Some things I learned this week that are a little scary to share (which is why I should probably share them):
1. I’m not as vulnerable with people as I like to think I am. I open up just enough with most people and then quickly close off in case they get too close and then leave. Turns out, it hurts when they leave whether I let them all the way in or not. I won’t be making that mistake again.
2. I often convince myself that if I do and say all the things I want to with the people I most care about, they’ll think I’m needy or clingy. When I hold back, or wait for them to go first, I miss out on so many opportunities to make them feel good.
3. I can twerk.
4. I got called out by my sweet girlfriend: I constantly test people to find out if they really care about me, and if they give up and leave because they’re sick of being tested, I say, “I told you so.” And she’s right. I do that. I’m going to stop.
5. My pot roast gets better and better everyday that it sits in the fridge, and my collard greens are loved by even those who hate collard greens.
6. The close people in my life want to know what’s going on with me. I’m not burdening them by asking for help. I’m giving them the opportunity to know me better and myself the opportunity to keep from going through the hard times alone.
7. When someone tells me I’m beautiful, smart, interesting, amazing, and exciting, I should believe them. It’s sort of an insult to tell them they’re wrong, to me and to them.
8. The stories I tell myself about who I am are based on old patterns, old ideas. I need to update them if I want to get on with life in a new way.
9. I can still sleep until 11:00am if I dance late enough the night before (and wear an eye mask).
10. Crying will not kill me. It is more likely that someone will just hand me a tissue.
These retreats with my staff stretch my brain. We talk hard. We discuss real issues with work, our personal lives, and our own work on ourselves. We push each other to get real, to dig deeper, to reach beyond what we think is possible. Which is why in the evenings we have to let loose. We have to eat well and laugh hard and drink way too much. In 2 days we’ve been through 18 bottles of wine, a case of beer, a lot of vodka/whiskey, and way too many groceries. At a certain point last night, around the 1am mark, we decided a dance party must be in order. You can get to know someone incredibly well by learning about their history, even better by working with them everyday. But there is something about the way a person dances that is an instant window into their soul.
It started slowly, with some tappy feet and a few fist pumps. Someone eventually began to sway to the beat, and someone else moved their hips. A couple of people formed a circle and let loose, arms in the air and most of their inhibitions dancing away with their feet. The fun increased, the music got louder, the dancing got more serious…until…
Someone started twerking.
Now, I am a white girl dancer through and through. I can drop it (and it’s hot), but I definitely drop it like a privileged, middle-class white chick drops it. So when I watched actual twerking happening right in front of me, I felt the call. I had to learn.
It started as any typical dance lesson does. Put your hands here in this position, bend your knees, straighten your back, get low, etc. I followed all the directions, one step at a time, trying to imitate a true twerk. It was amazing at how quickly some of the other girls got it. And they only got better at it as the night went on. Naturally I began to doubt myself, lost in a sea of twerkers. Would I ever get the rhythm of a real true twerk?
It was about an hour of concentrated practice. I went from looking like a drunk chicken to a robotic airplane until finally, and quite suddenly, I did it. Just one time, but I did it.
“THAT WAS IT!” someone shouted.
“Erin! Do it again! You twerked!”
I tried again, this time for a little bit longer.
“Yes!! You’re doing it!!”
“SHE’S DOING IT!”
Between the laughing, the shaking, and the twerking, I nearly lost my balance and fell into a table of wine glasses. But I kept it together just long enough to try again, and this time, pull it off.
I pulled it off.
People clapped. I’m sure someone probably cried tears of joy. And the pride I felt for finally having accomplished a goal that had been in place for nearly 2 hours was…well…you can only imagine just how satisfying.
The point in this is that I can’t believe how lucky I am to work with a group of people who let me cry such an ugly cry during the day, hold me and remind me how loved and special I am, only to spend the time and energy with me that it takes to teach a white girl to twerk. And then cheer when she does it. Work hard, play hard.
This is my family of choice. And they make me better. They make me twerk.
When I was 22 years old, I moved to Iowa to open a children’s theatre. I’d been in the theatre since I was 9, taking classes and acting in plays. I didn’t have the experience, the ego, or the history of failure I have now that would dissuade the average bear from taking on such a huge feat without very much thought or preparation. I just drove to Iowa and started teaching and directing. There were plenty of days I had to pretend like I knew what I was doing when I really didn’t, but I figured out what worked and what didn’t and by the end of my year and a half stint there, I’d created something pretty fabulous.
Last week when creating the itinerary for this year’s RTC Fall Staff Retreat (my company), I included a yoga class, meditation session, and Zone of Genius workshop, all led by me on a Tuesday morning.
