to have and to hold – thoughts on love and marriage

Sadly, my husband’s grandfather passed away last week. I didn’t know my grandfather-in-law very well. I had only met him a handful of times, so his memorial service was both a goodbye and a peek inside of who he was. His daughters and grandchildren did a beautiful job of telling his story, adding shape, colour and nuance to their memories of a man who had lived his life well. And on his own terms.

There was luminescent thread that weaved its way through all of the anecdotes: a love story that spanned two continents, a shared passion for dancing, proud ambition, 3 children, 14 grandchildren and (almost) 14 great-grandchildren. A 65-year marriage to a woman he called his ‘Daisy’.

Each story held this love at its centre, like a heartbeat. Not in the star-crossed romance of a Hollywood movie way. What I heard was that among the many accomplishments and successes of a man who’d lived on this earth for 85+ years, what his family most cherished was his love for their mother/grandmother.

I was especially struck by one sentence in particular: ‘If it was important to Mum, it was important to Dad.’ A lovely summation of a quiet, winding path of a life well-loved.

I watched his grieving Daisy closely as these stories were told. I was moved to my own tears by the sight of her grace and vulnerability on such a heartbreaking day. This was her story they were telling. It was her life they were honouring, too. But this isn’t the end of her story. Hers will go on after she makes the painful adjustment to waking up to a world without her partner of 65 years.  I truly cannot imagine.

As life would have it, my husband and I celebrated our 14th anniversary two days after his grandfather’s memorial service. These two events were too close together for an overthinking Pisces like me not to loop a metaphorical lasso around them to envision the sweet possibility of another 51 years of loving this man I married.

It’s not hard to imagine. He is extremely easy to love. But I probably don’t need to tell you that the day in, day out practice of sharing a life isn’t always easy. Sometimes we agree and sometimes we don’t. Sometimes he wants the very thing that I really, really don’t want. Sometimes what I want drives him nuts. 

Sometimes I want to kiss every inch of his handsome face. And other days, I want to smother him with a pillow in his sleep. As much as my ego rejects the idea, I’m sure that he’d like to give me a high-five to the face from time to time as well. 

We’re as prone as any couple to dwell in an ‘I want to be right’ posture. Some days it feels so good to be right. To go after an argument until he sees it my way. Which is a slightly less egomaniacal way of saying he’s wrong. Oh yeah. I can right-fight with the best of ‘em. I do try to stay away from finger-pointing, but sometimes it’s absolutely necessary to stand up for yourself in a relationship. I’ve learned the hard way that continually shelving what I need to avoid conflict will ultimately cause irreparable damage. Keeping the peace only works when it’s a two-way street. 

Anyhoo … here’s my truth. I’d rather not spar in the ring of right-n-wrong with my husband. I’d really rather just find a way for both of us to feel happy, heard and fulfilled. I’d rather bend toward him with love (not the same as compliance) than get into a pi$#ing match about something silly like directions or putting the cap back on the toothpaste tube. While I always want what I want, I see that it’s easy to find a way for him to get what he wants at the same time. For example, let Google maps help us circumvent direction-spats. Let each of us be in possession our own tube of toothpaste. Simple, sweet relief.

As for the hard stuff – and life throws plenty of it our way – it seems to me that we have a choice there as well. We can lean into the pain with the force of our unified partnership or scurry away from it in two disconnected directions. Thankfully, we learned early on that there is much to be gained when both of us put our shoulders to the wheel, to push back as an undivided unit when life forces painful lessons upon us. 

I’d like to think that this is an agreement that helped my grandparents-in-law to stay the loving course for so many years. Being two distinct rivers that flow into the same lake. Not to ‘be one’ but rather to fill it with unique but shared determinations to be greater than the sum of each of its parts. 

