Quiet Epiphanies

sharing the everyday stirrings of mind, heart, and spirit

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To follow your life’s guidance, you may have to reassign some seemingly important things to ‘unimportant.’ If you believe that pleasing your horrible boss or having a spotless clean house is a higher priority than playing with your children or sleeping off the flu, be prepared for a long and strenuous battle against destiny.

— Martha Beck (via A Cup of Jo)

Courage: Turning Up the Volume

I’ve been thinking a lot about my “Overcoming” post the past few days. Mainly regretting that I put it out there, because I feel vulnerable.

The truth is, I judge myself harshly for how I have responded to my more recent struggles. Mainly, I feel that I shouldn’t struggle at all. What happened to me is mild in comparison to the myriad tragedies that could have happened. I know so many people who have or who are dealing with more dire circumstances. We all know someone who “has it worse” than us, right? Even if we don’t know them in-person, we’ve heard the story of the baby in the NICU, the young mother diagnosed with cancer, the town ravaged by natural disaster.

That is why I usually don’t allow myself to cry. I stuff down my feelings. I invalidate them, saying to myself, What’s your problem? There are people dealing with so much more than you right now. Suck it up. I compare myself to others and I feel guilty for not simply being thankful for all my blessings.

It feels virtuous to ignore your own pain and instead focus on those who “have it worse.” But is it truly based in humility and kindness for others? Or is it because you don’t love yourself enough?

If you saw a dear friend who was weary and hurting, would you say to her the things you say to yourself? Stop it! Your problems aren’t that big a deal. So many people are worse off than you. Get over it.

Would you make her feel ashamed? Or would you offer her a hug? Would you sit and listen to her when she needed to talk?

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This Is My Favorite Age

When we were at our son’s two week old checkup, our doctor must have noticed the weary, anxious look in our eyes and told us, “Don’t worry. Once he gets to be about six weeks old he’ll start smiling and interacting with you and it will be a lot more fun.”

I looked at her and thought, But I like him now. I was tired, but I didn’t want him to change. To me, there was not a single thing wrong with him staying as he was. My love was stronger than the pain in my body, the circles under my eyes.

I was new-parent weary, but my love for him was so big I couldn’t imagine how it could get any bigger.

Before I became pregnant, I actually couldn’t imagine myself with a newborn. I thought I would be better with an older baby, one with large curious eyes and soft, squishy chub. I didn’t know what to do with squinty-eyed newborns, who seemed so fragile and apparently cried or slept all the time. But as soon as my son was born and lying on my stomach, I saw his beautiful face and all I could think was how perfect he was.

Watching a child grow is like watching a flower bloom. My son started out a tight little bud, and as he gets older he blooms out, revealing the beauty inside. As he blooms, my love stays as strong as that first day, but my appreciation for his loveliness grows.

I have a friend whose baby was born just a couple months before my son. We shared our excitement and fears about pregnancy, and then parenting once our babies were born. When our sons were just a few months old we talked about how we didn’t want them to get bigger, how we loved them so much as they were and we were weepy when they outgrew their clothes. But we discovered as our babies grew how exciting each new milestone was. How just when we snuggled our babies close and smelled their heads and thought, “Don’t grow,” they surprised us with some fascinating new development and we couldn’t tear our eyes away. Suddenly, we were cheering them, saying “Go on! Do it again!”

Nothing can prepare you for the ordinary miracle of your baby doing something for the first time. I’ve thought about why that is. All healthy babies follow the same general pattern of development. Why should it be more exciting when mine learns to roll over or crawl or walk? But as his parent, I’ve been with my son from the beginning. I’ve been on a journey getting to know him since I first saw his heart beating on the ultrasound. As his parent, my every daily activity is done with consideration for this little being that I am responsible to grow. So when suddenly he does something that he’s never done before, it feels like my world is expanding right along with his.

When my son took his first steps, even though I had been expecting it for months, I felt as though something impossible was happening. I couldn’t have been more surprised if he was spoon bending, Matrix style. It was breathtaking that he should stay upright on his own, even for a brief moment. I cried, seeing him walk. Because my baby is almost not a baby anymore. But also because I got him this far. And also because I’m so excited to see all the things he is going to do next.

