Tag: Insecurity

21Mar

Monkfish

Well hi there. Coming back here after nearly a week of radio silence feels like exhaling after a long dive, and it’s so nice to say hello again. How are you? (Yes, you!)

Here’s what happened: Dan came home from two weeks of business travels, and the moment we finished kissing hello, I shoved the children in his direction and started writing like a feverish monk for a project I was already supposed to have completed. (Note to self: Preschoolers and deadlines don’t mix.)  I toyed with the idea of reposting some old entries on here, but then I wondered if that would seem presumptuous, and then I was sure it would. I only know how to fight off one source of self-doubt at a time, so I chose the project. Be sure, though, that I thought of you often.

I also did a bit of this:

Hammocking

…because some things are best celebrated with hammocks, and spring is one of them.

~~~

How did you welcome spring this year? Does it even feel like spring yet where you are? If so, are you in a celebratory mood? If not, would you like to come visit? We have hammocks.

13Mar

Religulove

When we enrolled Natalie in first grade last September, we opted out of religion class. Even though we share some fundamental beliefs with the Roman Catholic Church, we weren’t comfortable with her learning doctrine as an academic subject. Frankly, I find it incredibly dangerous when any religion is painted in the same black and white lines as grammar or algebra—right versus wrong, subject to a grade—and I’d like to think that we would have opted out of the class even if it had taught our exact beliefs. (Sunday School is a whole ‘nother ball of wax, but it’s easier to discuss what the girls learn there without having to discredit the entire academic system.)

I was at peace with our decision until we picked Natalie up after her first Friday at school. She was as cheerful as ever, happily recounting how she had gotten to go out in the hallway during religion hour and watch the other teachers have their coffee. I was… less cheerful. Bit by bit, Dan and I uncovered that Natalie was the only child in the entire elementary school in the entire course of its history to opt out of religion class, and the teachers didn’t know what to do with her other than send her out of the room. My heart thudded straight down onto our granite tiles.

I know all too well what it is to be the odd child out… the only kid at the grocery mid-morning, the only girl in our homeschool group wearing a jumper, the only teen not pledging for True Love Waits. I remember the icy sense of exposure and the sharp loneliness, and I’ve never, ever, evereverever wanted to subject my daughters to them. However, that’s exactly what I found myself doing that Friday, wielding religious principles that banished my six-year-old to the hallway.

I hurt all over for her, but Natalie was clearly not bothered by skipping class, so Dan and I didn’t push the issue. Instead, we talked to the teachers and arranged for her to join the other first-grade class while hers was doing religion. Some of the other parents overheard us, and the next Friday, Natalie was joined by a little boy. For all the countercultural drama we were putting her through, at least she was no longer alone.

The subject of religion class hasn’t really come up in the months since, but this morning, the little boy’s mother caught up with me after school drop-off. “Guess what I found!” she chirped, taking my arm as if this were the seventy millionth instead of the very first time we’d talked. (I immediately wanted to kick myself for not introducing myself sooner. Or, you know, at all.) “Looking through my son’s workbook, I found a little note he had written during religion hour: ‘Dear Natalie, you are beautiful!’” We laughed together, and I felt a little like crying and a little like skipping all at once. She asked about our church (evangelical), and I asked about theirs (Muslim), and it didn’t matter a single bit that some members of both our religions dedicate energy to hating each other. Our faiths didn’t affect our ability to be friends.

And yes, I know I’m realizing things all the time on this blog that are probably common sense to most people and it’s got to be irritating by now, but I realized in those three minutes of conversation that this is the lesson we’re teaching Natalie with our lives here. She and her classmates might not attend the same church, but our families’ homes are open to each other. We share meals and swap recipes and give each other’s children rides, and if I hadn’t been bracing myself so hard against alienation, I might have noticed sooner that there was no need. Our differences don’t prevent us from loving each other well. Our separate journeys with God don’t make us enemies. That this is even possible makes my soul giddy with hope, and I find myself grateful in a way I couldn’t have imagined last September that my daughter gets a front-row seat.

27Feb

How I Talk to Little Girls (And Why)

It popped up on my Facebook feed last summer once, twice, fifteen times before I started seeing it discussed on prominent blogs. Entire circles of social media lit up at once in a universal Aha! moment at the idea that we are doing a grave disservice to little girls when we compliment their beauty. Lisa Bloom’s article is fascinating and powerful (if you haven’t read it yet, it’s well worth three minutes of your time!), and I am grateful that voices like hers are being heard over the endless glittery din of beauty propaganda. I appreciate her point that commenting on a girl’s beauty disrespects her mind and sets her up for a lifetime of body image issues. However, I also disagree.