I do not teach yoga.
I do not hold, or attend, meditation retreats.
I’ve only read Gay Hendrick’s book The Big Leap (which includes his coined term, “The Zone of Genius”) once.
I had absolutely no business thinking I could do any of the three. Oh, and I didn’t prepare.
This morning I woke up (at 10:00am, who am I?) and invited all my staff members downstairs in a big, open space to our first yoga class together. It wasn’t until I stood in front of them that I realized I should probably have written down, or even considered, what yoga poses I would lead. And once we came back upstairs to meditate, I realized I’d planned a 22-minute meditation session with people who don’t regularly meditate. That’s kinda long. And as I led the Zone of Genius workshop, I noticed that I had absolutely no idea where it was going to lead or how I was going to wrap it up. Also, I wasn’t drunk, high, or even sleep-deprived. I just decided to pretend like I knew what I was doing. In the not-knowing, I left space for the natural best things to happen in spite of myself.
As I wrapped up, we reflected. We shared and laughed and compared notes. It was a beautiful, intense, challenging, and overwhelmingly bonding way to spend three hours together, everyone looking to me for the next steps all throughout. As we came to a natural ending and everyone began getting up to fill their coffee cups and eat cereal by the handful straight from the box, I finally asked, “Was this helpful? Did you all like these things I offered to you?” A resounding YES! filled the room. I smiled. And I exhaled. “Good, because I had absolutely no idea what I was doing and I was pretty worried you guys were going to figure that out…”
Jumping in feet-first to just see what happens is easier when you’re in a space of people who have already proven they will still love you if you fail. But it made me wonder what would happen if I did that in the rest of my life, if we all did. What if we just went for it? Went for love, went for our dream job, went for the life we’ve wanted but didn’t think was possible? Feet-first before all of the thinking and all of the reasoning. Letting it go, trusting the path is there when you need it to be might just be the best way to waltz through life. I’ve always been of the mindset that you can pray to God and still row for the shore: some level of consciousness must be present in order to live a whole-hearted life. But the rowing is the easy part. It’s the thinking where I get all snagged up.
Today I didn’t think. And it worked out better than I could have imagined. So, maybe I should stop thinking so much and just do what feels good and natural. Maybe if I quit all the thinking I could actually be here to feel the good stuff as it’s happening.
So, what I’m saying is: I’m going to think about not thinking as much…
Today, I was cracked open by a group of people who love me.
Each time the team of people I work with gets together, someone’s walls come crashing down. A beautiful sequence of events happens: A key phrase triggers a feeling, a feeling triggers an emotional response, and a person then has the choice of whether or not to get vulnerable and share the emotional response or to hold it in. They ask themselves is it safe? Can I do this here? Will I be rejected? Am I worthy? I am never “a person” in that sequence of events, mind you. I am always the one holding the space and supporting.
After watching an intense discussion about true joy, I sat on the outside of this group of people thinking about my own life as it stands right now and it suddenly occurred to me: this is love. These are the people who have my back, who believe in me not because I do things for them or take care of them emotionally, but just because I’m me. I do not have to prove that I’m worth their love. They can look me square in the eye and firmly say to me, “I am not going ANYWHERE.”
And then, I lost it.
I cried the ugly cry. Right in front of 10 people. I don’t do that, y’all. I cried a cry that was so intense because, for the first time in my life, I wasn’t crying because I felt alone. It was because for the first time in my life, I actually went ahead and let myself feel the feeling of being surrounded by love. These people have always loved and accepted me. But they helped me see, in this day, that I could open myself up to it and breathe it all in. I could relax into the feeling of love. I could do it without waiting for the other shoe to drop, or for someone to change their minds. The truth is that if one of them does change their minds and reject me, it will hurt. But it won’t hurt as much as going through life never fully accepting another person’s love for me.
I had no idea that love could be this big with people who weren’t related to me by blood or obligated to me by law.
Wow, am I lucky.
Tonight, I drink wine and break bread with the very people who enveloped me in the moment I first discovered I was truly worthy and capable of letting love in. I have an “anything is possible for me” feeling. And so I resist the thought that sharing this experience will make people think less of me or roll their eyes, in favor of the thought that it could encourage someone to feel the same feeling I have tonight. Anything is possible. You are worth loving. And me, too.
When I was in graduate school, I spent months learning about personality disorders and other diagnoses in the DSM-IV. I, of course, began diagnosing myself and everyone around me with all kinds of things. I diagnosed colleagues as suffering from dissociative fugues, my students with traumatic brain injuries, and family members with varying degrees of histrionic personality disorder. Obviously, none of these diagnoses were accurate, but it felt good to apply what I was learning, even if only in my head.
