Opinion

Level Up

School starts tomorrow. We’re pretty late out of the gate in the PNW. Another Summer has really slipped through our fingers this year with little to show for the months on hiatus. I can’t tell if that’s a good or bad thing? I guess it depends on if the “nothings” were enjoyable or not. Probably a little of both, which is fine. But it’s difficult as a parent to strike a balance at this time of year between the crushing pain of losing our daily play dates and lax schedules and unadulterated joy from having the kids freaking go and get entertained by someone else for a while!

It’s a pretty cliche´ set of emotions that crop up during these new stages of life. The ones like,  “they grow up so fast” and “enjoy it while it lasts because it will be over before you know it!”  The trouble with expressions like these are that while you’re in the thick of it, time can feel excruciatingly slow. Like, why haven’t you moved out & got a job yet? slow, or how am I still wiping your ass for you? slow. But then you realise the actual current ages of your children instead of the one you’re imagining & try to cut them some slack. Then the pendulum swings to the other side! Suddenly you’re swatting away visions of moving them in to college dorm rooms or they’re off getting married, when in actual fact, they’re just starting third grade.

We probably project a lot of our own schooling experiences on to our kids which may falsely steer them in directions resembling very little to what they’re actually dealing with, because they are, in fact, not us. For the previously bullied kids inside us, these parents might helicopter, overly instruct their child with an attack plan, or are constantly wary of all the other kids’ intentions towards their offspring. There’s the parents who thought school was a blast because they were smart, popular or funny; these parents might not understand why their kid isn’t experiencing the same level of enjoyment in their academic careers. Whatever it is, letting go of our little humans is a tough ask sometimes. They’re still in training, and this is part of the curriculum whether we like it or not.

I had plenty of variety when it came to school experiences. Between Kindergarten and graduation, they would ebb & flow between smart, bullied, class clown, smart mouth, loud & fun, sarcastic & in trouble, mainstream popularity, niche group experimentation, academia, sports, the arts. I was a veritable cornucopia of personalities. My interests, strengths, weaknesses & levels of acceptance among my peers could change daily. I’m pretty sure that’s how it’s meant to be? There was never a moment where I was settled long enough to claim one cohesive brand of experience. But life doesn’t work like that.  Kids don’t work like that! These are little people on a path of discovering who on Earth they’ll be some day. And even when school’s done, they’ll still be evolving and growing long after they’re released from our daily care, because that’s just human nature.

I bet these kids are way more capable at asserting themselves in life than we give them credit for. It’s my job as their parent to give them guidelines for what our family believes to be good, well-rounded & successful humans, and to create a home that is safe & full of love … and sometimes yelling. Outside of that, I need to step away from the dual steering wheels we’ve been using to navigate their personal vessels and let them start the process of learning through trial & error. They will undoubtedly crash & bash along, that’s how learning goes. The older they get, the more I need to move aside & coach instead of holding their hands in place for them. Of course there will be plenty of back-seat-driving and sitting in the passenger seat (for as long as permitted) while I violently jam my foot down on the phantom brake when they inevitably do something stupid. That’s my right as their parent. It’s also my right as their parent to poke fun at them a little when they have self righteous tirades, or to find some clever way to teach them a lesson (hopefully while also maybe traumatising them a little), or simply to throw buckets of water over them when they refuse to wake up for school (which will also help diffuse the cloud of axe body spray I’ve been warned will fog up their room.)

In any case, as I prepare the lunch boxes, check the back-to-school supply list for the 20th time, make sure the child-approved outfit is not in the dirty laundry pile, I’ll also try to enjoy the process that will some day be long gone. It’s definitely quite a task most days, especially the 7:50am start time! But, I’m ready to put on my Big Mom Jeans tomorrow & head in to a new year of learning, growth & battles with lice outbreaks. I’m prepared to deal with all the ways I’m unprepared for this. I’m gonna “Mom so hard” this year! (apparently that’s a thing now)

Trust

Trust is a problematic concept to me. A requirement amongst humanity to safely steer each individual’s journey through life, yet more often than not, it’s never quite upheld by most around us. When push comes to shove, how often do we respect fully the obligation to the safety & care of others by preserving their right to complete sanctity within the confines of the shared relationship?