There’s also something to the idea of ‘If it’s important to Mum, it was important to Dad.’ There is a sweet honouring for other that lives in the heart of that adage. It’s possible that pulling it firmly into the loop of our own marriage-manifesto may have our own kids and grandchildren reflecting on lessons learned from how we treated each other 51 anniversaries from now.

This is a ‘whole she-bang, get-down-in-the-weeds-and-work-at-it kind of marriage love’. It’s not always easy. But’s it’s what I’m for.

blaming the blamers

I always know it’s time for some reflective writing when I find myself focusing on what I don’t want rather than on what I’m for. It’s typically a thin line between the two, but when I’m pulling at my hair and asking ‘why are people so (fill in the blank)?’ I know I need to take myself by the shoulders and point myself in a different, more positive direction.

So here I am, ready to reframe something that continues to present itself in my life: blame. Not blame directed specifically at me. I’m talking about blame that hurts others. People I admire or love or even perfect strangers, for that matter. Blame that’s a narcissistic excuse for doing whatever blamers want to do. Blame that’s an abuse of power and a smokescreen for right-fighters. Blame that serves to make one person okay at the price of someone else not being okay. That kind of blame. As my daughter used to say when asked to eat her broccoli, or brush her teeth ‘I don’t love it.’

Okay. While I am 100% certain I will never love blaming, I clearly need to find a way to better handle people who:

  • point the finger without holding themselves accountable
  • can’t genuinely apologize without attaching a ‘yeah, but’ on the end
  • create a s&*t storm of blame-shame then stand back and let the painful chips fall where they may

I’ve been thinking about this for a while, which I know means it’s time to:

  1. Let it go.
  2. Look for the humanity in people who cast blame.
  3. Do nothing and see what happens.

Obviously, I’m not able to let it go. I don’t want to. Because I think I like blaming the blamers. Crap. As a self-described non-blamer, I’ve got to own that. So I guess it’s on to option 2.

Here’s the problem with option 2: I don’t really want to view blamers with compassion. Because I think they’re wrong to do what they do. Therefore I’ve been choosing option 3 – the path of least resistance. Which clearly hasn’t worked, bringing me back to options 1 or 2. Argh.

I think those first two options could actually work quite well together, but only if I start with looking for the humanity in people drawn to dwell in the blame frame. I’ve long believed that compassion is the flip side of judgment for me, so I know that my path to truly letting go lies in something more along the lines of Namaste than ‘You are a big old Blamey McBlamer!

In a most fortunate and unconnected turn of events, a very dear friend of mine told me about a book called ‘Daring Greatlyby Brene´ Brown. My friend didn’t know that I was struggling to understand how the blame theme was showing up in my life when she recommended it. But let me tell you, Dr. Brown – an American scholar who studies vulnerability, courage, authenticity and shame – beautifully articulates the compassionate reframe I’ve been looking for.

I do most of my reading in the bathtub in the early mornings. TMI, I’m sure. Sorry if that image doesn’t sit right with you, but there’s a point to the context. I was having my morning bath, trying to open a neural portal to help me better absorb Dr. Brown’s wisdom and along comes this pearl about blame. And shame:

‘If blame is driving, shame is riding shotgun’.

Wowzers. This struck a chord! She went on to say that, ‘In organizations, schools and families, blaming and finger pointing are often symptoms of shame.’ And that ‘shame-bound people’ are very systematic about how they dole out the blame. Because finding someone else accountable spares them from feeling shame about themselves. No matter that it rolls downhill, leaving others in a murky pool of hurt. Pointing the finger discharges their own pain and discomfort in moments when they themselves are most vulnerable (aka angry, hurt, disappointed, etc.).

Those words stirred something profoundly deep in me. I had to write them down. Or underline them. But I was in the bath, see? (context). There was nothing to be done except get out of the bath, search for a pen while dripping wet and make notes in the margins. I’d found my way to Namaste the blamers. Huzzah!

