I am a writer. Does it matter if anyone else reads?
I saw the (If you are a writer, write!) statement recently when I was pondering my current state and I wondered whether I’m truly being authentic if I deny myself the expression and joy of writing? Does it matter if my words are not published? Does it matter if no eyes bring my words and thoughts into the light from the shadows where they reside? If I truly believe that my core skill is to write, then why do I limit my gift to this blog, to what is safe, to what I can’t ‘fail’ at, to what will not be judged and by what other people tell me there’s already too much of?
Even within this blog, I tend to sensor myself. So many things I’d love to write about are left unwritten for concerns of hurting feelings or exposing vulnerabilities among those I love. Could I not see this break in employment as a gift of time to write to my heart’s content? Can I bravely take the risk independent of whether anyone will ever read that which I pour out through the tapping of my fingertips and the expression of my self?
Perhaps, after giving every ounce of me to loving my family, it’s time to give to myself permission to really write authentically without fear or restriction, without the constraint of whether anyone would care to read. Perhaps embracing that which I have not given myself permission to embrace before will bring me peace and acceptance.
The search for self-worth and acceptance is one I can remember struggling with even before I entered kindergarten. Doesn’t everyone want to belong? The place I’ve felt the strongest embrace is in my role as mother and in the relationships with my children. Perhaps I need to find that self in me and give her permission to experience the freedom to write – simply for the joy of it. Perhaps too, my children will one day appreciate my writing but if not, with or without an audience, how can I truly love or accept myself if I constantly push aside the one thing I’ve long held dear as my talent?
Perhaps today is the day I embrace opportunity and give myself authentic permission.
As I hold the needles and yarn in my hands and create the movements required to produce knit and purl stitches, I feel a connection with the hands of my mother and the countless other women who participate in fibre arts. With renewed interest and time to fill, I enjoyed a sense of satisfaction and anticipation when beginning my first project. With chunky wool and big needles it didn’t take long to see some progress, and the pattern resulting from the colours dyed within the wool kept me engaged in the process.
After about two months I’m on my sixth project having graduated from various scarf patterns to a triangle shaped shawl using yarn given to me for Christmas. This project challenges my persistence as the wool is dark gray with only the odd speck of brown or white to distract from the singular dark colour and long rows of stitches that involve knits, purls, yarn-overs and knits of two together.
I find myself becoming impatient for completion and longing for some brighter perhaps self-striping yarn. I distract myself with YouTube searching for sock-knitting instructions and am determined to make that my next project. As I knit, I make a few mistakes that could be noticed if examined closely but not bad enough to threaten the integrity of the piece.
And like that, it hits me; knitting is a lot like my life. I’m impatient for my next employment, longing for the creativity, new surroundings, challenges and escaping the routine of my days these last few months. Like in my knitting, in my life I’ve made mistakes, but I’ve kept going and they haven’t changed the integrity of who I am. While I visualize brighter times, remember to be thankful for what is and has been, and try to believe in a brighter future, I am working through the gray space where employment will be. I stitch yarn together to produce something hopefully useful – a tangible item I can hold in my hands – and feel satisfied that it represents the time and effort invested in it. If I see the small mistakes, I smile appreciating what learning and uniqueness those mistakes produce.
Some days optimism seems to be hiding just out of sight and self-worth is harder to embrace. Some days my hands work nimbly across the rows of knitting and some days the project lays waiting for me to take it up. And so I knit and wait, I apply and research and, I suppose, I learn and experience and mostly I hope.
My husband’s motto, from early on in our relationship was, “expect nothing and you won’t be disappointed.” I found this hurtful as if I somehow had to settle for less than I deserved. Setting the bar so low seemed to let him off the hook in my mind for the standards of how I felt he should treat me, and later our kids.
I’m beginning now, after 30 years, to see the wisdom of that motto. As I navigate life and the knowledge I absorb from a variety of authors and insightful books and investigations, it seems to be free of expectations would allow us to experience more fully the authentic nature of our existence.
What I have become increasingly frustrated by, is other people’s expectations of me. An employer once reviewed my performance by saying I exceeded expectations in every category. As a result I wondered how low his expectations had been. As well, I find myself wondering why some people can’t give me the benefit of the doubt or why they don’t assume I have the best intentions instead of interpreting my actions in the worst possible way.
