Knowing Our Limits: What Not to Say to Each Other

IMG_0811There’s this thing women seem to have started saying to each other when we come up against something we’ve decided we won’t put up with, whether because we shouldn’t or because we can’t. When we say we’ve learned we have more needs than we wanted to admit, or that we’ve learned the boundaries of how much we can give unrequited, or that we’ve found the outer reaches of our self-esteem and self-respect, we tell each other: “At least you know that about yourself now.”

I’m not sure if this is really a Thing That People Say since I’m not living in a western country and am not as embedded in American culture anymore, but it’s been said to me on multiple occasions by very different women. And it’s been said in the exact same way, so I can only imagine that it didn’t just pop up out of nowhere.

It sounds like such a lovely, enlightened sentiment too. “At least you know that about yourself.” Because increased self-awareness is a good thing, a thing we strive for right? So learning more about yourself can only be a positive contribution to heightened consciousness. Right?

Except in each circumstance, it felt the opposite. It felt like such a patronizing thing to say. As in, “Oh you’re not as giving as you once thought you were? How sad. But hey, at least you know that about YOU.” Like, “Oh, you failed that exam, but hey, at least you tried, and that’s cool. I still got an A.”

There’s a thing that activists do where they try to out-activist other activists. When you’re committed to a cause, there is intense pressure to prove how committed you are: to do more in support of it, to identify with it more, and the peer pressure pushes people to be more extreme and uncompromising. Sometimes this manifests itself in beliefs and political stances. Sometimes it manifests itself in what initially would be a positive trait: giving, kindness, forgiveness…until you push so hard you get burnout.

Moms do this to each other too. However committed you are to a certain belief or behavior is exactly as committed as one should be. Anyone doing less or differently is less of a mother, anyone doing more is just crazy. Right?

Of course not. But we do this to each other.

Until you realize you are actually tired, stressed out, angrier than you should be, and maybe you do need to take better care of yourself in the ways that matter to YOU and fit in with YOUR lifestyle.

So if a friend of mine tells me she needs weekly spa treatments to feel human again after working full-time, mothering X number of kids, pursuing/finishing a degree, running a business, or frankly, with some of my friends, doing all of the above, or if she tells me she realizes she needs to demand a little more from others in order to keep herself afloat, I hope I never say, “At least you know that about yourself now.”

I hope I have the presence of mind to tell her something more like, “It’s not a bad thing to discover we all have boundaries.” Having boundaries is not something to feel guilty about, and it’s not something only certain people have. Everyone has them. Knowing where they are just means you can more efficiently find out in what areas you need to protect yourself and in what areas you can more freely give. Just because there is an outer limit to how generous you can be in certain circumstances does not mean you are not a generous person. Having a limit to kindness does not mean you are not kind. Having a limit to your selflessness does not make you selfish. Asking for the things you need is not being unreasonable. It’s just the smart way to ensure you can perform your best, whether as a wife, a mom, a friend, a sister, a daughter, a boss, an employee, or a warrior.

It took me many years to understand this, but I finally now get this saying, “You have to love yourself before you can love anyone else.” Fill yourself up first. When we are full, we can give so much more to everyone else.

Friends to Inspire You

Do you have friends that ever inspire you to grow as a person, whether creatively, or as a moral character, or in some other dimension?

I have several such friends (I like to keep inspiring people around me) – and two of them recently came to visit.

_1070835Dave and Leela are such a fun and generous couple. They’re so expressive and are just bursting with artistic energy.

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They make me want to go out and do, and to try, to experiment, and to unfold more and more of myself where I didn’t even realize I was keeping in bud. And they do it simply by being just who they are.

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There’s kind of a trend I’ve noticed, where people jokingly confess how inadequate they feel when they see someone else doing something awesome. When I see someone doing something awesome, it just make me want to go out and do something awesome too.

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Do you have people in your life who make you want to do awesome things? They’re good people to share tea and scones with. If you have them, keep them around.

Little by Little



Momma Chat

Wine, muchly needed

Wine, muchly needed

So…last week was HARD. The kind of hard you’re not sure you’ll survive until well after you’ve already come out of the haze that the hard was. It started with Cy having some issues with gassiness, then escalated into Mama’s got a case of mastitis….add in hot & cold compresses, vigorous boob massages, painful inflammation, feeding every 2 hours, and no sleep longer than 30 minutes at a time for 5 days straight…You get lots of tears. Lots and lots of tears. Most of them mine. The real irony was, just before that week hit, I had hit a sweet spot with Cy where I felt we’d found a groove, I could read his cues most of the time, and that I was finally healed from the c-section.