I grew up within an extreme religious subculture that required parents to squelch their parental instincts in favor of specific protocol. Our lifestyle encouraged education and Colonial-era homemaking skills while discouraging physical beauty, so most of the compliments I heard growing up fell under the category of accomplishments. My parents freely celebrated my brains and talents, but what I heard even more acutely was the silence when I’d model a new dress.

We didn’t have a television and I wasn’t allowed to look at magazine covers at the grocery store, but some innate girlish part of me had an idea of what beautiful looked like, and I knew it wasn’t me. Few things throughout my childhood hurt as badly as looking in the mirror each morning and feeling sure that if I were even the tiniest bit pretty, someone would have mentioned it to me. I despised my fair skin, my strawberry-blonde hair, and my gangly legs with their perpetually skinned knees, and I absolutely loathed the freckles splattered across my cheeks. In fact, I carried such a low view of my appearance with me to university that I had no response the first time a classmate told me I was beautiful. Clearly, the man was a few fries short of a Happy Meal. (Love you, dear!)

Self-esteem is an ongoing issue for me, but I determined early on not to pass my history of mirror-hate on to my two daughters. The first half of my strategy is by far the hardest: appreciating myself. Every disparaging comment I make about my figure, every gesture of disgust or embarrassment, every dismissal of compliments is soaked up immediately by my girls’ big blue eyes, and it’s scary as hell to remember that I am their introduction course to womanhood. My words about myself will affect what they see in the mirror for their entire lives, and you know what? That day when they survey their own stretch-marked mama bodies and feel like someone rearranged them without their consent and consider the merits of muu-muus and wonder where to even begin with the concealer, even then they will be radiantly beautiful. Which means I have to accept the possibility that I am too.

The other part of my strategy is less about reversing thought patterns and more about giving my instincts permission to love unabashedly. My girls are both artistic, imaginative, curious, and kind; they do brave things and learn from mistakes, and I let them know how much I admire them for it. They are also beautiful. It’s the truth, and my defense against mother-bias is that I’ve never met a little girl who wasn’t beautiful. Their innocence and mischief, their uninhibited smiles, the darling gaps of missing teeth, the residual glow from heaven’s handprint… pure beauty, yes?

I can’t keep such precious, transformative truth a secret, so I tell them. I talk with my daughters about books and brains, but I also let them know how their loveliness fills my eyes to overflowing. It’s just a comment here or there, nothing pre-meditated, but when their daddy smiles proud and tells them they’re beautiful, both six-year-old Natalie and four-year-old Sophie respond in delight: “I know!” There is no trace either of self-deprecation or of conceit (though I’m working with them on a more socially acceptable response) and not even a whisper of wishing they were different. They are beautiful, just as themselves, and they know it.

I follow the same philosophy when talking to the girls’ friends. Their appearances are never the focus of conversation, but I also don’t ignore their new haircuts or sparkling smiles or the outfits they cheerfully cobbled together themselves. I am all too aware of the images and ads that will dog them their whole lives about not being skinny or tan or fashionable enough, and I hope that my voice carries more than its share of weight when it tells them that they are enough. Even in first grade, they are inside-and-out beautiful, and I want them to know this to their core before marketing campaigns try to convince them otherwise.

I believe that we are doing a grave disservice to little girls when we ignore any part of who they are in an effort to control their priorities. I believe that our instinct to celebrate their loveliness in addition to their intelligence and courage and talent exists because we are meant to be holistic beings—soul, spirit, mind, and body. I believe that beauty and brains are in no way mutually exclusive and that we need to stop perpetuating the myth of Either-Or. I believe that our children need to hear every bit of the good we see in them and need to hear it often enough to start answering from a place too far within them for media onslaughts to touch…“I know!”

21Feb

MRS

I couldn’t help joining up with Seth and Amber Haines another week for Marriage Letters: My Job–Your Job. It’s a beautiful way to prioritize my marriage, even if I did growl at Dan when I thought he was trying to read the letter over my shoulder. At least I growled with renewed admiration and lovingkindness, right dear?

~~~

Dear husband,

Eight years after tossing my graduation cap in the air, and I still want to protest that I did not attend university to earn an MRS degree. I was already weaving my plans for world travel when we met my junior year, but I’m not sure anyone was buying that. Possibly because I couldn’t wait a full eight months before marrying you, and possibly because… well, nobody studies English for the lucrative career opportunities.

All the same, I loved the interplay of words enough to hang my résumé on it, and this year, I’ve traded in a paycheck for one-time contracts with page counts. It’s slow work, but it stirs up sparks, warms me from the inside out.

