Building Trust

This weekend I did something that was really hard for me.

I took my kids to the march on Washington.

My husband is out of town, and couldn’t be with us, but my church chartered fancy buses and when I realized I could be with a big group, I decided that we would go. The kids wanted to go. They felt strongly about it (although in retrospect they really didn’t know what that being there would look like). I wanted to support their participation and I certainly felt that it was important for myself.

pexels-photo-93490But the crowd thing. That’s a tough one for me. I’m an introvert by nature, so really groups of more than like 50 are really never on my short list of great places to be. I also am SERIOUSLY sensitive about noise, people accidentally touching me or bumping into me, and just the energy of ALL THOSE people. This is just me. I completely and totally accept all of my unique unicorn-ness.

Knowing these things about myself helps me make good decisions, AND it helps me to make difficult situations just a little bit better.

Because let’s face it, I could have just decided not to go. I could have decided that it would have been too difficult for me to provide good parenting for my kids when I would be a little energetically impaired. I could totally have decided that. OR I could have decided to just gut it up. I’m going to just do it and be miserable and push through.

Thing is, I didn’t do either of those things. I decided to go, but to make sure that I was making that just a little bit better. How did I do that?

It started with that decision to ride the chartered bus – no long drive and parking nightmare in DC, no mob scene on public transport, no traffic jams. I then made sure I was going to be on the same bus with my sister and her family. More adults who love my kids in a mob sounds like a perfect setup. We also joined forces with another family while we were there and it was so HELPFUL. Huge high five to Elaine Gleaton who co-navigated the whole getting the kids to the port-a-johns and then losing our group and finding our way back to the buses thing… tangent.

That wasn’t all I did. I made sure I wasn’t going to be cold, because I really, really hate to be cold. I also made sure my kids dressed reasonably so they would also not be cold and whiny because I am not always super compassionate in response to whining. I wore clothes that made me feel comfortable in my own skin. I wore a little jewelry that made me feel plugged into myself. Bits and bobs that had special meaning, like talismans of connection and protection. I packed a lunch so that we wouldn’t have to add to whatever else might be going on by relying on street food and whether it was easy to get to or whether or not they would have ANYTHING my daughter would actually eat. I packed water bottles and snacks, and a deck of cards because I always pack a deck of cards.

I attempted to get a good night’s sleep, but was foiled. I also took a little bit of a supplement that is calming to me as we got onto the charter bus. I did everything I could think of to make myself as comfortable as humanly possible. I took excellent care of myself and my little people.

And doing all of that made it all a little better. I discovered some more tricks that I will remember for the next major crowd scene. I do best when I face the other people I love in a crowd, so instead of facing the Jumbotron, I just listened to the speeches. Really, that was more than enough and it felt good to me to be looking at my people instead of the screen and the backs of hundreds of thousands of heads. This also allowed me and the other parents to create a bit of a circle that we put the kids inside of so that they would not be bumped into as regularly. Adults are better at holding the physical space claim than slim 11 year olds.

It sounds like a long list I’m giving you, like I’m prepping you for your own protest with kids, but that isn’t really what this is about.

blur-body-care-161608What this is really about is me making a decision and then being really honest with myself about what parts of that decision were really going to challenge me, me honoring my own tendencies and my own needs in as many ways as were humanly possible. What this was really about was both not allowing myself to miss out on something really important AND actually doing what it took to make it okay to be myself in that situation. It was okay to be an introvert and stand with nearly one million other people. It was okay to take my kids to an event like that. It was okay for the whole thing to jangle me a little bit because I can and DO take care of myself. I can and DO treat myself as one of my loved ones.

See how that works? Being honest about what the challenges would be and taking care of as many of them as possible was like a signal to my sensitive self that she is heard, she is cared for, and there really is an adult up in here who will make sure she is okay. There is someone who wants things to be just a little bit better, even when it’s not an ideal situation. That message is so calming, so soothing, and so confidence-building. I can trust myself. I can trust myself to take care of myself and my kids. I can trust myself to do what’s right and not let it kill me. I can trust myself to make good decisions small and large. I can trust myself and that scared girl who’s in there and gets rattled by events like the rally on Saturday, she sees that and takes a deep breath and says: “Thank you.”