Lesson #1: As soon as you think you’ve got this, prepare for it all to prove you wrong.

Turns out what I really needed was a course of antibiotics, sleep, and friends. I can’t begin to describe how deep into Crazy Town I was last week, but between my family and friends, I managed not to get totally lost. It was in a (tear-filled) Skype session with an amazing friend and mama that I found some clarity. She shared a bit of wisdom that her cousin had once shared with her:

I never have a perfect day.

That may not sound very comforting on the face of it, but to the straight-A student who doesn’t grade on a curve, it was blessed relief. Lesson #2: Adjust your expectations. Because, yeah, maybe my boob is a little bit broken right now, but you know what? It’s still producing plenty of milk for my baby, who is happy and healthy, and full of smiles for his mama. And that IS what matters. I can’t say the day has gone totally smoothly, but I can say we learned a new game to play together. I can say I might have figured out how to get him to sleep in his bouncy chair so I don’t have to carry him to sleep. I can say that we had that really sweet moment when I booped him on the nose and he gave me the biggest grin.

I can say I got a really good nap. And I can say that when I got up to leave the room, he followed me with his eyes.

(I used to freak out when he would spit up a bunch all over while my boobs were leaking down my clothes and onto the floor. Now I keep a towel on the floor that I can push around with my foot, and call that a job done well enough.)

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And here’s Lesson #3: Mamas need other mamas. There was no advice on the internet, no book, no single anecdote or time-worn wisdom that saved me. It was other mamas. My own, my friends…others who’ve walked the path before me, who could tell me that the only way to get through this is to go through it, but that I WOULD indeed emerge out the other side.

Cy is 6 weeks old today and I tell myself we’re in the homestretch of the hardest of the hard. And honestly, as hard as last week was, there is SO MUCH love. And, thanks to Cy’s dad, a lot of laughs too. On this motherhood trip, I may make occasional visits to Crazy Town, but I am so lucky to have people in my life who make sure I don’t stay there.

Including this little one:

_1050652Thing I Love About Cy Today: I love that a really satisfying poop totally makes him smile.

 

A Coffee Chat

Analog(1)

Who says coffee and cookies do not a balanced breakfast make?

The big news around here (for me, at least) is that I’ve hit the 37-week mark of this pregnancy, which means the baby is technically considered full-term, even though his due date is still about 3 weeks away. So if he decides to come early, most likely all would be fine with him.

Meanwhile, I’m starting to feel really ready for his arrival. Mother Nature is so smart about these things. Where I used to be terrified of it; now, I’m like “Bring it!” I’m actually even almost curious to discover how I’ll do through it, like it’s the next big adventure. While I’m not in a rush for him to come (he still needs a little more time developing!), I am definitely ready to not be pregnant anymore. I’m ready to have my body back, even if it will sag and droop in places it didn’t use to do. I’m ready to be able to sleep on my stomach and not feel little fingers and toes squirm in protest. Although the baby and I will still be joined at the hip (or boob), I’m looking forward to being able to at least set the weight down from time to time–or pass it off to his father (heh heh).

I’m ready for a stiff cocktail.

Even if I still can’t have many of those either, what with breastfeeding and all.Analog(2)We had a visit with the doctor on Friday and all is right on track: baby hasn’t dropped yet (which is an approximate sign of impending labor), but he is head down (which is a very good thing) and he’s an estimated 3 kgs (6.6 lbs). The swollen feet I complained of last week were all considered within normal range for this point in the pregnancy, and actually the swelling seems to have gone down a bit over the past couple of days, which is a relief. I had read that weight gain can come to a stop, or even drop a little bit in the last month of pregnancy…I was skeptical, but it seems to be true, as I’ve even lost a couple of pounds this week. While the baby is still getting bigger, apparently the weight loss is due to reduced amniotic fluid as the baby fills out the belly. (It’s definitely not from the baked goods I’ve been consuming…though, wouldn’t that be nice.)

So that’s cool.

