There Is ONE Person To Blame For Sexual Harassment (Hint: It’s Not The Victim)

Happy New Year!  I didn’t at all intend to start this year with a post like this, but I saw a meme, was swiftly irritated…. and, well, nothing inspires me like a little (or a lot) of irritation.  

So the Golden Globes were this past weekend.  I used to be a big fan of the award shows, but have mostly stopped watching them.  We did have the Golden Globes on though, mainly because Stranger Things was nominated, and Tegan is still into all things Stranger Things, all the time.  It didn’t win, but Lady Bird did, as did its protagonist, Saoirse Ronan.  I was really excited to see that, as I’d just seen that movie a few weeks ago, and absolutely loved it.  Very well deserved win.

People have incredibly strong feelings about the Golden Globes, and all the award shows, and Hollywood in general.  This post is not about that.  People get all worked up about how much money is spent on dresses and jewelry and hair and makeup, and it’s not about that.  Other people stress out about the political climate, and celebrities getting on soapboxes, and how everyone has an agenda.  It’s not about that either.

This is about sexual harassment, and about the fact that we are still – in 2018 – blaming the victim.

This is the meme that came across my newsfeed:

I’m feeling particularly generous, so I won’t start out by pointing out the fact that “harassment” is misspelled.

It’s not nice to tell people that they’re dressed like hookers.  Let’s just start there.  A person’s attire does not dictate their profession.  And even if it did,  it’s gross  – and easy – to turn sweeping generalizations and stereotypes into insults.  Seriously, calling people hookers?  Wow.  What a well thought-out and mature argument.   (Side note here, because it has no bearing on my point: I think all three women look gorgeous.  Also, Halle Berry is 51!  I hope I have even half the confidence she has to so totally own and rock that dress when I’m 51.  The masses like to tell people what they should and should not wear at certain ages.  Malarkey.  Wear what makes you feel good.)

Comparing them to hookers isn’t the biggest problem here, though.

The problem is that sexual harassment is caused by the people doing the harassing.  Full stop.

A woman’s wearing a low-cut top?  Still the fault of the harasser.

A woman’s wearing a short skirt?  Still the fault of the harasser.

A woman dares go out into public with her hair done and her face made-up and lots of skin showing?  Still the fault of the harasser.

Sexual harassment is an actual problem, and blaming the victim just perpetuates it.  Writing or agreeing with or sharing memes like this makes you part of the problem, not part of the solution.  If you think certain clothing gives men carte blanche to say whatever they want, you are part of the problem.  If you think that woman should feel complimented or flattered when they’re cat-called, or receive unwanted advances, or are touched in a way that makes them uncomfortable, you are part of the problem.

And while it should go without saying (except that I’m having to say it), not only is it insulting and unfair and disgusting to make “suggestive” clothing the cause of men’s misbehavior, it’s also just categorically untrue.  Lots of women are harassed.  Wearing lots of different kinds of clothes.  True story:  A couple of weeks ago, I was driving to an appointment downtown.  I’m a 44 year old mom, driving a mom-car, wearing my mom-uniform of jeans and Chucks.  I glanced over at the car next to me at a red light because, well because that’s what you do at red lights.  The driver looked over at me, made eye contact, and smiled.  Not a friendly smile, but a decidedly creepy, leering smile.  I forced myself to give him the benefit of the doubt, and decided that maybe it was innocent after all.  Maybe he just had that sort of face.  A few more sideways glances at future lights (he was beside me for what felt like 15 miles), told me my instincts had been correct.  He was leering.  And being gross.  And making me incredibly uncomfortable.  I was wearing jeans and a t-shirt.  It wasn’t okay.  And guess what?  If I’d been wearing any of the dresses in the above photo, it wouldn’t have been okay either.

Sexual harassment is the fault of the one doing the harassing.  Each time.  Every time.

The great irony in this that the ones blaming the victims,  the ones taking the onus off the men?  They’re actually showing their distinct disregard for both genders, in one fell swoop.  They’re turning women into objects, sexual non-humans that are merely present to attract attention.  But they’re turning men into objects too:  Walking penises incapable of controlling themselves, doing nothing more than looking for their next conquest.

Our women deserve better.

Our men deserve better too.

Most men manage to make it through the day without harassing a single person.  Most men know how to respect women.  Most men see women in low cut dresses as…. women in low cut dresses, not as a get-out-of-jail free card to treat them however they’d like.

As for the others?  The ones who do use power and intimidation and ego to sexually harass women?  That is their fault. 100% of the time.

And it doesn’t make a damn bit of difference what their victim happens to be wearing.


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10 Tips For A Low-Stress Holiday

Christmas is ONE WEEK from today, which is… weird.  It’s just really weird.  This was a strange year for me, and the holidays came up quickly.  I had finals for the first time in 20 something years, and Tegan’s play was wrapping up.  When those two things were over (the first week of December), life suddenly exhaled and went “whoosh”, and things got quiet again.

And now it’s one week before Christmas.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have REALLY stressed out during some Christmases past.  Like, truly, severely stressed out.  I held myself to this ridiculous expectation of having to have everything perfect… from the (of course, homemade) advent calendar, to the paper snowflakes, to the photos, to the parties and the light displays and the hot chocolate and the cookie baking and the shopping and the wrapping and the Christmas cards and the new pajamas and the Christmas Eve church services and the big Christmas day spread of food,

and and and and….

