Unfu*k Yourself, Already

I read a book last week. Yes. A whole book. It was a short book, but still. The book was Unfu*k Yourself by Gary John Bishop. To be honest, I started listening to the book on Audible, enjoyed the introduction delivered with the author’s no-bullshit, full-on Scottish attitude and accent, and then got on Amazon and ordered a paper copy because I knew I would want to highlight passages. When it arrived, Mr. Bishop and I got right back to work. The book, as you can imagine from its cheeky title, offers suggestions for those of us who feel stuck on repetitive hamster wheel of self-sabotage. It’s a book about unsticking yourself.

As I listened, a few things became clearer to me about my life, the consequences of my upbringing, and my future trajectory. First, there was the admission that I’ve been spinning and getting nowhere for about four years now. There are several life situations that coalesced to create a quicksand pit from which I have not escaped. The specifics about them aren’t as important as the fact that I was able to name them, which gives me a concrete place from which to get to work. You have to know what stopped you to figure out how to get around it. Second, the book prompted me to do a lot of thinking about the areas of my own modus operandi that work against me the most often. The result? The behavior that most often holds me back is fawning. I am a people pleaser. This does not mean I succeed at it. It just means I attempt to make others happy by doing what they want. I regularly set aside my own wishes to avoid conflict, to ensure other people are happy and comfortable, and to be palatable. You’ll often hear me speaking Fawn-ese: I’m good with whatever. You choose. Whatever works for you is fine with me. Really. It’s okay. Don’t worry about me. I’m flexible. I don’t want to be a bother. It doesn’t matter to me. I’ve got it. No worries. I can make that work. These statements (a product of being raised to believe I am the world’s most sensitive, overreacting, selfish jerk) make me feel like I’m being generous and thoughtful to others. In reality, however, I often say them because I’m so used to deferring to others that 1) I don’t know what I want or like, so I don’t know how to ask for it, and 2) I assume that letting others get their way will make me worth hanging around with. The truth is that my fear of speaking up for myself often makes me grumpy. Who wouldn’t be grumpy when they take on more than they can handle and often end up doing exactly what they don’t want to do? Unfu*k Yourself is about getting out of your own way and moving yourself into a better future, and Mr. Bishop outlines some key things you need to do to bring that about. And he does it by not pulling any punches and speaking directly to the multitudinous methods people employ to hold themselves back. In fact, the way he reads the book in audio form you can just about hear his frustration. I’m fairly certain he is tired of having to point out to people that the path to their best life runs only through them.

In one chapter, he discusses how we are wired to win. What he means by this is that we get what we set ourselves up for and expect. We are masters of the self-fulfilling prophecy. Spending your life bemoaning your history of finding the worst partners? You’re probably attracting all the wrong people because of something in your past. If you don’t fix what’s behind that curtain, you will keep winning at picking the losers to date. But, if you sift through the memories of your old relationships, perhaps you can pinpoint where they went wrong and do some work around your discovery so that next time you make a different choice. The bottom line is that when you’re wired to win, you can win at losing or win at winning. There’s a famous quote attributed to Jessie Potter that fits this idea: “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.” You can keep repeating your mistakes and blaming mysterious exterior forces that don’t exist or you can do the work, get your poop in a group, and do better in the future.

The chapter that I most needed to hear right now was entitled, “I am not my thoughts. I am what I do.” As a person who spends a lot of time in her head, thinking, rethinking, analyzing, overanalyzing, and reanalyzing those analyses, this chapter reminded me that I will never get anywhere good this way. I have to stop thinking and start doing. I’ve been unhappy with my fitness level. I can either sit on my sofa thinking about how I used to be in great shape and now I can’t seem to get motivated or I can haul my sorry ass off the sofa and put it on the seat of the Peloton bike and change my situation. I can whine about a relationship in my life that is dying but that I keep trying (unsuccessfully) to revive or I can decide it’s time to let it go and put my energy towards endeavors that may lead me somewhere I want to be. People who are successful have one thing in common. They stop talking and start doing. You can’t just hope things will get better. You need to look for solutions and then go out and do something to put you where you would like to be.