The other bit that makes me happy is that we had a chance to have friends over for a visit this weekend, and they brought their beautiful new 2-month old daughter. We were really curious to see how Dot would act around the baby as she hasn’t spent any time with babies before. Kids, yes (ever since she was a wee pup, I made a point to bring her to SOLD with me every chance I got specifically so she would learn to be good around kids), but the youngest child of her acquaintance has been about 3 years old. We were afraid she might bark or be nervous, but she did absolutely nothing of the sort. Her demeanor spoke of nothing but pure curiosity…all she wanted to do was sniff little Kate’s feet. She was very gentle around her (and of course we kept very close and watchful in case she wasn’t). She gave the baby space, was respectful as Kate slept in the bouncer on the floor while we ate lunch, and really seemed both fascinated by the baby and to understand the need to be delicate around her. We were very pleased, and are hopeful that this will bode well for when our little bean comes home.

_TMK0948-2On a quieter note, Toby and I have been feeling a tiny bit homesick for California these days. I don’t know if it’s because of the baby coming, or in spite of it…if it’s due to the time of year, or due to the likelihood that we would have traveled somewhere by now if I weren’t pregnant…but we’re thinking of home and our friends there. California is spectacular at this time of year too, the lazy hazy dog days of summer shift as the airs turns crisp towards fall and everything smells and tastes of pumpkin spice.

I miss wearing jackets. I miss socks.

And a couple of our best friends are expecting their first babe too–due on the same day as ours! They’re the kind of friends who, when we lived around the corner from each other, we would pop by for impromptu visits, or invite over for pie just because. As our pregnancies come to an end now, I feel a sadness that we’re not together, that we must share this time from so far away.

Well, all this talk of California is also making me crave Mexican food! I think that’s what I’m going to do for lunch today!

What’s going on with you? Are you feeling the hankering for autumn too? Happy Wednesday everyone!

 

Scenes From My Weekend

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We had friends over to visit this weekend–our first chance to really spend some time with them since they gave birth to their beautiful baby girl a couple of months ago.

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It was low-key and lovely…and full of fresh-baked quiche. I made this one with bacon, caramelized onions, Gruyere, and Parmesan. I kind of want some more right now.

How was your weekend?

 



The Kind of Article I’m Starting to Hate

There is a certain kind of article/blog post that I’ve been coming across more and more these days, and each time I read one, I know I should just click away, but I’m drawn to it like a moth to a flame. And just as assuredly as the flame can burn the moth, this kind of article draws my ire.

It’s the “What Not To Say” kind of article.

I’m sure you’ve seen them. What Not To Say to a Disabled Person. What Not To Say to a Working Mom. What Not To Say to a Stay at Home Mom. What Not to Say to Someone Who Has Miscarried. What Not to Say to a Mom With Lots of Kids. What Not To Say to Thin People. What Not to Say to Fat People. What Not to Say to Parents of Kids with Special Needs. What Not to Say to Girls…To Teens…To Pregnant Women…To Recovering Alcoholics…To Survivors of {fill in the blank}…actually, you can fill in whatever you can think of, I’m sure there’s an article somewhere on it.

They always sound so helpful at first, because yes, of course, we want to say the right thing when someone is facing a particularly difficult challenge. We want to empathize. We want to be helpful. We, by and large, want to avoid being assholes.

Of course.

But notice this kind of article I’m referring to is not a “What TO say” article. It’s not advice that tells you what will be helpful. By all means, tell me what I can do to best serve you in your need. Yet, far too many of these articles only focus on lashing out against the words of the uninformed and possibly judgmental.

The effect is, instead of telling you how to help, it basically tells you to shut the hell up. Because when you’re actually faced with a grieving person, can you really remember the full list of 10 Things You Must Not Say you read that one time last October? No. So you are left, mute, with nothing but the awareness that it’s all too easy to say the wrong thing.

Meanwhile, I’m increasingly uncomfortable with the spirit in which these types of articles are written. We all face our own challenges in life. Our struggles are as unique as each of us, and we respond in different ways. What helps one heal or step up may not be useful to another.

The thing is…I don’t feel that other people owe it to us to understand us perfectly. Yes, people often say the wrong things, but how often do they really have bad intentions? If they haven’t been in our place, on what founding do we have the right to expect them to know how we feel? More often than not, it’s pretty easy to tell when someone is just trying to make you feel better. It may be a clumsy attempt. It may even be the opposite of helpful. But isn’t it worth anything that they’re trying?

