Choices – Halloween Edition

This morning our darling 4 year old daughter, Rhys, changed her mind about the costume she would wear for her Halloween party at school.

Instead of the adorable poodle costume I lovingly bribed encouraged her to wear, she pulled a rumpled, rag-a-muffin princess dress, complete with stretched out bodice, ripped tulle and missing sequins, out of the dress-up bag it’s been jammed in for the past six years.

I had a choice. Let go or force my will on her:  rumpled Cinderella or precious, pristine poodle?

I hate that I believe how she looks reflects on me. I wanted her to be the cutest child in the room, garnering “ooohs” and “ahhhs” from all the other parents at the party. So I could feel better about myself.

I had a choice. I kept my mouth shut. (A feat of strength unheard of in the past!)

When Rhys noticed on her own that the tulle of the skirt was ripped and frayed, I rejoiced inside and lovingly handed her the poodle costume. She decided instead to change into a different rumpled princess dress from the dress up bag. Not a poodle-caliber costume, but an upgrade. Again, insides roiling, I shut my mouth.

Yes, she’s an adorable princess! But wait till you see the poodle costume!

I’m grateful for choosing wisely today. I’m hoping that exercising my “shut up” muscle today will make it easier to choose wisely next time. And by next time I mean this evening when she gets dressed as a damned poodle for trick-or-treating!

Does the poodle costume come in my size?

Make any wise choices today?

Who wouldn’t want to be an adorable poodle for Halloween? Rhys loved it during our Halloween dress rehearsal!

Backlash

There are many things you don’t know about me, but more and more I’m letting down my guard and showing you the real me – beautiful, sexy, brilliant, funny, strong, insecure, petty, angry, resentful, jealous me. Me, in every iteration. A full picture. And I’m terrified. I’d prefer to present a picture-perfect image of myself. But not too perfect because then you’d have feelings about me. And my goal for much of my life has been to prevent others from having any feelings about me at all. Neutral is safer. Right?

Over the past six months of blogging, I’ve written about many of my insecurities. I long for people to read my work; more people, in fact, than actually do. The majority of my readers, other than my mom, have been other bloggers who also are exposing their inner selves. All good. You show me yours, I’ll show you mine. Deal?

I love getting comments on my blog. I can read and respond to them at my leisure from the safety of my kitchen. However, as my readership increases and people in my real world begin to get to know me through my blog, some have the nerve to comment to my face.

A family member recently said, “I love your blog, Mary. I had no idea you were so insecure!” She’s right. I am insecure. And for the first time in my life my insides honestly match my outsides. I’d love to focus on the idea that she’s reading my blog, enjoying my words! Instead I feel vulnerable and scared. Sharing myself with the anonymous Internet world? Exciting! Getting feedback in person? Terrifying.

So, let’s be clear:  I want you to see me, love me, adore me (come here, come closer), and I don’t want you to see me so clearly (go away, too close). That dysfunctional dynamic describes many of my relationships to this point!

I come from long line of secret holders. Worrying about what others think is a full-time job and one I’ve signed up for on many occasions. Unfortunately, the more secrets I hold, the less likely I am to invite people in to love me exactly the way I am, flaws and brilliance in equal measure.

And lovability is the real issue, right? The message in my head has always been I’m only lovable if I’m perfect. Perfect people don’t have insecurities or issues or foibles. They certainly don’t have daughters who scream and hit and pick their noses! But I am real. And I want to be honest and trust that my relationships can handle me being more vulnerable and open. Or not. At least I’ll know.

My father told me the other day he wanted to talk with me about my blog. He worried I’d be offended and I assured him I would be, no matter what he said. He went on to express his feelings about an essay I wrote about my grandfather (his father-in-law).

I tried to justify the stance I took in the essay, but really my dad was telling me he reads my words. He sees me and has feelings about what I write. In a general sense, that’s what every writer wants:  for people to have feelings about their work, positive and negative. I want people to feel, relate, disagree, but when it happens I hold my breath against the vulnerability.

No one wins. Don’t mention my work, I’ll resent you. Do, I’ll squirm in fear. Fun for everyone!

I believe I’m brave and honest for sharing what I do. And there’s plenty I haven’t chosen to share at this point. I may in the future. I may not. I do know that I am being more authentic than I’ve ever been and showing you a side of me I rarely show to others, even family members.