Your work warms you too. I roam our bedroom-office throughout the day, tracking inspiration from my desk to the rocking chair to our bed, while you remain solid and engaged at your own workspace. It’s hard to drag you to meals sometimes, but I know you remember plenty of nights when I’ve foregone dinner for dialogues. We understand each other in this. You research the latest in biomechanical technology and set up training sessions with clients, and I stare out the window looking for sentences among the olive leaves, and our smiles meet halfway across the room.

Pay scales haven’t changed too much though, and unless I dream up the next Harry Potter, it’s unlikely that my writing will ever pull the same financial weight as your engineering. I confess, I often let the thought that your job is more important than my job (which it is, in a putting food on the table sense) morph into dissatisfaction with myself. How many times now have I wailed to you that I am going to stop writing forevermore and devote the rest of my life to scrubbing the ground you walk on with a toothbrush because at least then I’d be accomplishing something useful? (Yes, our girls come by their dramatic streaks honestly.)

Every one of those times in which I despair at the inferiority of my work, I expect you to sigh in relief that finally I’m going to stop wasting all of our time and then request that I just go ahead and tie your shoes while I’m down there. Every time, though, you exceed my expectations by pulling me up, prying the toothbrush out of my fingers, and offering some way you can help me more than you already do. It kills, in a gorgeous, humbling way.

I guess what I have to say about it all is thank you—for giving equal importance to our jobs despite the income disparity, for making my fulfillment in life your own priority, and especially for letting me display my MRS diploma proudly above my B.A.

It was the best career choice I could have made.

