perfectionism-the enemy of creativity.

so i rarely post because all too often, my expectations of myself and “thinly slice” are far too ambitious. at least for this stage of this–maybe for any stage of life. knowing me and knowing my ability to set expectations for myself that are very out of reach…probably my hopes for how often i blog and the type of blog i create are…shall we say…a touch on the unattainable side?

this is why i haven’t posted in a while or on a regular basis. because when i anticipate not being able to do something *just so*, i end up putting it off. i say…oh, i’ll wait until tomorrow–i’ll wait until i have something really important to say. something profound. well, the reality is, most of my thoughts are not profound. and most of my reasons for starting this blog are not profound either. i started it to have a place to record some of my thoughts- the mundane and the obvious as well as the humorous (hopefully!) and maybe even the insightful. i started it because i wanted a forum to express myself in this vast sea of technology, most of which is limited (for me, at least) to voyeuristic relationships (thank you, Facebook) and bits and pieces of interesting news and thoughts through others’ blogs and sites.

so the problem with waiting on profundity…especially in the age of young motherhood…is that often profundity never comes. or if it does, there is a diaper to change or a little person in between your legs asking to snuggle (or bang on the keyboard). so waiting turns into doing nothing. and i don’t want to be a person who does nothing…just because what she might try might not be perfect.

so here’s to lower expectations. and kicking perfectionism in the pants. and more posts, be they brief or verbose…random and rambling.

because if i wait for perfection, i’ll wait forever. and better to try and at the very least, create, than not create at all.

i’m beginning to think perfectionism is the death creativity.

true independence.

Lately, the Little One has made a new friend. I knew he would come. It was just a matter of time. Ah yes, and with the passing of the first year mark, in He came. Independence. He has walked through our doors and taken a seat at the table. And yet, this newfound friend is a tricky one. In fact, Independence is not all that independent. Does he enable far more motion, exploration and creativity? Oh yes. Does he allow her engage more directly with the world around her? to take risks and joy with the freedom he brings? For sure.

At fifteen months, her need for me looks very different than what it once was, say, at one month…or five months…or even twelve months. As she’s grown, so has her ability to do things by herself. It is no longer necessary for me to be her sole source of nutrition, motion or otherwise. If she needs to eat, she can consume real food. If she needs to get somewhere or get something, she now can take herself there. And quickly!

And so, enter said friend, Independence. An expected and welcomed friend. But did he truly enter our home by his lonesome, as one would assume Independence would. Nope. Not even close. Oh trust me, he brought a companion.

See example below:

Independence helped (and still helps) LO discover her ever growing list of abilities.

Like climbing up on her ottoman all by herself.

It is a sight to behold. She hurls one leg up so that her foot grazes her chin, about the same height as the ottoman (sidenote: the flexibility of children at this age is freakish). From this point, she curls her toes and latches them onto the center of said ottoman. She then quickly throws her arms up with palms opened and ready (first the right one, with the left following quickly behind) and aggressively grabs the center of the footrest’s brown fabric, gripping with all her might. Her left leg swiftly flings itself up and in one dramatic motion, she flips her body frontward and voila, she is seated squarely atop her ottoman.

Cue enormous smile.

Pride beams out of her seven toothed grin.

Its a joy to witness.

Independence. Hurray!

And yet.

Here comes the catch.

She doesn’t know how to get down.

While she has worked so hard to figure out how to leverage herself atop said ottoman, the sweet child has no idea how to get herself safely down. And therein lies the problem.

While she finds great satisfaction in sitting all by herself,  she does eventually (a few seconds later) want to get down (mostly just to do it all over again).

Its amazing to me that she *knows* enough to *know* she *doesn’t know* how to do it. Sometimes she’ll test the waters—droop her body down a little bit to see if she can just hop off…but very quickly realizes she can’t actually do it yet. And needs help. And asks for it. Within seconds, it seems, of realizing it.

Cue squahining (oh I’m sorry- you don’t have a 15 month old? Then let me explain. Squahining: v. to squawk while simultaneously whining. Usage: LO spends much of her day squahining when she finds herself in situations (i.e. every other minute or so) where she needs a little help.)

Its amazing and a little bit funny (in the Alanis Morisette’s “Isn’t it ironic?” way) to me that her little brain did not figure out these two skills (the ability to ascend and the ability to descend) at the same time. It seems logical that they would come develop hand-in-hand.

But, alas, they did not.

Instead, in addition to her newfound ability to climb much like a monkey, LO has developed a skill that I am even more grateful for- one that will serve her far better than masterful climbing- the ability to ask for help. And to ask for it as soon as she realizes she needs it.

You see, when Independence walked in our door, I was so grateful he brought a friend. He brought Dependence. And while Dependence is certainly no stranger to our home- LO has long been dependent (hello womb-world)- it is only now that she seems more and more able to understand, consciously, her need for help and ask for it.

