by Conlee Ricketts
I’ve been talking to my mother a lot lately. Wandering from kitchen to living room to bedroom to bathroom. Asking her if it’s normal for the 51 year old body to betray you so much—even without cancer. I laugh out loud comparing the shitty things I said to her, to the random ostracism I receive from my daughter about to exit her first year as a “teen.” My daughter’s firm belief at one moment that I have no clue will flip to her needing to be stuck to me like Velcro. Then in the span of a day there is a loud ripping sound of the Velcro as she snaps ferociously at me for something she didn’t mind less than 24 hours ago.
It’s all normal. I don’t get my feelings hurt (that much) anymore. She has to pull away, she has to solve her own problems, she has to stand on her own, she has to fail, she has to succeed, and she has only one way to do that—with her intellect. What that looks like is that she points out my flaws, she criticizes me, she rolls her eyes, or glares, or heavy sighs, and she isolates herself behind the YouTube videos, homework, and books. It will be okay; I know she will come back to me.
It makes me wonder though. It makes me think about my mom a lot, and how I “see” her in my mind, how I remember her. My mind holds three distinct women: the 70’s mom who looked like Mary Tyler Moore to me; the 80’s mom who I remember as Maude, and the 90’s mom before she died that looked like Jane Fonda does now. The mom I remember, who visits me in my dreams, mostly resembles the mom I had in the 70’s. Free spirited, creative, firm and frightening at times, a little cold but also loving enough to sew doll clothes for me. I understand that version of mom much better now, and those clothes she sewed have become a memory that ties together the mother I had with the mother I think I had. It turns out she was absolutely doing the best she could.
I wonder which version of me my daughter will remember. The picture that will reside in her mind. The list of words she would come up with to describe me, what would those be? I’m sure it will depend on how well she knows herself, because if she were to make a list right now it might actually reflect more of the insecurities she has about herself and her overall life. She sees me as “fake” sometimes. I see myself as socially awkward, and trying to be friendly. She sees me as annoying. I see myself as doting. She sees me as embarrassing. I see myself as hilarious. She sees me as frustrating. I see myself as creative and perhaps overly helpful.
The beauty of all this, and the painful part I guess, is that she won’t appreciate all these things about me until she successfully separates from me and finds her independence as a woman. Then she will understand that the crazy, erratic, worrying lady that dotes, asks too many questions, and is socially awkward, is also a woman who has experienced love, pain, joy, defeat, shame, sadness, redemption, and so many other things both wonderful and horrible.
I used to think my parents protected me from their humanity, but I think it is really more of the fact that as a child and adolescent, we really can’t see our parents as fully human. We are so self-absorbed and worried about what is going on with us that parents are simply supporting characters in the movie of our life. The fact that my mom had “things going on with her,” during my entire childhood was completely lost on me. As I guess it should have been; I was a child.
But, I can say that I now understand why Mom cried when she broke the “scrambled egg bowl” that was her mothers, why she felt under-appreciated, why she wanted me to be able to take care of myself, why she had regrets, and why she took charge. I understand the layers of her life that kept her emotionally distant from everyone, what made her furious, what made her laugh, what caused her pain, and what brought her joy. So much of the time as a child I thought I caused all this, that I was somehow responsible for evoking all these emotions in my mom. That is the purest example of the egocentric nature of children. Our parents spend so much time caring for us that we simply believe we are the center of the universe. The truth however is clear to me now; I was not responsible for my mother’s humanity—she was. Her past, her life experiences, her choices, her movie. Her history shaped her actions and reactions, just as mine has shaped me, and my daughter’s will shape her. There are countless things my mom would have protected me from if she could have, and I would do the same for my daughter, but I can’t, just like my mom couldn’t for me.
So, I will suit up with my emotional armor and enjoy this ride called Motherhood, because while I didn’t get a chance to tell my mom that “I get it now,” I know that someday my daughter will get it too, and she will be a better person because of it.
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.
I laughed when I searched “single-minded.” The Merriam-Webster On-line Dictionary gave me these fun words:
· determined, devoted, tenacious, having only one purpose, goal or interest
BUT scroll a bit more and it says that “Related Words” are:
· bitter, cocksure, hardened, pigheaded, and rigid
Talk about words for some self reflection!