In another section of her book, she deepens my understanding by writing that when she looks at [blame] through the vulnerability lens, she sees: 

“… the shame-based fear of being ordinary. … the fear of never feeling extraordinary enough to be noticed, to be loveable, to belong, or to cultivate a sense of purpose.”

Here’s the fragile and very real element of humanity I’ve been struggling to see in people who blame. But because of its raw vulnerability I can summon compassion around what’s driving the behaviour. And get myself disengaged from the blame-shame game and reframe it in a much healthier way. There’s a lot of relief in that changed perspective for me.

The question of why I take these kinds of things to heart is easy to answer if you know me even a little. I am ridiculously protective of people. I know it’s not my job. I know that people have their own journeys and that I am not equipped or necessary to help them learn their lessons. But for my whole life, when I’ve seen someone being treated badly, it has bothered me. I’ve hurt on their behalves, seethed quietly, stepped in occasionally and worked hard to let it ‘not be my problem’. But my pal Brene´ helped me see that maybe my protective nature isn’t such a bad thing. She says:

“If you want to make a difference, the next time you see someone being cruel to another human being, take it personally. Take it personally because it is personal!”

I do think blaming is cruel. But my new perspective – which I shall spend time on every day until it becomes a real part of my commitment to compassion – helps me understand that the greatest cruelty that blamers inflict is to themselves. So next time, rather than raging and judging, I will see their vulnerability. And I will send them love and hold them in my heart with compassion. At least I will try. It’s what I’m for.

 

the box of cards

Depending on our pack-rat personality type, most of us hold on to one thing or another that binds us to the miles we’ve travelled so far. As a sentimental human, there are a number of these things for me. Among these are some of the cards and notes I‘ve been given over the years, saved because they stirred something in me at the time I received them.

They sit in a box on a high shelf in my closet. A few times a year, I open the lid and add a few more. The odd thing is that I don’t look at them very often. They just sit there. A patchwork heartbeat stitched together by my history.

A couple of months ago, for reasons I can’t even recall, I decided to go through the box of cards. What I thought would take an hour filled instead the better part of an afternoon. I looked through beautiful Crayola renderings of ‘me’ through the eyes of children I’d taught. I read notes of gratitude from parents, people I’ve worked or performed with. I looked at love-notes I’d saved from years gone by, including the very first letter I’d received from the man who would later become my husband. I re-read words from friends inside carefully chosen cards.  – many of whom are still in my life and many of whom I have lost touch with – sharing laughter during good times, lifting my spirits during difficult times and offering their appreciation for our connectedness.

I relived my children’s youngest years through mother’s day and birthday cards and precious notes and artwork they’d spontaneously created for me. I found letters written by my sister that chronicle the sweetness of our relationship. I read notes from my brother and my mother, my nieces and my nephews. And felt a twist of sadness as I rediscovered gems from my father and two brothers, all of whom who are no longer living.

It was a tender afternoon of remembrance. As you might expect, I laughed, cried and sighed with gratitude as I travelled this hand-written road map of my heart’s history, so grateful for the wisdom that had guided me to keep all of this.

But it was as I was putting the cards away that an odd grace descended. A mental Venn diagram began to form, the words from the cards overlapping in a most affirming way, painting a picture I recognized as good, kind and wise. Loved. Loveable. And I thought, ‘Huh. Maybe all of those qualities are actually what people see in me.

I don’t have a negative self-image but I wouldn’t say that’s always been true. Faced with nine compliments and one negative comment, I’ve always felt a magnetic pull to believe the negative to be true. About myself. Not others. Isn’t that weird? Who would stand before nine glorious bouquets and one offering of judgment-yuck and choose the judgment? I would. I did for years. I believed the bouquets were false niceties and that the ‘yuck’ was the true reflection of how the world saw me.