While LO’s ability to ascend did not come with a matching ability to descend, it has come with a greater ability to express herself. As her physical prowess has expanded, so has her mastery of language.

I am floored, and eternally grateful, for this. As she gains more and more physical prowess, she is also more and more able to recognize, in a conscious and real way, her need for help- and *ask* for it.

And not just *ask* for it. She asks for help *as soon* as she realizes she needs it.

Unhesitatingly. Without shame.

What a gift.

To see Independence as it truly is- inextricably…brazenly…tied to Dependence.

May she carry that skill with her always.

For isn’t it only in unashamedly recognizing our dependence that we can truly embrace and enjoy the *freedom* that comes with our independence?

Running from the present…into the present

In high school, I was the girl who absolutely dreaded- I mean DREADED- being told I had to run for sports. I’ve been active and athletic my whole life. I never had a problem with running, as long as I didn’t know I was doing it. As long as there was a purpose (read: ball) which required a chase, I was game. But, running for running’s sake? Count me out. Except for my ill-fated choice to, along with the most of the other girls on my high school lacrosse team, join the winter track team (what was I THINKING?), simply running was never something I would *choose* to do. But, fast forward a few years, and add in two destroyed twin towers (so close I could smell the stench of the burnt buildings and bodies) a few miles away from my new home, an emergency appendectomy, two childhood homes unexpectedly sold in a matter of weeks, a roommate who kept our dorm room at a “comfortable” 92 degrees because she came from the Carribbean, a broken nose and you find an anxious, actually TERRIFIED 18 year old in her first year of college, and wow, somehow, running became appealing…enticing, even. Like the stereotypical bad boy in a teen rom-com (think, Heath Ledger’s character in “10 Things I Hate about You”-be still my heart! Or even, James Franco in “Freaks and Geeks”- pre-his bizarre academic-soap opera acting-Oscar hosting episodes…), everything that I’d once found repulsive about running- its isolation, sterility, intensity, exhaustion!- now became part of its appeal. With running, things were measurable. Things were contained. Things were focused— things were achievable. What I expected, I could map out and achieve. Unlike my life at the time, when things felt so chaotic, so confusing, so lost, in running, I could escape.

Granted, I didn’t realize I was using running to escape. That’s the cruelty of pain. It hides. It buries. Like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, it can mask itself as something good- life-giving even. I mean, being active, exercise, running– it is, truly, good for you. Yet, for me, at that time in my life, running became how my brokenness sought to be made whole. It was an illicit affair-convulted desires, intense need for meaning, even moments of passion hinting at-though certainly not capable of attaining- the satisfaction of a profound love.

And yet, eventually (THANK GOD), running, along with a few other choice methods of escape, betrayed me. Like any false love, it led me further astray. I found myself hurting even more. I found my escape had become my prison. In choosing to run from my life, from the confusion and pain and anxiety and hurt, I actually had been running towards death. So, I had a choice- a choice to face it all, as scary as it was-and trust me, my running from it only made it all the more scary (isn’t it awful how that happens?)- or to keep running, to continue to choose to believe that I could not handle it. Whatever “it” was. Because, you see, what I’ve learned is- our need to escape…our belief we *must* escape– its our fear-our anxiety- predicting our own failure. Fear that we will not be able to handle it– and shame over our failure. Because we believe that if we actually faced it, we wouldn’t be able to handle it. Its shame. Shame that we will fail. Shame that we aren’t strong enough. That we don’t have it in us.

Fast forward about a decade. Running is back in my life-though trust me, its been a rocky relationship at times. There have been points when I’ve had to walk away– times when my needs were too much for running to handle. Times when I’ve sought to abuse it- to use it to escape my present, rather than ground me in the present. But I am grateful. Grateful for what I’ve learned running can’t do for me– perhaps more grateful for that, than any of its other benefits. Grateful I no longer believe I *need* an escape. Grateful I know I am strong enough, through God’s grace, honestly, to face my present. Grateful that running, just like me, has been redeemed. That my runs no longer are a means to escape the present, but truly to remind me how to live in the present. One foot in front of the other, one move at a time. Looking towards the open horizon, concentrating on the ground beneath when I need to. One step…one slice, at a time.

Have you been *should* upon today?