And we were going to be happy about it, dammit!  It was exhausting.  I’m exhausted right now just thinking about it.

A few years ago, I decided that that really wasn’t too fun, and I wasn’t going to stress about it anymore.  The first thing that went were the Christmas cards.  And you know what?  Life went on even though we stopped sending Christmas cards.  (The sad thing though is that since we stopped sending cards, we almost completely stopped receiving cards as well… which makes us appreciate the ones we do get all the more).

But we didn’t stop doing everything.   In fact, we still actually do a lot of things on the above list. It’s just that we now do them because we want to do them, not because we feel like we have to do them.  And it has made all the difference.

Here’s a partial list of some of the things I keep in mind every year to keep the holidays (much) less stressful.  I can’t rightly say stress-free, because… well, because life comes with stress sometimes.   But the following surely helps.

1. Adjust your expectations.  Your house doesn’t really need to be cleaned in every corner to have company over.  If it’s stressing you out, skip it!  NO ONE WILL JUDGE YOU IF YOU DON’T DUST YOUR CEILING FANS (and if they do, honestly, are they the kind of people you want to be inviting over in the first place?)  They came to see you.  You don’t HAVE to send Christmas cards.  You don’t HAVE to make 87 kinds of cookies.  You don’t HAVE to read “Twas The Night Before Christmas” just because it’s Christmas Eve.  It’s not going to be perfect.  It never is.  That’s okay.  Let go of whatever’s not serving you. Let yourself off the hook, rid yourself of the need to be perfect, and just enjoy the holiday.  If you’re expecting a perfect holiday, with perfectly coiffed children, and perfectly well-behaved pets, and chestnuts happily roasting in an open fire… you’re likely going to be disappointed.  Instead, enjoy it for all its beautiful, messy imperfections, no matter how they may unfold.

2. Keep your kids a top priority.  This is perhaps the most important thing of all, especially during a time when many parents are finding themselves reacting to stress and/or unusually high energy by controlling, punishing, etc.  This is a time when kids need parents who are patient, calm, and looking out for their best interest.  Are they getting enough rest?  Are they eating nourishing foods?  Do they WANT to go to another holiday party?  Do they WANT to sit on Santa’s lap?  Getting tuned in, staying super connected, and respecting their needs and desires will not only be a great thing for your relationship, but it will also alleviate a lot of the collective holiday related stress.

3. Go with the flow of changing needs and preferences. This was one I had to learn over time, to be sure.  At the time of this writing, my kids are 20, 17, 13, and 9.  Christmas is different than it was when they were little … and that’s okay too.  They’re not interested in the same activities.  They’ve outgrown certain traditions.  Not taking it personally when they say, “No thanks” to driving around the neighborhood to look at the Christmas lights goes a long way towards lessening your holiday stress.  Kids grow, things change, holidays are different.  The upside?  Kids grow, things change, holidays are different.  A new thing for us this year is that the 17 year old offered to cook Christmas dinner (he’s making lasagnas), and the 13 year old offered to bake some of the treats and cookies.  Which just means that we get to enjoy them in a whole new way.  And that’s really, really cool.

4. Focus on the little things.  In a practice that really should continue all year long, enjoy all the fun little things of the holiday!  Making the paper snowflakes, decorating the gingerbread house, picking up the special drink from Starbucks, watching the favorite Christmas movie for the 87th time, enjoying hot cocoa made from scratch (or from a canister, if that’s more your style!), just being together.  This is the 21st Christmas we’ve had since we’ve had kids, and while we’ve done some pretty cool and big and interesting things during the holidays…. it’s the little moments that I remember the most.  Because in reality, they’re really not so little.  They’re the important stuff.

5. Simplify your gift-giving.  It has taken us a little trial and error, but streamlining our gift-giving has helped a lot in terms of keeping our focus less on just getting a whole bunch of “stuff” and more on picking out the few things that we know someone else will love.  Mike and I stopped getting gifts for each other several years ago (though he does break the rule sometimes :)), mainly because we get what we need throughout the year, and we’d rather spend our Christmas money on the kids and/or other people who may need it more than we do.  For the kids, we generally do “Something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read.”  We’re not super rigid about sticking to it exactly, but it is a great place to start, and it’s made us really think about what we’re getting them.  It also feels like it makes each present more meaningful than when we’d get piles and piles of gifts, just to…. get piles and piles of gifts.  We do buy for all the nieces and nephews, but for the adults, we do a name drawing for each side of the family, so we only buy for whatever sibling, parent, or inlaw that we’re paired with.  Which makes it fun, and easy, and lets us think about something that will be meaningful and enjoyable for that one specific person.  Your mileage may vary of course (you do you), but this way has worked well for us, and made gift giving fun again, instead of stressful.