Of course, there are some people who really are just being hateful, but I don’t think they’ll be won over by a “What Not to Say” article either. They’re not the intended audience – the real audience is the well-meaning commiserators. Just like it would be ungracious to throw a Christmas gift back at someone simply because it wasn’t what you wanted, I find it ungracious to judge others for a failed attempt to be kind. Even words that sometimes sound like judgment are really just awkward, clumsy attempts to try to protect you – a motivation based in love, not hatred or contempt.

Yes, there are better and worse ways to comfort people, to converse with them, to let them know you’re there. Many times, there are no words that can help a person heal or deal. Maybe even most times a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on are worth more than any thousands of words.

But the world does not owe us perfectly eloquent grace or perfectly clear understanding. Each person who loves us is a gift. Each loving intention is its own kind of grace. Embracing them all with loving kindness can do far more to help us heal than focusing on how they fell short of our mark.

 

A Conversation

Her: So you’re telling me you live in a gated community with security guards that salute you and click their heels every time you pass through the gate. And you’re in a 4-bedroom house. For $670 a month.

Me: Yes. Except for the first full year I felt incredibility guilty about it, like we had somehow found a way to game the system and it’s all great now, but someday karma’s going to come back and bite us in the ass.

Her: Right. Because God clearly hates people who try to prevent children from being trafficked into prostitution.

Me: Yeah, well, and yesterday I felt like a total schmuck because our maid came, and she normally comes on Mondays, when I’m working, so it’s fine and makes sense, but this week she came on a Sunday, which is my day off, and I felt like a total asshole sitting on the couch reading a book while she cleaned up around me.

Her (blink, blink): Because…why?

Me: Well, you know, it’s guilt. I’ve got this whole white liberal privileged guilt thing –

Her: White liberal privileged guilt — You’re half-Thai – white liberal privileged guilt, and you’re not even all that white. Do even you hear how ludicrous this sounds now?

Me: (nodding while tears of laughter stream down my face)

Her: It’s like the Thai side makes it worse; like your Thai side is warring with your white side…and um, I barely know you, but here’s my assessment of your entire cultural identity. You’re welcome.

Me: (still laughing, but not, because it’s totally true and I’d never thought of it that way before)

::

We met to exchange written words and ended up talking for hours. That conversation stuck with me for days afterward, and I wanted to preserve a piece of it, even if I only caught the gist of how it made me feel, because it made me feel better. I love people who can make me laugh; I really love people who can make me laugh at myself. I wanted to thank her for that.

Each Thursday, we come together to celebrate living life with intention by capturing a glimmer of the bigger picture through a simple moment. Have you found yourself in such a moment lately? Share it with us! 

Live. Capture. Share. Encourage.
This week we’re linking up at Melissa’s!
BE SURE TO CATCH HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE PREVIOUS WEEK
And head there for your daily dose of creativity:
prompts for photos, for words, for inspiration,
and for a life lived mindfully!

California is so friggin’ scenic

As I write this, I’m rocking out to Fun.’s “Some Nights” and “Home” by Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes. Those two songs have become the soundtrack to my trip home and the epic time we’ve been having with our friends. The latter was playing while we were folding pinwheels and making bouquets out of succulents. And the bride and I grabbed each other and belted out “Home, home is whenever I’m with you” as we danced in celebration of their union and our reunion.

I’m going to remember that forever.

Toby & I drove down the coast route, the Pacific Coast Highway, our favorite way to get from Santa Barbara to L.A.

We had the top down on the convertible. The ocean was candescent with greens and blues. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky.

 

I asked Toby what top three qualities he appreciated most in people. He said an adventurous spirit or drive, self-sufficiency, and being unpretentious about who you are is what he valued most.

My top three are: loyalty, compassion, and an approach to life with a healthy sense of humor.

What are your top three?

Travel has expanded my definition of home. It’s not one place or one scene or one idea. But it’s a large, beautiful home. And my heart overflows.

 

It Doesn’t Take Much

We arrived in Santa Barbara, our home among homes. This little town is the place where we both have spent a good third of our lives. It’s where we’ve met some of our best friends, it’s where Toby & I found each other, it’s where we learned some of the most important lessons about ourselves and life, and it’s where we vowed to love and support each other for the rest of our lives.

You could say Santa Barbara has meaning for us.