The phrase “single-minded single mom” came to me in a flash and for some reason I liked it, even though I have problems with the two halves separately--together they are me.
The phrase “single mom” has always rubbed me the wrong way, and—being brutally honest here—I have never used it once over the past five years—ever—probably because I felt that using it somehow publicly announced a failure on my part. So I have stubbornly refused to describe myself this way. One reason was because of my previously mentioned “failure” announcement feelings. The other reason is a crazy self imposed belief that people would perceive my using it as way of screaming “poor me” while subtly asking for support, or pity, or a pat on the back for “making it work” all alone in the world, and I didn't like thinking that people might assume I needed pity for my “struggle.” My view has always been that everyone has to “make it work” and how you do it has very little to do with a marital/parental status. In fact I may even be struggling less now than during other chapters of my life.
But I love all words because of their beauty as descriptions not labels so I knew I had some thinking to do. Yes—I am a mom; I am unmarried; therefore I am a single mom.
So in the past I resisted, but I’m okay with it now; it describes me, it doesn't label me or define me.
What about single-mindedness? Yes, I’m determined to find my way. I’m devoted to my growth and my child. My interests are happiness, creativity, and love in all the varied forms they show up.
Whoa—what about those related words? Believe it or not this required less inner work than “single mom” did because I accept my truth; I humbly admit to personifying each of those related words at one time or another.
When I am rigid it’s because I’m afraid.
When I am pigheaded it’s because I’m afraid.
When I am bitter, cocksure, or hardened, it’s because I’m afraid.
Each of those results from a much larger fear that rests inside. Excavation, exploration, and honesty are my only tools to provide comfort for these fears. Working with these tools is where I am today. The quest for happiness and joy is my path.
Choosing to be happy takes practice after years of old habits of self-loathing, feeling broken, lost, and inadequate, but it’s possible, and I am “determined” to walk that path of happiness, creativity, and love.
My daughter popped this conversation on me about a month ago and it really made me reflect on my choices while I walk this path, because I want my daughter to walk this path too before her path might harden with inner negativity like mine already had. I know that my choices influence her life by my example and my words. Thinking before I speak is a skill I sometimes forget to use, but thankfully at moments like these I speak slowly and choose my words carefully.
“Is there something you want me to be?”
“What do you mean?”
“Do you want me to be anything?”
“Oh…well…as corny as it sounds, all I really, really want for you is to be happy.”
“Oh c’mon. Parents always want something from their kids. A lawyer, a doctor, or something for them to be in the future.”
My daughter clearly thought I was bullshitting her; although she would never actually say “bullshitting.” She’s not so thrilled to have a sailor for a mom.
“Well, I have to admit when you were younger I wanted…or thought maybe that you would be an artist of some kind because of the way you use your hands and the way you draw. But I've changed my mind—now all I want is for you to be happy. I want you to choose whatever it is that makes you smile. I can tell you what I don’t want though.”
“I don’t ever want you to stay in a job that makes you unhappy. I don’t ever want you to stay in a relationship that makes you sad. I don’t want you to make a choice that feels uncomfortable in your belly. Don’t let anyone make you feel less than you know you are, or stay where you feel unhappy, unloved, or uncomfortable. Long story short—I want you to be happy.”
I wish someone had said this to me when I was eleven.
So I have decided to embrace the title A Single-Minded Single Mom for me and my blog, and I am forever grateful for the phrase making itself known to me.
I’ve noticed that a few of my recent articles have been fairly serious and perhaps a bit heavy and emotional for some visitors. I wouldn’t call them “dark” exactly, but they follow the path of how I explore my reality, my self, and my purpose. I truly do write to learn about myself. It sneaks out through the pencil and then even more during the edits.
It may be comforting to know that I do not sit around in the dark--scotch on the rocks in one hand, cigarette dangling from between my fingertips with a twisted pained expression on my face--mainly because
A) Quality Scotch is not in my budget
B) I quit smoking because of my daughter
C) My face hurts when I do that, and my daughter says, “What are you doing?”
I live a “normal” life and I thought it might be refreshing to share a few random things about me, my thoughts, and my life.