I’m not asking you to feel sorry for me. We all have our personal challenges. Thinking the worst about myself has been part of mine. I squelched genuine feelings of self-confidence for years. It was my choice, but to be fair, I did have some ‘encouragement’ to do so along the way. Over the years I’ve gradually shed that self-deprecating skin and grown increasingly comfortable with just being who I am. A decidedly quirky gal just doing her best to live a full and whole-hearted life.

What does all of this have to do with a box of cards? My afternoon of sifting through 20 years of hand-written memories provided me with a piece of my puzzle I didn’t know I was looking for. Sitting amongst a small personal sea of kind words, I felt a new wisdom lock itself into place. Here is it:

Since I get to choose what I believe to be true about myself, why not align with the good stuff rather than the … well … other stuff.

Even from a sheer statistical perspective, this wisdom makes sense. The cards provided me with prevailing evidence that I am and have always been pretty ok. I’m not asking you to agree with me. It’s alright if you don’t. The power for me here at long last isn’t about what others think. The power lies in the choice. When some event/person produces a feeling of judgment (perceived or real) about who I am, how I approach my life or what I do, I can circle back to my box of cards and have my self-worth affirmed by the evidence that I choose to believe is the real McCoy.

Let the clouds part. Let the trumpets sound and the angels sing. What an exquisitely simple truth.

Here’s the other thing that has really moved me about this box of cards:

Don’t hold back on words of praise, written or spoken. They hold so much power.  Clearly, however (in my case at least), it takes a continual expression of kind words to penetrate the thick and insidious skin of self-doubt.

I want my words to be among someone’s ‘box of cards’ that s/he takes from a high shelf in her/his closet one winter afternoon. I want my praise and appreciation to be part of a person stepping into a knowing that s/he, too, is good, kind, wise, loveable and loved.

This is what I’m for. Seeing the best in myself. Seeing the best in others. And saying it all out loud. Because it matters.

Psst …A few weeks after reading my box of cards and roughing this blog entry together, I turned 50 years young. In typical goof-ball fashion, dubbed myself ‘KFiddy’ – a shout-out to Caucasian, middle-aged mini-van driving wanna-be-gangsta mothers around the globe. A joke that I continue to find hysterically funny.

As a gift, my husband asked people to use a ‘digital pen’ to write birthday wishes to me in a blog he and one of my lovely friends created for me. This will forever more be my digital box of cards. You don’t have to read it … but if you’d like to, check it out here. Kfiddy.com.

Word.

 

happy birthday to you, sweet girl.

I’m not the only gal in our family celebrating a big birthday this year. My daughter also just turned 13. Gah. I remember turning 13 like it was yesterday. I remember feeling like the world had suddenly opened the top of my head, tossed in painful seeds of self-doubt and buried them deeply in hormone-infused soil. Then the slow and mind-boggling experience of junior high fed the concoction with a continual, powerfully toxic trickle of ‘not good enough’.

Okay, retrospect makes this all sound a bit dramatic, but there’s no doubt that ’13’ presented me with very fertile ground for a skewed sense of self-worth to take hold. I clung wildly to every negative belief (lie) about myself that sprung from that period of my life for years. For years. So as my daughter enters this phase of her life, I want to fill her with the antidote to the cultures that can take hold in the Petri dish of adolescence and junior high. When the top of her head is opened by her world, I want to be the first to toss in seeds of esteem and cover it with rich soil that grows beauty and blocks self-doubt. Then I want to feed it with a continual stream of ‘so much more than good enough’.

So while she was sleeping away the last few hours of being a 12-year old, I wrote her this letter:

My sweet girl,

13 years ago – at precisely 3:54 in the a.m., you shot into this world, bringing with you rainbows of love and GOODness that have transformed my life. From the moment you were placed in my arms, I knew you were special. I remember so clearly staring into your eyes with wonder. You looked back at me with a heart-flipping depth of truth, knowing and love that seemed to say, ‘Here I am. I know you’ve been waiting for me. I am here to heal your heart.’

