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.

lessons i’ve learned from jerks

A while back, I came across an inspirational quote that went something like: see the best in others and treat them as if that’s all you see. It’s a very Namaste philosophy. I like it. I want others to treat me this way. So I do my best to fully embrace it.

I fail at this frequently. I’ll find myself in all manner of judgment – eye rolling, sighing, cutting people off before they can finish what they’re saying. Nothing I’m very proud of, but there it is.

My truth is, however, that this kind of small-minded exasperation doesn’t make me feel better. It used to, but it doesn’t anymore. In my life today, seeing what’s ‘bad’ in others actually makes me feel worse. Small. Angry. Most definitely not what I’m for.

In those moments (or oftentimes in the regretful moments after those moments) when someone is rubbing me the wrong way, I privately challenge myself to recognize a kernel of goodness in that person. For example, ‘S/he sure has beautiful eyes or a contagious laugh.’ Or ‘S/he’s really passionate about her/his kids, job, hobby, etc.’ It’s a stretch sometimes, but it usually moves me from judgment to appreciation.

If I that doesn’t work, I’ll try compassion. For example, ‘I know s/he’s quite outspoken, but I think s/he just really needs to be heard.’ It costs me nothing to listen, so I (usually) do. Or ‘I know that s/he’s terribly moody. Maybe s/he’s having a rough go right now.’ It costs me nothing to be kind and to just let someone feel what s/he feels (provided s/he isn’t overtly unkind to me or someone I love).

It sometimes takes a beat or two, but when I make this shift, I literally feel lighter. My heart sighs with relief. It’s a good personal rule that takes me from a ‘better than’ ego into a place of ‘we’re all doing the best we can’ humanity.

But as it is with all rules, this one has a unique exception … because some people are just jerks. Not at their core, of course, but the top few layers can be nasty. They roll over people without regard. They don’t own their behavior and don’t care who they hurt. Try as I might, I can’t get a lock on their goodness and I don’t have compassion for their behaviour. Gah.

So how do I flip this on its head? What’s the silver lining to jerks? Here goes:

  1. They offer a high-impact character foil for the many, many beautiful humans in my life – from permanent members like my family and close friends to the people I teach or work with.
  2. Jerks can even make an exchange with someone I hardly know a sweeter experience. I mean, if it weren’t for jerks, the good guys wouldn’t look as good.
  3. They provide real-life examples of what not to do and how not to behave. This comes in handy for me in all sorts of ways. It’s also very helpful as a parent.

So thank you for that great personal, professional and parenting tool, jerks. I mean that sincerely.

If you’re reading this, you might be aghast at how a blog that’s supposed to be about silver linings and positive thinking could waste so many words on jerks. I get that. It’s not very Namaste. I have absolutely no doubt that underneath all the jerkness (in most cases) is a perfectly beautiful human being. But getting to the bottom of what makes a jerk a jerk? Unless it’s someone that I am heart-tethered to, it’s just not my journey.

It’s a boundary thing for me. It’s not about blame or judgment. Not any more, at least. It’s about taking my own side. It’s about not being willing to ‘hang in there’ with a toxic person at the risk of damaging the beauty within me. There’s a Namaste that counts for something.