Know-it-all-ness + perfectionism = the death of curiosity

Developing good listening skills is a top priority for me in 2019. I know some folks who will be REAL thrilled about that.

I’m kind of a shit listener.

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Trust me, this is as shocking a revelation to me as it is to you. I thrive on interpersonal connection. When someone is telling me about the stuff that drives them, shapes them, makes them them, then I excel at listening.

It’s the other 85% of the time that I’m falling way short of the mark.

But being a good listener is a trait I really prize in other people. Good listeners are the folks I usually consider wise and insightful. Other people gravitate to them. Because you know what people want more than almost anything else? To be heard.

So, with these thoughts in mind, I started sorting through my listening problem. Being an abysmal listener isn’t a space I’m willing to dwell in–now that I’m aware of it. Nope. Onward and upward.

Here’s what I found:

  1. My not-so-good listening is connected to my know-it-all-ness. True, in daily life, I’ve tamped down my need to act like I know everything. Because that’s all kinds of of annoying. But there’s still this underlying thing: when confronted with information I know nothing about, I simply gloss over it in my mind. It’s a mental version of yeah-yeah-yeahing. I just assume I kind of know what’s going on and can make educated guesses about the rest of it. And I do this with topics I know nothing about.  You can imagine how effective that might be. giphy-4
  2. This mental yeah-yeah-yeahing relates directly to my lack of curiosity. I’ve realized recently that I don’t ask enough questions. I don’t ask why or how enough. And this is precisely why I suck at small talk. I just assume I’m not interested in “surface topics.” Which is some bullshit that means I don’t want to mentally engage about things that may not be in my wheelhouse. I don’t want to dig deeper–and leave my comfort zone. But lately I’ve been watching Simon communicate with people–and I’ve realized he really excels at this. He asks questions about things that are obviously important to the person he’s talking to. And then he gets these really interesting answers. Because he’s curious. I need more of that in my world. giphy-5
  3. Ultimately, I think all this–the know-it-all-ness and the lack of curiosity–finds its root in the perfectionism that’s dogged me since I was a kid. I know some folks roll their eyes at the idea of perfectionism. I mean, who doesn’t want to be perfect, right? But I was the kind of kid who wouldn’t do something if I didn’t know I could do it right the first time. Anything less than a A on a test made me want to give up (see: high school Trigonometry and Chemistry). I’ve worked hard to shake this nonsense. Because–hello–I believe life is a continuous learning cycle. But I also wrote a novel that I thought I got perfect on the first try. And I was kind of crushed when someone told me it, in fact, needed work. Even though I should’ve known this right away because a) I am a writer. I revise things all the time and b) I taught college writing for 5 years. Which means all I did for 5 years was read student revisions, while constantly reiterating the benefits of revision to said students. But suddenly, I wrote a book and I forgot all that. I needed the project to be perfect to be worthwhile. Which meant I didn’t want to listen. To anything.giphy-6

Good listening is top on my list of priorities in 2019. At 43, I’d be a fool not to admit how little I know. The universal well of knowledge is so vast that the mere thought of how much I don’t know can completely paralyze me. But the easiest way I’ve found to let knowledge flow into my world is simply acknowledging that everyone I meet is my teacher. Which means I have to be humble enough to admit that I don’t know everything, and then open myself to the knowledge people are willing to impart if I’m just curious enough to receive it.

I write because I believe that stories matter. That they can change the world. I think it’s time to really open myself to the stories around me–even the ones that present themselves in the most ordinary of ways.

Why do they call it “The Birds & Bees” talk? Way to make it even WEIRDER.

I want to control the narrative that my kid receives about sex. And I CERTAINLY don’t want her friends explaining it to her…

My (almost) 8 year old knows more about the female reproductive system and how babies are made than I knew when I started middle school. Let me tell you, NOT knowing about sex puts you at a distinct disadvantage in recess conversations. Because if your parents don’t tell you about sex, some kid is going to. And, most likely, they’ll get some pretty big parts of the equation completely wrong.

I want my daughter to understand her own body. I want her to know sex is not shameful. I want to give her knowledge.

And I have. Kind of.