Better Mornings Guaranteed

I’ve noticed something.

Every time I don’t get enough sleep I greet the day with the same thought: “I have SO much to do.”

It’s not the mother of all negative thoughts to be sure, but it is not a good way to start the day.

I’ve talked about the way this one affects me before, but for those of you who are new to my little corner of the universe, I’ll give you the short version.

startup-photos-5When I think “I have SO much to do,” I get anxious. I feel nervous and flustered and nothing has really even happened yet. Then I get grumpy about some of the normal everyday person stuff I have to do that is keeping me from getting to the looming list. The next bit can go a couple of ways, I can grump at people or I can kind of spin, not really being productive and just feeling generally overwhelmed. There is usually some digital time wasting in there too – not sure exactly how that happens, but I suspect it’s just my attempt to buffer the discomfort of the anxiety or the self-judgment at my grumpiness.

Yep, it can get complicated up in here.

So when I don’t get enough sleep, this is how my day starts. And I’ve noticed this because of a practice that I do in the mornings.

coffee-cup-desk-penI got this particular tool from Brooke Castillo, but other folks (including Julia Cameron) recommend similar practices. When I’ve gotten a cup of coffee or tea and have made sure the young people are tended to, I sit down and do what Brooke calls a “thought download.” It’s a free-write. I just write whatever is in my head for let’s say 10 minutes. I use a nice clean sheet of paper and a pen that feels comfortable (arthritis in the hands makes tool choice important) and I just write down whatever is going on in my head. I just transcribe it. I don’t try to make it pretty. I don’t choose my words carefully. I don’t repeat phrases for emphasis. (See what I did there?)

The immediate impact of those actions is that I feel a little relief if there’s something going on up there that is negative or not helpful. And I chalk that up to the fact that I am listening. The internal chatter, even when it is stupid and ill-informed, really wants to be heard and it will get louder and more urgent if we don’t attend. So writing it all down is a form of listening: listening to my most primitive self, listening to my least mature self, listening to the really bratty sometimes angry sometimes sad part of myself. Being heard allows the message to soften. As I’m writing I sometimes laugh a little because it seems so ridiculous as I actually give voice to all of it. And the laugh isn’t one of judgment; it’s not sarcastic and nasty. It’s more of the kind of laugh when a child has done something totally predictable and silly that you KNOW they will grow out of soon. A little shake of the head: “Of course you’re thinking that.”

The secondary impact of taking a few minutes to write down what’s going on in there is that I get to see what thoughts are rumbling around in there and when I find ones that are really giving me trouble, I can challenge them. “Is that really true? Is it absolutely true? Does it make me feel terrible? Is there something I could believe that feels better and is just as true or truer? What do I want to believe to have this day be what I want it to be?” It sounds like a lot, but when you do it over and over, it really isn’t. And it works. It creates the space where you can make some choices about what you are thinking so you can decide what kind of day (or at least the next half hour) you are going to have.

The long-term impact of this practice? You get to see patterns. You get to notice what your go-to crappy thoughts are and you get to notice what makes them pop up. Seeing the pattern of bad sleep/anxious thoughts allows me some space from it. It reminds me to get better sleep for one thing, which is something I can always use, but it also creates some perspective, some distance from those icky anxious thoughts. “Oh, that’s just that thing that happens when I don’t get enough sleep.” I see you tired brain. I see you bumbling around and making a mess, throwing a really clumsy tantrum. I see you.

When we know what some of our go to icky thoughts are they become so much easier to manage. They’re like irritating old friends. “Yep, here you are again. I figured you would show up. Man, you are really persistent.” It’s much easier to think something different when you see a thought that way instead of thinking that it is THE TRUTH.

What thoughts are getting in the way of your good mornings? What would change for you if you just wrote them all down? If you give it a try, I’d love to hear how it goes.