The journey to love myself had been a bumpy road. I can’t look at myself in the mirror and say those words; I can’t (yet) give myself permission to love myself. I don’t feel worthy. I tried to embrace Dr. Wayne Dyer’s idea that God lives within us; that he is the I AM and that any statement that comes after I AM must respect his existence within (my interpretation). That concept brought me a bit closer but still I am not totally able to embrace this.
By allowing myself to let others define my worth and my value, I also allow their expectations to shackle me. Operating from fear of rejection, fear I won’t be liked, fear that I’ll cause anger in others, fear I’ll disappoint has caused me to forget myself. Who am I? Who was I? Who was I as a child free of judgment? If I can love her, maybe I can love me.
This video, How to Love Yourself by Ralph Smart, resonated with me. Ralph Smart explores familiar ideas like you can’t control what people do to you, you can only control how you react. Similar to Marianne Williamson, he refers to embracing your shadow self. But he goes beyond what seemed familiar to me. He says the greatest catalyst to loving yourself is embracing your uniqueness. He goes on to say we begin to love ourselves when we stop comparing ourselves to others. Further, he explains that letting go of societies’ expectations and investing in your happiness is how you can love yourself and that you must take 100% responsibility for how you feel.
I realize I can’t allow others to define my value anymore. I want to find the courage now to love myself independently. Is it possible to become the source of my own happiness? What an empowering thought.
An ah-ha moment came at 7:04 in the video when Ralph Smart says once you depend on someone else for your happiness you give them authority over you. I listened to that phrase again and let it sink in. No wonder I have felt resentful, trapped and shackled by other’s expectations and frustrated that they don’t see me as I really am. I don’t see me authentically either because I see myself mostly through the filter of others’ opinions and I’m mostly happy when others are happy with me.
If I’m no longer confined by others expectations, no longer shackled by their opinions, if I no longer allow people to have authority over me by depending on them for my value, can I be brave and worthy? Can I just be? Like John Candy in Planes, Trains & Automobiles, can I get to a place of self-love?
I’m excited to try and am confident that I’m at least worthy of the effort.
I’ve had some time to reflect lately partially inspired by reading A Mind At Home with Itself by Byron Katie. One of the things I find most inspiring about her work is her ability to experience her life without attachment. In my view, she teaches through her work, to examine our thoughts and determine if they are really true and how we would feel without them. She seems so free to love others and herself (she says there is no separation between herself and others) without adhering to any imposed definition, label or opinion.
I’ve examined this idea in a previous post, Whom Am I without Employment. However, I think I’ve reframed that question now to look within to find my own value independent of others opinion or labels, approvals or disapprovals and independent of employment or job title.
Do I need to conduct a strengths inventory? Does this process require me to be objective? Is there a formula, a defined way to to be comfortable with me – or dare I actually try to get to a place of loving myself? The thought of loving myself has always seemed so selfish and has been a continuous concept of conflict. While I’ve read one needs to love themselves in order to love anyone else, of course loving others is so much easier – and is as natural to me as breathing.
Recently when having lunch with a friend, without pre-meditation, I said, “I like who I am in the eyes of my children.” I’m not sure now what prompted me to say that but I believe that statement to be true. Am I comfortable without the clarification? Can I just say I like who I am? If I can love others with their perceived faults, why then is it so hard for me to love and accept my own?
Over the years when I’ve faced stressful situations I’ve often told myself to invite calm: in this moment, I am fine. It’s funny that the present becomes the past so quickly – this moment is gone and a new one takes its place. If I am okay in this moment, can I also value myself in this moment? And if the answer is yes – could it be that simple that I could actually love myself in this moment and commit to just that?
Expanding on that thought then, I must also love myself in the past. If mindfulness is being present and giving ones full attention to the present, then I feel some comfort in accepting self love in the present which is independent of labels, opinions or job status – but rather just my existence in this moment. In resisting the urge to dredge up the past, to wallow in the shoulda-coulda-wouldas, mistakes, regrets, failings, losses and in resisting the urge to fear the future – I can actually find a space where I can embrace myself with acceptance and love and it does inspire me to be less judging of others.
While watching a video on Facebook yesterday, I listened to Brooke Castillo from The Life Coach describe the concept that if you want to feel better you need to understand that your thoughts create your feelings so, controlling your thoughts can allow you to feel better. I think she called it thinking deliberately.
Not a new concept to me, it was a good reminder. Wayne Dyer’s Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life had introduced this concept to me a few years ago. How many times have I made a situation worse by thinking the worst? Or how often have I thought someone was a certain way that they weren’t?