In a theoretical sense, she knows how babies are made. Or, more accurately, she knows how SHE was made. She knows that making a baby requires a girl part (the egg) and a boy part (the sperm)–and that’s true no matter who is making the baby. But, she was conceived in a doctor’s office. While I looked up at star garland that had been placed along the ceiling for just such an occasion. But what she DOESN’T know is how the vast majority of babies are conceived.

And, you have to admit, compared to her conception story–where a doctor is strategically placing the sperm it has the very best chance of connecting with and fertilizing the egg–sex is just WEIRD.

I mean… come ON. A penis goes WHERE??? Can you imagine receiving this information as an 8 year old?

I can’t. Because no one ever talked to me plainly about any of this sex stuff. In fact, like so many other girls my age, my mother just handed me a book about sex, and the body, and puberty and told me I should report back with any questions. I grew up conservative Presbyterian. You can imagine that the Focus on the Family book she gave me wasn’t exactly sex-positive. It was homophobic, masturbation-shaming, abstinence preaching bullshit. But it shamed me into ever talking about or fully exploring my desires as a teenager. So, I guess mission accomplished?

I want something different for Jane. And that involves arming her with facts. Before the other kids try to “educate” her.

I think she’s gonna be pretty mad if I don’t explain the whole penis/vagina thing before someone else does. It’s a pretty big piece of the puzzle to leave out. But, wow, is that an odd conversation to instigate.

The other stuff has come so naturally. We want Jane to know her conception story. It’s an important part of who we are as a family–in part because we’re an LGBTQ family and in part because I just think people should fully understand their own story. So, telling her about the egg/sperm connection was easy. And, since she’s my constant sidekick and nothing gets by her, she asked about tampons at an early age & I told her what they were for. No one in this house is period-shaming. It’s just a thing that happens. No shame. No stigma.

But, you know, sometimes it takes more than one conversation for all the relevant info to sink in. The other day, I got my period and needed a fresh pair of underwear. So I shouted for Jane (who was standing right outside the bathroom door—because motherhood). She got me a pair… then she asked if I was okay (she was probably pondering why her perfectly capable mother seemed incapable of getting her own damn underwear. At least, that’s what I would have been thinking). I said all off-hand like, “Yeah, I’m just bleeding. NBD.”

Her eyes opened wide.

“It’s okay. I’m not hurt.”

She was still staring at me. “You are bleeding? From your VAGINA? Mommy, I’m not sure your vagina is supposed to do that.”

I laughed. Explained periods again. And we moved on. She’s still skeptical about the bleeding part. I mean, again, it IS kind of weird. In the way that the WHOLE human reproduction thing is weird. You should have seen her face when I explained how babies come OUT…

So, yeah, it’s time to explain all the weirdness of sex without making it, well, weird. Fingers crossed that the S-E-X conversation isn’t the first thing she brings up in therapy years from now…

Shhhh… (Rise and Shine)

I’ve got to get up before the sun to get some peace & quiet… and to enjoy a cup of coffee before the litany of questions begin.

My hair’s kind of all over the place lately. It’s growing out from a pixie cut. Which basically translates into chaos atop my head. But it’s managed chaos. And I kind of like it.

Unless I have to blow-dry it.

My hair is wavy. Unless I break out the blowdryer. Then it’s flat as a pancake. No… flatter. A crepe. It’s as flat as a crepe. And then I hate it and want to shave it off.

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So, obviously, I’ve got motivation to let it air dry. The GI Jane look is so 1997, you know?

Anyway, I asked my buddy, who has much curlier hair that is actually styled by a professional (my last haircut was almost a year ago), if she let’s her hair air dry even in the winter. She sure does. I think she saw my perplexed look–because it’s about 30 degrees in Atlanta in the mornings.

“Well,” she said slowly… “I wash my hair an hour before I leave the house. So it’s dry before I go to work.”

Ah, yes. Of course. Got it.

But I can’t do that.

Not because I am not up an hour before I leave the house. I am. In fact, I’m up TWO hours before we leave the house.

But…

I purposely get up before the sun so I can start my day the way I want to. I get up and read and meditate and prepare for the day before any of my people (even the dog) have stirred from their slumber. Well, at least that’s the plan. Sometimes, I swear Jane can smell me wake up. And then she’s up, too. But the very hope of having a moment to start my day, of having a cup of coffee without a soul asking me questions, that hope’s enough to drive me out of bed at 5:30 a.m.