6. Keep only the traditions that are important to you.  When Spencer was born, I went a little crazy with the new traditions we “needed” to follow.  From the books we’d read, to the movies we’d watch, to the activities we’d do.  And because life happens, and things change, and kids grow, I’ve had to accept and realize that not all traditions have to be kept.  We did hang on to a couple though.  Christmas Eve is always sacred, and has been for the past 20 years.  It’s just for our own core little family.  We’ve gone to church some years, we’ve stayed in and watched movies some years, we’ve hung out and had carpet picnics some years…. but we’ve always spent it with just us, and if I have to, I pull out full mama bear protection over that Christmas Eve bubble.  The kids all exchange presents on Christmas Eve too – they do a name drawing among the siblings, and all really enjoy it.  I really, really appreciate Christmas Eve with all six of us, and I know that it’s not something we’ll have forever. We also watch the same movies every year, though not everyone chooses to watch anymore.  There are still a couple of cookies that I HAVE to make too (black and whites and Oreo balls are my specialties.) But other than that, we’re …. fluid, and we let the kids lead.  

7. Don’t be afraid to say no.  Just like with point number 1, there should never be any “have-tos” during the holiday season.  You don’t have to go to that party just because you were invited.  You don’t have to go caroling.  You don’t have to go to that cookie swap or that White Elephant gift exchange.  If you and/or your kids are feeling stressed, burnt out, or like you’ve taken on too much, it’s perfectly acceptable (preferable, even!) to politely decline.

8. REST – I PROMISE you that the world won’t come to a standstill if you take an hour or an afternoon or a whole day to drink tea and watch Christmas movies.  I promise you that the holidays will still come and go and be perfectly fine and lovely and joyful if you ignore the chores one day.  I’d even argue that taking care of yourself and making sure that you rest is every bit as important – if not more so – than anything else on your holiday to-do list. Unless literal LIVES hang in the balance, it’s okay and good and vital to rest, recharge, and take some regular time for yourself…. even during the hustle and bustle of the holidays.

9. Live in the present.  One of the lessons I find myself needing to learn over and over again (and have written about several times on my blog) is the importance of living in the present.  This is never more applicable than during the busy and stressful seasons of life.  I took a Buddhism class this past semester, not because I want to convert to Buddhism, but because I needed a religion credit and I always found it interesting.  Lo and behold, I learned some hugely meaningful things in this class, one of them being…. the importance of presence.  There is only right now.  Truly getting this, and LIVING this, is life-changing.  For real.  My therapist, who is not Buddhist, and does not resemble Buddha in any way, has stressed this same point to me many many times.  In fact, one of my biggest take-aways, over 18 long months of therapy, is this:  “Right now, there is no problem to solve.” Problems come when we’re focused on the past, or worrying about the future.  When you’re really and truly in THIS MOMENT, there are no problems.  Including the shopping, the wrapping, the cleaning, the baking, the decorating…. right now, there are no problems, and therefore, no stress.

10. Remember your reason for the season. I deliberately said, “your” instead of “the” because my reason for the season might not be the same as yours.  Christians like to say that Christ is the reason for the season, but I think that it’s important to remember that 1) most of what we do at Christmas time has been adapted from Pagan traditions, not the other way around, and 2) that there are many many more holidays than Christmas, and that they’re all celebrating something different.  I know it’s a cliche.  It is.  But whatever the season means to you, focus on that rather than on the busy, the crazy, the chaos, the stress that the holidays can sometimes bring.  And the rest of the extraneous “noise” tends to fade away.

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Just because you’re invited to the stress of the holidays, it doesn’t mean you have to accept.

Wishing you all a calm, peaceful, and stress-free holiday, no matter what it is you celebrate.


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It’s Not Me, It’s You

Not a lot of things make me angry.

A lot of things make me react, for sure, but I tend more towards melancholy, hurt feelings, depression.  But anger isn’t generally one of my bigger go-to’s.  Having said that, I have spent a VERY large portion of the past 18 months being extremely angry at my therapist.

At least I thought it was anger.

What I realized somewhere along the way was that 98% of the time, it wasn’t really anger at all.  I was uncomfortable because he’d challenged my core beliefs.  I was defensive because deep down I knew he was right.  I was embarrassed because he’d brought things to light that I’d have rather kept hidden.  I was frustrated because he’d put the onus on ME to examine, to question, to choose whether or not I was willing to change something that wasn’t serving me, or wasn’t serving the people I loved.

None of those things are the same as anger.  It’s just that it’s So. Much. Easier. to blame someone else than it is to do the uncomfortable, messy, hard (soooo freaking hard) work of actually doing a little bit of self-reflection.  If I blamed HIM, then I got to completely let myself off the hook.  I didn’t have to admit, or change, a single thing.

But the thing is … it wasn’t him.  It was me.

I’ve been thinking a lot about anger the past few days, ever since I read the comments on my “Can We Stop Being Jerks At Christmas” post when it ran on Scary Mommy.  I stopped reading after the first couple hundred, because after awhile they all honestly sounded the same.  I’m judgmental, I’m arrogant, I’m sanctimonious, and screw you, you-can’t-tell-me-what-to-do-with-my-kids.  Ad nauseam.  By the way, while I’m on the subject, the not-really-a-word word, “Sanctimommy,” is THE silliest, most ridiculous word to come out of the internet, and the idea that I’m supposed to be offended or feel bad to have it hurled in my direction is…. laughable, at best.