1. Bananas: I recently read that wrapping plastic wrap around the stems helps them last longer. It WORKS! I am a slow banana eater--and NO, I don’t mean in the sexy, erotic, banana eating contest kind of way. It’s just that I buy small bunches, maybe four, but after day two I’m bored and need a break from all that “healthy” and they sit for a day or two. Then by the time I’m in the mood again for a banana they are all aged an soft--damn you metaphor--Yes, I just saw it--me and relationships. I told you; I learn a lot about myself while writing. These metaphors for my life just creep in. I digress. Wrap up the stems and they last longer.
2. Perimenopause: I’m in it. It’s a ride let me tell you. For both me and my daughter. My moods used to be fairly predictable. Normal week—irritated week—over the top, edgy, emotional week—happy week. So yes, I only had about 10-12 good days a month. Now I seem to stand outside my body and watch a Joan Crawford “No more wire hangers!” moment move into Gothel singing “Mother Knows Best” to Rapunzel, which might then switch to Julie Andrews singing “My Favorite Things” for my daughter during a tornado warning. This can all occur within an hour; my daughter just stares at me with this expression I haven’t quite named yet. It’s a mix between “Are you done yet?” and “Why does this keep happening to me?”
3. I signed my daughter up for the swim team because she was so excited about trying it this year--but I haven’t joined the pool yet. Do you think that’s a problem? I'm too embarrassed to call Parks and Recreations to ask.
4. I think I will grow out my bangs and just keep letting my hair grow down to my butt. I hear that once you pass 50 you really don’t give a shit what people think of you. Is that true? I might already be there. Thoughts?
5. I love moss. I also love that single day in spring when everything is that one shade of green that you never see again until the next spring.
6. I love love love The Carol Burnett Show!
I was a quiet obedient child. I would cram into my closet and secretly wish I could visit Mr. Tumnus in Narnia, and when I was alone I would talk to the imaginary studio audience and cameras filming my life as if my every move was on T.V. Back in the 1970’s long before “Reality T.V.” I was the star of my life.
I have found myself on a journey to rediscover that star. There just isn't a “right” way or a “fast” way to get there. So I sit; I write; I have a laugh usually at my own expense. It works for me.
I love noticing the crazy things my mind hangs on to. It’s really my ego that clings to certain notions, but I find watching what “she” does humorous. That’s why I enjoy sharing it. Perhaps we all do this sort of stuff, but understanding how my mind works and processes the difficult days is what makes me tick—and laugh—at myself.
This past month when I fill the coffee maker I keep reflecting on how my mind acted when my husband left—what rules I had for my behavior during that difficult transition. I’m sure my mind has gone here a lot lately because I’ve been thinking a great deal about all my relationships (past, present, and future) and my place within them.
After my husband left I would come home from work and clean the kitchen—a lot. It was the only area of my life at that time that I knew I could control. The very first night I knew he wouldn’t be returning I was very purposeful in my evening coffeemaker preparation. We had this awesome coffeemaker that ground the beans and started brewing before we woke up. Bean grinding had become my alarm clock.
I remember carefully measuring out beans and water for only half the pot. I told myself that there was no way in hell I was going to forget that I was alone and mistakenly make 12 cups—coffee for two. I though the ultimate punch in the gut of loneliness would be to mindlessly pour two mugs of coffee and then realize I was alone. Duh.
I search myself, my past, and my heart for the answer as to why in the world I was so hell bent on not letting myself slip up and fall into “married mode.”
All I know was I think I didn’t want loneliness to sneak up on me and surprise me. I wanted to keep it at bay—controlled—on my terms. Feel lonely at the appropriate Conlee-pre-approved moments—no other times. I had a daughter to take care of after all—her Kindergarten year to finish up—my group of 6th graders to teach—I was too busy to be lonely and stupid enough to forget that he was gone. My ego had it all under control and no amount of coffee could convince me otherwise. I was so funny.
The reality is that loneliness snuck in anyway and ironically—or not—it was usually in the wee hours of the pre-work morning while I drank my coffee—alone. My ego told me that I was okay though because feeling lonely was much easier to handle than forgetting I was alone.
This memory is over five years old and has resurfaced to teach me a lesson. Not about marriage or divorce because just last night the whole gang was here—me, daughter, her dad, his girlfriend (one of my closest friends) all watching Frozen, eating, talking, supporting each other, and laughing—a lot. It’s teaching me that surviving my difficult moments involves looking closely at my feelings and letting myself feel them, but to do that I have to let my ego play along by letting her set some of her ridiculous rules. I’m learning to keep her busy while I explore the new tidal wave of emotions that splash through my mornings over coffee.
