Resolve

Every day life tests our resolve. Two weeks ago, I posted that my goal over the next year is to practice greater self-acceptance. The other day, I found myself wavering in that goal.

I took a much-needed day off from work, and so I picked up my 11 year old son from school. Before we even got in the car, he asked to go to his friend Jack’s house. I didn’t know Jack or his parents, plus my son mentioned that Jack’s mom wasn’t home from work yet. No way was I going to let him go to a strange house with no adult supervision. I said no, but told him to have Jack’s mom call me.

Back home, I got involved cleaning my grandmother’s old mirror that I’d taken down from the loft over the garage. As I was prying thumb tacks off the back cover of the frame with a butter knife, my son tells me, “Jack is coming over in a few minutes with his mother.”

What?!

I looked around me. Dirty dishes in the sink. School papers, bills, and newspapers strewn about. Piles of shoes thrown near the back door.  Dried cat food stuck on a dish. Loose ends that needed tying up from a remodel – and that was just the kitchen!

I wanted to throttle my son, but I was too busy panicking over the horrible first impression I would make on Jack and, more importantly, his mother. The impression of a disorganized, scattered, messy mother who is too busy indulging in personal activities, like fiddling with a 50 year old mirror, to keep her house in good order.

I should add that my son goes to parochial school, where a large chunk of the student body come from families who are well off. I’m just an ordinary, middle-class educator married to a blue-collar guy, who sometimes struggles to pay the tuition. Our house is in an older, working class neighborhood that I sometimes fear may be going down the tubes.

My inner demons kicked in: Will the mother look her nose down on me and my home? Will she think we’re not good enough for her son?

Then my goal came back to me. So what if my house was messy? I preferred self-care and creative projects to cleaning on a day off. We might not live in the best section of town, but our 1930 colonial was charming and in a friendly, down-to-earth neighborhood that we enjoy. That was what mattered, not the opinion of a stranger.

I thought back to the family with five girls that used to live in the little ranch behind me when I was a girl. Their house was the place to hang out. They had a Roly-Poly, a round, wooden contraption with bench seats and bars to hold onto while someone rolled us around the yard. There was an underground fort where we would bunker down, in the pitch black, and pretend to be hiding from danger. Their basement was finished into a recreation room where we would put on plays for their parents. The girls’ dad made us homemade potato chips, and on Halloween night he would pile us into his station wagon and drive through a nearby cemetery while we screamed in terrified delight.

In retrospect, they probably didn’t have much money, and their house was way more messy and disorganized than mine, yet I loved being there. The chaos was part of the charm.

Suddenly, I was excited that Christian’s friend was coming to hang out at our house. If he and his mom saw me as messy and scattered, all the better. To hell with perfection!

They arrived, and I invited the mom inside so we could get acquainted and exchange phone numbers. Her eyes scanned the kitchen, just as they’d scanned the neighborhood.

“We’re at the tail end of a kitchen remodel,” I said, feeling the need to explain the plywood backsplash over the counter, the lack of trim by the floor, and the box of silverware on the kitchen floor.

“It’s cozy,” she said, leaving me to decide if this was an insult or a compliment.

Then it dawned on me: I knew nothing about this woman. Not where she lived, where she came from, what her story was. I was making all kinds of assumptions based on my own insecurities. Hadn’t I resolved to end this bullshit?

I smiled at her, and felt warmth and acceptance spread through me. “Thank you.”

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The Road to Self-Acceptance

I used to be a self-improvement junkie. From self-help books and journaling, to daily meditation and yoga, I was forever striving to become the best I could be, but somehow always falling short.  Now that I’m older and wiser, I am so over it.

It takes tremendous energy to always be striving toward a better version of yourself. Almost as much energy as learning to love and accept yourself as you are, flaws and all. Of the two, I am convinced the latter is the greater use of our energy, and the more difficult, which may be why so many of us prefer the former.

Evolving  toward our highest potential is a beautiful thing. Sadly, too many of us start our journeys of growth and self-discovery from a place of lack instead of love, convinced we’re not good enough as we are and that we therefore need to strive and change to be better.

My entire life has been a struggle to feel good enough, to appreciate myself for who I am – the good, the bad, the quirks, and even my God-given strengths and talents. Did it start in the womb, with my 17 year old mother “disgracing” the family by having pre-marital sex and getting knocked up with me? Can shame be passed on at the cellular level? Does the stain of being the black sheep seep into one’s offspring?

Or could it have started with my father? He never could seem to accept me for who I am. He still corrects my speech (not how I say things, but what I say) and seems overly concerned with how I make him appear. There are digs about me acting like my mother, as if being like her in any way means that something is wrong with me.

What about those small moments that add up over a lifetime, such as when I was eight years old and sitting on my friend Jenny’s front steps with her and a group of girls. Someone mentioned the new landscaping around the front walkway of Jenny’s house and I, in innocence, said, “My parents said they copied our landscaping”, which they kind of had given it was identical and we lived directly across the street. Not that I cared, but my parents had taken issue with it.

Unbeknownst to me, Jenny’s mother was listening inside the house through the screen door. All of a sudden, a voice hissed, “You little devil. How dare you say that. Get off my property.” Stunned and afraid and ashamed, I left without saying a word and spent the rest of the day sitting in our garage watching the girls play. The residue of that day has stayed with me all these years.

I don’t know how my lack of self-acceptance started, but the days of feeling like I have to act a certain way, say things a certain way, dress and wear my hair a certain way – I could go on and on – to fit in and be accepted by others are slowly coming to an end. I am getting too old for such bullshit. I want to experience myself fully for the first time in my life, to know what it feels like to appreciate and accept myself as I am, right in this moment. I want to observe my thoughts, words, and actions without judgment, even the “bad” ones, and to naturally be myself first in every situation, instead of adhering to my tendency to adapt myself to others’ opinions of who and what I should be.

A funny thing that has been happening lately that has prompted this shift. All of the things I’ve learned and thought I understood in my self-improvement heyday are rushing at me, seeping into me as primal, mini-revelations during which I think, Oh my, God. This is what it meant. Now I get it. Now I really, truly get it, in my soul. I couldn’t explain the revelations if I wanted to because they go beyond words to a deep knowing.

What a gift! The world is opening up to me and I’m ready to dive into it.