The one big theme I saw though, the one that ran through nearly all the comments, was anger.  Dear Lord, so much anger.  Anger directed at me, for…. daring to suggest we be nicer to our kids.  Does anyone else see the irony in that?  Nothing makes people angrier faster than proposing a little more respect.  A little more grace.  A little more understanding.  Nothing makes people angrier faster than challenging the status quo.  Challenging the idea of punishment, of spanking, of time-outs, of manipulation.  Nothing makes people angrier faster than bringing up the idea that YES, children can learn discipline, and self-control, and empathy, and personal responsibility without being shamed and threatened into it.  Nothing makes people angrier faster than the assertion, that yes, gentle parenting is not only possible, but is in fact preferable, for all parties.

But I don’t actually think it’s anger.

There’s always much ado about the fact that “there’s no right or wrong way to parent”, and that to suggest otherwise is arrogant and judgmental.  Well, sorry (except I’m not), but I do believe that kindness is always the right choice.  I do believe that respect is always the right choice.  I do believe that treating our kids the way we’d like to be treated, that treating our kids like HUMAN BEINGS instead of second class citizens is always the right choice.  Always.  Every time.  And it’s a hill I’d be willing to die on… any day of the week and twice on Sundays.

And I wonder, if you’re so confident in your own choice, why on earth would it make you so angry if someone else suggested something different?

It’s likely because you’re not really angry.  You’re uncomfortable, you’re defensive, you’re frustrated, you’re embarrassed.  Your toes have been stepped on.  But you’re not actually angry.  And you’re certainly not angry at me.  You don’t even know me.  But just like with me and my therapist, it’s easier to be angry at me than it is to actually think about anything I said.  To actually ponder it.  To actually wonder if I made any sort of point worth listening to.  It’s easier to make it my fault.  To call me names.  To call my kids names.

It’s been a long time since I’ve gone to church with any regularity, but I have some very strong memories of some sermons that really affected me.  And they were never sermons that were sunshine and rainbows, never sermons that patted me on the back for what I was already doing.  No, they were the ones that called me out, the ones that challenged me.  The ones that stepped on my toes.  The ones that made me want to hide, red-faced, under the pew because surely he was talking directly about me.

So I get it.  I actually do get it.

But I think that parents – ALL OF US as parents – should be nicer to our kids.  And no negative comment will ever change that.

So call me names.  Call me judgmental.  Call me arrogant.  I can take it.  But some day, at some point, you might want to admit the fact that it’s not actually me you’re mad at.


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Can We Stop Being Jerks At Christmas?

Why do the holidays seem to bring out the worst in people?  Don’t answer that yet.

And why, WHY, do people insist on treating their kids like they’re not even people?  Don’t answer that yet either.

Christmas depresses me.  I mean, don’t get me wrong.  I love Christmas.  I love making it special for my kids, love giving presents, love making cookies, love the food, love the festivities.  This year is a mellow year for us.  We just came off the nine-year-old’s play, which was taking a lot of time, especially during that final tech week.  And my semester just ended, the same week as her play.  So right now, I’m exhaling.  Exhaling and getting ready to enjoy the holidays, but not freaking out about getting anything in particular done in time.  What will be will be, and it’ll be nice.

But it still depresses me.

Mainstream parents tend to go a little crazy this time of year.  I’ve never made any secret about the fact that I disagree with mainstream parenting in general… but never do I disagree with more fervor than at Christmas time.

I don’t have the vocabulary to express how much I hate some of what goes on during Christmas.  (And by the way:  Like they say in the movie Stepmom, hate isn’t a word I use often.  I think it’s a “perfectly acceptable word, but only to be used when I truly detest something”)  I truly detest what some parents do this time of year.

I wrote about the Santa Cams a few weeks back, but the latest thing that’s been brought to my attention is the idea of “present jail.”  In a public post that is getting praised up and down on Facebook, one mom posted a picture of a cardboard box with some presents in it, and writes:

So….we started this yesterday because one little girl refuses to listen and behave. Any present still in the box at Christmas goes put up and can only be EARNED back by good behavior. If they can follow the rules and be good for an entire day, they can return a jailed present back to the tree. Sometimes having a visual helps a lot more than just telling them. And they have to put the present in there themselves. Presents are a privilege not a right, naughty children do not get gifts for misbehaving. #meanmom

The first time a friend showed it to me, I said, “I should write about that.  But how many times, and how many ways can I say, “BE NICE TO YOUR KIDS?”  I’ve said essentially the same thing dozens, if not hundreds, of times.

And I’m saying it again, I think in the hopes that someone, somewhere will read my words, and say, “Oh.  I hadn’t thought of it that way.”  One person.  That’s all.  And maybe it’s you.  Maybe you’re the one I’m talking to.

This whole idea of earning gifts is archaic and cruel and the exact antithesis of what gift giving should be.  Gift-giving should be unconditional.  That’s the whole point.  Gifts should be something that come from the heart of the giver, with no strings, and no expectations.  Buying a gift, and then taking it away as punishment?  It ceases to be a gift … even if they “earn” it back.  You took something that should have been an expression of love and turned it into an ugly and void commodity.  Congratulations.