“But these disorders are rarely, nearly never, diagnosed in children under 8,” my professor said one day. And I wondered why. If someone is bi-polar, aren’t they bi-polar from the day they’re born?!
For the first two weeks of my child’s third year of life, I began asking more and more people if they wanted a free three-year-old. I jokingly mentioned it to the check-out girl, I casually dropped hints to other parents at his school, and eventually, straight asked a close friend if she might like to give raising Abe a shot. Because he doesn’t act like a complete and total psychopath around other people. It’s just me. He’s got my number. He knows my buttons and dear God does he love pushing them. Whether it’s just he and I or we’re hanging out with other people, he loves to destroy and humiliate my spirit. Like a small, doe-eyed demon.
And then he turned three-years-and-three-weeks old.
Suddenly and without warning, charm and love enveloped Abe in his sleep one night and he woke up knowing how to be respectful and kind and adorable. He knew how to ask for what he wanted, how to tell me when something hurt, how to tell me he loved me. His entire personality changed in a week, and I was now better than firetrucks and dump trunks to him. He began sleeping in a big-boy bed and even wiping his own butt. And not only was he kind and funny and adorable, he was suddenly polite! He said “please” and “thank you” without prompting, “excuse me” when he needed to interrupt me to ask a question. HE SAID, “EXCUSE ME” WHEN HE FARTED IN THE DOCTOR’S OFFICE. It was a whole new Abe. Out of no where, a whole new Abe.
Of course, I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop…
But the point is that now I know that it’s not just people who are bi-polar that are bi-polar before the age of 8. It is also all three-year-olds. All three-year-olds can be positively diagnosed with rapid-cycling bi-polar disorder. Every diagnostic criteria is met. Every. Single One.
I’m not even kidding:
Bipolar 1 Disorder, in which the primary symptom presentation is manic, or rapid (daily) cycling episodes of mania and depression.
Manic episodes are characterized by:
A. A distinct period of abnormally and persistently elevated, expansive, or irritable mood, lasting at least 1 week (or any duration if hospitalization is necessary)B. During the period of mood disturbance, three (or more) of the following symptoms have persisted (4 if the mood is only irritable) and have been present to a significant degree:
(1)increased self-esteem or grandiosity
(2)decreased need for sleep (e.g., feels rested after only 3 hours of sleep)
(3)more talkative than usual or pressure to keep talking
(4)flight of ideas or subjective experience that thoughts are racing
(5)distractibility (i.e., attention too easily drawn to unimportant or irrelevant external stimuli)
(6)increase in goal-directed activity (either socially, at work or school, or sexually) or psychomotor agitation
(7)excessive involvement in pleasurable activities that have a high potential for painful consequences (e.g., engaging in unrestrained buying sprees, sexual indiscretions, or foolish business investments)” (APA, 2000, p. 362).
So my conclusion is that everyone is born with bi-polar disorder and the reason they don’t diagnose it before 8-years-old is because some of us just outgrow it.
The verdict’s still out on Abe…
I once heard Oprah say that she liked rainy days because it took the pressure off. Too much sunshine means too much expectation to be productive. Everyone knows that rainy days mean books on the couch.
It rained today. All day. Hard. While today I couldn’t spend the day on the couch reading a book, I realized that I do consider the rainy days on which I’m productive to be a far greater accomplishment than simply being productive on a regular old Florida sunny day. Yes. Look at all the work I’ve completed! And it’s raining!
While I sat working and reading and taking notes, I listened to Abe decide not to take a nap. He sang and told stories and convinced himself that he wasn’t tired. (He should be a damn politician.) And all the while I wondered if he even considers his own productivity. He feels accomplished when he skips his nap and when he takes a nap. He pats his own back when he walks up 3 steps or eats an entire bunch of grapes. He gives himself props all day with little phrases like, “I did it!” and, “Yay, Abe!” Of course, he hears these phrases from me and incorporates them into his own self-thinking. I love this about him. I love that he celebrates each of his little achievements with gusto and true appreciation for himself.
I don’t do that.