I find it terrifying to be known, to be seen. If it weren’t terrifying, I wouldn’t have hidden behind perfect images of myself for so long. I’m ripping off the masks and letting you have a real look. Hurry up, I can only take it for so long before I put up my walls again.

I’m looking for someone, a brave soul, to hold on to the voices in my head that tell me I’m making a fool of myself writing about this; the voices that say “Who do you think you are?” More and more the answer to that question is “I’m me. Beautiful, wonderful, imperfect me.” Finally.

I’m linking up with the talented, supportive community of writers at Yeah Write. Check it out and come join us!

Lessons Learned (Vol. Three)

Licking and Lying and Boogers, oh my! What a week!

In addition to learning how to make the chalkboard image accompanying this post, here’s a sampling of the lessons I gleaned …

  • I wish I would have found Dr. Laura Markham’s blog years ago when I would power struggle with our daughter Ava every time we left the park.  I’m grateful for her wise, loving perspective on this topic and her suggestions on how to stay present with my children through their big feelings. (Dr. Laura Markham)

That’s me! Learn anything useful, fascinating or life changing last week? Please share!

Happy Sunday!

Hiding In Plain Sight

Whenever I get a gift, especially one I’ve wanted and will treasure, the critical voices in my head work overtime to ensure I don’t overdose on joy. While some people flaunt their gifts or humbly receive them, my first reaction is to hide. And withhold.

I recently received two gifts (actually three, but I’m withholding information on one) and learned first-hand the corrosive nature of hiding and withholding on my relationships, especially the one I have with myself.

Last week, my husband surprised me with a gorgeous sapphire and diamond anniversary band to celebrate our 10th anniversary. Our anniversary was in June, so I was especially surprised when he got down on one knee and asked me to spend exactly ten more years with him. He’s romantic that way.

I love the ring; wanted it for months, but was reluctant to spend the money on such a luxury. Or so I told myself. Apparently, I also did not want to feel the uncomfortable feelings nestling alongside the bling in the small blue box.

For several days last week, I didn’t tell anyone about this gift. Not my friends. Not my family members. I wore the ring, sure. I’m not a masochist. But inside I hid. The message screaming in my head was “With all the people struggling in the world, who am I to get a new ring? I don’t deserve it.” (I’m sparing you the nasty name calling involved in the actual message. You can thank me later.)

The second gift of the week nearly did me in. On Saturday, my husband took our daughters to Michigan for an overnight visit with his family. I had a solid, blissful 24 hours to do whatever I wanted. Or I would have, had I not chosen to dabble in mishegosh.

I wanted to fill my free day with “me” time:  writing, exercising, pampering, napping, reading and de-cluttering.  Again, instead of sharing the good news with my friends, I withheld. Afraid my friends would feel jealous of my time off or hurt that I didn’t make plans with them, I hid out in secret. And felt shame as the mean voices in my head let loose:  “You don’t deserve this time to yourself. You have it too easy. A good mother would want to spend the day with her kids. Who do you think you are?”

Later in the day, I took myself to get a manicure to go with my new ring, the one I wasn’t going to tell anybody about.  At the salon, I ran into one of my best friends; someone I ostensibly share everything with. My excitement at our chance meeting was dimmed by the fear and shame I felt keeping these secrets from her.

I considered jamming my freshly-polished fingers under the manicure table, but I wasn’t willing to smudge the wet gloss. My friend immediately spotted the sparkly band on my finger and gushed at my good fortune. I squirmed. When she asked what my family was doing that evening, I lied, “Nothing much. Family movie night.”  I stewed, shame covering me like a sticky, old blanket.

A few moments later I turned to her and apologized. “I don’t know why I’m so uncomfortable, but I lied to you. I’m sorry.” As I explained the story and expressed my discomfort, slowly the shame started to lift. By the time I left, I felt connected and grateful for my gifts and our friendship.

While I don’t always realize in the moment that I’m hiding or withholding, I’m clear today that I’m the one hurt when I deny myself the chance to share my gifts. Withholding good news or bad stunts my ability to connect and feel intimate with another human being. My friend had her own feelings about the distance I created in our relationship. She related to my discomfort and celebrated with me. I feel closer to her and feel a willingness to share more of my gifts with the world.