And why just the kids?  Why do kids need to earn their presents?  If you buy your husband a new watch, and he comes home from work grumpy one day, do you hold it ransom?  Do you tell him you bought him a present, but he doesn’t get it unless he “behaves.”?  That is not a way to treat someone you love, no matter their age.  It seems kind of ludicrous to think about doing it to a spouse or a friend or another adult loved one, so why, WHY would anyone think it’s okay to do to kids?  As horrible as I think it’d be to do to an adult (and I do indeed think it’s pretty darn horrible), I think it’s a million times worse to do it to your kids.  Your kids are still learning.  Still figuring things out.  Still working out how to deal with their feelings, and how to to navigate a world that is nuanced and tricky and at times extremely complicated.  They need parents who are going to love them through it, to be by their side, to model appropriate behavior.  And at this time of year, they need parents to show them what giving really means.  Can you imagine the sad and confusing message it sends to them about generosity to be told that they have to earn their gifts?   That their gifts can be taken away at a moment’s notice if they’re “naughty?” Naughty, by the way, is a word that should never be used for a child, or anyone, especially one who is just trying to deal with something difficult the best way they know how.  They need our HELP, not our punishment and our shame.

I’ve had a few moments over the past month or so that I’m not proud of.  I’m a human, and I’m not perfect.

Guess what?  Your kids are humans and are not perfect either.

They deserve your love, your compassion, and yes, they deserve your generosity!  Whether it’s in the form of your time, of an experience, of something handmade, of something they’ve been wanting from a store.  It feels good to give to people we love.  At least it’s supposed to!  I can’t imagine it feels good to hold presents hostage, unless it honestly makes you feel good to do something unkind, which…. isn’t right.  It’s just not.  We’re not designed that way.  We’re designed to love unconditionally, to give without expectation, to show our kids (through our words, through our actions, through our time) that they matter.  That we love them.  That we are, in fact, their biggest fans.  Their biggest supporters.  Their biggest role models.  The ones they can count on when life gets squidgy, and the ones who will stand beside them when they’re scared, telling them, without a moment’s hesitation, “Don’t worry, I’ve got your back.”

It feels good to love with that kind of love, because IT IS GOOD.

Nothing about buying and withholding gifts (and being so dang proud of it) fits into this model of true, unconditional love.  In fact, it downright perverts it.

Kids need and deserve our love and compassion all year round, but especially during the holidays.  Schedules are messed up, sleep is spotty, there’s extra excitement and stimulation and fancy foods, and it’s no wonder a child – or an adult – would be out-of-sorts.  LOVE THEM THROUGH IT.  Help them.  Don’t punish them.  Don’t turn gifts, something that should be fun and loving and happy, into a gross display of power and intimidation.  Don’t teach your kids that gifts should come with strings attached.  Don’t teach your kids that other people are theirs to control and manipulate.  Don’t teach your kids that the way to solve a problem is through shaming and scare tactics.

Please, please don’t.

This Christmas, be nice to your kids.  Please.  Treat them like people.  Treat them the way YOU would like to be treated.

And I’m pretty dang sure you wouldn’t want your new iPhone taken away because you were a little snippy one day.

Be nice to your kids.

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This post was also syndicated and appeared on Scary Mommy, and was mentioned on The View!


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Breathing

I have the word “breathe” tattooed on my left forearm.  (Snoopy at his typewriter is on my right. :))  I felt the word was important enough to get permanently etched on my body because it is literally the first answer for EVERYTHING.  Yes, there are going to be problems to solve.  Yes, there are going to be actions that need to be taken.  But the first step, the step you need to take before you do anything, is breathe.  It’s one of the first things you learn in yoga (indeed, yoga IS breathing).   The physiological benefits of mindful, deep breathing are real, and plenty.  It slows your heart rate, sends more oxygen to your body, calms your nerves, relaxes your muscles, strengthens your lungs and your heart, and lowers your blood pressure.  Plus…. it just feels good.

I see a lot of people who need to breathe right now – and I’ll include myself in that, because it’s never not a good time to breathe – so I give you the following two tools to help.  Do one, or do them both.  DO IT.  The first is self-explanatory.  Breathe along with the graphic.  One slow, deep breath in, and one slow, deep breath out.  And repeat.

The second is something that always helps me to breathe:  the sound of running water.  I took the little video at the cabin I go to up north, and still return to it from time to time to remind me.

Don’t overthink it.  Don’t try to feel anything special, or get any particular result.  Just breathe.

 


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Happy Things

A sweet meme texted by a sweet friend

I had two separate people tell me today that my blog has been extra dark and bleak (dreary? I forget the exact words) lately.  In my defense, I think it’s just been real.  Regardless, it’s been coming across as dark to at least a couple people, so rather than pull down half my November posts  – which is always my first inclination, and I know, I know: it’s my blog and I can post what I want and I shouldn’t let other people’s comments get to me and etc etc etc – I decided a straight-up happy post would serve as a nice balm (and hopefully a reminder to people that I’m… nice?  Or not dark?  Or something?)

A little bit of happy:

~ This is Sophie ^ Today is Sophie’s Gotcha Day, which I wouldn’t have known, had Facebook not told me.  We adopted her nine years ago today.  Tegan was especially happy to learn this, as she’s always keen on celebrating…. well, everything, but particularly her fur-babies.

~ My house is clean.  It’s nice to have a clean house ANY time, but it’s always particularly nice on the weekends, because it means I get to wake up to a nice, clean, organized house at the beginning of the week, which greatly cuts down on the Monday blues.  It’s like New Years.  But without the “I ate way too much junkfood” hangover stomach.

~ Mike and I have been working on building a (cardboard) jukebox for a 50’s diner scene for Tegan’s latest play, and we got it just about finished today.  There are just a couple things being added to make it more 3D.  Finished projects make me extremely, extremely happy.  Something about having a vision and making it come to life.  I live for that kind of thing.