Now, I’m sure there are plenty of people who might read the book (or listen to the audiobook to enjoy the author’s delivery of it) and say, “Yeah. Yeah. This all sounds familiar. Nothing new here.” But that is kind of the point. If you’re still reading self-help books and saying they aren’t helping, maybe it’s because a book can’t change your life. YOU have to do that. And this book has some ideas about where you might want to start and why, if you don’t take action, you can continue to enjoy all the crap you feel life has handed you that you don’t deserve. If all I take away from this book is the mindset to get back to better health and get rid of relationships that don’t serve me, it will totally have been worth the paper it was printed on.

What was it Red said in The Shawshank Redemption?

“Get busy living or get busy dying.”

I am getting busy living. I will figure out who I am and what I want along the way.

Taylor Swift, Socrates, And My Brain Walk Into A Bar At 3 A.M.

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” ~Socrates

Ruby asks me again if I’ve seen her keys

It’s 3:31 a.m. All the male creatures in our house are asleep. I am wide awake once again, sitting on the sofa in our living room. Beneath my feet, our fourteen year old border collie has settled temporarily, taking a break from her mid-night wanderings. In a minute, she will jump up and trot off quickly as if she just remembered she is late for an important meeting. She will get halfway across the room, stop, then look left and right, confused about where the hell she was headed. Ruby and I are simpatico lately. We’re either both deep thinkers with too much on our minds or we’re both losing our shit. Maybe these things are not mutually exclusive or untrue.

Aside from desperately needing the sleep, I don’t mind being awake in the middle of the night. I appreciate the peace. I find solace in the hum of the heater kicking on, the faint crash of ocean waves coming from the ambient noise app on my phone in the other room, the click of Ruby’s nails on the hardwoods as she trots around looking for the car keys she can’t find. I try to focus on my surroundings and stay rooted in the present because this is good practice. Mindfulness is the antidote for the poison of overwhelm. But the truth of these late-night, sleepless hours is there is something, perhaps many things, out of kilter in my life. In these moments, I become innately aware I am adrift. I’m on a flimsy, inflatable raft in the midst of a vast ocean, mere inches above multitudinous unknowns lurking just beneath the surface. I’m fine for the time being, but my situation is precarious. I’m one rogue wave away from drowning. My sleeplessness is a sign. It’s time to gather my shit in.

I attempt to pull disparate thoughts from my spinning mind to categorize and file them away so I can get back to sleep, but I might as well be trying to pluck tree branches and airborne chihuahuas from a churning, F4 tornado. The desire to right all the wrongs in my messy life at 4 a.m. is admirable, though ill-advised. In the back of my head, Taylor Swift sings my story:

“I should not be left to my own devices, they come with prices and vices. I end up in crisis, tale as old as time…It’s me. Hi. I’m the problem it’s me. At tea time, everybody agrees. I’ll stare directly in the sun but never in the mirror. It must be exhausting always rooting for the anti-hero.”

I have good days. Most of the time, I feel I am on the right path. Sometimes, though, while I’m sleeping, everything that has been running in background mode in my head pops up at once and overloads the system and I end up here. Deconstructing old trauma, adapting to life in an empty nest, managing a household, navigating health issues, raising a puppy, dealing with the manifestations of aging, trying to figure out who I am now and who I might like to be if there is a later, and accepting the incontrovertible truth that I have not been bringing my best self to the table for myself or the people I care about for years now, well, that’s quite a quagmire to wade through during the most opportune moments. It’s a bit much for the middle of the night. And it’s still going to be too much to face on three hours of sleep once the sun rises and I have to make an early morning trip to the grocery store ahead of hosting Thanksgiving at our house. Sigh.

While I can’t address my issues now and losing sleep isn’t going to make things one iota better, at least I can come here and let you know you are not alone. Most people are hurtling through life feeling frenzied and lost and imposter-ish. And the majority of the people you know who seem to have it all together? Well, they pull off that feat by living unconsciously, which, believe it or not, is worse than being painfully aware. Us up-all-night-with-our-thoughts folks may be sleep deprived, but it’s only because we’re honest and paying attention. So, I am here now to remind you and me to take heart. Today is another day in which we might still not figure anything out, but we’re alive and awake and that means we have lives worth living.