And we return now to witness two of our dearest friends commit themselves to each other, in front of all their family and friends.

So our first day back in Santa Barbara, we didn’t spend our time seeing the sights or reminiscing over key places. We didn’t tour our old campus or hit up a list of favorite spots.

We spent it on the floor of our friends’ apartment gluing, pasting, folding, tying, and taping together elements of a wedding. We spent it chatting, with sips of coffee smuggled in between assembly-line wrapped silverware, and we spent it with hugs and laughter over bits of small talk and casual conversation. This wasn’t a “catching up on everything deep that has ever happened in the past two years.” It was a “How the heck do we do these seating arrangements, and oh, by the way, did you guys see that Jeb Corliss video? Hold my ribbon and watch this.”

And it was perfect.

It was perfect because, if we still lived in Santa Barbara, this is exactly what we would be doing. Helping each other, having fun, and just enjoying an endless stream of jokes and laughter. No fuss, no frills. Just being.

The best friends are the ones with whom you can just be.

Each Thursday, we come together to celebrate living life with intention by capturing a glimmer of the bigger picture through a simple moment. Have you found yourself in such a moment lately? Share it with us! 

Live. Capture. Share. Encourage.
This week we’re linking up at Melissa’s!
BE SURE TO CATCH HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE PREVIOUS WEEK
And head there for your daily dose of creativity:
prompts for photos, for words, for inspiration,
and for a life lived mindfully!

Once upon a time…

Note: New Writing Circles dates have been announced! Two new Fiction Writing (including one in which you can Bring Your Own Work!) dates hosted by yours truly in October! Check my sidebar or click here for details.

…I had a crush on a boy who was also a friend. We were in high school, and bonded over politics, sarcasm, epic long letters passed between classes, and a shared sense of ironic humor. I crushed on him hard and silently, but it must not have been too silent because one day, another friend of mine, Cole*, came up to me and told me the crippling news.

“He said he wishes you would get the hint that he doesn’t like you.”

Devastated and ashamed, I was. I never confronted my friend; I just licked my wounds in private. I took the hint and began to distance myself. If he wondered why I stopped writing, why we stopped talking so much, and why I wandered away, he never asked. If he was hurt by the fact that I put my wounded ego above our friendship, he never let on. I started dating someone else, and so did he. We graduated and went our separate ways.

Other than sending a few newsy catch-up emails, we probably haven’t given each other much thought in the years since. We each got happily married, and probably neither of us would change a thing in our lives. We are both good and we are fine.

Then one day recently, I had a dream and he was in it. I woke up, went to check Facebook, and found he (a man who rarely even uses Facebook) posted a major announcement on it. I congratulated him, as the situation warranted, and chuckled at the funny coincidence.

In passing, I mentioned the coincidence to my mother, and she said, “I still think he liked you,” as she is wont to do from time to time. I shook it off and said I doubted it, as I always do when she says this. Except this time, I finally told her the evidence I had to suggest he didn’t.

“Cole said that he had told him he wished I’d get the hint that he didn’t like me.”

She laughed. “Of course Cole said that.” And I nodded, because now that I think about it, it was pretty clear around then that Cole had liked me. (God, high school drama is dumb.)

Not for the first time, I wondered if I had an entirely wrong read on the situation.

Whether my friend liked me or not will probably remain a mystery, and that’s okay, because I’m happy and he’s happy, and none of that has one iota of bearing on my life now. The only reason I tell this story today is because sometimes it takes sixteen years to learn something.

And what I learned is this: I wish I hadn’t been so ready to believe I couldn’t be loved that I so quickly let a good friend go.

If I ever have a daughter, or if I could ever talk to yours, I would shout this from rooftops: Believe you can be loved.

Sometimes people hurt us. But sometimes, that’s okay because maybe there is a bigger picture. Sometimes, there’s something more meaningful than a passing hurt.

::

*Name changed to protect privacy.

Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy – the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”
~ Brené Brown

Each Thursday, we come together to celebrate living life with intention by capturing a glimmer of the bigger picture through a simple moment. Have you found yourself in such a moment lately? Share it with us! 

Live. Capture. Share. Encourage.
This week we’re linking up at Sarah’s!
BE SURE TO CATCH HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE PREVIOUS WEEK
And head there for your daily dose of creativity:
prompts for photos, for words, for inspiration,
and for a life lived mindfully!

 

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