Work In Progress

Five year old me
Five year old me

I am my harshest critic. This I know. I am more cruel to myself than anyone I’ve ever known. No flaw escapes my notice. No misstep is not cataloged for future self-flagellation. I never turn a blind eye to my foibles. If there is minutiae to scrutinize, surely I’m already on it. My husband has threatened to remove all the mirrors in our house to keep me away from myself. I rarely worry about what others think of me because I know it can be no worse than what my mind already accepts. I assume that this incessant self-investigation and castigation comes from a lethal combination of being an overachieving first born, having a natural proclivity towards analysis, and growing up in a household where anything less than your best was, frankly, not good enough.

For years I’ve been working to relax my relentless self-criticism. Turns out I suck at it. Really. I’ve honestly made very little progress in this arena. I haven’t been able to remedy my pessimistic thoughts with therapy, self-help books, or yoga. I’ve tried reducing the negative input in my life. I’ve stared at affirmative statements pasted to my mirror until they’ve been burned into my retinas. They haven’t helped. This whole blog, this journey toward zen, was also meant to help move me toward peace. At times, it has helped. At other times it only made me further question myself, my skills, my sanity. Most days I’m unsure if I’m any further along on this trip than I was when I started seven or eight years ago. And in the midst of all this emotional work, the hormonal changes of midlife have not helped one iota. I feel like a ticking time bomb. The best I can say is that I’m aware of the problem, and acknowledging the problem is the first step toward a solution, right?

This morning I was standing in my bathroom when it hit me. I was looking in the mirror (which, so far, has not been confiscated by my husband), noticing the extra holiday pounds, and I heard myself say, “I’m a work in progress.” Holy crap. Where the hell did that come from? I almost turned around and looked behind me. I let that sentence roll through my brain a few more times. I’m a work in progress. Could it really be that simple? Is that all I need to let myself off the hook for everything? The more I thought about it, the sweeter it got. All this stressing over every detail, every imperfection, every gaffe…could it all be alleviated by considering things on a continuum? For so long I’ve looked for and compared myself to a desired end result. What if I stopped worrying about where I end up and work each day on where I am today? The thought was intoxicating.

Because I’m a realist, I know this new mantra will not solve all my self-abuse problems. They are deeply ingrained, and I haven’t had much luck ridding myself of them to date. But I am going to try to start thinking about myself differently while I work toward a better me. Maybe I am a bit heavier after a rough-ish year last year. So what? I don’t need to beat myself up over it. I’m a work in progress. I’m going to start thinking of myself on an evolutionary scale. Right now I might feel like something that just crawled out of a swamp on four legs, but sooner or later I’ll be upright. And that will be progress I’ve earned.


Judging A Book By Its Cover

My imperfect book about imperfection
My imperfect book about imperfection

To help me along on my journey toward Zen (with a capital Z), I’ve been reading The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown. If you don’t know anything about Brené, here is an excerpt from her web site bio: Brené Brown, Ph.D., LMSW is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. She has spent the past decade studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame. Brené is a self-described shame researcher. Her books illuminate some of the struggles of the human condition and suggest pathways toward living more bravely and authentically. Because I’m 45 and still muddling my way through midlife crisis, I know I could use some of that knowledge. I want to be more at peace on the second half of my journey through this life, so Brené’s become my guru.

Last week the federal government deemed my husband nonessential. He has been home with me since then, and my time for leisurely reading has been greatly curtailed. Tonight when I finally picked up my book again, I felt like I was starting over. I took a good, long look at the cover and noticed that there appeared to be stains on the cover. I didn’t recall those from before, so I scratched at them a bit to see if they might come off. They did not. I inspected them from several angles in different light and decided they looked too perfectly splattered to be accidental. I even sniffed the book. Nothing out of the ordinary. Same old book smell. And so I decided, “How clever of the book designer to create an imperfect cover for a book about imperfection.” I mean, seriously…that’s just genius. Good for them for thinking of it. Still…in the deep recesses of my brain, something kept bugging me because I didn’t remember those stains. I ran off to my laptop to verify this ingeniously designed cover and to put my perfectly pesky mind at ease.