Over the past three years I’ve entered a few essay contests. I haven’t won but on a personal level each is a huge victory.
This is another one of my losing essays. I proudly share them here basically for the same reason I write them—it makes me happy and it feels good. This particular prompt was to write about our most courageous moment—and once again my life doesn’t fit into the “all-or-nothing” experience.
I hope you enjoy.
As I look back over my life, it is marked by bravery. Each triumph is very different and more importantly no less brave than the triumph that lived before. I’m certain we each have such milestones. I am inclined to celebrate them equally.
In my first ten years I remember bravely grasping the handlebars of my shiny green bike, charging ahead, determined to ride over that enormous gravel pile left near the new house construction next door.
Bikes and gravel don’t mix—lesson learned.
Knees and palms bloody. I cried.
Ages ten to twenty I buried the secrets of abuse at the hands of people I had trusted. It followed me for years as I navigated life in silent torment.
I am a survivor—lesson learned.
Heart and soul betrayed. I cried.
Years twenty to thirty I watched my mother fight cancer. I sat with her as she spoke of her life, her dreams, and her wishes for my future.
Sometimes all you can do is be fully present for another human being as they retrace their past—lesson learned.
Inner child frightened and lonely. I cried.
Thirty to forty I watched my fifty-nine year old mother take her final breath and I sat for hours with my father in her presence as her soul lifted to heaven. I also had my first and only child six years later that she never got to meet. I was a motherless daughter wanting to call my Mommy and ask questions about my newborn.
Parenting is learn as you go, and you do the best that you can with what you have—lesson learned.
My heart filled with a new kind of love. I cried.
Forty to fifty I calmly watched my husband leave me, and I smiled every day in front of our six year old to show her that she would never have choose between her parents; that she could always be free to think of her Daddy as her Hero. Just like my Daddy is to me. I also left behind a twenty-three year teaching career to begin my own business. It’s not the spectacular success I dreamed it would be.
Sometimes the things you think are going to be so perfect turn out sad and disappointing—lesson learned.
My heart broken and my ego bruised. I cried.
Bravery or the price of being alive? Which is it? I can’t answer that without remembering something my Mom would say to me when I was little and things didn’t go my way, “Into each life some rain must fall,” and today I’m sitting in a torrential downpour. Hell, I’m feeling brave and impressed for just getting out of bed this morning.
Next year I will be fifty. Every day I wake up. I put my feet on the floor and I face the day. I smile as I pack a new 5th grader’s lunch. I know I need to find a new career—well any job really. I call my dad to say “I love you.” I talk to my Mom while I’m folding laundry. I forgive myself for abandoning my inner child, and for failing at a marriage and business. I still hate riding a bike.
Being alone in silence, learning life lessons, knowing when to cry, and knowing how to brush myself off and try again—these are the bravest things any one of us can do when we are given the beauty of another sunrise.
I think my mother was right; to be fully alive is the most courageous thing we do for our soul; rain or shine, but my favorite Longfellow poem this week is Loss and Gain because it is my anthem to bravery and to my decades of courageous living:
Loss and Gain by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
When I compare
What I have lost with what I have gained,
What I have missed with what attained,
Little room do I find for pride.
I am aware
How many days have been idly spent;
How like an arrow the good intent
Has fallen short or been turned aside.
But who shall dare
To measure loss and gain in this wise?
Defeat may be victory in disguise;
The lowest ebb is the turn of the tide.
For me mothering is a non-stop, learn-as-I-go adventure with no one to call for help. My mom died when she was 59. I was 32 and it would be another six years before my daughter Skye was born. I wish they had met.
I remember once sitting on my mom’s lap with my hands wrapped in hers—she looked down and said, “Oh God. These are my mother’s hands.” I didn’t understand the tone of her voice at the time. It was almost a mixture of matter-of-fact sorrow, resignation, and exhaustion. Nearly forty year later I finally understood—completely—as I stood flipping a pancake and there she was--her hand—holding my spatula.
My own reflection even surprises me these days. Sometimes I will pass a window and I will have to do a double take because I think my mom is staring back at me. It makes me laugh.