Bethany

~~~

You can read last week’s letter here.

17Jan

Frequent Over-Analyzer Miles

Vacations are always tricky terrain for me. My overly analytical brain drives itself dizzy reminding me that I need to make every moment count but that I shouldn’t lose myself in the process but that I shouldn’t take precious time away from family to recharge but that I shouldn’t neglect my writing but that I should be out living so that I’ll actually have new writing material but that I need to take care of my introverted soul so that I can enjoy these moments I’m living but that it’s selfish to claim time for myself when we have such limited opportunities to spend with the people and places we came to see but, but, but, but, but. Basically, there’s no winning this one. (Anyone else get way on trips? Please say yes.)

Last week was especially intense, and as we’re gearing up for another stretch of absolute insanity—which will hope-beyond-hope land us all back in Italy together—I’m trying to figure out how to process all of it in triple time. My working strategy involves a little bit of running and a whole lot of peanut butter M&Ms. Other suggestions welcome, though I can’t promise restraint when it comes to M&Ms.

The jury is still out on whether or not my mental processing methods work, but one aspect of this trip stands out in my mind in stunning detail. All of the upheaval and impossibility and hair-pulling bureaucratic situations we’ve faced over the last few weeks have made the perfect backdrop for divine intervention. We’ve been racking up miracles like frequent flyer miles over here, and it’s the best possible way to start this year—assured in my own heart, for whatever it’s worth, that we’re not alone.

It’s a good thing I feel this way because we still have some pretty big hurdles to clear before I can get on a European-bound plane. If I weren’t able to trust that everything will work out, I might end up resorting to self-medication. Scarfing down peanut butter M&Ms, for instance. Can you imagine?

Just ignore the arm sticking into it

(Don’t feel like you have to answer that last one.)

12Aug

Mirror-Soul

This firstborn daughter of mine has kept me on my toes from that moment in a London hostel when the nausea and the swelling finally began to register as meaningful. Somewhere between the first anniversary in Venice and the train ride through the Chunnel, I had lost track of dates, and when I discovered I was already six weeks into motherhood, I had to lie down. She was already pulling me along into a new universe of stretch marks and neonatologists and caring so fiercely for another person that I left the hospital one day after my C-section just so I could stroke her cheek through a maze of NICU tubes.

This firstborn daughter of mine has been the most gracious of guinea pigs to a mama caught unawares. She has blossomed despite parenting mistakes and loved me through my hardest times, times I desperately wish I could uproot from her history and replace with flowers and strawberries and the dark pink everything that makes her world go ‘round. She has taught me more about grace than I could ever learn from books, and she’s the one who reminded my atrophied feet how to dance.

This firstborn daughter of mine continually impresses me with her patience, her focus, her enthusiasm, and her inside/outside/radiating-from-every-pore kind of beauty… which makes phases like this latest one particularly mystifying. Over the last week, when faced with gentle but logical consequences (of which I’m a firm believer) for occasional misbehavior, she’s dissolved into a roiling sea of self-deprecation on the spot. “I’m a bad Natalie!” she sobs. “I can’t do anything right! I’m only bad, never good! Nobody will ever love me!” My protests to the contrary are dashed against unyielding angst. I find myself for the zillionth time having absolutely no idea how to navigate the hurdles of motherhood and worrying that my head will go on strike due to poor working conditions.

This firstborn daughter of mine is so much like me that I want to look away. There is something so agonizingly familiar behind her eyes that I can’t stop remembering how I spent so much of my own girlhood drowning in self-contempt. I too wanted to be good but believed myself incapable; I too felt in my core that I was fundamentally unlovable. I am absolutely dumbfounded, though, as to how Natalie picked up the same thoughts despite completely different parenting methods, completely different cultures, and completely different lifestyles. To my knowledge, no one has ever told Natalie that she is bad or worthless or incapable at anything. We have always drawn attention to the traits we love about her. I am bewildered, but there’s no time to brainstorm in a tempest.

This firstborn daughter of mine, her mirror-soul storming in my arms, is pulling me through old territory in a new light. I can’t tell her the things I used to hurl at myself in the dark—you’re hideous, you’re evil, you’re worthless—missiles targeted at my own insecurities with something like satisfaction. The only thing I know to do is to remind her of the truth, so I draw tear-rimmed eyes close and whisper it into the turmoil… and it finally begins to sound like truth when I admit that this firstborn daughter of mine isn’t the only little girl I’m comforting.

You are lovely, inside and out.
You are capable.
You are irreplaceable.
You are loved.
You are loved
You are loved.

You are loved

7Aug

Redress

It was prayer request time, the same way every other Sunday School class of my childhood had ended, and I was trying to think of something innocuous to say. The previous week after my dabble in hyperbole, my teacher had prayed earnestly that God would calm my fears of dying a gory, cancerous death from my head cold. The rest of the 7th grade girls had nearly hyperventilated with snickering. This morning though, they simply looked bored. I wished I could master the look too, but I suspected it required mascara and/or cleavage. Also, it’s pretty hard to look bored when your bangs are pointing skyward in defiance of your otherwise flat hair (and all known laws of fashion).

L, the femme fatale of the group, finally raised a manicured hand. “I’d like to ask for prayer for my little brother,” she purred. “He’s struggling with jealousy because my parents won’t let him wear jeans to church.” She rested her hand just so on her stonewashed flares and fixed me in a catty stare. The other girls followed suit.

I wanted to die. Even a gory, cancerous death via head cold would have been preferable to sitting there facing down the 7th Grade Girls Sunday School Coolness Squad. I knew as well as everyone in the room (excluding our oblivious teacher perhaps) that L’s prayer request was a work of artisanal malice handcrafted just for me, but how was I supposed to defend myself? I was, after all, wearing a dress.

The last dress I had seen on any of my contemporaries had been two years before, and it had been a chic little number with barely-there sleeves and tailored lines. My dress, on the other hand, was designed with shoplifters in mind. The skirt alone could have concealed a bin of foursquare balls, the sleeves already resembled 3-liter bottles, and let’s not underestimate the potential of a colonial-era collar billowing over a repressed chest.  In that moment, I thought what I had thought a thousand times before with all the determination of an Uncool Kid who has no other recourse: When I grow up, I will NEVER wear dresses.

~~~

I haven’t quite stuck to my guns on this one. My husband’s suits hang in front of a handful of sequiny formals I wore in college (and should probably relinquish to the dress-up bin), and I invested in an unpretentious sweater dress before job interviews last winter. However, dresses for church? Well, here’s a typical Sunday morning scenario from pretty much my entire adult life:
I open up the closet whispering, I can do this, I can do this, I can do this.
I take out a dress reminding myself, This one is actually cool; normal people wear things like this.
I put on the cursed garment mumbling through gritted teeth, Lo, I will fear no dresses for I am now a grown woman.
I look in the mirror.
I cry.
I throw the dress into the back of the closet and put on jeans.

Something’s been shifting for me lately though. Maybe it’s having enough birthdays under my belt that I finally feel more like a bona fide grown up and less like a ten-year-old in high heels. Maybe it’s accepting my girls’ absolute refusal to wear pants because skirts are so pretty, watch me twirl, wheeee! Maybe I finally have the magical amount of distance from that Sunday School room with the catty stares and the loathing of all things poofy. Whatever the reason may be, I spent my birthday money this year on something that would have shocked my 7th grade self—something whimsical, orange (really, is there any better color in the world?), and decidedly dress.

Folks, I wore it to church this morning…

Dressed to heal

 

…and I didn’t even cry.

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