And then, by 6, the circus has begun. And it’s a lovely circus. These are, in fact, my monkeys and my circus.

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But they’re distracting. And before I realize it, it’s 7:10. And my hair cannot handle another round of dry shampoo. Well, maybe it could, but we don’t really want to test that, do we?

But here’s the thing, no one can follow me into the shower. I mean, they could technically. But they won’t because they’ve got relatively good boundaries. And while Jane won’t follow me into the shower, the very sight of me with a book in hand makes her remember the 145,000 things she forgot to tell me. Even though she just saw me a moment ago and her only concern then was whether or not I remembered to buy her a Lunchable.

That’s one of a million things they don’t tell you about being a mom: You will not be able to get a minute to yourself. Not for the first 8 years at least. But, while I’m jockeying for just one moment alone, I’m also very conscious of the fact that, one day, I’ll long for this time when she both wanted and needed me. One day, I’ll have all the time alone I could ever want.

Which makes getting up at 5:30 a.m. just to get some peace & quiet seem not so bad.

 

 

Let’s All Play to Our Strengths: I’ll Make the Coffee

My husband just popped his head out of his office. I could feel him peering at me tentatively. “Hello…” he began.

I turned around from where I’d been reading and writing at the dining room table my desk. Really, I’d just been trying not to make any sudden movements and wake up the dog, who has a propensity to be a close-talker and follow me everywhere I go when she’s awake.

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He continued: “If, at any time, you know, over the next hour or so you wanted to make coffee, that’d be really nice. I’d love a cup.”

I stared back at him for a moment. “Maybe you should just ask for what you want,” I replied.

He looked unsure but proceeded anyway. “I’m on a conference call. Can you make me a cup of coffee?” He paused for just a beat. “See why I didn’t want to do that? It sounds like you’re my secretary.”

“Yeah,” I concurred. “I thought that’s what I wanted you to say. But now I just want to punch you.”

Ah… marriage.

I made him the coffee, by the way. It’s brewing right now. He didn’t ask because he’s a chauvinist asshole who thinks that women should make the coffee. He just really sucks at making coffee. I have no idea how it goes so sideways. But it does, every time. So, I take mercy on him, and I make the coffee.

Truth be told, I like to do nice things for him now. There’s something about actively choosing the person that you’re with–and not at all in a theoretical sense–that brings clarity that every day is a choice. And so is kindness. And love. So, I make the coffee. To save him from himself.

It’s this constant refrain of choice in our relationship that makes me bristle when people hear about Simon’s transition and they utter a little sigh and say something akin to “Love is love.” It used to bother me because I thought such a glib statement somehow diminished my identity struggles. But now I hate it because it doesn’t honor the hard work we put in to stay together. It overlooks the absolute honesty with which we had to face each other–and ourselves. And it takes a helluva lot of bravery to be completely honest in a 10+ year marriage. The greeting card version of our relationship can’t even scratch the surface of what I feel for him–and the pain, and loss, and work it took to uncover those feelings. I am so proud of us. But none of this came easily.

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We laughed recently about how completely normal our lives are. I mean, on some level we must thrive on chaos, since once we got 100% on board with staying together, we moved. Then I decided I’d open a bookstore. But it’s normal in that nothing is imploding. And our lives don’t feel like constantly shifting sand anymore. In fact, our lives feel solid–like ground that we can build something real and lasting on.

Just Surrender Already

Some lessons are harder for me than others…

Foot pain.

Seriously. Foot pain.

Just saying it makes me feel about 100 years old.

Foot pain isn’t funny. And I hadn’t learned a lesson from it. Which is why I haven’t written about it–until today.

So, here it is: I’ve been struggling with aching and burning in my right foot since October. First, I thought it was plantar fasciitis. So, I did exercises to strengthen my feet. I stretched. And it, mostly, went away. Until around Thanksgiving, when it came raging back. My mom suggested it might be a bone spur (she’s capable of going form zero to bubonic plague in 3 seconds or less). I shrugged it off and kept running. Because, the honest to God truth was that it hurt whether I ran or not. And sometimes it felt better when I ran. I certainly wasn’t going to give up running without evidence of direct causation. And I had none.