An Ongoing Exercise In Dismantling Self-Doubt

“You’ll never be a first class human being or a first class woman until you’ve learned to have some regard for human frailty.” ~C.K. Dexter Haven, The Philadelphia Story

This week, my therapist and I began working on my ever-present self-doubt. Self-doubt, I’ve only recently come to acknowledge, has played a big part in my life. It’s not that I always felt confident or comfortable in my skin or my actions. I didn’t. But, through trauma, I became so adept at pretending to be sure of myself that I honestly bought my own fiction. I maintained this alternate sense of self that existed completely disconnected from my true self. My persona was a cardboard standee I would place in front of people, somehow absolutely convinced that they took my bravado at face value and would never peer around the side of the 2-D cutout I’d presented to them to discover there was nothing there to back it up. In fairness, I think some people figured out that my insides didn’t match the outside I presented to the world long before I understood that I had been play acting for others most of my life. Their superpower was being comfortable enough in their own skin to recognize an imposter when they saw one. My superpower was pretending I was perfect when, deep down, I felt like shit scraped off a shoe.

In my therapist’s office the other day, we did some guided meditation to address my lifelong self-doubt. First we did a basic relaxation technique, starting with visualizing my happy place. From there, she asked me to conjure up a meeting place, a place where I would feel completely at ease. I envisioned a warm, cozy room inside a log cabin house with a fireplace, a plush sofa, and floor-to-ceiling picture windows through which my view was the surrounding mountains in their fall splendor. When I was good and comfortable in that mental space, she asked me to invite my self-doubt to join me there. Self-doubt, my imagination decided, arrived in a dark cloud that obscured the sun and dimmed the room, making it feel chillier. She asked me to give the dark cloud a name, so I named it after the place where my self-doubt originated in my early youth. I was required to sit with my self-doubt with a neutral mindset, neither allowing it to overwhelm me nor allowing myself to ignore it. And that’s as far as we got in my session before we had to end for the week, but even that small effort made me consider my self-doubt in a new way.

I wasn’t born with self-doubt. Self-doubt was thrust upon me at a young age, the result of incessant criticism, which led to an understanding I was not good enough or worthy of respect, attention, or love unless I did what others thought was best or wanted. Self-doubt is what I got when I tried and didn’t reach the mark others thought I should. It’s what happened when, instead of being told, “You’re human and humans don’t always get it right and that is okay,” I was informed, “You should have known better” and admonished “You’re embarrassing yourself.” I have since come to understand that my relentless perfectionism is a by-product of continually being told I could and should do better, rather than being gently reminded that life is a process and you learn and grow over time. I wish I had heard more thoughtful “Go easy on yourself, you’re trying” and less demeaning “Everybody knows THAT.” The perfectionism I ended up with in a useless attempt to be good enough for everyone else (in order to believe I was good enough in my own skin) was backwards.

The truth is when you feel good enough in your own skin, you don’t have to be perfect for anyone else to appreciate you. You live your truth and know that you screw up sometimes but you also get it right sometimes. From that place, you learn to forgive yourself and others for the crime of human frailty. It’s challenging to think of myself 10 or 20 years ago, when I was 150% convinced through my perfectionist mindset that I was mentally healthy the way I was. I was throwing down that cardboard cutout of a perfect me as reality and challenging others the way I had been challenged. It was misguided, but it was all from a place of deep hurt and misunderstanding. I didn’t know who I was. I only knew who others thought I should be. And so, with my own sense of self dampened and obscured, I became full of self-doubt that could only be lessened by my attempts to be perfect at everything and for everyone.

Self-doubt is insidious. I know it plagues even the most well-adjusted among us, but it’s such a pointless place to work from, whether that place be a waiting room we occasionally occupy or the impenetrable fortress we inhabit. I’ve come to the place where I can acknowledge it’s a shame that I didn’t get better messaging as I was growing up, but I’ve also come to believe it’s incumbent upon me to give to myself the grace and forgiveness and gentleness and kindness I did not receive back then. It’s up to me to lift that dark cloud. No one else can do it for me.

Listen to Mustn’ts, child, listen to the Don’ts.
Listen to the Shouldn’ts, the Impossibles, the Won’ts.
Listen to the Never Haves, then listen close to me.
      Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.

A poem by Shel Silverstein

Signs of (mid)Life

Photo by Joshua J. Cotten on Unsplash

While my dental hygienist, Betsi, was preparing her torture tools for assault on my teeth and gums this morning, I spied a hummingbird moth out of the picture window in front of me. I don’t see them often, so I got up from the chair, still wearing my purple paper bib, to get a closer look. It was hovering around clusters of small, late-summer flowers. I studied it for a few seconds, noting the striping on its body and the speed at which its wings moved to keep it aloft. Betsi told me she sees them in the flowers outside that window on occasion. I told her I hadn’t seen one in a couple years. I sat back down, put on the cheap, protective sunglasses she handed me, and tried to settle into my happy place for the cleaning. I kept thinking about that moth, though.