And heal my heart you have. It’s not your job to heal my wounds but you do. The soft kisses you plant on my head, cheek or lips, the love-infused tone you use when you say ‘mama’, the way you check in with me when you know things aren’t quite right. Your giant love makes me feel seen. It tethers me to this world when things are hard and it makes all of the goodness of my life shine brighter. You are a miracle. 

Your entrance into the world 13 years ago gave me a deep certainty of who I am and who I wanted to become. You also added a beautiful symmetry to our family as well as a permanent smile to your daddy and brother’s face. You infused an already happy life with a whole new level of laughter, joy and wonder. You also set a place at the table of my heart for your sister’s eventual arrival. 

You set things in motion. You set them in motion with your love. You continue to do this every day in every arena of your life. You are a powerful force, my darling girl. You are a force for good.

I think the true miracle of you is that you don’t know this about yourself. And you don’t even have to try – your gentle energy just makes people feel better. You cast a spell of goodness that makes people feel lighter when they’re around you. I know that I feel this every time I’m with you. I’ve seen it happen with your dad, your grandma, your brother and sisters. Your cousins, your friends, my friends, your aunts and your uncles. People are drawn to your loving presence. You are a gentle, undeniable force of goodness.

So happy birthday to you. Happy 13th birthday. My wish for you is that the year ahead brings you all that you bring to me every day: 

  • a knowing that you are loved and loveable
  • a belief in your deep worthiness
  • belly laughter and joy
  • connection with what and who matters
  • moment after moment of ridiculously wonderful fun 

I love you with all of my heart. Mama.

I share these words with you because feeding my sweet girl – all of my children – with this kind of certainty is at the deepest heart of what I’m for. Sometimes I fail at showing or expressing it. Sometimes I don’t offer it up in moments when it’s most needed. This is my journey as a mother, filled with lots of sweetness and just as many ‘let’s have a redo, shall we?‘ moments. I want the scales of my children’s self-belief to tip heavily toward the ‘I’m good enough’ side. It’s what I’m for. Every single day, this is most what I’m for.

woman of a certain age (thoughts on turning 50)

So I am 3 weeks shy of wrapping up my fourth decade.  Yup. I am turning the big five-oh. Big deal. I’m not bothered by the idea of ‘getting older’. I don’t look back and wish I was younger or that I’d made more of my youth. As far as I’m concerned I’m still youthful. So is my mom. And she’s 78.

There is something about approaching this milestone that does bother me, though: other women who are also approaching this milestone who aren’t happy about it. This sounds aggressive, so please let me explain.

There seem to be two primary schools of thought on ‘getting older’ among my female compadres: the school that finds incredulous hilarity in chin-hairs, bifocals and hot flashes and the school that shrouds the whole experience in shame.

I am mostly closely aligned with the former group. In fact, at my ‘book club’ we are far more likely to share side-splitting stories about our various girly-journeys than we are to talk about the book we’ve chosen. Even the gals in their 20’s and 30’s pee their pants a little at how funny life can be when you’re approaching 50.  Which tells me that a leaky bladder is more about a good laugh than it is about aging. Turning 50 is the farthest thing from tragic and planets away from shame.

But more and more frequently, I find myself being sent not-so-subtle invitations to adopt a more fatalistic view on ‘getting older’. While I might (maybe) expect that of someone much younger who has yet to hone his/her sensitivity chip, I find it mind-blowing when other ‘women my age’ include me in their passive-aggressive, ageist insults. Here are some recent examples.

I was making a purchase but couldn’t find my debit card. Flustered, I pulled out a different card, muttering something about being disorganized. The gal processing my order smiled sweetly and said, ‘It’s hard getting older, isn’t it? We’re just losing our marbles.’ We? Getting older? Marbles? No. I just left my debit card in my car.

