by Conlee Ricketts
I’m sure most of us can point fingers and blame someone guilty of taking us for granted at one moment or another across our life. That isn’t what this is about.
I was dissecting the phrase “taken for granted” the other day over and over in my head as I have a habit of doing. There are so many things that I simply had the assumption of “continuous presence” in my world. I had an expectation of permanence. A completely unrealistic expectation that is so obvious on the surface, yet I clung to the expectation blindly without question, and I neglected to enjoy something or someone or some moment. I neglected to savor it, say thank you, smile and breathe.
What started this was visiting friends and watching the couple who had been together for maybe ten years or so navigate the kitchen of their home, talk, joke, roll eyes, misunderstand one another, be irritated, laugh, brush shit off, and move on to the next task.
I was envious.
Had I ever had a relationship like that in my life? Of course I had, but I don’t now, and I think I took it for granted.
When I was in high school, my mom told me, “All relationships end.”
She was very matter of fact and followed up with, “It will happen at some point no matter what; the longest relationship with anyone ends with death of course.”
She wasn’t sad, she was just being realistic, stoic, no nonsense, basically her charming self. Not that I really want to argue with her now, and yes our physical relationship did “end” with her death 20 years ago, but that was just the physical in-person relationship. She is still around in my emotional and cerebral world so, as expected, and not at all surprising to anyone who knew us….we disagree :-)
I’m pondering the words of wisdom I want my daughter to remember, and I am leaning heavily toward appreciation. Appreciation of the presence of anything in the moment it is present. Beginning with a list of a few things I took for granted back in the day:
I want my daughter to attempt to appreciate her moments now while she’s in the middle of them. Her joy and her pain while still in high school. I want to tell her to “enjoy” any heartbreak that might come her way in the next ten years, as well as the love that she thinks will never come her way; to enjoy the friendships, laughter, and drama that is part of the everyday. Because these next ten years or so will be when she is most likely to truly feel everything the deepest. I don’t want her to take any of that joy or pain for granted and assume she will have an endless supply of these intense experiences throughout life. While we continue to have experiences throughout life, the good and the bad, the way they feel in intensity changes over time. It's just the way the brain is wired to "grow up." The deep, raw feelings she experiences now are at a level that her brain will grow out of over time. If she's in love, she's IN LOVE. If she is hurt and disappointed, she is HURT and DISAPPOINTED. If she is pissed at Mom, believe me, she is PISSED AT MOM.
How will I handle these extreme ups and downs of joy, pain, happy, sad? For starters, I won’t take these moments with my daughter for granted. If I’ve done my job well, she will be ready to navigate the world without me in a few short years. Next, I will do my absolute best to be the person that I needed when I went through all of that: quiet, open-armed, without judgement, and un-angry. “Un-angry” is such a rough, unpolished word, but I just remember a lot of anger during my high school years—both from me and towards me, and it was difficult to navigate. I am 50% of our relationship equation, and I have learned that not engaging with the anger typically will result in the quiet comforting mother/daughter hug that I had always wanted from my own mother.
There are certainly things I miss in my life, and sometimes I think it isn’t the “thing” but the “intensity of the thing" I miss the most. Yes, I took people, places, things, and feelings for granted and was certain they would “always be available.” My goal is to enjoy things again. I will enjoy what I have while I have it, and if I can, I want to help my daughter do the same now while the intensity exists to create a habit of appreciation and understanding.
Art work by Mary Anne Radmacher. Author, Artist, Actionista I Adore!
I am ending day three of re-organizing, cleaning, examining, thinking, and discarding in my writing and creating space. It’s an “office” but I like to fill it with promise and hope of the great creations to come; creations of all kinds –both the written word and the messy artsy kind.
I think I’m going to need a day four or even five. I had saved a lot of “what if” kinds of things: what if I need this someday; what if my daughter could use this for school; what if I have a great yard sale. The new sidewalk construction in front of my house has sent a clear message: NO YARD SALE, so I hauled three big boxes to Goodwill today. That created about four square feet of new floor space.
Piles of old receipts, tax papers and other stuff from 10 to 20+ years ago have all been shredded. I set up my shredder the kitchen. Every time I went out there for water, snacks, making lunch or dinner, or to let the dogs out, I stood and shredded pages. I had to pace myself so I wouldn’t burn out the motor on the shredder. There was a lot of paper! It feels great to release all that paper. There’s no reason to hang on to those documents of some younger married woman living a life I don’t even recognize anymore.
I threw out a stash of cards and notes that were a piece of my life I no longer want hanging around. At the time they were saved because I cared. Now I don’t. That sounds brutal but having those memories around now only serves to remind me of something I’m actually humiliated by, so discarding them gives me permission to release the humiliation as well.
I also found a stack of letters my daughter had written me. It was refreshing to read her perspective on our life and my mothering skills. Apparently I “give her so many wonderful things” and I am “the best Mom ever!” I will accept that endorsement. I saved this little stack as my mini pep talk whenever I beat myself up for not being a better, richer, prettier, skinnier, more successful…etc. mom. You get it.
So many times my fear of lack or my fear of never having enough to offer her gets in my way of remembering that the only perspective of childhood she has is hers—and that’s the only perspective that really matters to her. What my parents were able to give me is completely irrelevant to her. She could care less because my childhood was an ancient time of dinosaurs and cavemen—it was 1965-75 after all.