I am sad sometimes that my mom never got to meet my daughter, but I realize now that her hands have. It’s my mother’s hands I see holding Skye’s hand, or face, or brushing her hair. Folding her granddaughter’s clothes even; it makes me smile.
Mom died with typical regrets of not being a “better mother” no matter how much I would try to convince her otherwise. She did crazy little things that made me feel special. She sewed a box full of Barbie clothes, let me “run away” (to the basement), take apart my bed and put it on the floor, and leave my room a holy mess as long as I shut the door. She also taught me to finger paint on the glass top table, to bake, and how to enjoy summers on the patio.
I’m sorry Mom, but you aren’t remembered for putting me through college, although you did, or for the arguments we had during high school, or for any of those harsh words we may have spoken to each other. You will always be remembered as the woman who set up her own mother’s ancient sewing machine to make teeny tiny jackets, skirts, and dresses for my Barbie. It is all these little things that happened in the course of the days that are my lasting memories of “motherhood”.
Sometimes I even have a dream with my mom in it, and I get to watch her with her granddaughter; her face looks like the mom I had when I was ten—before grey hair, before cancer, before regrets.
As I hold my daughter’s hand I know my mom is here—I see it in my hands. She gets to be a part of Skye’s life by proxy. My hair is now turning grey, and I make mistakes, and Skye’s room is a holy mess, but I try not to have regrets. Thirty years from now, when my daughter notices her hands have started to look like mine, I pray she knows just as I have come to understand, that she has four generations of good hands holding her, guiding her, and loving her—always.
This article originally appeared on May 7, 2013 on The Brown Falcon and each year near Mother's Day it needs to be revisited by me, so here it is :-)
is for Zest
It feels like a hundred years ago, but one Christmas I got a gift from my grandmother wrapped in holiday alphabet paper: A is for Angel, B is for Bedtime, all the way to Z is for Zestful. I memorized that list that year and had my parents quiz me constantly. I recited the list so many times that year waiting for Christmas morning when I could finally unwrap my gift that my mom, dad, and brother also knew the entire list: R is for Rocking Horse; S is for Stocking.
My dad saved that paper and it became a Christmas tradition when the decorations came out to see if we could remember all the letters. My mom used to enjoy this the most. I can still remember her being the first one as the holiday approached to start the list, “A is for Angel…” she’d begin, “Let’s see…B is for…boxes?”
Over the next twenty years as would be expected the paper started to tear so my dad, able to find three A to Z panels, had them framed; one for me, my brother, and Mom. It was always a grand accomplishment if we could all collectively get to Z is for Zestful without any cheating and peeking at the paper.
The best part of still having my forty year old framed wrapping paper is the fact that although my mom died when she was just 59—a mere ten years older than I am today—I can still hear her voice prompting us all, “Let’s see… A is for Angel…” and laughing as we would all compete to see who came up with the next letter/word combo fastest.
So here’s a toast to me, my mom, my memories, and to anyone who has made it from A to Z with me on my 26 Days to Practice Peace for even a portion of the journey. I’m feeling a bit zestful having made new friends through your comments, and I have learned a lot about myself by reading those comments.
This was a wonderful month for me and I owe it to the people in my life and in my comments that helped me learn, grow, and get to this final letter.
is for Youthful
I’ve always attributed my youthful attitude to the fact that I spent 23 years around 10-18 year-olds trying to get them to love math by making an ass out of myself, but it may or may not be the direct cause. It could be a chicken-or-the-egg kind of relationship. Maybe my inner goofiness and childlike qualities made me perfect to teach math? Notice: I said childlike not childish. I just wanted to put that out there.
Maybe it's genetic. My dad is 87 with a mother who made it to 101. While he was here for a visit last month he said, “…of course I always feel like I’m 12.”
My dad is a very youthful 87 year old. Most people who meet him are shocked to learn his age. He only seems “old” when he’s sad, I can hear it when he calls me up to tell me about a death in the family or among his “contemporaries.” That’s what he calls his friends in the “over 50 community” where he lives—and even then they might be as much as twenty years younger than he when they die.