Of course, I discovered that the cover was not designed to have stains on it at all. Apparently I put those stains there. I’m not entirely sure if they are residue from one of my daily soy lattés or from some of the neutral paint we’ve been slathering on the walls of our main floor while hubby has been temporarily unemployed. Either way, what’s interesting to me here is that I was so certain I could not have spilled anything onto my book that I thought it was an intentional publishing gimmick. It was easier for me to believe that the stains were a purposeful design feature rather than the result of my own, personal sloppiness because I don’t do things like damage books with foreign substances. I take better care of my things than that.

Oh. Dear. God. I need this book a lot more than I thought.


Hitting My Head Against The Same Wall

My son who is too much like me in the ways I wish he was not

I wish I had the energy for a decent post here tonight, but the truth is that I gave at the office today. My full-time job is as stay-at-home parent, aka chauffeur/homework guru. Today my oldest son, who has moderate ADHD, had a rough afternoon. A very rough afternoon. You see, he didn’t do so well on a few math papers last week, papers that he completed in class so he didn’t have to bring them home to be checked by us. This would have been a nice avoidance tactic except that in his rush to finish he missed a lot of answers. His teacher, being the sweet woman she is and wanting to make sure he understands the material enough to be successful, kindly gave him the opportunity to correct the areas in which he had fallen short. In addition to the corrections he needed to make (about 20), he had 28 new math problems to complete and about 50 spelling words from two spelling lists to practice. Oh..he also had at least 15 minutes of reading to do. He missed recess because his teacher made him stay in and work on the math he was struggling with. As I was approaching him after school, I could tell we were headed straight for Chernobyl-level meltdown.

By the time we walked the thirty feet to the car, he was crying. He desperately needed some free time or a nap or a snack. But, he was so overwhelmed by the list of work he knew he needed to complete that he was certain he would have no time for television or video games or playing with friends tonight. Joe has a miserable fate as a Type A personality in a brain that is not readily capable of Type A behavior. As Joe carried on in the car about how sad he was that he wouldn’t get any “free time” because of his workload, I told him that I would not let him work for six hours without dinner. I told him that we’d happily accept the bad grades on his homework rather than making him redo everything if it was too much to ask of him today. I told him that this is only 5th grade math homework, and it’s definitely not worth crying over. I reminded him that in the grand scheme of things none of it mattered. I told him that we loved him and that he was plenty capable of completing the work with time to spare. He wouldn’t listen. His mind was made up. He was determined to believe that his short life was over and that he would never get the work done. Ever. The dramatic performance on the way home in the backseat would have put the actors on Days of Our Lives to shame.

If there’s one thing I understand about ADHD, it’s that it’s not a rational disorder. It makes no sense to someone who doesn’t have it. Many people don’t even believe it exists. I can understand that. You can’t quantitatively measure it, therefore it’s dubious.  (Side note: you can’t quantitatively measure migraine headaches either, yet doctors prescribe medication for them just the same and that is considered a perfectly acceptable diagnosis and treatment.) I can’t get into Joe’s brain and help him calm down when he gets this way. I’ve had my son for 11 years and, even though I understand what ADHD means for him, there are times when I completely mess it all up. It’s not that he wouldn’t listen to me. It’s that when he gets into that state, he can’t listen to me. After all this time, you would think I could stop the tantrum or curb it just by knowing how to handle it. But, I can’t because I don’t know from drama to drama what will work to calm him. It’s in his head. He has to be willing to let it go before things will change. Instead of letting him vent, I kept cutting him off and trying to comfort him. When he still wouldn’t listen, I became agitated and tried harder rather than backing off. I should have known better. I’ve had this wonderful child for 11 years. I should know better by now. Bad, bad mommy.

So, this is why it’s now 10 p.m. and all I want to do is watch some mindless television and go to sleep rather than write anything about what ended up being a mentally exhausting day. I didn’t do the best job at my job today, and I’m worn out. The good news is that I still have a smart, sweet boy who loves me, and I have another chance tomorrow to prove to him that struggles in school do not make him less of a wonderful person. They’re just what they are…struggles. Nothing more. Nothing less. We all have them, and no one is immune. Maybe I would have a better time convincing Joe of this truth if I believed it applied to me as well?