I can see the floor once again and now I have those tiny stacks I didn’t know where to put to tackle tomorrow or the next day. I even found a great place for that outdated, ridiculous, Jenga tower of music CD’s that has been nervously stacked on top of a two drawer filing cabinet for 13+ months. I hated that tower, mocking me whenever I opened the drawers, threatening to fall on me.
The site of my office, which I couldn’t even walk into, had me near tears. I knew the only answer was to roll up my flippn’ sleeves, find the floor again, and get rid of needless shit and painful memories that met me at the door whenever I tried to get inside. I realize now that I was avoiding the work and not the pain. The “painful memories” really weren’t that painful. The problem (or pain) with some of the stuff that got tossed was the humiliation and shame I felt being reminded of the fact that I had made these mistakes here and there—either financially or emotionally, but I am on a journey to improve how I speak to myself. The rest of the world usually benefits from my kindness, generosity, and careful word choice long before I extend that love to myself. So my trip down Shame Lane was more gentle than usual. I think it’s because I believe that I keep some things because for some crazy reason or another I think I deserve this reminder as a kind of punishment for believing in the wrong person, or for being so “stupid,” or for making such a poor decision.
I no longer feel the need to be reminded of my past goofs. They no longer belong here in my room. I have learned many lessons from my past experiences; I licked my wounds long enough; I am ready to move forward.
Make room. It helps.
is for Respect
One of the three definitions of respect in the Concise Oxford English Dictionary is “due regard for the feelings or rights of others.” This is the respect I am offering today.
The primary definition (if they are written in a hierarchy) typically focuses on an admiration based a person’s qualities or achievements, but this is not where I place my attention today because I think I might neglect many people and things if I waited for them to impress me with a particular quality or achievement.
In fact I prefer to extend respect to others regardless of whether or not I agree with them, like them, or even know anything about them. The feelings and rights of others…a person’s right to maintain an opinion contradictory to my own…I respect that. I respect a person willing to disagree with me politely. I don’t like confrontation; I enjoy civil discourse; I love a good debate; what I don’t love is another person’s refusal to let me speak my piece. I will, however, respect the fact that they have different feelings, opinions, behaviors, or social protocol than I and then will then remove myself from the unpleasant interaction.
Because I respect you never means I need to continue to interact with you if I am no longer enjoying the interaction. Disagreeing with you doesn’t imply a lack of respect. Any behavior toward you that is mean, hurtful, malicious, or spiteful would demonstrate a lack of respect for your existence, and this is the kind of behavior I avoid because it literally causes me physical pain to witness these types of interactions.
Lately I’ve had many interactions that feel either confrontational to me or that feel as if I have been completely disregarded as being present in the room or conversation. I’m not a big fan of these feelings, but I realize they have something to teach me about how I interact with others. I will work on paying deep attention to others in order to feel less ignored, and I will work on listening intently to others in order to help myself feel heard.
I firmly believe “you get what you give” so I offer up my respect for the day to all the people, places, plants, and animals that I encounter. You deserve it.
is for Kindness
There is only one consistent rule in our house—be kind. Now I break this rule way more than I care to admit, but I am quick to apologize, point out my lack of sensitivity, and try to make it better as soon as I can. To be kind for one day is achievable but it is always the day I choose to focus on kindness that all the irritating crap (i.e. people) confronts me in order to test my resolve.
I think my focus on kindness in general stems from an awkward adolescence that consisted of a lot of insecure moments, a lot of being teased, a lot of not fitting in (and having it pointed out to me just for the enjoyment of others) as well as some all around just mean people doing their best to make me feel small and insignificant by maybe…say...yanking my sweatpants down in front of the boys P.E. class as they ran by.
All of this turned me into the all-around-root-for-the-underdog Queen of Empathy. As a child I watched The Charlie Brown Halloween Special every single year hoping that Charlie Brown would NOT get a rock and wanting to squeeze myself into the TV to be his friend and share my candy. I vowed that I would NEVER pull the football away from him if I ever got a chance to meet him.
The reason my teaching career primarily resided within the middle school years was my need to be a “protector” for anyone feeling awkward, intimidated, insecure, or vulnerable—which pretty much describes the entire early adolescent experience. My underlying need of course to make sure no one was ever treated like I had been.
I encourage empathy from my daughter as well, but I got lucky, she was already wired this way from the start so I can’t really claim that I “taught” her anything about being kind. I point out situations on TV or in real life where we can talk about how alone or sad or embarrassed someone might feel, and what I would do to make them feel better and she will add her own ideas as well. I also encourage her to notice kids at school that look lost or lonely to say a quick “hi” to if she feels comfortable doing that.
Being kind to someone else never implies that we have to be “besties” it implies that I value you enough to extend my best behavior, and hopefully they will return the favor. I’m just hoping that if I remember to be kind, hold my acid tongue, and not feed into anyone’s lack of kindness then my overall area of existence will start to become a better place for me, my daughter, and anyone willing to visit my corner of the world.
I’m hoping that my kind corner of the world will touch all of your kind corners and then we can each breathe a giant sigh of relief.