Like Dad, I don’t feel my age either; I don’t feel 49, but I also don’t feel like I’m 12. I think I hover somewhere between 20-35. My interior youthful feeling doesn’t always match my exterior abilities, like how my body reacts to jumping on the trampoline with my daughter. I don’t think that’s age though I think that’s my lack of exercise catching up with me, but what if it isn’t. What if I’m kidding myself and I really am getting old? Nope, not today.
I don’t spend a lot of time in front of a mirror. I probably max out at three times in a day; this isn't intentional but this may be helping me maintain the illusion of my youth. I enjoy playing with my daughter, being goofy, laughing, and just plain acting silly. I’m fascinated with how young I feel—inside. I think this phenomenon is amazing because when I do catch sight of me in a mirror I am almost always taken aback by my appearance. I see my mother looking at me which isn’t a bad thing; it’s just a shocking thing half the time. I am not expecting her to show up in the mirror; I’m expecting the version of me I see in my head to show up in the mirror.
Regardless of who joins me at the mirror I think playing, being goofy and silly, and not taking everything so damn seriously is the key anti-aging formula I bring to my beauty routine. I just need to remember to apply it every day.
is for Xanadu
The perfect place.
The word “perfect” doesn’t scare me. Using it doesn’t set me up for unrealistic expectations even with my perfectionist tendencies. I think it scares other people more than me because I find that people like to remind me “nothing’s perfect” or “perfection is overrated” as a way to comfort me when I use the word, you know, just in case. I don’t know why they feel the need to protect me, but I’m not even sure I completely agree that “nothing’s perfect.”
I learned about an exercise a year ago to help me visualize better and feel better. I close my eyes and try to experience how it would feel in everything in my life were perfect—and yes that is the word that was used “perfect.” If you know to whom to credit this exercise to, please let me know.
It’s a surprisingly easy and relaxing thing to do—to imagine how perfect feels. The key is the feeling of perfection not the seeing of perfection.
I did this for a few days—stopped—life got in the way—shitty—and I neglected my perfect. Then one morning after I sent my daughter off to school, and the silence was screaming at me, and I was beating myself up for being taken advantage of, humiliated, or betrayed—take your pick—I decided I needed to sit and feel perfection for awhile.
I sat down, closed my eyes, and let out a big sigh. As I was sitting there imagining the feeling of a perfect life I had an epiphany—the perfection I was feeling was the way I felt about my life right now. I am living a perfect life. My eyes popped open and I was smiling—my life is perfect right now—wow.
Perfection was a feeling--not the tiny house I rent, or the temporary feelings of sadness I had, or the balance in my bank account. It wasn’t the weather, the city where I live, the chipped china plates, nail polish stains in the sink, broken floor tiles, or muddy dog prints on my floor. I am in the middle of having a perfect life and it feels like peace.
The circumstances I find myself in will come and go and waiting for the perfect life isn’t necessary at all. It took me awhile but I get it—it’s not a place; it’s a feeling, and if I can tap into that feeling every now and again to remind me, then I get to experience perfection right now. I get to set down the hurt and anger and realize how great I have it right now—muddy dogs and all.
is for Wisdom whoops...Willingness
When I wrote “T is for Trust” I explained where my words came from and how I hadn’t changed any of them—until now, and I think it’s appropriate that my W word became “Willingness” because I needed to be willing to be flexible when it came to changing my word.
I was having trouble writing for Wisdom. I had an idea of what I wanted to share but it just wasn’t working. I was discussing my list and my W woes with my new friend and co-worker, Eric. Out of 72 computers in a room I was lucky enough to get the assigned seat next to Eric. My row of 6 people are wonderful, but to end up next to a person who is a Reiki practitioner and who offers monthly guided meditation circles can’t be any better sign from the Universe that I’m on the right track. He and his wife own Transformative Balance, LLC in Columbus, Ohio. I'm glad to have found this resource.
So Eric asks me, “Does it have to be wisdom?”
“Well...I wrote down my list of words months and months ago, and I’ve never changed one…but I guess it doesn’t have to be.” I could feel myself getting all bristly at the thought of changing a word--my word. I had already been so prideful about my list assuming each word had something to teach me.
“How about willingness?”
Ding, ding, ding, we have a winner. I knew he was right the moment he said it, but I sort of felt interior resistance for a moment about changing my word. It was a fast realignment inside and I realized that I had to be willing to change. Duh. Maybe this was Wisdom’s lesson for me after all. Stop being so frickin’ rigid, let others in, let someone else help, and for Pete’s sake be willing to do all of the above.