~ Tomorrow is Sunday, but it’s really Saturday, because Mike has a three day weekend that ends on Monday.  So today’s really Friday.  Or something.  And Tegan has a theater showcase on Monday (not the play that the jukebox is for), that she and her friends have been working really hard on, and we both get to watch it.

~ Next week is Thanksgiving!!!  I also have an eye appointment next week, which I’m actually really looking forward to, because I definitely need a prescription adjustment, and being able to see is always nice.  But I’m not looking forward to it as much as Thanksgiving.

~ Right now, right at this very second, the house is quiet and peaceful but: I can hear the 17 year old laughing with a friend through the magic of the interwebs, the 20 year old talking very sweetly with the 9 year old, and the 13 year old feverishly and happily tapping his keyboard as he plays a cooperative game.

And it’s all very, very good….


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Friendship, Tegan-Style

I was looking for something on my phone today, and I came across this picture of Tegan with one of her good friends.  I adore this photo.  They’d just wrapped their final performance of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, and were still very much riding their post-performance high.

What’s remarkable about this picture is that it’s not remarkable.  What I mean by that is that if you’ve ever seen any picture of Tegan with her friends, you’ll see that they all have the same joy, the same authenticity, and the same fierce, fierce love.

Of all the lessons that I’ve learned from Tegan (and there have been, and continue to be, a LOT) this lesson of friendship is one of the most powerful.  I look at her and I see the kind of friendships I want to have.  I look at her and see the kind of friend I want to be.  I’ve truly never seen someone love so completely, so purely, and so unabashedly.  That girl would walk through fire for her friends and not give it a moment’s hesitation.

I think part of what makes it so fascinating to me is that she is a true extrovert, where I’m the most introverted of introverts.  She lives, and loves, out loud.  She’s affectionate.  She’s bold.  You never, ever have to guess where you stand with her.  If she knows you and loves you?  You’ll know it.

I’m much more cautious, and (as much as I hate to admit it) far more jaded.  I can’t love like I’ve never been hurt, because…. well, because I have been hurt.  Deeply.  And recently.  I have trust issues.  I have intimacy issues.  I just have issues.

Tegan, though:  That girl is fearless when it comes to friendship, and I so, so admire that!  Here are just a few of the things I’ve learned from her about being a friend.

  1.  Don’t be afraid of making new friends.  To Tegan, every new person she meets is a potential new friends.  To me, every new person I meet is a potential new person that is going to eventually kick the shit out of me, or perhaps even worse:  a potential friendship that I am eventually going to screw up, wreck, or otherwise sabotage because that’s just what I do.  (I told you.  JADED.)  But I’m learning from Tegan to not be afraid.
  2.  Be generous.  Tegan is one of the most generous and thoughtful people I know.  She loves to write her friends notes, give them little gifts, send them emails that will encourage them when they’re down.  She is so purely generous, with no conditions, and no ulterior motives.  The girl just has a huge, huge heart.
  3. Be transparent. Like I said up above, there is absolutely no mistaking it when she knows and loves someone.  She is so beautifully open and honest about her feelings, about her relationships, and about her love.  If she loves you, you know it.  She’s not afraid to say it, and she’s not afraid to show it.
  4. Be affectionate. Somewhere along the way, I got the reputation of not being a hugger.  But I am, I am a hugger!  I think it’s just that it doesn’t come as naturally to me as it does to Tegan.  It’s hard to catch a picture of Tegan with her friends where they don’t have their arms around each other, or aren’t hugging, or aren’t holding hands.  I’ve tried to be more open about this for myself as I’ve gotten older – I am a hugger! – and lo and behold it turns out that platonic affection is actually really, really nice.
  5. Love deeply. I’m actually good at this one.  It might take me awhile, but once I love, I love hard.  I trust hard.  I’m deeply loyal.  The difference between me and Tegan is that she does so with no caveats, and no reservations.  For me, no matter how good or how right a friendship might feel, I always start with a tiny voice in the back of my head, ranging in intensity from a quiet whisper of “Tread with caution; you may get hurt here”, to a loudly screamed, “Abort!  Abort!  Nothing good can possibly come from this!!”  And even if things do go well, I’m, well I’m paranoid, especially in the beginning.  Did I say something wrong?  Is she upset with me?  Have I been too annoying lately?  It’s … sad.  And I’m so happy for Tegan that she has no such hang-ups.  That is perhaps my favorite part of watching her with her friends.  She is ALL-IN, with tiny no voices advising her otherwise.

One of the many (many many many) things I never knew before I became a parent was how much I would learn from my kids.  How much they’d teach me.  How much they’d inspire me.  Watching Tegan is helping me to be more open.  More trusting.  More loving.  More authentic. More bold.  And it’s one of the best things I never knew I always needed.


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The Gratitude Alphabet

I keep seeing these gratitude posts come through my Facebook newsfeed, one for each day of November.  I’ve participated in the past, but I skipped it this year.  I couldn’t even keep up with the 7-day black and white picture challenge (I think I made it to day three), and I’m quite honestly rather impressed with myself for making it to day 17 of blogging every day.

But the gratitude posts made me think of something that was recommended to me a few weeks (months?) ago, to help shift mood, negative thinking, etc.

