tired I couldn’t think clearly. I gave the scant energy I had this morning to a client (and we got some amazing work done, BTW), and after that I felt like I was walking on marshmallows and thinking through syrup. Even if you’re a big sugar fan, you have to acknowledge that that situation doesn’t sound either pleasant OR productive. And the reason I’m so tired? Well, one of them anyway, is my Mommy Scorecard.

pexels-photo-531970My husband is away for January term at seminary in Chicago. He is in Chicago in January, so I’m pretty sure that’s adequate revenge for leaving me to hold down all of the forts. But the part of that calculus that I haven’t been paying attention to is what I do with The Mommy Scorecard when he’s out of town. I realized that I feel like I need to UP my game. I pay more attention. I interact more. I allow things that I don’t usually and sometimes they’re even things that get on my nerves. I set things aside that I would normally finish before I attend to my children. I try to cover all of the emotional bases. My Mommy Scorecard gets WAY more judge-y when Daddy’s out of town.

Yesterday I realized that my daughter’s recital rehearsal falls on the day that I am leaving for Dallas for a quick professional development trip. I tormented myself for a couple of hours in bed trying to figure out how to make it work, who I could ask for help and if that wasn’t really too much to ask and I should really be the one doing this, after all didn’t I miss the rehearsal (not the recital mind you, the freaking rehearsal) LAST year? My Mom is staying with the kids, but she won’t want to do that and it’s a lot to ask to send her to the violin teacher’s house when it will be mobbed with people she doesn’t know and maybe I should ask my sister, but she’s already helped me this month and maybe we should skip it but then she won’t be prepared. I don’t feel so good. MAYBE I SHOULD JUST STAY HOME.

The looming zero on the Mommy Scorecard was just too horrible to face. As I’m writing this I still haven’t figured out what to do about the rehearsal, but I’ve not canceled my trip (deep breath) because that would be ridiculous. And while I wish my reason was better, more grown up, more enlightened, like my time is important, my needs are important, spending time on my coaching practice is important/fulfilling/heartfood, right now recognizing the ridiculousness of canceling is going to have to do.

Having gotten to the other side of the nap, which helped tremendously (thank you Amy English for urging me to sleep), I see what I’m doing to myself. I see how insane my standards are. I see how much time and energy I STILL put into making sure I’m doing things just right for them. And I have to ask myself when enough is going to be enough. What is it that I think will happen if I don’t do it all? What will it mean to them? More importantly I suspect, what will I make it mean about me?

Now I’m looking at the paragraphs above this one and seeing all of those highly charged run on sentences representing my neurotic scrambling and I worry for a minute that you will just think I’m nuts, but I’m going to publish this anyway because I KNOW I’m not the only scorekeeper out here in the big world. Maybe yours isn’t a Mommy Scorecard. Maybe yours is a Good Girl Scorecard, a Good Son Scorecard, a Great Employee/Team Player/Brilliant Colleague Scorecard. Maybe yours is more basic. Maybe yours is a Good Person scorecard.

pexels-photo-545016And I want you to know that I’m not suggesting that it’s terrible to strive to be a good ANY of those things. But when, oh dear lord, WHEN is enough going to be enough? When, in all of the millions of decisions you make every day, can you make the one that will allow you the freedom of just being okay, good enough, not bad, heck even sub-par and then just getting on with it? Will it be the imperfect meal you serve? Will it be the disappointing a parent by missing a family event? Will it be the B+ work you turn in (and are later surprised you got an A- and no scorn at all)? Will it be the time you DON’T volunteer to pick up all of the pieces? Will it be the silence you allow at a meeting when you COULD be solving all of the problems single-handedly? What would happen? Can you let it go? Can you let it be? Can you let yourself off the hook – maybe even only because you know hanging on is ridiculous? What would it feel like to believe you’re enough without getting ALL perfect scores? From one scorekeeper to another, I want to tell you that getting a full night’s sleep is well-worth the attempt.

Concerning Resolution Bashing

I’ve seen a lot of memes out there… I could probably start many different blog posts with that same phrase… I’ve seen a lot of memes out there taking a poke at the idea of making a resolution or starting afresh in the new year. And I get it.

pexels-photo-221247I think I’ve probably been in the resolution bashing camp in the past. I’ve decided it was silly to make myself a promise of change just because the calendar says it’s time to and when I know that in the past those promises have worn out by mid-February. So I get it. I get that hearing someone declare that they’re going to be a new person in the new year makes some folks roll their eyes and maybe even utter a chuckle or a sigh. I get that we know that those kinds of promises can be hard to fulfill. I get that so many of our good intentions don’t turn out the way we want them to. I get that seeing someone rearing with enthusiasm we don’t feel can be uncomfortable. But really?

Are we really against the idea of someone deciding to try to change, even if it’s never worked before? Are we really wanting to mock someone who’s trying to improve themselves? Are we so sure that you wouldn’t succeed that we’ve decided the whole enterprise is ridiculous? I think there are lots of reasons behind this resolution bashing thing, but I can only talk about my own.

When I was a resigned resolution basher, it had everything to do with previous failures and being terrified of success. When it came to my weight I didn’t want to make a resolution because I knew my enthusiasm would wane in a few months. Why make a promise I can’t keep FOREVER? When it came to changing some of my habits, I decided that “I yam who I yam” (even if I don’t like it very much). When it came to taking some risks in my professional life, well, yeah, no resolutions there because that’s just WAY too frightening.