So keyboard and virtual paper in hand I will make a list of willingness with the BIG ONE first:
Willingness is the key to having any new experiences at all, or to making any changes whatsoever in the way things are going. I can feel it in my belly when I am unwilling—sometimes that’s a good thing; it’s a warning that I need to pay attention, but sometimes it’s just regular run-of-the-mill fear trying to keep me in my rut. Fear knows that getting out my rut would require a change, perhaps a new me, with new friends, and new ways of seeing the world, and that might make my old friends very uncomfortable, but I am not responsible for how they feel about me.
I am excited about my list and need to take some time with each of them, but all I really need to do for the traction to start getting out of my rut is to start using this phrase, “I’m willing to consider that,” and then see where it takes me.
is for Vision
My vision for the future is in major transition. In fact I think it would be very cool if I could “receive” a vision of my future, my life, my anything, just to give me a hint to know which way I should go.
I believe it's important to have a general hope for the future, a loose road-map for life, buy my problem has typically been setting those expectations of how it should go and being far too attached to the outcome. Most of the time the attachment to “my way” and the expectation of “should be” has led to deep disappointment in myself and my fellow man. So much so that I am now setting a course for a future that I am drawing a complete blank about.
I have my priorities: food, shelter, health, safe child, healthy pets, happy home, and comfy clothes (big unattractive pajama pants that make my butt look huge are the norm) but I have let go of my previous visions for my future. Nothing turned out as expected which is not a crime, it really isn’t even horrible, I am the happiest I’ve been in years, so my lack of precise vision isn’t troubling me too much. The pajama pants may be just a little, but not my lack of vision.
I think perhaps the best way for me to express what my true vision for the future has become is to be happy. Be happy—that’s it. I have learned that I am completely capable of doing many jobs, leading many people, organizing many projects, and solving many problems. I've done this in very different settings over the past 30 years and what matters most to me is the happiness I bring with me while doing these things. It's the people and the fun I remember from all those years, not the list of accomplishments or accolades.
In the process of losing my compass and the panic that followed I've had some seriously shitty days but laughter has finally returned to my world along with an appreciation of the smallest of things. Worry has subsided and my all time constant companion called Fear has been shown the door. Yes there are still moments of worry and fear but I am much better these days at holding an accurate view of what’s realistic worry/fear and what’s totally over the top outta my mind stupid worry/fear. This is a major achievement for me and my life, and I attribute it to my new and improved vision for my life—happiness.
is for Universe
I remember once when I was about eight, laying across my bed on my back with my head hanging over the side, looking out my window. The clouds were moving slowly; the longer I laid there and watched the more I felt as if I was the one moving, not the clouds. I felt as if I could feel the spin of the Earth through my body and suddenly I felt very small, but strangely powerful there able to hang on to my bed and not fly off.
For today I think I will place all my worries, fears, and insecurities in a box under the childhood bed in my mind, and remember how big the Universe really is and how small the items in my box really are. In comparison my lifetime is a blink and today is even shorter so setting aside all that frightens me for one day to simply sit back and enjoy the wonder of the Universe will be okay.
I will look closely at the things coming to life in my yard; I will listen closely to the birds singing outside my windows; I will watch my daughter when she isn’t looking; I will sit outside in the sun with my dogs; I will stare at the clouds and moon as the day ends.
I live in a magical place that contains so many things deserving of appreciation that I can stand to take a day off from my worries and appreciate how big my Universe really is.
is for Trust
The idea for 26 Days to Practice Peace came to me months ago as a list of 26 words flew through my fingertips onto a page in my notebook. I thought what a great idea to create something for people to work their way through for 26 days in the hopes that at the end there would be a subtle shift in their life from one place, maybe isolation, maybe stagnation, maybe scattered feelings to a place of comfort, focus, and confidence.
I made the list of 26 words in a matter of moments not really thinking about them at all. Then the list sat and sat and sat for a few months until now. I have never changed one of the words corresponding to its letter. I think the word that popped for me is a word that I myself need to spend a day with and spend some time getting to know and understand why it came to me on the list.
Trust is very much one of those words that needs some serious work on my part.