This evening, when I went to take the trash out, I noticed from the corner of my eye something buzzing at the garage window. I am not a fan of any sort of insect in our house or garage, but I am especially not a fan when they are large or noisy enough to draw my immediate attention. I’m even less of a fan when I am the only one at home to deal with them at the time. I walked closer, already planning how I would aid in its necessary exit, and discovered it was another hummingbird moth. How odd not to see one for years and then to see one twice in one day. I opened the garage door, turned off the lights, and waited for my light-seeking visitor to fly away.

I’m not superstitious. I don’t believe in destiny or fate or soulmates or divine intervention of any sort. But I do believe in the power of life’s chaos and the doors it opens. If you are really paying attention as life swirls around you, you begin to notice life offers directional signs. We don’t always see them because we aren’t always looking. I have been guilty of not paying attention to them most of my life. For decades, I went along in my inner bubble, fully convinced I knew who I was and where I was going. I was wrong, though. That false image of me burst eight years ago and, since then, I’ve undertaken the tedious process of observing my behavior, questioning it, ameliorating it, or at least acknowledging it on some level, and learning from it. I’ve also started noticing my surroundings more and paying greater attention to my senses, especially my intuition. Intuition helps you to see signs.

With the second appearance of the hummingbird moth today, my curiosity led me to read up on it. I learned that hummingbird moths are considered a lucky omen. A swarm of them is said to have been seen flying across the English Channel on the day of the Normandy landings in June of 1944. I also read:

“A moth represents tremendous change, but it also seeks the light. Thus, moth spiritual meaning is to trust the changes that are happening and that freedom and liberation are around the corner.” (Dictionary.tn)

So, there is my sign. I saw a hummingbird moth today, on two separate occasions in two different locations, during a time of tremendous change in my life when I find myself looking for the light. I’m going to consider this a good omen. I’ve been wondering since we left the boys at school a few weeks ago how I would get through the transition from stay-at-home parent to, as my friend, Kathy, prefers to label it, “lady of leisure”. This morning, I woke up still curious about my future plans. Then, a couple moths told me to trust the changes and know that freedom and liberation are here. All of a sudden I’m not so worried about what I will do next month or next year or next decade. Yeah. Life is different now, but different doesn’t have to mean bad. What if, and hear me out on this, what if my next twenty years are my best years? It could happen. I’ve been surprising before.

Oh. And I still don’t like bugs. But I’ve decided moths are more okay than the rest.

I Look Good, Now Pass Me My Readers So I Can See

It’s amazing as I get older what I am willing to convince myself is acceptable in terms of my appearance. People over 50 will tell you with age they’ve learned not to care what other people think. That is untrue. You simply get to a place where you acknowledge you’ve just wasted a precious 30 minutes (and time is a commodity at 53) trying to make yourself attractive and discovered you look the same as you did before you started. But you still have to go to the store, so you explain away your lack of effort with the preposterous notion that you are comfortable with aging. Sure you are.

I was reflecting on it today and I think I’ve figured out what happens to older people. You hit a certain age and suddenly you are farsighted. Your near vision is GONE. In a restaurant, you are screwed without your readers. You pull out your phone to see if the flashlight will help. You complain about the font on the menu, as if it’s the font’s fault your eyes no longer work. You can’t see. It’s okay. It happens to most everyone at some point. But I think this is why older people look the way they do when they go out in public. They did try to make themselves presentable. Indeed, they thought they were presentable. They just have no idea what they really look like anymore because they can’t see themselves very well.

Some of us gifted older folks actually manage to convince ourselves that we look good the way we are. Today I pulled the top of my hair back with an elastic band, curled my eyelashes, put on my tinted sunscreen and my progressives, and went out in public. Just. Like. That. It’s not that I didn’t care what I looked like or that I didn’t care what others thought of how I looked. It’s that I thought I looked just fine because I can’t see. In fact, I had myself convinced that I looked rather adorable in my little glasses with random wisps of stray hair breaking free from their elastic confinement when, in reality, I looked like a lazy, hot mess with bad eye make up and thinning hair. And that’s okay. It’s part of the journey, right?