The concept is simple enough:  List something you’re grateful for for every letter of the alphabet.  I haven’t tried it until right this very second (because I’m stubborn and it’s cheesy and oh my GOSH don’t tell me what to do), but for whatever reason, it’s been persistently and annoyingly in the back of my brain all day.

So, I give you my very first gratitude alphabet.  I’m resisting the urge to fill half of it in with the names of my family/friends/pets, because that feels like it would be too easy, and therefore cheating, and also… it goes without saying 🙂

A – Amazon Prime

B – Bullet journal

C – Caramel M&Ms  – and of course, COFFEE, and chocolate, but those also seemed too easy.

D – Drugs  (I debated, hard, but it’s the first thing that came to mind, and yeah … I’m thankful for drugs.)

E – Elephants

F – Free to Be

G – Grace

H – Hugs

I – Inside Jokes

J – Jammies

K – Kitchen Tables

L – Land Cruiser

M – Mozzarella Cheese

N – Netflix

O – Oxygen

P – Pens… but also, my prefrontal cortex.  In equal measure.

Q – Quiet mornings

R – Running water

S – Starbucks

T – Television (I really struggled between television and tattoos)

U – Unschooling

V – Video stores.  I don’t know if they exist anymore?  But I have happy memories of the corner video store when we lived in Andover.

W – Watching movies

X – X-rays (There are just so few words that start with x!  But I really am thankful for x-rays.  They’ve been quite useful a time or two)

Y – Yoga.  And yoga pants and yoga mats.

Z – Zoning out

_____________________________

Three things:

  1. It was harder than you’d think
  2. I had to censor a little, because sometimes my very first thought was not PG rated.  Ha.  I’m not sure what that says about me.
  3. I really do feel sort of warm and fuzzy now.

Now you go.


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Seeing Each Other

I write a lot about the importance of hearing our kids, of putting ourselves in their shoes, about really stopping and taking out all judgment and meeting them where they’re at.  I talk a lot about just SEEING them.  Really seeing them.

And I think that while most of us can agree on its importance for parenting well, that as adults, when it comes to dealing with each other:  We are, as a general rule, spectacularly bad at it.  We just don’t see each other.

And it is for sure a two-pronged thing.  When I’m depressed (and I know that a lot of you can relate to this) I feel completely alone.  Isolated.  Like nobody sees me.  Like nobody hears me.  And then, of course, the irony of that is that pesky little tendency to isolate yourself further, which makes you feel more alone, which makes you isolate yourself more…. ad nauseam.  But that stuff is just a symptom of depression.  It’s not real.  I have lost some friends this year – or at least, I learned who my friends truly are – but I have a couple of friends who will not leave me alone when they know I’m depressed.  And I love them so much for it!!

Yesterday, I was sitting in the waiting room for a therapy appointment that I was crazy freaking out about (last week’s went really really badly). I was having two conversations through text, with two different people, and they were both in essence, “You can do this. Of course you can do this.”  Literally just a few minutes before he opened the door and called me in, these two friends, unbeknownst to each other, sent me the exact same text:  “I wish I was there to hold your hand.”  How unbelievably cool is that?  These are people who saw me.

I wish we could all see each other that well.

And I don’t think this lack of genuine connection is intentional.  I really don’t.  I think that we get caught up in our own… stuff… and then we fail to listen – to really listen – to other people.  I think that we see people through a veil of our own prejudices, and judgments, and ideas of what they should or should not be doing.  I think we want to fix.  (Oh my GOSH with the fixing.)  We see people as we want them to be, and not as who they are.  Right now, right in this very moment.  We get uncomfortable with the yucky stuff.  And I get that.  I was suicidal four months ago.  That’s uncomfortable for people.  It’s pretty damn uncomfortable for me too.  It makes people run.  And I get that too. That’s why the people who see the yucky stuff, who sit with you right in the middle of the yuck, and say, “I’m not going anywhere” are so, so invaluable.

I think that the answer, besides occasionally having to get comfortable with discomfort, is presence.  I actually think that presence is the answer for a lot of things, and it is one of many lessons that I’m having to learn over and over again.  But it’s not just about presence for ourselves.  It’s about presence for the other person as well.  Really being there with them, right in the moment.  Taking out all the ego, all the judgement, all your own crap about the way things are “supposed” to be, and meeting them exactly where they’re at.  ACCEPTING them exactly where they’re at.  Not trying to fix, not trying to change, just accepting.  I think until we’ve done that, we can never truly see each other.  Never truly hear each other.

Whenever I’ve gone through a hard time – any sort of hard time – the most helpful, comforting, and reassuring thing, hands down, has been the people who say, whether directly or indirectly:  I see you.  I hear you.  

May we all see each other a little bit better.

(And offers of hand-holding never hurt, either.)


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The One In Which I Tell Perfectionism To Take A Hike (Part Two)

(You can read Part One here. )

I grew up feeling like I had to be perfect somehow, or everyone would be disappointed.  It wasn’t even everyone else now that I think about it, it was me.  Because the amount of self-flagellation I would do when I fell below my own ridiculous self-imposed bar was far, far more severe than any punishment or any “I’m disappointed in you’s” I could ever receive.