Every night, around 7:40pm, I gently close LO’s door and turn to face the mess that is my kitchen. Oftentimes, TMOTH (The Man of the House) is on the ground, picking up LO’s wooden train set and placing its pieces back in their proper spots-or he is at the sink, attempting to noiselessly (a total impossibility) stack some of the dirty dishes to make them more manageable. Even with him there, attacking the mess, at times it feels like its never good enough. Not TMOTH, or his help, but rather, my seemingly endless hours of keeping our home organized and clean. I feel as if I spend much of my day, trying to sort through how to be present with LO while also not going crazy with the insanity that ensues as soon as our day begins with her happy morning squeals.
Whether I take a heavy sigh as I look out onto the chaos of kitchen or swiftly go to the sink and simply start scrubbing what needs to be cleaned, depends on many things, but mostly, where I find my worth. If I am looking for my worth to be found in my perfection…well…let’s just say, I will be heavily sighing (or worse!) the whole night. I will (and have found myself many times!) feeling heavy laden and weary with whoa-is-me feelings. And really, when I’m in my clearer moments, my self-pity stems from my shame that I can’t get it all right–and I feel like I should be able to. I *should* be able to keep my house clean at all times…despite a little person who latest favorite thing is to empty her toy bin and then attempt to place each toy in a cup and then shake it…I *should* be able to cook and serve and eat a delicious, nutrient-rich meal that myself, TMOTH and of course, LO, will like, not just for dinner, but also for breakfast and lunch. And for it to truly be all those things, it *should* be almost entirely from scratch and made up of real foods—and be the perfect blend of protein, carbs and fats. I *should* find time also to wash, sanitize, declutter and organize whatever needs washing, sanitizing, decluttering, organizing in an orderly, timely fashion (i.e. at least once a week) for every room, while also being present and attentive to my daughter’s socioemotional, physiological and psychological needs- as well as my own and my husbands. Overwhelmed yet? Ummmm I am.
While these *shoulds* currently revolve around taking care of a home and a family, before homes and marriage and kids, these *shoulds* existed in full force- they just revolved around other things. I *should* look beautiful everyday, including the first few minutes after I wake when my face can look red and puffy. I *should* look beautiful- at least beautiful enough for others to notice my beauty, but, I *should* also be secure enough with myself that I don’t care whether I am beautiful or not. I *should* succeed at whatever I try my hand at…be it my education, work, new social settings and interactions…and it *should* be effortless, stemming from my natural abilities- and of course, I *should* succeed the first time. And if I don’t, then, at the very least, I *should* be able to feel grateful for the challenge of it all.
Almost ten years ago, a counselor asked me to write down all my shoulds-at least the ones that felt important to me at the time- in an effort to help me realize the standards that I had for myself. Wow. Was it revealing. Seeing my list-page upon page of shoulds- was actually a powerful tool in helping me realize the mantle of shame I lived under. Thin slices (like how I tie in “thinly slice” in all sorts of places?) of unacknowledged shame, each layered upon each other, like the delicate layers of phyllo dough in a pastry, that stacked upon each other are every standard I fail to meet. Writing this makes the exercise sound depressing, but the reality is, I did not experience it that way. Rather, it felt freeing- freeing to see the endless list of shoulds and realize no single person (well, maybe One single person…) could meet every standard I had in my head for what I needed to do or be all the time.
Every so often, when I’d meet with this friend, she would ask me if I’d be “should upon” today, meaning was I living life with my measuring stick out all the time, assessing how I was coming along with my many, many expectations of myself- and for that matter, others. It was hard to get out of that mentality…hard to want to lose that mentality- scary, even. Because without my shoulds, how would I know where I measured up? How did I know how I was doing? What does it mean if life isn’t about should or our to-do lists?
I kept that list in the front part of my journal for a long time. It was a reminder of the perfection I expected of myself and the impossibility of it all. It was a reminder of the grace I’d been given in being freed from my lists- that I could never be perfect, but that that is ok, because life is not actually about that. Life is about living in the moment and truly, it is impossible to BE in the moment if you are concentrating on your lists of shoulds. Seriously. It is impossible. Try it. When I truly am IN the moment, I am not even able to think about the expectations I have for myself or for others because I am simply living. I’m concentrating on LO’s seemingly insatiable desire to pick up a small object and place it in a cup and shake it around like she is an African tribal musician. I’m measuring out the spices that go in my favorite pumpkin bread recipe. I’m listening to The Man of the House tell me about his day and the bizarre story he read in The Express. I’m living in the present and not in the future of all that I *have* to do or dwelling on the past of all that I’ve *failed* to do.
The reality is, the mess I walk into many nights represents a life being lived. It represents the mess that is my life- its imperfections, its failed expectations, its joys and little moments of life. Its a mess that represents the fullness of our lives. Our life as a family is brimming over with good things- even to the practical realities of good food whose traces remain on our plates and on our counters…and, thanks to LO’s fondness of flinging her meals, on our floors.
Now, all this is not to say that I don’t still “should upon” myself frequently…I do. Quite a lot for that matter. And some seasons of my life are better than others in this regard. But, more and more, day by day, I am praying that I can be more gracious with myself and learn to live under a robe of Grace, and not a mantle of shame. Because life goes by too quickly…and I’m never going to get it quite right and if I spend my whole life trying, as Ferris Bueller says, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
p.s. on a side note, I’d written a draft of this post a week ago and just this weekend, on a retreat, the speaker mentioned this whole “should upon” concept in her talk…coincidence? I think not…

Slice of the day…well, weekend.