Go ahead and judge, youngsters. If you’re lucky, someday you will be over 50 and eating out in a restaurant, thinking you look pretty good for your age. Then you’ll pass your readers around the table to all your friends because no one remembered theirs and none of you can read the menu without them. And you will order a whole bottle of wine because, once you can read the menu, you remember you know how to choose a nice bottle of wine.

There are some good things to getting older. You can’t see as well, but you can afford greater quantities of better wine, which helps you forget about your failing eyesight. Where God closes a door, he opens a window.

And Just Like That My Calendar Feels Like 2019

The pandemic. Am I right? I lived the vast majority of my life never using that word. I vaguely remember reading that word in history books once or twice before I hit 20, but that was as much as my brain ever considered a pandemic an actual thing. In the past two years, however, I don’t think I’ve gone an entire day without mentioning it. Honestly, I am sick of the word. Sick. O. It. I am almost as sick of the word as I am of not having a day alone in our house, watching my hands bleed from relentless hand washing and sanitizing, running out to buy more hand lotion, wearing masks, hearing people complain about wearing masks, getting vaccines, hearing people complain about getting vaccines, taking Covid tests, hearing people complain about taking Covid tests, and trying to explain how science works to others and remind myself about it, as well.

I know. I know. We are not out of the pandemic. (There’s that word again). No one has any idea when we might be out of it. So we are in limbo. We’re going on a cruise next month. At least, we think we’re going on a cruise next month. It all depends on whether we can manage to stay Covid-free between now and then, even as cases are on the upswing again. Now, if this was 2021, I’d say that would be no problem. We’d just hole up at home and skate our way onto the cruise with a clean bill of health. But this isn’t 2021. It’s 2022, and 2022 is apparently 2019 again. No masks. No crowd size limits. No restrictions whatsoever. It’s a free-for-all. Everything is back up and running. Sold out playoff hockey games. Sold out concerts. Parties. Dining out. It’s all back, baby. And we are here for it. We are SO here for it, so ready to be here for it, that our May calendar is packed. No lie. Here is is.

Oh, wait. I have one free day on 5/23. Woot!

As you can see from the tiny dot underneath every date (save 5/23) between now and May 31st, we have something going on every day between now and the end of the month. I plan to keep the 23rd open for the nervous breakdown I will be having. Why is our calendar so full? Well, let’s see. There’s senior prom and all our usual appointments for therapy and haircuts and doctor’s appointments and the like. Then hubby and I are flying to Pasadena to see a concert, booked a million years ago before we had anything on our calendar. We get back late on Sunday night and then Monday I load a different, pre-packed suitcase in the car and drive to Washington to pick up oldest son from his sophomore year at college and then drive the 1,085 miles back home across five states. Then it’s our youngest’s 19th birthday. Then there are graduation parties for friends’ children and more events for our own son’s graduation. We are going to another sold out concert (in our city this time) on the 24th. The 27th is my damn birthday, but that should be low-key because hubby and I are in class that entire weekend trying for get scuba certified. Then it’s basically June, and we have graduation practice and will have family in town. Then it is graduation and woohoo! We’re almost done! But we aren’t because we are hosting a graduation party for Luke and his friends. Then on the 6th we have to clean the house for the house/dog sitter, buy dog food for our security beasts, shop for what we need for the trip, find our passports, pack, get Covid tests to prove we can take the trip, upload results of said Covid tests to the Celebrity Cruises web site so they will let us board, and get on a plane to Rome on June 8th. Did I mention we still have a puppy who is, well, a puppy and a senior dog who is, well, not exactly a puppy? What the hell was I thinking? Finish strong and you can collapse on a boat? They have limoncello and ouzo where you are going? Hold on, sister. You can make it. I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.

I realize this is a lot of sniveling from a white woman with an embarrassment of riches in the areas of wealth and good fortune, but it’s my full calendar and my introverted, whiny butt will complain about the lack of quiet, sit-in-bed-all-day time if it wants to.