Then, 3 days ago, I was standing in mountain pose, and I swear to the sweet baby Jesus that it felt like my foot was on fire. ON FIRE.

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It couldn’t possibly have hurt worse if I was actually walking over hot coals. (Okay, it could have hurt a little worse, but who’s story is this anyway??) That was the moment when I began to believe this might be an actual problem.

Then, that night, the pain. in. my. foot... it woke me up THREE separate times. The next morning, my first sensations were pain and a little bit of desperation. (I need a lot of sleep to be a regular human. Now, my foot pain was interfering with that. Not today, Satan)

So, I surrendered. (Things always work so much better when I surrender, but I’m a slow learner of that particular lesson) I started googling folks I could see about this pain.

Part of my reluctance to have anyone look at my foot wasn’t just pigheadedness. It was flat out fear. My arch collapsed when I was 12 or 13. I’d been running in shitty shoes because I didn’t know any better. I saw a podiatrist who created orthotics for my shoes. Swell. I wore them. But that same podiatrists wanted to do surgery on both my feet when I was in college. He wanted to rebuild my arches. Each surgery would have meant I was non-weight-bearing on that foot for 6-8 weeks. So, basically, he wanted to take an otherwise healthy college kid in her early 20s out of commission for about 4 months–even though I wasn’t in any pain.

You can guess the profanity I let fly in the general direction of that idea.

Add to that experience that my arches have been wildly sensitive ever since then (I don’t like foot massages because I’m afraid someone will touch my arches), and I had a real recipe for avoidance.

But, in my google search, I ran across a foot massage practice right in my neighborhood. In fact, I’d noticed it several times as I drove by. I’m pretty into supporting our local businesses, so I booked an appointment.

That’s right: I booked an appointment, the sole purpose of which was to have someone massage my feet.

Good GOD.

But I was surrendering, you see.

When I got to the place, it looked a little haphazardly cobbled together (which isn’t too out of character for the neighborhood). The massage place was housed in a side building attached to a larger building (our neighborhood gym). The entrance was kind of hidden. And I knocked and didn’t get an immediate answer (it didn’t look like a place you just wander in). I almost left.

But, then, someone opened the door and invited me in.

And I surrendered.

I went in and sat down in a recliner. I soaked my feet in warm water with Epsom salts, apple cider vinegar, and essential oils. Already my foot felt better than it had in months. So, when they took out the massage cream and a scraper to break up the fascia in my arches, I took a deep breath–and surrendered to the process. I hated the scraping. It tickle/hurt, I almost flew out of the damn chair. But I did as I was told–I breathed deeply and let it pass.

My foot got massaged, pulled on, popped, shaken, and scraped. I probably smell like essential oils and fear. Or maybe relief. Because it’s not all better. But I can see, from here, a time when it will be better. And I am very grateful for that.

And all I had to do was surrender.

Stop It. That Cupcake is Not BAD.

What I eat does not define me. It does not make me “good” or “bad.” We’re selling ourselves short to think otherwise.

I dislike it when people talk about food.

No… that’s not quite right.

I dislike it when people imbue foods with odd mystical powers: like the idea that they can make you good or bad, if you eat them.

I hate it when I tell people I ran recently, and they say something like “Oh, then you deserve that cupcake.” Wait. What?

I get miffed if someone tells me how many calories are in something. Or, even worse, turns their nose up at something I’m eating because it’s not healthy enough or isn’t “worth it.” What the fuck?

I like food. Done right, food has the potential to be a communal gathering spot where we can come together to nourish our bodies and souls. Everybody’s gotta eat, right? And I think we should–by and large–eat foods that we love. And we can love a vast array of foods, if we expose ourselves to them.

But hell if I am going to eat something just to be thin. No. Not a chance. ‘

I spent half of high school walking around in an undernourished daze. I ate so little that my stomach hurt constantly. I couldn’t think clearly. I was anxious and depressed. It was horrible. Anxiety controlled what I was able to consume (which was very, very little). Then, later on, I grasped on to restricting my food intake as a way to control something in my life. Much of my pride and self-worth was tied to my thinness.

That’s a shit way to live.