So, I had grand plans to write not one, but two, brilliant postings infused with humor and profundity…but, alas, as is often the case these days, my plans fizzled as the days progressed and various interruptions and distractions (such as a little person who refuses to be put down these days) took over. So, I’ll write a mini-post about just that, failed expectations. But don’t worry–this is a common “slice” of my day so if this reads in an unsatisfactory way, that’s because it is just that and there is more on this to come in the future.

So, slice of the day/weekend: Last night, S (aka The Man of the House) and I were super excited for a special night in (though, let’s be honest, staying in isn’t a rarity–nor is it something we resent- a baby is the best reason/excuse for being the homebodies we already were pre-LO) because we were making homemade pizza (Mark Bittmann’s pizza dough and super easy tomato sauce, anyone?) and cozying up on this snowy winter’s night with a movie. The dough was perfect- a little shaggy, a lot squishy– and the homemade sauce was simple and delicious with the perfect blend of tart crushed tomato and sweet onions. We’ve made homemade pizza before and yet, this pizza felt different. We patted and pushed and pulled the resilient dough across our pizza pan to just the thickness we desire. We spread our chunky tomato, onion, basil and paprika sauce across the pie’s oiled (olive) surface and sprinkled shredded mozzarella, chopped spinach and broccoli to just our liking. As we paused to take photographs of our beautiful creation, all of a sudden, the lights flickered and out went our power. And thus, our expectations, just like my expectations of being able to write not one, but two, sublime posts mixed with humor and poignancy over the course of the weekend, had to be readjusted.  As did our palates.

“The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men,
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy! ” (Robert Burns, To a Mouse)

(but never fear! the evening ended up being a lovely night of laughter and candlelight, and thanks to The Man of the House’s father, who gifts us with flashlights every Christmas, multiple sources of sufficient light. And, tonight, we are rooting again for our pizza and movie! Be on our sides power gods!)

(pictures of said gorgeous pizza are to come…)

thinly slice?

About 8 or so months ago (gosh, has it really been that long?), a few months after the birth of my daughter, a dear, wise person (ok fine, my therapist-but I consider him a dear, wise person!) encouraged me to “thinly slice” my life. Actually, we were specifically talking about my daughter’s sleeping-or lack thereof- and the broader reality that I had a little person that I was now responsible for…that it was my job to get her to sleep.

Her lack of sleeping, or as I thought of it- my failure as a mother because I couldn’t get her to nap for more than 25 minutes- was the cause of much consternation and intense anxiety for me-though, the reality is, overwhelming anxiety was nothing new. While becoming a mother certainly intensified that anxiety, I have long needed to practice thinly slicing through life. To “thinly slice” means to take life from moment to moment. To do exactly what you need to do in that moment and discipline yourself from letting your brain leap forward to moments in the future. For me, life becomes very overwhelming very quickly when I think of life from my anxiety-filled vision- in milliseconds, my brain imagines life as always being as hard and as awful as it is in this moment-thats where the panic sets in— if I were just thinking of it as a moment…it wouldn’t seem so overwhelming but when it becomes forever…all of a sudden, my vista becomes LO not sleeping now or ever and me ever sleeping again…and I freeze, I become paralyzed.

So, thinly slicing through life? Much needed wisdom. the way my brain conceives of the at the time, I needed to think simply about what I had to do for LO (Little One, as we called her in utero and still now) right then- what do I have to do for her now? All I have to do is change her diaper…Ok…I can do that…I can change her diaper.

Turns out that “thinly slicing” life makes a lot of sense not just for a relief to anxiety, but also learning how to live in the present moment. By practicing considering life in its individual moments and not the vast expanse, being present to the moment becomes doable, even…God forbid! Joyful. Granted, some moments, even if they are thinly sliced, are just not easy or happy moments, but, by thinly slicing your way through them, they stop having the power to color the rest of your life’s picture. They become a season. A fluttering in the fabric, rather than the fabric itself.

And so, my daughter’s inability to sleep for anything longer than 25 minutes became a season. I took each nap, each diaper, each profuse spit up event as it came. And, just like that…the way a piece of cake disappears from your plate one nibble at a time , LO began to sleep- in fact, she’s snoozin right now.

I began to thinly slice.

And live in the moment.

While I’m far from living in the moment for every moment, I’m much further down that road than I was a year ago. Thank God for that.

And for the record, I think of cake every time I think “thinly slice”. And that’s ok by me.

 

LO is asleep?!?!

taken not only because she is amazingly adorable, awake or asleep, but also because sound sleep was such a rarity at this point, it had to be documented.