Just please don’t remind me that in 2020 and 2021 I begged for my life to be, and I quote, “back to normal,” because of course I did. Who wasn’t wishing for that same thing after being stuck at home with spouses and children and pets for months on end? We all wanted out. Now we’re getting what we asked for. Don’t remind me I did this to myself. Of course I did. Be kind and please say a silent prayer to Jesus or Allah or Vishnu (or even the Flying Spaghetti Monster God of Pastafarianism) that my heart holds out, at least until we get to Santorini. Then I can die, exhausted, happy, and at peace at long last in an ouzo haze.

Puppy exhibiting how I can attempt to hide from those dirty obligations and celebrations

Be A Goldfish — Slippery And Bold

“She generally gave herself very good advice (though she very seldom followed it).” ~Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

In the Apple TV series, Ted Lasso, the protagonist coach famously tells one of his players that the happiest animal on earth is the goldfish because the goldfish has a ten-second memory. He then tells the young man to “be a goldfish” so he can let go of a negative interaction that happened with a teammate on the pitch a minute ago. That line has become a favorite among fans of the show. It’s so popular you can buy mugs, stickers, and t-shirts with that saying, and it regularly makes the rounds in comments on social media. And I get it. It’s a good saying. I quite like it. I’m not very good with the advice it offers, but I’d like to be.

Today I found this meme while scrolling through my Facebook feed. It offers a goldfish with a different point of view. I like this one too. I’m a little better at being brave than I am at letting go of comments, people, and past events that are no longer important or worth perseverating over. I attribute this to two things. First, I grew up believing I was inherently unlikable, so of course if someone said an unkind thing about me or acted like I did something wrong or suddenly stopped speaking to me, I knew it was my fault. I carried those feelings around like they were a suitcase, handcuffed to me and filled with irrefutable evidence about my worth. Second, to achieve anything when you have low self-esteem, you have to be at least a little brave. It’s a fake-it-til-you-make-it proposition. So, like I said, it is easier for me to be a little brave than it is to forget about a slight.

Ideally, I think both goldfish in this scenario are right. It’s good to let go of junk you are carrying around for no reason because it often says less about you than about the person or situation you are believing rather than yourself. It’s also good to work on your bravery. Although there are some who are born brave and some who become brave situationally, most of us could put a little more deliberate effort into being brave daily. We could stand up for ourselves with our boss or ask our partner for what we need instead of stuffing our feelings or tell the chatty barista that we need a new latte because we asked for oat milk but we got whole milk and, well, that just won’t work. To be so slippery that negativity glides over me like a kid on a Slip-n-Slide and so bold that I can live my truth every moment of my life from here on out, no matter who is watching or commenting, those are my goals. Goldfish are really speaking to me these days.

When I die, if for some odd reason I can’t be cremated, I want the Lewis Carroll saying at the top of this page on my tombstone. I am good at giving myself advice. I’m good at knowing the right thing to do (be it, let it go or be brave), I’m just not great at doing it. I’m just telling you this because I spout a lot of platitudes and inspirational quotes (read: fluffy bullshit) on this blog, and you should know it doesn’t mean I am living it. I’m working on it, but I’m not there. Not by a long shot. So if you’re not there either, that makes you my people. My suspicion is I have a lot more people than I thought.

Keep on keeping on, friends. We got this.

Go Ahead — Ask For Some Help Already

This post is for all of you helpers. You know who you are. You are the ones who take on more responsibility than you need to, who feel overworked and under-appreciated because you don’t know how to share the load, who don’t know how or when to ask for help or even that asking for assistance is not only important but healthy.

I am your people. I grew up believing I could only count on myself. I had no problem helping out others. I learned that if I wanted something done the “right” way, I had to do it myself. It never occurred to me that perhaps someone else might have a better way of doing something or that I might learn something useful from their efforts. I didn’t know how to ask for what I needed, so I told myself I didn’t need anything from anyone else. If someone disappointed me, which happened on occasion precisely because I didn’t know how to ask for what I wanted, I labeled them as untrustworthy and went my own way. It was a vicious cycle. Each time I tried to trust someone and was disappointed, it was further proof I could only count on myself. And so I went through most of my life taking on more and more, trusting less and less. Since no person is an island, I created for myself an untenable situation. I became stressed out. I continually felt put upon. The truth is, eventually, we all can use some help. Wise people understand burden sharing provides insight, camaraderie, and a sense of belonging. Taking on everything solo fosters isolation, frustration, and bitterness.