I was doing a little shopping in a clothing store. I happened to look up and caught the eye of a woman on the other side of the rack. I smiled. She smiled back. It was all perfectly pleasant until she said, ‘Look at us. Shopping for old-lady clothes.’  WHAT? First of all, what are old lady clothes? And second of all … well, there are no words, really. What a ridiculous thing to say.

I went to a  birthday gathering for a friend. She might be mid-50s. I don’t know. Who cares? She was talking about how hard it is to be getting older. I was listening sympathetically as she listed her aches, pains and general ailments. The sympathy came to a screeching halt when she told me to prepare myself for the worst of it: ‘After you turn 50, you pretty much disappear as a woman. It’s like you become irrelevant.’ She punctuated her story with a laugh. While I am deeply sorry that this has been her experience, I don’t really believe that as of March 11th, 2014 I will cease to be interesting or visible to the entire world.

I was having lunch with my beautiful pre-teen daughters. A woman at a near-by table mentioned how lovely they were. I smiled in agreement and then froze as she added: ‘You’d better enjoy them now before all of your various hormones kick in.’ All of our various hormones kick in? Nice. I looked back at her with my most emotionless ‘passport face’. But inside I seethed with hurt and humiliation. Why was it necessary for her to say that to me?

I’ve left my favourite to the last. Hold on to your hats because you’re going to love this one.

At the close of a recent public event that I happened to be leading, a member of the audience waited around to talk with me. She was complimentary about the event and thanked me, etc. Then just before walking away, almost as an afterthought, she lobbed this my way: “Hey, you look really pretty in that dress. Quite sexy, actually. I thought you might like to know that. Because women of our age don’t get complimented on our looks very often any more.’ Ummmmm. Seriously? Wow. She hit her target because I swam around in self-doubt for days after that conversation.

In spite of these beseeching invitations to approach ‘middle age’ with fear and shame-cloaked stereotypes, I’m not gonna do it. Because it is NOT what I’m for.  Allowing other women’s negative experiences to frame my journey into ‘middle age’ makes me feel small and fearful of the future. It makes me uncertain of my role as a woman, a professional, a wife and a mother. I reject the stereotypes completetely. In fact, I heartily fling them into the abyss. Good riddance.

I am going to approach fifty with joy and aplomb – with glee, even. Yes, I know  I’ll have a growing number of chin hairs to pluck but time isn’t my enemy as a woman. It may give my body the patina of age, but all of the experiences that will carry me into my fifth decade have made my mind richer, my heart warmer and my view of my fellow humans much gentler.

Way (way) back in the day when I was a mere 39 years old  (a pup really) I read this quote by Carol Matthau in an ‘O Magazine’: ‘There is no old age. There is, as there always was, just you.’

Yup. I am just me. I am exactly what I need to be – chin hair, bifocals, hot flashes and all. And that is what I’m for in every decade. Well maybe not the chin hair, etc. But being ‘me’ isn’t such a bad deal, whatever age I happen to be.

Here’s to a year-full of the ‘right days’

 ‘There are only two days in the year that nothing can be done. One is called yesterday and the other is called tomorrow. So today is the right day to love, believe, do and mostly live.’

These words, written by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama sum up my only one and only resolution for the coming new year … to make each day of 2014 the right day to love, live and experience my world with my heart and mind wide open.

I know that if I can commit to this, then all of the other goals, hopes and dreams I have for myself this year will fall into line. Like almost everyone I want to exercise more, spend less, eat better and resist stress. I also want to be kinder, listen better, empathize more and spend far less time worrying about what others might be thinking. I want to see the best in others and believe others when they express what they see as the best in me. I want to connect more, laugh until my sides hurt and spend my time in the company of others who make me feel that I am loved.

As for the ‘yesterdays’, I want to look back with fondness rather than regret. I want to regard my mistakes with compassion and understanding. I want to hold tenderly all that I’ve done well. I want to regard all of it as an opportunity to learn and want to carry the whole she-bang– the good, the bad and the ugly–forward as new wisdom that will make ‘today’ richer, calmer and more gratifying.

