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.

 

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!

 

tell it to me tuesday – friendship

Your arm's hairier than mine!When I was a little girl, friendship meant we liked to play together. It meant sharing toys and playing mermaids in swimming pools. Into adolescence, it became about understanding. In the midst of all that teen angst, we sought out people who really got us.

Then you get older and they say a true friend is someone you can always count on, and you begin to really get that. Moving through the trials of life, it becomes important to have friends you can rely on to be there time and again.

Now, when I look on the friendships that really stand the test of time, I see that’s only part of the story. There are a lot of wonderful people in this world. Amazing people who will hold out a hand when you are falling. People who seek you out and shoulder your deepest pains. They will wipe up your tears and tell you what you need to hear. Not always what you want to hear – but what you need to hear. People for whom you might always feel grateful and lucky to have known.

But for me, true friendship comes when that trust goes both ways: when both sides open themselves to vulnerability, when both sides trust each other. True friends are people who stand by your side when the rest of the world turns on you, but they also come to you when the world has turned on them. Not only do they shelter you, but they come to you for shelter too. True friends shield and shepherd each other, coming together no matter which way the rain blows. It begins in a moment, but it’s a thread that can only be woven by the push and pull of each strand across time.

What is friendship to you?

The Rules
I think there is real power in the human voice, as flawed as it may be. And when the voices speak together, when you have a multitude of voices speaking, patterns begin to emerge and there you can begin to understand truth. So in the spirit of the personal narrative, I am hosting a weekly challenge every Tuesday morning, where I will post a topic (ranging from the banal to the intimate) and ask readers to respond. I would love to see everyone’s answers and how similar and different they all are.

You can respond in any way you choose. You can give a fictional response or a true one. You can use words, sentences, and/or photographs. If you have a blog, you can link it with Mr. Linky below. Please be sure to include “Tell It To Me Tuesdays” in the title, and link back to this post. Feel free to use the “Tell It To Me Tuesday” button available to the right. If you don’t have a blog, but want to join in, you can just leave a comment. Please follow the rules. I don’t want to have to delete links. I like links! Don’t make me delete them.

TITMT

Next week’s challenge: Time

women unbound – queen bees and wannabes

queenbeesWhat? Two posts in one day? Two Women Unbound posts in one week? What’s going on here? Actually, this post is totally impromptu – I just finished reading a book I happened to come across a reference of, had to read it asap, and was SO ENTHRALLED by it the entire time reading it, I just had to post about it immediately.  And I would say any parent with a daughter over the age of about 7 MUST READ THIS BOOK.

Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends and Other Realities of Adolescence by Rosalind Wiseman is a parent’s guide, but it is a perfect candidate for Women Unbound because it is all about empowerment: empowering young girls to navigate the murky, dramatic, and sometimes crippling waters of adolescent life and still learn how to treat herself and others with decency and respect.

I say this book is a must read because, quite honestly, and as the book makes clear, the world of adolescents today is a different beast than even in my day and most certainly in my parent’s generation. Adolescence, as much as we might cringe to acknowledge, is starting at younger and younger ages because kids have all kinds of social and media pressures to act older – which is problematic because they’re still just learning moral guideposts, but they’re faced with more and more situations where they have to figure out for themselves what the right course of action is within the confines of the very rigid and demanding framework of rules of their social world. And nothing has had more of an impact on their world than technology. When we were kids, if rumors were spread about us, it was by word of mouth. Now, when kids spread gossip about each other, it’s across the school and on the internet in seconds. If a girl takes a picture of her breasts with her cell phone and sends it to a boy she likes, hoping it’ll make him like her, there’s little stopping him from sending it to all his friends or for any of them from emailing it to all the other kids in school, who can all then call her a slut as they pass her in hallways. These kids are on Facebook or other social media sites, often with multiple accounts knowing their parents check one, and they’re very susceptible to “trolling” and acting online in ways you never would in person.

And it’s frustrating for parents or others who are trying to be good role models for these kids because it’s an age when the kids are trying to pull away from their parents. They alternate, sometimes without any apparent rhyme or reason, between being insecure and needing your hugs and rolling their eyes at you and treating you like you’re the biggest jerk ever. Ironically, I found it actually comforting that it’s completely normal to have moments where you really just DO NOT LIKE this kid and wonder how your sweet, wonderful daughter turned into this crazy person overnight. And it’s not just your kid…it’s pretty much every kid. Because whether they’re the Queen Bee, the Torn Bystander, or the socially outcast Target, they all have some role to play in their world. They all do something that maintains or challenges the social order and their actions affect their relationships with other kids AND what they learn about intimate relationships that can have repercussions throughout their lives. Even if their daily actions don’t, they will almost inevitably face moments where they will have to make critical decisions. And they bring that baggage home with them and it affects their moods and how they deal with family and others.

We’re all familiar with this because we all lived through this before too. But I think the reason this book is so helpful is because Wiseman (who is an educator who spent over a decade compiling observations and talking to a wide range of girls and boys and having them look over her drafts to ensure accuracy) helps explain things in the framework of the logic of the girl’s world. We, as adults, usually forget how this logic works because we’ve grown up. We see things with an adult perspective and respond in kind. In a certain sense, having an adult perspective means you see some things more clearly than your daughter does – and so you wonder why she puts up with it when others treat her like crap, or when she is the one being bossy or judgmental when you certainly didn’t raise her to be that kind of person. But sometimes our knee-jerk reactions (like when we say “Just ignore it” or “They’re just jealous of you”) don’t make sense in the framework of their logic and so are ineffective strategies.

And what is extra amazing about this book is that at the end of each section, Wisemen takes a moment to have parents reflect on their own experiences as adolescents and whether those experiences are informing how parents are acting as role models. It made me really reflect on some of my more formative experiences. For example, I think one of the biggest experiences happened to me in high school – and I didn’t even really recognize how big of an impact it had on me at the time; only with hindsight do I see its effects. In my junior year, I developed a crush on a friend (we’ll call him Daniel) and I found out he liked me too. But before anything happened between us, I went to Washington, DC for a week (it’s amazing how much can happen in a week when you’re a teenager) through an extracurricular school program, and when I came back I discovered after much drama and a flurry of back-and-forth phone calls that my friend (we’ll call her Alice) had gotten jealous and decided she liked Daniel too. And Daniel liked her back. And Daniel (oh, aren’t boys so sweet?), caught in the middle, came up and told me he liked both of us and wanted to date both of us simultaneously.

I was like, “Fuuuuuuuck no.” (Pardon my French.) Actually, I didn’t cuss him out. I just told him that if that was how he felt, he and Alice could just have each other. I was NOT going to be involved in that. I’m glad I stood up for myself and didn’t let him use me that way. But the whole experience did have a very dramatic impact on my ability to trust girl friends after that. And it was a long time before I could really develop female friendships with other girls that were really based on equality, trust, and mutual respect.

So it helps to think through what our own emotional baggage might be, to see how that might color the kind of guidance we give as role models.

And the key, fundamental guidepost behind the strategies Wiseman offers (that have been checked and approved by adolescents themselves as being helpful) is a core commitment to decency and respect – and giving kids the tools they need to act with that commitment in mind in a way that makes sense to them.

Does this meet any of your experiences? For those of you with adolescent daughters, have you had times where you were just at your wits’ end about how to guide her? Have you found her or her friends doing mean things over text message or the internet? Or has she been a target of such meanness? Do you have grade school experiences that have shaped you?

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