Every night as I’m finishing with dinner prep and we are about to serve, my husband asks if he can plate some food for me. Most nights I still say no. Most nights I tell him I can get my own. I grew up feeling self-sufficiency was proof of competency. Other people ask for help. I don’t need help. That was the lie I told myself. The more I took on, the more others relied on me for that service and the more exhausted I became. My life only began to improve when I started letting others share the burden.

I’m still learning it is okay to let others do for me. They might not do it exactly the way I would have done it, but that can be good. Sometimes when I let someone else do something their way, it’s a growth experience. Other people can be a great source of fresh ideas if you let them bring their gifts to the table. I’ve learned a lot through watching others do things their way. Sometimes I adopt their method because it makes that much more sense.

So, my challenge to all my control freak comrades is this: find a few moments this week when you are feeling overwhelmed and ask for help. You can start small. Ask for help bringing in groceries or walking the dog. If you’re meeting a friend for lunch, suggest a place closer to you for once rather than driving across town to meet them like you have always done. People who are willing to seek help and rely on others occasionally create for themselves a sense of belonging. I think we could all use a little more of that feeling these days.

I promise you this. Once you start asking for assistance, once you start allowing others to be there for you the way you’ve been there for them, you won’t go back to your old ways. It’s liberating to let go of unnecessary responsibility. And, believe me. When someone is insisting on contributing, it’s because they want to. Understand that accepting their offer doesn’t mean you’re incompetent; it means they feel they have something positive and useful to offer. Maybe it’s not about you at all. Maybe it’s about them and their desire to be involved.

There’s nothing wrong with asking for what will make your life a measure easier. Sharing life’s burdens makes life better. You just have to be willing to let go of a little control. No one of consequence will think less of you.

Perspective From Two Hours On A Flight Next To A Hungry, Tired Toddler

This was once my reality

Sitting in the small airplane, four seats wide, sharing the row with a young mother of three with a screaming toddler on her lap. Toddler is tossing everything she is handed onto the floor.

“It’s been a while since I had littles,” I tell her with as much patience and understanding and motherly wisdom as I can muster, “but I remember those days well. No worries.”

Her four year old son sitting behind me kicks my seat the entire flight, stopping only to push both feet long and slow into my lower back. Six year old daughter next to him bugging him for the iPad. The mom next to me looks exhausted and, boy, do I get it. Her toddler thrashes in her arms, grabs my hair and pulls. The mom is mortified and apologizes, and I nod with understanding. It’s been seventeen years since I last held a wailing toddler on a flight, but that experience never leaves you. The muscle memory of the anxiety and embarrassment remains fresh.

The toddler in her lap, likely desperately tired and frustrated, begins howling with increasing ferocity. The mom hands her off to her husband who is sitting next to their oldest daughter across the aisle from the young ones behind me. As her daughter thrashes like a shark in shallow water, the mom shrinks, puts her head in her hands, and shakes it slowly back and forth. I know she is counting the seconds until her tiny creation at last succumbs to the sleep she needs.

As she is doing this, I look out my window-seat rectangle with its rounded corners. I am grateful to be wearing a mask as the silent tears slip behind the fiber filter on my face. You see, I said goodbye again to my almost 21 year old this morning after I passed him the four bottles of wine we couldn’t fit into our checked luggage. And I’m heading home to my high school senior who will be moving away in four month’s time. The ache this mom is feeling as she wishes the time on this two-and-a-half hour journey would pass more quickly is a similar ache I am feeling as I wish these last few months would pass more slowly.

I would never tell her these things, as she will be in my shoes far sooner than she can fathom. She will discover in her own time the way childhood speeds up as it approaches puberty and adulthood. What starts as seconds moving as sand grains, imperceptibly draining through the narrow tube in an hourglass ends as deluge of sand dumped from a toddler’s beach pail. And this mom will learn, as I did, that those prayers for time to speed up aren’t selective. Time doesn’t speed for the rough moments without also speeding for the good moments. Time is brutal that way. Lucky parents will learn this the hard way, seeing their children mature in the blink of an eye and move on. We’re the fortunate ones, the ones who get to see their children reach adulthood. Many parents don’t have that same good fortune.

This is my reality now

For now, I say a silent prayer for this mom in opposition to her prayer to speed time up. I pray that she will embrace all the moments with some quiet, inexplicable gratitude for what they are because she will be like me sooner than she knows, with greying hair and reading glasses, hugging her adult son and handing him wine bottles. She will be both excited to get home to her high school senior and afraid to get there because she knows there are 46 days until graduation.