Lately I have given up the need to feel in control of my life and the direction it is taking. I tell myself that I trust the Universe to point me in the right direction to learn all that I need to learn. I just need to consistently show up each day dedicated to being the best version of myself, take what life offers, learn the lessons presented, and keep the faith so to speak. Trusting the Universe is a piece of cake for me; trusting my fellow man is where I am struggling.
Like everyone I’m sure, I’ve been let down by the people I know, the people I love, the people I trust. My problem is that after a few let downs I have chosen to withdraw and stop investing myself in trusting others. When people say they will do something for me my typical reply is “No thank you, that’s not necessary.” Why do I do that? Because over the years people I loved and depended on to deliver on their promises did not. It occurred to me that it was safer to stop asking for things—like help—because if I never asked I could never feel let down and disappointed by others.
A small example of this is a story I tell to demonstrate that “let down” feeling. It happened about 20 years ago around Valentine’s Day. I was asked by my significant other (at the time) what I wanted for Valentine’s Day. I said that if he really wanted to do anything at all for me it would be to take the dogs to get groomed. Not very romantic on my part, but it was a luxury I wanted to give my dogs and myself because this way I would have to bathe them. I reiterated how desperately I wanted this; I said I didn’t want any Victoria’s Secret (the typical gift) and if he really wanted to be my hero he would take the dogs to the groomers for me. When I got home from work on February 14th I found two lovely pink boxes from Victoria’s Secret on my bed.
These types of events are what I started to notice was a pattern of me asking for A and getting B in return. So I ultimately have stopped asking because I don’t trust people anymore. This is a dangerous place to live—not trusting others. My dog/under garment example is not a huge betrayal or let down in the grand scheme of things, but my loss of trust in others is a result of a series of these tiny events along with much larger and more painful series of abuses both emotional and physical, that have made me perhaps a little too stubborn and resistant to seek help or kindnesses offered by others.
I have decided to use this day to continue to trust that the lessons I need to learn will present themselves to me in ways that I can understand and resolve with little pain. I will work on learning to take people at their word and more importantly to not feel as though I am somehow to blame if they don’t follow through, and to not determine I wasn’t worthy of their follow through if they are unable to deliver, and to stop assuming that just because I may ask for a certain type of help in the form of A that perhaps B can’t be useful too.
It is okay to ask for help and to trust the people in your life, but if other people don’t behave in ways that we perhaps expect them too, well duh…that’s not really realistic in the first place is it? The only person I can control is me; I need to re-enter the world of trusting my fellow man and letting go of my expectations.
I will enter my day with a sense of trust that things will go exactly as they should, and if someone offers something I will trust that they mean it and hold only good intentions for me.
is for Service
A 24 hour period to be of service to anything and anyone in need is where today will take us. Look around to see where it is you can lend a hand. It’s true that helping others is really helping ourselves. Whether or not I get acknowledged for providing a little extra help has become completely unnecessary. I admit I used to want a little bit of praise for how wonderful I was to do this or that for you, but the more help I gave the less I wanted any attention. I grew out of it I guess you could say.
It is easier than you may think to find little ways to be of service. Picking up bits of paper as you walk the halls at work, throwing away the trash on the sidewalk you find as you make it from point A to point B. Opening a door for someone, sweeping the sidewalk, mowing the side yard shared with a neighbor, or letting some frazzled looking person ahead of you in line.
Simple things that might impact someone else’s day are acts of service. Exploring the extra things that need help getting finished around you might lead to exploring the larger things around you where you can lend a hand. Finding the time within your life to take part in larger service projects like neighborhood clean up, food banks, or animal shelters can seem overwhelming because of how busy your life feels. Finding that elusive time starts with finding the small bits of time within your current day that you can fit in some extra help. Start small perhaps by picking up a few extra things at the store when you’re shopping and dropping them into an extra box that you keep in your pantry, closet, or under a desk and when it gets full move it to the trunk of your car and when your trunk gets full of boxes drop them all at a shelter or food bank. Maybe look around your house and find a few belongings that sit and stare at you unused and longing to be useful to someone else.
You never have to leap into the deep end first thing if you don’t want to. Being of service to others becomes a habit if you start small and introduce the mindset to yourself with the little things. Remember that just because it’s a small act of service doesn’t mean it isn’t filling a giant need for someone else.