I judge my slightest mistakes higher and more harshly than even my greatest accomplishments. I choose to pay attention to the soft around my middle after a week of being sick in bed instead of noticing that, despite melting my favorite red lipstick in the dryer with the final load, I was able to wash all 8 loads of laundry overtaking the closet after my days off. (You can imagine how much emphasis I put on the 7 great loads as compared to the one, red-stained load.) I don’t talk to myself the way Abe talks to himself. I talk to myself the way I think the rest of the world is talking to me, even though they’re only speaking that way because I show them that’s how I deserve to be treated. “Oh. Erin bags on herself? Ok. That’s what we’ll do, too.” I rarely give myself a break or the benefit of the doubt. I don’t create the space to celebrate everytime I climb the stairs or cook a nice meal. I focus on what’s next, and what else I have to do to convince myself I’m worthy of an “I did it.”
But it doesn’t need to rain in order for me to feel proud of my accomplishments. I don’t need to have done anything today to be worthy, because I can’t define myself by the things I do anyway. I’m not the things I do. I’m the person I am, I’m the love I project, I’m the snark I drop. I’m deserving of loving and joy just this way, first thing in the morning, before I’ve even accomplished anything. When I think about how much love Abe deserved the second he was born into the world without ever having done anything, I wonder why on earth I’m not deserving today, 32 years after I opened my eyes.t
I suppose I actually am.
The rain eventually stopped today. The sun shined brightly and I felt the pressure to perform. And it took a good bit of convincing (myself) that I’ve done enough. I am enough. Rain or shine, I’ve done enough today, I am enough today, even if all I’ve done is woken up. “Good job, Erin. You did it.”
Abe’s aunt got him a little plastic fishing pole with magnetic fish for his birthday.
“Mommy? What is this?”
“It’s a fishing pole, Abe.”
“Mommy, is this a fishing pole?”
“Yes, Abe. It is.”
“Is this my fishing pole?”
“This is a fishing pole?”
“This is what I’m saying.”
“Mommy? Do you see birds?”
“Mommy? You can’t? You can’t see birds?”
“No. I cannot see birds.”
“Mommy. This is a fishing pole.”
“Yes. We covered that.”
“Is this a fishing pole?”
“No. That is a coffee table.”
“Oh. A coffee table?”
“Is this a coffee table, mommy?”
“I can’t keep doing this…”
Seriously. I can’t keep doing this…
After surviving a week of The Plague, I frantically pulled myself together last Friday in order to attend a concert in a neighboring city. It was a 2-day music festival with Mumford and Sons headlining. A mere 25,000 people were set to flood the city, we’d purchased tickets back in February, and I’d be damned if I was going to miss it. Also, we already paid a pretty penny for concert tickets and hotel rooms, and money is pretty motivating.
I dropped Abe off with The Greatest Sitter on Earth, who has been with him since he was 4 months old. He loves this woman more than he loves me. Abe was still recovering from The Plague and if I felt badly, he felt worse. Snotty nose, watery eyes, post-nasal drip, the whole nine. The kid constantly looked like he’d been surprise-dunked into the ocean head-first without goggles. It was sad, and David didn’t want to leave him, but I dug in my heels. The planning that went into this event was tedious and took months. I’d purchased all the Sudafed in the world just to make it through the weekend. We weren’t backing out now. It took some convincing that our child would survive without us while battling The Plague as we were living it up at a 2-day Music Festival actually now that I’m typing this what was I thinking???
But we went.
In a nutshell, I spent 2 days listening to amazing music, eating awesome food, floating in the ocean, basking in the sunshine, sweating
my face off, nearly dying on a bicycle (if you’ll recall, I’m not really much of a cyclist), making hilarious new friends, and enjoying some of the best music my ears have ever had the pleasure of experiencing. Was it worth it? Yes.
When we arrived home, The Greatest Sitter on Earth welcomed us and casually recounted her weekend with Abe. She chatted us up in the kitchen and told us they had a great time, that he was feeling better, he loved soccer, he ate well, yada yada yada. It was all good until she said, “And when he got out of his big-boy bed this morning, he didn’t even cry!”
Why is this an important detail? Because Abe doesn’t sleep in a big-boy bed. Abe sleeps in a crib because everytime I even suggest he sleep in the big-boy bed he throws himself into walls and convulses until gluten-free cheerios come out of his nose. And then he eats them. One at a time.
“He slept where?” I asked.
“In the…” she paused, realizing this was brand new information before continuing, “…in his big-boy bed?”
“What?” David asked.
“He slept in the tent on his bed?” I asked.
“Well, yes. I saw the tent he got for his birthday on the bed and I thought that’s where he was sleeping now. So, that’s where he slept.” She delivered the news like a careful offering, unsure of whether or not our culture approved of big-boy beds.
“But…but…all night?” I asked.
“Yes,” she smiled.
“Both nights?” David asked.
“Woah,” we murmured in unison.