Currently not working, I’ve so much more time to reflect. It’s easy to allow my thoughts to take me into a stream of worry or almost despair. It’s almost like those old movies where the horses pulling a stage coach get spooked and they bolt down a path and the driver struggles to get control. I have to remind myself to grab the reins, get control and steer my thoughts in a positive direction.
Taking some time to refocus, explore online courses, take long walks, try yoga videos, cook new recipes, and become more comfortable with silence. I realize I’m trying to fill my days with business to limit the time left for thoughts to change my focus while instead I should be harnessing the power of my thoughts to create happiness, hope and contentment.
I remember back in the ‘80s when some sort of pyramid sales opportunity came our way, one of their mantras was, “what the mind believes, you can achieve.” Believing my next job will be my best job, my skills, abilities, work ethic and positive attitude will be valued, and that it will happen at the right time – those are the thoughts I’m trying to think deliberately.
Meanwhile, I’m embracing opportunities to learn, discover and explore.
The last trip we took to British Columbia to see my husband’s family was 2003. Although he’s been out a few times since, it’s seems like a life time ago that we journeyed with a camper and four kids out through the States so our children could meet aunts, uncles and cousins for the first time.
Using our upcoming 30th anniversary as an excuse, I successfully convinced my husband that a trip out West would be money well-spent. As we approached Vernon in our rented car I could feel the excitement building but I also felt frustrated that our scheduled visit with my husband’s parents wasn’t to take place until the next day. Amazingly my husband decided we would surprise his parents and pop in anyway. That first connection inspired a flood of emotion in me that continued throughout the visit.
I don’t think I was prepared for the powerful emotions that would overwhelm me throughout the visit. Doors and arms were open wide welcoming us as if we’d never been apart. It was so moving to experience the hospitality and warmth of family – some of whom, if not for Facebook, I wouldn’t really know at all.
More than once, moved to tears, my heart overflowed with gratitude. To feel connected to these people that I’ve only felt on the periphery of was very moving. Identifying common traits and characteristics among “his people” that I’ve grown so accustomed to in my husband caused me to smile so often. These mannerisms and actions that in isolation seem to so uniquely define him, in the company of his parents and siblings are shared and familial. I wish my kids could have been there to connect things up in the same way from gestures, to phrasing, to the way his dad’s mouth goes down at the corner – it’s like it all fits.
While in Vernon I also had the opportunity to visit a cousin of mine I hadn’t seen in over 20. My real memories of him are rooted back to when I was pre 7 years old. A bit apprehensive at the start, his truthful expression of emotion related to my deceased brother, who was his best friend, opened a dialogue and connection that moved me and I felt would have pleased my brother.
So much enjoyment from getting to know my niece and her family, enjoying – if only for a brief time – the relationship of my sisters and brothers in law – enriched our experience beyond my expectations. Getting to meet a nephew I’d never met before and his wife was also a dream come true. Another niece home from travels abroad colliding perfectly with our visit seemed so wonderfully timed; and yet another nephew was in town with his wife and sweet little son – more than I could have hoped for!
As I reflect on the visit I am so filled with gratitude that tears well up in my eyes. Connections, family: is there anything more meaningful or important? I am sad that there is such a great distance between us but I hope that the doors that opened will remain open and the connection strengthened in person will continue.
I daydream about going to a cabin that has an incredible view of spruce and pine trees with rolling hills crowned by the most beautiful blue sky. The cabin would have all the necessities like electricity, running water and any healthy, tasty food I may want. What would I do there? I’d write. I’d be free. With no one else’s needs to consider, I’d allow myself to get swallowed up by memories and imagination. I’d let the words flow onto the screen without censoring them against the fear that someone would disagree, judge them harshly, be embarrassed or be offended. I’d write to make myself happy.
And when I’d need a break I’d go outside with my camera. I’d breathe deeply a few deep slow nature-filled breaths and I’d walk forward without being attacked by biting insects. I’d take photos of anything and everything that interested me and I’d put no time limits on myself. I’d absorb the inspiration that surrounded me, the stillness would change me – calm me. I’d smile – not because anyone could see it and judge what kind of smile it was – but because I’d feel contentment in every fibre of myself. My soul would feel light and burdens would disappear. And maybe if I allowed myself, I could find me. I know she’s there, but she’s hiding, she doesn’t have permission to fully reveal herself.