I told this story to a group of friends yesterday at breakfast. I showed them the ring and regaled them with the tale of my nail salon antics. While I was talking, several of my friends were nodding their heads. After I finished, three friends said they also had been withholding. They went on to share their news, some happy, some difficult. I’d like to think we will all be a little closer because of it. At least I know I’m not alone.

Linking up with the talented writers at Yeah Write. Truly a gifted group. Check them out and come join us!

You’re Only Hugging Me So You Can Wipe Your Nose On My Shirt

“What’s with all the boogers?”
Photo Source: Shevralay via Flickr Creative Commons

Although I promised myself I would never utter some of the most common, amusingly horrible sayings attributed to mothers over the centuries (e.g. “I’ll give you something to cry about” and “I brought you into this world, I can take you out!” ), I do say a number of things to our two daughters I never thought I would …

Sibling Time (Yes, boogers are a big topic in our family!)

“Please stop wiping your boogers on your sister.”

“Seriously, you’re both wiping your boogers on the wall?”

“Stop licking your sister.”

“No means no. When your sister says to stop licking her, you stop.”

“Get your feet off your sister.”

“Keep your hands to yourself. And your feet.”

“Step away from your sister.”

Dinner Time

“You cannot live only on fruit snacks.”

“A fruit snack is actually not a real fruit.”

“Please stop wiping your greasy hands on the kitchen table.”

“Don’t wipe your hands under the table either. Use a napkin.”

“Soap is your friend, honey. Use some soap.”

Mommy Time

“You’re right. It’s not fair.”

“You’re right. I am mean.”

“You’re right. I am grouchy and I am taking it out on you.”

“When your dad gets home, you can tell him all about it.”

“I’m off duty.”

“Mommy needs a time out.”

“Mommy needs to scream. Cover your ears.”

“Oh, believe me, I can see you.”

Random Time (not my proudest moments!)

“I will not carry you all around Costco this time. Use your legs.”

“I will not repeat myself.”

“After this next time, I will not repeat myself.”

“What part of ‘no’ are you having trouble understanding?”

“Or, you could just ignore everything I say.”

“I’ve been with you from the moment we got home. You did not wash your hands.”

Play Time

“I have no idea where your nearly invisible Polly Pocket red shoe is.”

“Quit flinging that fairy wand around – you’ll poke someone’s eye out.”

 “Fine. I’ll close my eyes so you can put all the Candyland picture cards in your pile.”

 “Everything has to be cleaned up before the housekeeper comes tomorrow.”

“Yes, I did throw out the 15,000 scraps of construction paper you left all over the kitchen floor. No, I didn’t realize you were saving them forever.”

“I don’t know where your doll is, but I bet she didn’t walk out of here on her own. Right?”

Any Time

And I do say a few things I always knew I would …

“How did I get so lucky to be your mama?”

“You can always have a hug.”

“I’m the luckiest mommy in the whole world!”

“Sleep tight, little angel.”

What surprising things do you find yourself saying to your kids?

Lessons Learned (Vol. Deux)

Another week of learning and lessons! Here are some of my favorites …

  • People are amazing. And I am, too. When a young man had a seizure while crossing the street in front of my car this week, I jumped out and called 9-1-1. At least ten people, strangers all, stopped to lovingly comfort, encourage and stay with this young man until the paramedics came. I’m grateful to know I can be calm under pressure and available to see so much goodness in the world. (Confession:  My heart went out to this young man who shook and convulsed in the street. After a good cry when I got home, my next thought was:  Would this make a good story for Yeah Write next week? Yes, my brain is a scary place.)
  • I experienced a low-cost, incredibly satisfying new way to express anger and frustration, one our whole family can enjoy! (You, however, dear readers, will have to wait for my post later this week to find out what it is! Yes, I am a bit of a sadist.)
  • After one of my favorite bloggers detailed her children’s school’s church-revival style school assemblies, I’m grateful our school puts on one big gala fundraiser a year instead of dogging parents with ongoing fundraising sales drives. (Kludgy Mom)
  • I felt resounding hope and joy after reading this powerful, poignant essay by Tamarisk Saunders-Davies on recovering from an insidious condition many of us suffer from:  believing the lies of our inner critic. (Tracey Clark)
  • And, finally, I learned the people-pleaser and martyr in me are alive and well and folding 27 loads of laundry before taking our 4 year old to a party at Chuck E. Cheese (a place I promised myself I’d never go again).