Real, unwavering trust in another human being is rare to find. I personally don’t know if I’m lucky enough to posses it. I’m not even sure I could claim that I am yet capable of fully providing it. But that doesn’t stop me from trying. 

With the ever-growing media popularity of health care professionals like Brene´ Brown, the general public are being treated to easy access on information and guides for topics that are deep & often unspoken about. Shame, vulnerability, self-appreciation, trust. Trust has been a subject I’ve often pondered. I lament over it, really. I wonder either why I am not worthy of receiving it, or why I am so remedial at preserving it! 

As each of us drive our human-shaped bumper cars around life, there’s no avoiding the many collisions this will unavoidably bring. We are meant to bend, break, err. It’s part of being human. An equally large part of our human experience is sharing it along side other humans, just as inept at keeping their bumper cars from bashing and scraping against us and each other, never quite mastering the wheel of their own vessel. The best we can hope for as we bungle along, is the idea that we can all work harder on self-improvement. Giving heavier weight to the attributes we are mostly neglecting, but make the biggest difference in the overall quality of our experiences while we’re here.

Many opt out of honouring faithful and unwavering trust in lieu of providing juicy treats of gossip & “you-heard-it-here-first” accounts of our painful & private experiences. There are lots who claim sanctuary for your grieving soul, you bear your open wounds to their soothing claims of privacy kept. Then without warning, they sink their teeth in to your neck & ask others to gather round & enjoy the entertainment of the bleed-out. Who are these people? Surprisingly, they’re all around. They’re planted in every corner of our individual cosmoses. Disguised even to themselves. 

There is a popular Native American anecdote, commonly peddled among my childhood Sunday school classes, that told the story of a young boy and a rattlesnake. The boy is on a journey & is descending a mountaintop where he finds an ailing rattlesnake. The snake asks the boy to carry him back down the mountain as he is unable to do it alone. The boy is skeptical he can maintain safety in this deed, and so declines. The snake promises to keep from harming the boy if he would only take him back down the mountain. The boy agrees and keeping the snake warm & protected on the journey, delivers him safely to the base of the mountain. Request fulfilled, the snake strikes & bites the boy, guaranteeing inevitable death. The boy is aghast & cries, “Why did you do that?! You promised you wouldn’t harm me!” The snake affirms, “You knew what I was when you picked me up!”

This is one of the most excruciating ideologies repeated to each generation. I bring it up here to illustrate that, sure, when faced with the rattlesnakes of the world, we know whose company we are in. Their intentions clearly marked from the start. When we get bitten by the not-so-competent-confidant we entrusted ourselves to, we feel foolish at ever being convinced they were capable of trust in the first place, and hopefully learn our lesson while moving on. But the more common fable we deal with is the wolf in sheep’s clothing idea. We’re mostly smart enough to avoid the rattlesnakes, but we are time & again hustled by that damn wolf. The one hiding in superficial friendship. The one coaxing false hope & security. The beast that lays in wait. Unfortunately, the most common wolf scenario is the kind where the wolf fully believes it’s a sheep until given an opportunity to change the narrative. People flip-flop between the 2 identities depending on how they can assert themselves further in whatever gains there are to be had by others private revelations.

The urge to partake in these practices seems irresistible to many. They don’t necessarily strategise to extract useful information (though some do), they’re just too concerned with their own internal high-stakes popularity to stop & comprehend the destruction they’re unleashing with every whisper & divulgence of confidences promised. So, what is to be done about it?

First, we hold ourselves to the same standards expected of those we’re asking trust of. Second – don’t be unwise. In this I mean, there are ways to allow the right candidates to make it through the filters needed to guaranty (as much as possible) our safety in sharing the intimacies of our experiences. We need to share as a requirement to further growth & safety, to allow appropriate aid and care of ourselves.