I want that new wisdom to wrap its arms around me as self-awareness that makes me feel more certain about my ability to revel in whatever ‘tomorrow’ might bring.

All of this­–every single word of it­–rings with a simple and satisfying truth. That truth is that it’s all up to me. I get to decide how I love, believe, do and live each and every day of the coming year. I get to do this no matter what the world may serve up to me on any given day. I get to choose what I am for. And then I get to live every ‘today’ like it matters, with my heart and mind wide open.

Whatever your goals, hopes and dreams might be for the coming year, I wish you peace, health and a heart overflowing with all that brings you joy. Happy new year.

 

getting to ‘just right’

In my humble opinion, Goldilocks was more than just another pretty, fairytale face. Setting aside any moral dilemmas I may have around entering someone’s home and using their stuff without permission, I admire how Goldi approached the whole ‘just right’ thing. She assessed her options and chose the porridge, chair and bed that suited her fancy. She owned her choices without apology. Like a boss. Until the bears came home, at least.

Man, I wish I’d had that kind of moxy as a girl. But I didn’t. I grew up fretting about what people might think. Was I obnoxious? Or boring? Was I bossy? Or a door mat? Was I too opinionated? Or too daft to have a valid point of view? Was I a show off? Or a fake? Sigh.

My self-doubt funneled me down an ever-narrowing path that led me to believe was simply easier to play small than to live the glory of what I really wanted. My 20-year-old version of Goldilocks would have gone inside that little cottage and made everyone’s porridge, chair and bed ‘just right’.

No one ever asked me to play small. But I did. And it worked brilliantly for a time. It also made it possible for me to exalt the twin of small playing; the almighty ‘put others first’. I was so nice. You would have adored me. I was so nice it would have made your teeth hurt. The problem was that I ‘niced’ myself into virtual disappearance.

A variety of things nudged me off the planet of nice. Thank goodness. The birth of my  son was the first and biggest nudge. For him, I wanted to be a source of constant strength and light, not an Edith Bunker flickering flame. Other nudges included the end of a troubled marriage and living independently for the first time, among many other things. I also befriended some fabulous women who’d chosen not to play nice anymore. They played kind instead of sweet. They lived big instead of small. Their examples were stunning to me. STUNNING. Like Goldilocks seizing the moment and enjoying what her heart desired.

Even with 20+ years of practice, I’m still not always that great at that kind of carpe diem. Somewhere along the line, the message that I was both too much and too little was deeply planted into my emotional DNA. I still strain against the ancient voice that tells me to keep quiet, be sweet, retreat to compliant shadows and play nice.

But I know that those words are only masks that keep me from being my ‘just right’ self. Those masks served me for a long while, but they don’t anymore. That kind of cover up isn’t at all what I’m for.

What I’m for is simply discovering the best version of myself every day. Sometimes that self is too big and too loud and downright inappropriate. Sometimes that self is introspective and shy and sometimes she laughs out loud at words like ‘Uranus’ and ‘colon’ and the farting sounds that the ketchup bottle makes. Sometimes she wants to be all by herself or with just her family and sometimes she wants to be surrounded by people who make her laugh or think about bigger stuff. Sometimes she’s in tune with others and sometimes she’s completely clueless.

I am all of these things. All of these things are me. My hope is that every day, the self that people meet is the real deal.

This hope aligned with some very powerful words I came across the other day on one of my favourite sites:. My Beautiful Words. They were written by Marianne Williamson (although they’re often wrongly attributed to Nelson Mandela – another guy I’m pretty much for). Here’s an excerpt:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world … We are all meant to shine … and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. 