So if you asked me every month of my son’s life what my favorite age was, I would always say “this one.” It’s true now, as he practices walking while holding a large ball, or uses rudimentary sign language to ask for “help”, or holds his dog’s paw while he watches Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. I hope that no matter how difficult things get, whether I’m losing sleep because of toddler nightmares or teenage escapades, my love continues to be stronger and my appreciation richer.  I hope I can always say, “This is my favorite age,” because he is my favorite boy and I wouldn’t have him any other way.

My Wings Don’t Flap: A Kindergarten Moment of Perfectionism

My wings don't flap: A kindergarten moment of perfectionismWhen I was in kindergarten, one of our craft projects was to make a penguin out of construction paper. It was pretty simple: black body, white belly, orange beak, orange feet. But the special twist was that the penguin’s wings were attached with metal brads, so they could twist and flap.

Our teacher introduced us to the brads and showed us how to peel the metal tabs back to secure them in place. There was a boy in my class named Brad and I thought how unfortunate it was that he was named after this weird little piece of metal. Each kid grabbed two metal brads and sat at the work tables with construction paper spread out in front of us.

I sat down at my table with three other kids and all my supplies laid out before me. The construction paper, shapes to trace and cut out, paste, safety scissors, and two brads. I quickly became absorbed in the project, cutting clean lines and making sure I had all the pieces adjusted just right. I prided myself at being very good with scissors. After I had cut out all my shapes, I looked up for a moment and realized that all the other kids at my table were almost done. Oh no! I was behind! We were supposed to be wrapping up and cleaning off our tables.

I turned back to my penguin and started gluing as fast as I could. Finally, I put the last wing on my penguin and looked at my handiwork. My teacher hovered over my shoulder. “Oh, you were supposed to use the brads to attach the wings.”

My throat tightened as I stared at the two brads still sitting on the table among scraps of paper. In my gluing frenzy, I had glued the wings on. Oh no, oh no, oh no… I immediately wanted to fix it, to tenderly peel off the wings and let the glue try and attach them again with the brads. But there was no time. We were cleaning up. My penguin’s wings would just have to dry in place, remaining immobile. I looked up to see other kids happily flapping their penguins’ wings, and I felt ashamed.

My teacher wasn’t upset with me, but I had already started berating myself for not completing the project correctly. How could I have forgotten? The brads were what this whole project was about and I forgot them. Not only had I spent more time than anyone on the project, I didn’t even do it correctly. I felt like I had let my teacher down, let myself down, and even, in some impossible way, let my penguin down. I had done it wrong.

As an adult looking back on that scene, I’m saddened that I was so hard on myself. I was in kindergarten. Was I going to flunk for not attaching a paper penguin’s wings properly? Of course not. I’m not even sure kindergartners get grades. Where was all that emotion coming from? Why do I still remember it, some 23 years later?

That incident reinforced some burgeoning fears in my five-year-old self. Even at that early age, I felt that if I didn’t do things perfectly, it meant that I was a bad person. I’m still trying to figure out where that comes from. But what’s perhaps more damaging is I also learned if I mess up, I won’t get a chance to fix it. This has lead me to live my life as though this is my one shot. I feel a tremendous amount of pressure to get things right, or catastrophe will ensue. As an adult, I need to let go of the fears I developed in my childhood of being a bad person and never being able to make up for my mistakes.

The reality is that the quality of one paper penguin doesn’t mean anything about whether I’m a good or bad person. And just like as a kid I didn’t have enough perspective to realize it, as an adult I need to remember that I still have a very limited perspective. Retrospectively, my problems may seem bigger now than at five years old. But they feel as big to me today as the penguin did for the little girl with scissors and glue.

The next time I feel stressed because I think I need to make everything perfect in my life, I need to remember the paper penguin. I need to stop and think about what I am trying to prove with my perfection and try to gain some perspective. Because in the end, what does it matter if my wings don’t flap?

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