I’ve done some work on all of those things – without resolutions, and looking back at those moments from the other side makes me wonder if making a resolution is all about success. Maybe there are other things to be gained in that whole process. Maybe trying and failing is better than staying firmly planted exactly where we are. Maybe a resolution is an opportunity to force a little action, and sometimes a little action is all it takes.

pexels-photo-636243The truth is that this opportunity of celebrating the new year with a new goal is one that shouldn’t be missed. Maybe you’re not interested in buying a gym membership that you will only use for a month. But maybe you DO have a super secret goal, a tiny burning desire that you haven’t told anyone about. Maybe this moment in time when we get to start new things on a clean page of a fresh planner is a great time to ask yourself what you can do today to get just one step closer to that super secret goal. And then tomorrow? You can take another one. Maybe that’s all it needs to be. You don’t need to tell anyone. You don’t need to declare it on Facebook. Maybe you just need to say it to yourself so you can stop hiding it from your heart and from your amazing brilliant brain. Give that dream some energy and some air; maybe something can come of it after all.

Happy New Year Friends.

xo,

julia

Yes You Can

My son had his first piano recital yesterday.

He is NOT someone who relishes being in the spotlight, on stage, watched intently in any way.

It was a big deal.

As I watched him and the 24 other students perform, I found myself overcome with emotion many times, not just maternal pride, but something deeper, something that wasn’t just about me and my boy.

It think what I was sensing is all of the ways a GOOD recital reflects the best parts of our world, and I don’t know about you, but I could use a little reminding right about now of some of the best parts of our world, not so I can ignore the bad, but so I can remember WHY I care about the bad, so I can remember why hope and effort matter so much.

Life Lessons in the Recital Hall

1. Community Matters. We all know this, but sometimes we get so involved in our own stuff that we forget. We forget about the people who make some of our own stuff possible. When we arrived (early so he could see the room, get comfortable, maybe even run through his piece), the performance space had been completely rearranged and decorated to provide the best experience for performer AND audience. Tables were set up and decorated and treats arrived with each family so that everyone could enjoy something afterwards. It was festive, and it took work. Community matters.

2. There will most likely always be someone who is better than you. When we arrived yesterday, my son walked into the sanctuary of the church where the recital was held to find a very advanced student warming up on her piece. He had hoped to sit at the grand piano for a minute to see how it felt, but quickly lost his interest in playing anything after she was finished. He didn’t want to be compared to her AT ALL. He was already doing enough of that himself. He didn’t tell me so, but I know he was afraid that all of the other performers would be more like her and that he would be the only beginner.

There is no shame in being a beginner3. You are never the only beginner. What he discovered when a family friend (who also was there supporting a performer) clued us in to the other piano in a more private location where he could practice is that he was far from the only beginner, and perhaps more importantly, he was not the oldest beginner. The recital featured students of all ages at all stages in the learning process. It is much easier to be kind to ourselves as beginners when we remember we are not alone.

4. Everyone makes mistakes. Of the 25 or so pieces that were played, I think there were 2 in which there were no mistakes I could discern. All of the students made mistakes – different levels of mistake, but mistakes nonetheless. And you know what happened? Not a darned thing. Nobody asked them to step away from the piano. Their teacher did not get frustrated. Their parents did not shame them. They had the grace of the group to handle their mistake and finish the piece they had prepared. The audience cheered for everyone because everyone makes mistakes.

5. A corollary: being perfect is not the point. When students prepare for a recital, they are sure that the point is to play the piece flawlessly, but I am pretty convinced that this is not the point at all. The recital offers an opportunity that is far greater, far deeper, far more important for the development of the self and the soul than playing a piano piece perfectly. The point of the recital is to share yourself, and to do without being deterred by fear or flaw. The point of the recital is to take a moment to acknowledge growth, development of skill and to grow and develop as a human by keeping fear at bay and getting to the finish line no matter what. Being perfect was never the point.

6. It is never too late. My son was so sure he would be embarrassed by his beginner status ate the ripe old age of 10. Amongst the students yesterday were several adults. Some were very advanced. Some were not as advanced, but they reminded us all that it is never too late. It is never too late to try something new. It is never too late to improve a skill. It is never too late to spend time on something that fills your heart. It is never too late to share yourself. It is never to late to have another chance to put fear in its place and go through with your plans as you made them. It is never too late.

7. The audience wants you do well AND wants you to feel good. They want you to do well, but not really because they don’t want to listen to poorly performed music (although there might be a little of that). They mostly want you to do well because they want you to have a good experience. They want you to feel proud of yourself. They want you to have concrete evidence of the growth and courage that they see when you walk to the front of the hall. The audience even loves you, not just your parent. They are all holding you in hope and compassion as you take that risk.

I know that a recital is not the world at large, that a smaller group of people with similar interests might be different, kinder to one another, special, but isn’t it possible that these things are or CAN be true everywhere, especially if we look for it, if we don’t imagine that they’re not true or only notice when people behave badly?

Just do youIsn’t it possible that there is a safe space in the world for you to share yourself, to acknowledge what you’ve been up to, to give of yourself, to set fear aside and just do the thing so we can all cheer for you?

I’ll be the one in the front row with an inappropriate noise-maker and glittery signs.

Go do that thing.