What did you learn this week? Share, please! You know you wanna … 

Happy Sunday!

Night Terrors

Every night once our daughters succumb to sleep, I savor a cup of herbal tea, the day’s newspaper and an over-sized bowl of granola. If you’re inclined to watch my sacred evening ritual, please show some respect. Use a pair of binoculars like a normal human being and observe from a distance. Do not stare with your face pressed up against our kitchen window. Staring is rude. And dangerous. Though mild-mannered by day, I’ll happily rip out your intestines if you interrupt my nightly feeding. Or threaten my family.

Spooky Windows (Image Courtesy of Colin Smith via Wikimedia Commons)

Alone with our two daughters, my husband in Houston overnight on business, I’d waited all evening for those precious moments of unfettered me time. Simple pleasures awaited:  a crossword puzzle, crunchy snacks, and blissful quiet. What could be better?

The flash of white caught my eye first. As I rose to reheat my tea in the microwave, I sensed movement outside. The convergence of light on our kitchen window illuminated a jaw and a covered forearm. Or a figment of my imagination.

I froze. Stared.

The open wooden blinds and a glare from the pendant lights over the kitchen island obscured my view. Because our kitchen overlooks a poorly lit alley, I saw nothing but my own reflection.

I waited, holding my breath. And watched.

Nothing.

I fought the temptation to approach the window. With visions of a deranged killer breaking the glass, I knew such a move would be an outright act of stupidity. Apparently, my appetite for scary movies as a teenager was paying off in that moment.

As my heart slowed down, I calmed myself, “Relax. You’re tired. Stop scaring yourself.”

I returned to my crossword puzzle. Word for “lethal weapon.”

“Does ‘paranoia’ fit?” I joked to myself.

On my best days, my sleep-deprived imagination conjures catastrophes out of mundane occurrences. Knowing I needed sleep more than obsession, I finished my snack and carried my bowl to the dishwasher, casting furtive glances over my shoulder at the window.

My movements around the kitchen felt unnatural, forced; as if I were acting in a bad play. Resisting the temptation to look out the window again, I pretended to yawn and stretch, exaggerating each movement; attempting to appear casual and oblivious to anyone who might be watching.

Nothing.

“Go to bed, Mary. No one is there,” I soothed.

I cleared the counter of stray papers and flipped the nearby light switch, instinctively looking at the window one last time.

And there he was.

The details in shadow, I could clearly see a young man’s face pressed against the glass. A short, bulky, bulldog of a man.

Mouth ajar, I didn’t scream, didn’t move. Stared. My mind read blank. A feeling of terror mixed with rage electrified my veins.

He appeared to be wearing a dark jacket with a big white “I” on his chest. As I flicked the lights on again and rushed to grab the telephone, the man turned and ran.

Panicked and confused, my first instinct was to call my husband. He answered after the second, ungodly long, ring.

The sound of Mike’s familiar, calm voice instantly brought me to tears. Perhaps he thought I had replaced my nightly snack with a more lively elixir, but he sounded annoyingly undisturbed by my description of the night’s events. His attempts to calm (read placate) me by suggesting the intruder was likely a student from the nearby university playing a prank or our oft-drunk neighbor mistaking our back door for his own did little to reduce my anxiety.

Mike stayed on the phone with me as I dialed the police who dispatched a patrol car to check the alley behind our home. Mike suggested we install a fence and a locked gate around our back deck and assured me he’d mount a motion-sensitive light outside when he returned home the next afternoon.

After another cup of tea to calm my nerves, I pushed a chair under the locked back door and finally fell asleep to the sound of far off police sirens.

The following morning, our college-aged babysitter called in tears, “A good friend of mine died last night. He was hit by a car on campus, not far from your house. I won’t be able to babysit for a few days.”

When our babysitter returned several days later, she showed me a picture of her friend, a strikingly handsome young man with a welcoming grin and a wrestler’s stature and physique. In the photo, her friend wore a dark blue jacket emblazoned with the letters U-I-C in white on his chest.

Linking up with the great folks at Yeah Write. Check it out and come join us!