Brene´ Brown explains it best. There is a formula to effectively distribute trust to the trustworthy. Remember it by its acronym BRAVING;

B – Boundaries. You respect my boundaries and when you are not clear about what’s OK and what’s not OK, you ask. You are willing to say no.

R – Reliability. You do what you say you’ll do. At work this means staying aware of your competencies and limitations so that you don’t over-promise and are able to deliver on commitments and balance competing priorities.

A – Accountability. You own your mistakes, apologize, and make amends.

V – Vault. You don’t share information or experiences that are not yours to share. I need to know that my confidences are kept and that you are not sharing with me information about other people that should be confidential.

I – Integrity. You choose courage over comfort. You choose what is right over what is fun, fast, or easy. And you choose to practice your values rather than simply professing them.

N – Non-judgment. I can ask for what I need, and you can ask for what you need. We can talk about how we feel without judgment.

G – Generosity. You extend the most generous interpretation possible to the intentions, words and actions of others.

We can follow this type of guideline as we search out honourable companions and relationships, and use it as the formula we can measure our own worthiness by. For we cannot expect a noble exchange of trust if we aren’t first credible candidates ourselves.

** Brene´ Brown talks about The Anatomy of Trust here **

Congrats, You’re a Newb

Nothing puts you in your place quite like an unexpected change of plans. Without the warning of a new chapter coming up on the next page, we get complacent & comfortable in who we think we are. We love to take stock of our lives up until now & wildly claim that we’re “close to complete” as human beings. I’ve seen enough, I’ve lived enough, I’ve hurt enough, I’ve played enough. These are the things we say as we affirm that we know our whole selves. What possible new experience could life throw at me now that isn’t just some variation of what I’ve already lived? How could anything be so new and different to me that it could change my entire sense of self? I know who I am! I know what I want, dammit!

Gosh, we’re arrogant.

Now I’m in the not-so-unique position of finding myself “starting over” with regard to love, life goals & future plans. I didn’t see it coming, and I in no way planned for its arrival. I’m by no means a trail-blazer. This “single” situation of mine is so cliche` that thousands of movies & novels abound with its narrative, told in countless ways, from countless points of view, with most ending in some corny fix-all, rom-com-esque lover’s kiss. It’s been done.

So, why do I find it so difficult? What’s so different about my situation compared to the chick-flicks I’ve grown-up watching? Well, possibly because while the story is as old as time, each participant in its apologue is an individual with preceding plot twists & sequels unwritten, from all walks of life, at all eras of time. My version of this story, even if it follows along the same cheesy plot-lines as all the rest, is set in the now; 2016. My adult rebirth is just beginning in a tech-crazed age & I’m a “newb” now more than ever. All the gaps in maturity, knowledge & growth that go unnoticed once long-term relationships reach that status, become glaringly clear once that status shifts back to “single”.

 As I stand on the precipice of singledom once more, I refer to my mental check-list of qualifications I posses in hopes of feeling somewhat prepared to do whatever the hell one does in this new digital dating world. Let’s see ….
* Uber-conservative religious upbringing – check
* Massive fear of rejection, thus first real kiss at age 17 – check
* 1 serious boyfriend before marriage (we didn’t even “date” really, just hung out & made out) – check

* Married at 18 to a boy of comparable lifestyle (!) – check
* Lived among & socialised with people of similar stock (young, super-religious, uptight married couples – no singles) – check
* Married for 12 years totalling one sexual partner to date (oh boy)- check
* Single Mother who has never dated outside the faith of which I no longer participate – check
* No single friends to speak of & no connections to new available singles – check

* No natural meeting grounds for prospective candidates (ie; workplace, community meetings, book clubs with both sexes in attendance, etc.) – check

… Actually, let’s stop here because this list could continue with no end & serve no benefit to the level of fear & confusion I’m currently experiencing.