We are all meant to shine. I want my life to reflect that. For me and for my beautiful husband and children. For those that I teach and for those that I learn from. For my heart-tethered friends and for those I have never even met. This is something that I really and truly am for.

straight from the hurt

Last night at dinner, I heard my voice coming out of my youngest daughter’s mouth. I didn’t like it very much. Her sister was telling us about a project she was doing at school that involved describing the members of her family. She excitedly told her dad and I the words she’d used to describe each of us. When she got to her little sister’s description, my youngest said, ‘I’ll bet you said that I’m more interested in looking in the mirror than I am in my family.’

Woah. Uncomfortable laughter was followed by silence. And the silence was followed by the darkness of my own shame. These were words I’d said to her in a moment of frustration just this summer. Hearing her use my criticism to so glibly describe herself was not my proudest moment as a mother. Not even close. Hence the shame.

At the risk of sounding defensive, let me give you some context. Through no fault of her own, my little girl is growing up. In fact, she is hurtling into pre-teendom at breakneck speed. She is understandably fascinated at the prospect of leaving childhood behind. It’s fair to say that I’ve been finding it considerably less fascinating.

So … back to my shame. There was no poison in my daughter’s words. She wasn’t flinging them at me or trying to sting me. Maybe if she had, I would have dismissed what I’d heard or told her she was being silly. I’m so glad that I didn’t. Because instead of letting my ego dictate my behaviour in that moment, I led with my heart, learned a valuable lesson and allowed a wound to heal.

I won’t bore you with the minutiae of the conversation, but the gist of it went something like:

Me: Is that how you would describe yourself?
Her: Yes.
Me: Is that how you think I see you?
Her: A little.
Me: That must feel pretty terrible to think I see you that way.
Her: Yes. It does.
Me: (tearms forming)
Her: Don’t be sad, mama. I’m sorry if I hurt you.

Still no poison. Just a heart-wide-open truth that I needed to hear. For in spite of the hundreds of compliments I have happily and easily offered my sweet girl this past few months, what stuck was a singular criticism. Holy moly, Molly. The pain.

She crawled into my lap and I held her for a long while after this exchange. I whispered a fervent apology as my husband and older daughter silently looked on. The healing that took place in that moment was for both of us. Time stood still while grace descended.

It wasn’t until later, when I was saying goodnight to her, that the wisdom came for me. As we chatted quietly, we agreed that that past few months had been a rough ride for both of us at times. Her part is her story and I’ll not share it here or anywhere for that matter.

Here is my part: it’s hard for me to see my baby growing up. I think I may even be grieving a little. But it’s had me moving from the wrong place as a parent too often recently. It’s had me moving from a place of my hurt rather than a place of my heart. I am never (ever) at my best when I do this. Not in my work, not with my friends and family, not in my marriage and certainly not with my children.

This awareness got me in touch with a huge ‘what I’m for’ – and that is raising a daughter whose sense of worth bubbles up from a spring of unwavering affirmation from her mother. I am for reflecting her goodness back at her rather than harping at her about her shortcomings. I am for keeping the heart lines open so that she knows she can turn to me in all things – whether life is coming up roses or bringing her to her knees.

I’m the mother of three. One of the three is a grown and married man, so it’s not like this is my first rodeo. I get that my children’s various stages of independence are not a personal affront to me. I’ve always known that I wasn’t raising kids. My goal as a parent has been/is to raise my kids to become great adults.

I think I’ve been bumping up against feelings of uncertainty about my changing role as a mother as my children become less reliant on me. While I’m quite happy that the diaper changing days and sleepless nights are over, I would still gladly cut their meat into bite size pieces, tie their shoes, hold their hands when they cross the street or kiss them on their sweet downy heads while I buckle them into the back seat of the car. Those are things I understand – everyday things I’ve done for almost 24 years to show my love and care.

But my truth is that time marches on and it requires that my journey as a mother be ever changing. My children’s evolution as human beings challenges me to be honest about my own. It isn’t always easy. Sometimes it even hurts. But in the moment that I shift from hurt to heart with my kids, I am the kind of mother I most want to be. And that, more than anything, is what I’m for.