Parenting is the greatest purveyor of perspective I’ve found. It simultaneously breaks me and saves me over and over again.

The Tribalism Inherent In Being A Sports Fan

Last night we attended another Colorado Avalanche hockey game. It was a fun one too. The Avs, who have already clinched their spot in the playoffs, were on fire. The Avs scored 4 points in the first period, while the LA Kings scored none. By the end of the game, the Avs had gone up 9 to 3, and the fans were treated to a hat trick. It was the first time our son got to witness, as an adult, the unmitigated joy of other grown-ass adults tossing their baseball caps onto the ice.

As we were standing there, cheering after yet another Avalanche goal, Luke leaned over and said something to the effect of, “Oh, what a wonderful display of rampant tribalism.” He’s a funny kid. I had never thought of hockey fans as a tribe, but he is correct. There we were in our Colorado Avalanche uniforms (emblazoned Avalanche sweatshirts and hockey sweaters) chanting along and waving our fists in the air after every goal, so I guess we were definitely contributing to the tribe mentality. As part of the Colorado Avalanche tribe, I try to be decent. We had some Kings fans sitting to our left, and I did not do any taunting or trash talking. I let them suffer their humiliating loss in peace.

I began thinking about how many tribes there are. We often refer to our friends as our tribe, but there are other tribes too. You might have a tribe of people you associate with from your church or your child’s sports team or your office. I love the band The National and I’m part of their official fan club, so I am part of The National tribe. There are many tribes to which an individual may belong, intentionally or unintentionally.

I think it’s important, though, to differentiate between being part of a tribe and contributing to tribalism in a negative way. Being tribal, in its most basic sense, is actually a good thing. Tribes foster a sense of community. Ever seen how fiercely a tribe of friends will rise to help another friend who is sick or struggling? Tribes also create a sense of belonging, and that can be crucial to dispelling loneliness and depression. Tribalism provides the feeling that we are all in this together. When politicians speak of tribalism negatively, I think they are missing the point. It’s not tribalism that created our political divide but factionalism. On September 10, 2001, we were a fairly divided country. We’d emerged from a contested election, the outcome of which had been decided by the Supreme Court. We were split into factions: those who thought the Supreme Court should have allowed the recounting to continue to a satisfactory conclusion and those who were happy the court had decided to stop the counting and award the election to the person who had the most votes at that point in the process, George W. Bush. But when the United States was attacked by terrorists the following day, those factions quickly, albeit temporarily, dissolved. We united as one great American tribe. American citizens of every faction came together to aid in the clean up and recovery in New York City, to comfort each other in a time of deep sorrow and loss, and to donate blood. For a brief period of time, we united against a common enemy, terrorism. We proved how strong the American tribe can be.

Since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Russian NHL players have been booed and jeered at during games and have received threats against themselves and their families for something they have nothing to do with. This is sports tribalism gone wrong. NHL fans need to do a better job differentiating between the actions of leader Vladimir Putin and the position of the Russian citizens who have been dragged into this war, some of whom are losing their family members in battle. We can do better.

Tribalism is a good thing that can have negative consequences if the power of the tribe isn’t applied judiciously. I’ve seen some impressive, positive sports team tribalism in recent years. When the Cincinnati Bengals beat the Baltimore Ravens on December 31, 2017, it put the Buffalo Bills into the playoffs for the first time in 17 years. As a show of gratitude, Buffalo Bills fans donated $442k to the Andy and Jordan Dalton foundation for ill and disabled children and their families. When the Bills were defeated in the playoffs this past season by the Kansas City Chiefs, Chiefs fans donated over $300k to the Oishei Children’s Hospital in Buffalo where Bills fans had previously raised over $1M to honor Bills’ quarterback Josh Allen’s grandmother after her death in 2020.

All we need to do is realize both the positive and negative powers inherent in being part of a tribe. We can use our tribes for good or not so good. So, when you’re part of the tribe at your favorite sports team’s event and they’re winning, be kind to the members of the opposing tribe. As with pretty much anything humans do, we can unite around good or evil. Make the right choice. As former First Lady, Melania Trump, put it, “Be best.”

Oh, how I love a good hat trick