I remember me when I was as a child. I remember the love showered upon me, I remember feeling like I had some special quality being the youngest. I remember how good it felt to get attention from my siblings. But that was when I was cute. When the cuteness wore off the messages began to change. And the me I was became shaped by others. It was as if each disapproving comment, each insult, each do or don’t, chiseled away at me and I began to feel less than. I sought approval and feared angry criticism. I changed.
The me who faced changing schools and addresses and cities multiple times, who faced the “loving” teasing from my older siblings and the me who feared her father’s anger and disapproval was shaped by all of it. And that’s the way isn’t it? You want to fit in, you want acceptance? You learn what is socially acceptable, you learn manners and you learn the Golden Rule.
Although I didn’t recognize it at the time I was always jealous of certain people who had a certain quality. They didn’t seem to care what others thought of them. In the lower grades they were the kids who pushed to get into the front of the line, they didn’t wait their turns, they didn’t invite you to play rbecause it was the right thing to do, they played only with those kids that they had fun with. Later, they were the ones that spoke up and said when they didn’t like something. They took risks; they didn’t worry if they made fools of themselves. I admired them too. They tried out for all the teams and talent shows and if they didn’t make it they just tried again next time.
I see now, the people I’ve always envied are the ones that give themselves permission. In a sense, they are free. When I worry about hurting feelings, about being criticized, about being ‘nice’, they are the ones out their just living their lives. So why don’t I?
My kids have always and continue to come first. Then my husband and so on. Where am I on that list? I don’t even know. I have allowed myself to be a doormat so often during employment situations, never giving myself permission to reject it; almost always looking for my blame. I look so forward to weekends and then when they arrive I wait for others to wake up. Then I wait to determine their needs for transportation etc. Instead of taking off when the me inside wants only to get away, I wait. What if they decide they want to do something with me? More often than not, the day disappears and I’m making lists, getting groceries and doing laundry – and dreaming of that cabin.
Will I ever give myself permission to be me? I bite my tongue often due to the number of times I was told I need to think before I speak. Trying not to offend anyone, I take it personally when someone takes my words the wrong way. I work all day and come home to cook all the meals and usually end up cleaning up after those who may have spent the day at home. I avoid angry exchanges and keep the anger inside. Sometimes I feel the urge to run away – not permanently – but just for a break.
Of course I love my family and of course I’d never choose differently, but somewhere along way I think I lost too much of me in order to be who everyone else needed. It’s my own doing. I let it happen. The feeling of being never good enough was a great motivator.
Recently, I was convinced that having an escape would solve my problems. We looked for land up north but soon realized we wouldn’t be able to afford to use it until we retired even if we could find something in our price range. I thought a trailer somewhere would do the trick – a getaway. But the many reasons why it was not a good decision were painstakingly pointed out to me. Our house is small in the sense that with five adults there’s not much sense of privacy. The yards of the houses in this neighborhood are small and neighbours are very close. All two-stories, the houses tower over the back yards making fences seem short. I want to escape. The daydream brings me comfort but it also teases me into wondering if it’s even possible. It’s almost like an outreached hand offering your favourite treat and then snatching it away again. Even if I found the perfect setting, could I ever be selfish enough to give myself permission to indulge my dream? The me inside knows I probably would not because how would I dare spend money and vacation days on just me? Me knows she’s not worth that and me doesn’t want to be called selfish.
I’ve noticed some seniors seem to lose their filters – they say whatever is on their mind and don’t care whose feelings they hurt. Well maybe it’s taken them their whole lifetime to free their me, to find their voice, to stop letting others tell them how to live. Maybe it’s taken them until their senior years to give themselves permission too.
I keep the daydream alive – I’ve built this idyllic vision that has become the happy place I go to in my mind. I try to nurture a glimmer of hope that someday I’ll give myself permission – and free me so she/so I can breathe deeply filling myself with contentment and allowing me to take care and free my soul to be authentic.
Yesterday my beautiful daughter asked me if we were friends. “Mothers and daughters are supposed to be best friends,” she said. I know she didn’t like my answer – no. It was so hard to put into words in that moment of her asking.
Of course friendships are important and form the fabric of our lives from an early age. But being a mother? That’s a dream that was fulfilled. It’s something so much bigger than friendship. I guess I’ve bought into the theory that the role of a parent is not to be your child’s best friend but to nurture, guide and love them unconditionally.