I’ve been ready for Abe to transition out of the crib for about a year. But as I stood in my kitchen with The Greatest Sitter on Earth, I was suddenly not ready anymore. Was it over? Was the great transition from baby to full-blown kid officially over? It was part dream-come-true that I didn’t have to spend weeks trying to train him to sleep in a big-boy bed, but part nightmare that I missed it happen. Already over, already finished, he sleeps in a big-boy bed now. I couldn’t decide if I should be thanking her or crying on the floor. I was there for his first solid food, his first steps, his first words, his first everything EVER, but this was the first “first” I wasn’t there for. And I wasn’t there because I was double-fisting craft beers in Francis Field during a 2-day concert with my friends (because you had to buy two at a time so you wouldn’t need to go back to the beer stand as often and risk missing one of the bands, you understand…).
It’s the first time in three years I’m starting to see that he’s going to learn things without me now. He’s going to reach major milestones without me. He doesn’t need me to be there for them. He can rely on other people to help him learn, grow, experience the world. He is now solidly walking the road away from me, and in the coming years I’m going to see less and less of him and find out one day he knows math and the names of all the state capitals and how to tie a square knot and none of it will be because of me. I am the proud owner of a three-year-old who can only get older and less dependent on me and, the truth is that if I’m doing this right, he won’t look back except to wave goodbye.
And when he does wave goodbye to me someday, I’m going to walk to the beer stand and order two Sweetwater 420’s and maybe sit in Francis Field or on the ocean shore and remember all the moments I thought “the hard part” would never end…
There’s a commonly heard phrase in the fields of psychology and education: Meet people where they are.
It’s a motto I try to remember when figuring out how to parent Abe. If he’s having a bad day, let him have a bad day. Don’t try to force him into a good day. Just let it be (thank, Ms. Lennon).
I contemplated this while unloading the dishwasher and I challenged myself to think of situations that would make it incredibly difficult to meet Abe where he is: if he decides to try drinking as a teenager at some party I didn’t want him attending in the first place, if he gets a speeding ticket, if he fails a class, if he gets into a fist fight. Shaming him in any of these situations, trying get him to not be in that situation won’t do anything. If that’s already where he is, then I have to meet him there and love him through it. Will there be consequences? Sure. But the consequences won’t change what’s already done and the second I try to change Abe into what and where I want him to be, I close our lines of communication. I show him that what I want, where I need him to be, is more important. Not cool.
Then I fast-forwarded a little further, because lord knows I can’t very well just live in the present and be content now, can I?
Abe’s going to marry a woman someday. (I mean, at this point it looks like it will be a woman, but who knows?.)
He’s going to marry a woman who, it’s very likely, will not be good enough for him in my eyes. Who could ever be good enough for him? Who could love him as selflessly and honestly as I have? Who could recognize in him the genius, the masterful spirit I see? While I tried to control my breathing thinking about all of this, I remembered a guy I went to high school with who dated a girl his mom didn’t like.
This guy was great, so nice, an honestly good person. Nothing really wrong with the girl other than being a teenage girl: pretty, smart, a little controlling, dramatic. The norm. His mom and I were close, as we’d known each other for years. At 17, I loved talking with her and getting her advice because, well, she wasn’t my mom so she must be smart. One day she told me, “I can’t stand his girlfriend. I almost hate her. She’s putting a huge wedge between my son and I. I see him being controlled and manipulated. I don’t know how much longer I can bite my tongue.” And shortly thereafter, she stopped biting her tongue. She told her son’s girlfriend just what she thought about her behavior and the way she was treating her son. She told her son how much better he could do and that she would do everything she could do to lovingly protect him from getting hurt.
You can guess how well that turned out.
As her relationship with her son and his girlfriend blew up and then quickly disintegrated, she confided in me. “I should never have told him. I should have let him figure it out on his own. I should have just loved him and done my best to love her, or even fake it, so that when their relationship eventually ends I can be there for him. Now, no matter what happens with his girlfriend, our relationship is damaged.”
Translation: I should have met him where he was.
Imagine what a world it would be if we met all people right where they were? Instead of trying to change who they are and what they’re doing to fit our needs, how about trusting that their paths lead to their lessons, which don’t need to be the same as ours. It can piss us off or make us sad. We are human after all. But loving people through their own paths on their own terms seems like the only thing to do, doesn’t it? And, oh, how nice it would be if everyone could just meet me where I am all of the time…
So what I’m saying is, as soon as I’m finished berating my three-year-old for pulling that little girl’s hair at school, I’m going to meet him right where he is…
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