At 31, being newly single after a 12 year marriage & 2 kids is fairly irregular practice. There’s not much call for my particular breed of woman and this list of attractions among people my age, especially if I’m reduced to a check-list on a social media dating site. Comparatively, I’m a nightmare! The majority of my peers are barely now making the transition from single-and-ready-to-mingle to settling in to one of their first serious relationships, first marriages, first babies. They’re veterans at the new-age dating game, masters of their smart phones. They’re adventurous, cunning, skilled at the hunt. Qualities I do not posses. With my RAP sheet, you’d easily confuse me with a woman more than a decade older than I am! I still prefer physical copies of books and non-ironic plaid!

In our current overly-stuffed-with-social-media-lives, I find myself floating somewhere out in the distance with people of a much older life status than myself. I’ve somehow missed the memo, (or the tweet or whatever new hip thing gives us our information now) about how we should all somehow be finding quality soul mates through gizmos and gadgets galore. Real world “meet-cutes”,  a relic of the past! Somehow, I appear to be a relic too! My outdated notions of courtship & romance are only held tight by what seems to be religious fanatics & 50+ year olds in long-term relationships. The current youthful dating generation is jam-packed with fast paced sexual exploitations & minimal emotional attachments. I give off some sort of grandmotherly, old-world vibe and shun these practices with the idea that I’m not the fast-food restaurant of girls. (Even though I am literally a fast-food restaurant eating kind of girl.)

The more I read on the subject, the more worried I become! What hope is there for the reasonably-aged single mother with gumption coming out the wazoo to find everlasting love & companionship? (Or for how ever long these things last now?) I have no desire to create a polished & overly manicured online dating profile with a filtered, photoshopped, posed image of my face (ahem …) that looks mostly like me, (except that it doesn’t) as what will surely be the main source of attracting possible suitors  – regardless of the fact that this isn’t really me! It’s a flat, one dimensional, unrealistic version of part of my face that will either encourage or deny me “love”? Well, no thanks.

People aren’t made up of just well choreographed profile photos & lists of “likes & dislikes”. We’re made of changing colours, history, circumstantial humour, chemistry, baggage, potential, desire, and so much more. Why the hell can’t there be as many “meet-cutes”, set-ups, organic gatherings as there used to be? A romance needs to be more than “I liked your slutty photo on [insert current popular dating app here] and so I swiped right & here we are!”

I’m calling out for a little bit of magic. Sure, magic is fleeting, but hey – that’s the magic! It’s the stuff that keeps the love-fires burning in to the dwindling twilight years (supposedly). The stuff you remember fondly when the inevitable tensions of reality arise in your relationships. The magical memories of new, unexpected & exciting love & lust keep us warm on darker days of partnership. They remind us of what was possible, what can be possible again. The re-ignition of fiery chemistry!

New romance should be sparks & stolen glances, nervous excitement, courage & humility. It’s a dance. One that doesn’t get performed often in life, but is one of the most memorable & intoxicating experiences we can have. That’s what I want. The possibility of meeting a real, fully functioning person, ready to engage in the moment. Someone to see & hear the human in me. The me with qualities galore, if you just took a moment to acknowledge them. Not someone comparing me to countless masses of faces which may or may not be prettier than mine that day. I don’t want to feel remedial at a task already littered with anxious, awkward, uncertain land mines! I want to put down the electronics and connect with the person in front of me. I’m just a little worried I’ll look up and find a sea of faces glowing from the light of their phone screens as they ping with alerts of the nearest available conquests with “less baggage” than me. Babes within arms reach of where they’re currently standing. Little to no effort involved. “Love connection” made.

This sounds horrible! Is this what I get to look forward to now? I hate the idea of not being my own hero, but for the love of all things Holy, where the hell is my White Knight? If there was ever a time for one, let it be now! Someone of worth – save me from the dread that is filling me up from the idea that this is considered a valid and appropriate human experience! Gahhh!

Shit – I hope this works out!

** I’m currently reading Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari – rant explained? **