What I eat doesn’t make me worthy. Or unworthy. Sure, I have a weight at which my body feels most right. Because that’s what’s most important to me: feeling good in my own body.

That’s why I run. Mentally & physically, it makes me feel better. I think more clearly. I feel more capable.

And when I eat, I choose my food based on flavors, preferences, and overall common sense about nutrition. I don’t think foods can be “good” or “bad.” That salad doesn’t make me a better person. Not even a little. And that cupcake doesn’t make me “bad.” Gross. I wish people would stop pushing that rhetoric on to the next generation of girls. Because, yes, they are listening.

I want to be healthy and strong. I want to have enough energy every day to really embrace my life. I want my daughter to see me eat food and appreciate it for exactly what it is: fuel to live the rest of my life. Nourishment. An opportunity to gather together.

And if my daughter asks me if I want to have ice cream with her, the answer is going to be yes. Yes, I want to embrace this moment of your childhood. Yes, I want to celebrate the here and now. And, yes, my life is defined by so much more than the amount of calories in this ice cream cone.

Starting Over (Second Grade Edition)

What’s a kid to do when her parents move her from one neighborhood to another–which means starting a new school?!? Watch as our intrepid second grade hero navigates these treacherous waters.

In mid-September, we moved from one neighborhood in Atlanta to another. The move has proven to be the right decision a million times over. We already have friends and a connection to this community that we revel in. It feels amazing, truly, to not only live in a city we love but to have found a neighborhood that we belong in.

The only obstacle to this move–and it was a big one–was that Jane would have to change schools.

Shit.

We put it off for a semester. I wooed her by explaining that, if she started school in January, everyone would want to be her friend. New kids are still cool in the second grade.

But, truth be told, I was sweating this transition. She loved every minute she was at her old school. She makes friends easily. And she loves people deeply. So much so that, at the end of long school breaks, she’d often be moody and/or teary simply because she missed her friends and couldn’t wait to be with them again.

That thought hung over me for the whole Christmas break. She was ready to go back to school. But it wouldn’t be the same. Her friends wouldn’t be there. And it was all my fault. (Yeah, yeah. I know it wasn’t really. And I know it was the right choice. But STILL. All my fault)

But she was excited. She told me over and over again that she couldn’t wait to start her new school. She mentioned her new teacher’s name no less than a hundred TRILLION times during the semester break, even though she’d never even met her.

So, things were looking up.

And then, four days before the start of this semester, Jane admitted that she wasn’t just excited–she was nervous. Oh, shit.

I know being nervous is normal. I also know it’s a great opportunity to introduce her to coping skills (something I had to sit through years of AA meetings to obtain). But, the God’s honest truth is that I’ve never wanted to fix something for my child more than I wanted to fix this. My drive to make it all better was so strong my heart actually ached. Cue more “It’s all my fault” melodrama. All in my head, of course. Okay… and a little of it spilled out to Simon–he’s a good and compassionate listener. But mostly I kept it under wraps because a) there was no way to fix it, and b) I pride myself on teaching Jane to deal with hard things, not run from them.

So, yeah, I managed to pull my shit together enough give her a pep talk about making it through hard things (like a first day at school, a big test, something scary) by remembering that it’s only going to last for a finite period of time. And soon, it’ll be over and will be part of the past. I told her that in two weeks, she’d look back and laugh and say, “Remember when I was SO nervous to start my new school.”

She thought for a minute. “Yeah,” she said, nodding, “it is only 24 hours after all.”

Really, she has a better understanding of life at 7 than I did at 27.

Today, her very first day at her new school, she woke up at 5:45 a.m. She picked out some leggings she loves, chose her sparkliest shoes, and stuck a crazy-ass green bow in her hair. And she was ready to go. No tears. She chattered all the way to school. But she did hold my hand.

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Simon and I walked her to her new classroom. Her teacher came in, introduced herself to Jane, and then gave Jane a hug. I felt tears spring to my eyes (I cry over every damn thing lately, I swear), because I knew right then that she’d be fine.

When we picked her up today, she declared it an AWESOME first day. And she proudly announced that EVERYONE wanted to sit next to her. Oh, and her teacher said some lovely things about her that made me tear up again.

So yeah, we’re all going to be okay. I just be over here dabbing my eyes, if you need me.