And now, all these years later, I’ve had to face the fact that it hasn’t changed.  I haven’t changed.  I was recently talking to a friend about why: why one person would hold herself to such an impossibly high standard, and another (even with the same parents) would not.  The ultimate question of nature vs nurture.  We decided that it’s probably both… a combination of some innate personality trait that went a little haywire, and a product of how a person was raised.

But at this point, the “why” doesn’t matter.  Because it just… it just is.

And can I tell you something else?  It is EXHAUSTING living that way.  I put myself in these self-imposed exiles, and I cope in a myriad of unhealthy ways.  And I can’t breathe, and I can’t think, and I can’t see anything except the box around me.  And I treat people poorly (which of course makes me feel terrible because I know I’m not a terrible person) because I’m treating myself poorly, and then I think, “I’ve been in therapy for EIGHTEEN FREAKING MONTHS, and I’m still not over all of this?  Why am I not over all of this?”  And then I think, “Wow.  It takes a special kind of failure to fail at therapy.”  And then I feel bad for being so hard on myself, instead of gentle on myself, which of course just makes me spiral further into my self-loathing.  And around and around and around I go.  I know it’s not all true.  I know it’s just old stories, old tapes playing in my head (I learned that from my therapist, on one of the days I wasn’t, well… failing at therapy.)

I’ve decided I don’t want to do that anymore.

I don’t want to keep avoiding all the things I’m bad at.  I don’t want to unreasonably beat myself up for all my mistakes.  I don’t want to keep punishing myself for something long after that something’s been apologized for and forgiven.  I don’t want to take ALL the blame for all of the things at all of the times.  I don’t want to continue to hate myself, like genuinely, literally, hate myself just because my College Algebra class is so difficult for me. (“What is wrong with me?  How can I not even do a basic math class?  How am I going to do the really difficult upper level classes that will come later?  What about the science classes?  Am I too old?  Am I just not intelligent enough? Should I just cut my losses and quit now?  I should probably just cut my losses and quit now.”)

I just don’t want it anymore.

My therapist tells me that perfectionism is really the other side of the same coin as narcissism.  Which offended me at the time – because I spent a lot of the last 18 months being offended, another thing I continue to beat myself up about – but makes perfect sense if you think about it.  What makes me so special?  Everyone else is allowed to make mistakes, everyone else is allowed to have strengths and weaknesses, everyone else is allowed to be HUMAN …  and I’m … what?  A superhero?

And it’s not like I haven’t had these realizations before.  I have.  But usually I have them after I come out of a depression, when the sun is all shiny and the world is all squeaky, and I’m no longer viewing things through the haze of my black-tinted glasses.  I’ve never actually had these come-to-Jesus moments in the middle of a depression.  Like right smack dab in the middle of the muck and the mire.

So I’m trying something new.

Allow me to (re)introduce myself:  I’m Jen.

I kill every houseplant that every comes into my house (but I have two at the present time so I’m still trying.) I can’t snorkel because I get freaked out and I breathe too hard and my chest feels like it’s going to explode (but if ever given the opportunity, I’d suck it up and try it again.) I really struggle with math and puzzles and technical stuff (but I’m allowed to struggle with stuff, and it will give me that much more of a sense of accomplishment when I make some sort of stride.)

I have a terrible sense of direction. I burn a lot of things in the kitchen. I take things way too personally.  I have a tendency to sabotage relationships.  I’m an avoider. I trip over my words when I speak.

But I’m good at some stuff too!!!

And the stuff I’m bad at?  I can get better (indeed, the things in the realm of personal relations can and should continue to be addressed).  But the rest of it?  Who cares if I’m bad at bowling?  Who cares if I never did get the hang of stopping at the bottle of the ski-slope and basically just … fall .. to end my descent?  Who cares if Mike gets triple my score at Scrabble (if I’m being conservative)?

I want to be able to honestly say that I’m willing to do things badly.  To embrace the fact that I royally suck at something, and do it anyway, and then get better (or not!). I want to be able to make a fool of myself, and not let it ruin my day – or my week, or my life. I want to be able to screw up, and apologize, and then leave it the hell alone.  I want to be able to dive into life, like really DIVE, and not worry that I’ll get water up my nose, or that the top of my suit will fall off, or that I’ll get one of those seaweed things wrapped around my legs.   I want to dive into life full of its messiness, and its imperfections, and its foibles, and its beauty.  My God, it’s so beautiful!

I feel like I’ve missed it sometimes.  Because I’ve worried.  TOO MUCH.  I’ve worried too much and I’ve sequestered myself too much, and in a sick and twisted way, I’ve comforted myself with the very thing I was running from: self-loathing.  Like if I did it first, no one else could beat me to it, and screw you, you don’t get to call me out on all my stuff because I’m already doing it in spades, and you don’t get to make me feel bad about myself, because no one could ever make me feel more badly about myself than I already do.

I. Don’t. Want. To. Do. That. Anymore.

But it’s easier said than done!  That’s my answer for everything.  It’s not like I can write a tidy blog post, make a big proclamation, and ta da!  All better.  Because it doesn’t really work like that.  But what if….  what if it did?  What if it just took a decision?  What if I just tried?  What if, instead of pondering the “what if”s, I just did it.  Or YOU just did it.

Just stepped out of the box and into the light.  I’ve tried it the first way.  For 43 years I tried it the first way.

And living in the light looks a lot more fun.


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