Friendships don’t always have the unconditionally clause built in. Friendships come and go, they can fade, they can be rekindled. Sometimes they play an important role in a particular stage of life and then they become a memory.
How do I explain to you my daughter how much your arrival meant to me. Although I love your three older brothers with all my heart too, I had become afraid to even entertain the thought during my pregnancy with you that you might be a girl. When you were born I told the doctor don’t be kidding around, don’t say she’s a girl if she’s not.
I had such big dreams and plans and ideas about what it would be like to have a daughter…matching outfits, hair ribbons, Barbies, pink, tea parties, and later shopping, trips together and the day you would marry. How short-sighted and naïve of that 29-year-old me! Being your mom is so much more than all of that. I remember how you put your first Barbie on the floor and ran it over with a truck –I think that was the moment I knew we were in for a very different ride. A ride I embraced and enjoyed and am so grateful for. You taught me to look beyond stereo-types and expectations; you have demonstrated such courage and determination from singing in front of your entire school when you were around 10 to setting your sights on U of T and successfully achieving the high standards you set for yourself.
Are we friends? Hmmm. I’m guarded with some of my friends not letting them see the whole of me, trying to hide those aspects they might not approve of. And while I try to be the best version of me for you, dear daughter, you’ve seen my ugliness; you’ve seen my truth because there is a safety between mothers and daughters that extends beyond friendships.
You inspire me the way no friend ever has. When something great happens I want to share it with you, when something bad happens I know you’ll be there for me too. I know you will be truthful when I ask it of you and also prepare myself for how brutally honest you might be as well. (You are your father’s daughter too lol.)
I still don’t know if I’m accurately putting my thoughts into words but I can tell you that to define our relationship as a friendship would be to make it so much smaller than it is. I have only one daughter, only one you. You keep me on my toes; my heart belongs to you and your brothers. To be your mother is such an honour.
I reflect on Nana. She defined for me the power of a mother’s love, that soft place to land when the world closes in. Unwavering, supportive, ever-present, unconditional – love. I can’t imagine my life without my mother and I can’t imagine my life without my daughter. It’s tradition, it’s the circle of life, and it’s my heartbeat.
Dear daughter, to put you in the category of friend would somehow devalue how I feel about you. You see, we share all the qualities of friendship, even best-friendship, but our connection runs so much deeper and means so much more to me, I cannot confine it to just that definition.
“Genevieve, I love you stupendous, tremendous, bluebendous & forever.”
Sometimes it seems it wasn’t that long ago when sleep was a luxury, when slumber was constantly interrupted by the cries of a newborn or the shrieks of night terrors. With four children I think there was a span of about ten years where sleeping-in was to be celebrated, and getting a solid night’s sleep was like winning the lottery.
Then came the independence of going to late night parties, then bars and the laying awake until the knowledge they were safe at home gave me permission to give in to the enticement of nodding off.
I can’t help but reflect on the times I craved sleep but greeted them at 3 am with a comforting smile and hug and coached them back to sleep. As they’ve become adults and deal with stresses and work schedules should I commit the crime of waking them before noon I’m met with snarls and nasty text messages, slamming of cupboard doors and looks of disgust.
I remember the child that I cradled in my arms in the rocking chair for hours and I send love to us both. I remember too being the teen that became disgusted by the smells of cooking while I tried to sleep or the offense of loud voices that assaulted my ears and ripped me away from peaceful slumber. I snarled. I complained.
Compassion and remembering helps deepen my understanding. For me that’s one of the benefits of a good memory and having my kids fairly young. I remember what it’s like. My love is stronger than their judgment and anger. And while they can be hurtful in their reactions, things always cycle back to that love that restores my soul and reminds me how blessed I am to be their mother.
It took me hours of searching on the Internet to find just the right cottage. The must haves included:
At least 4 bedrooms
A separate bunky
Full kitchen, and
Some form of watercraft
It could be a family celebration of my 50th birthday. People could pitch in making meals. Rest, relaxation and one last shot at a family vacation – that was my vision.
Our kids are adults and I’m ready for them to fly independently as long as they don’t fly exclusive of some connection with me. I found the right cottage at the end of a long and winding road. And they came. They all came. One came for only a few days and the rest for the week.
Did they come out of obligation or willing participation? Should it matter? Moments. I suppose that’s all we really have – a collection of moments. I cherish the laughter, the boyish jokes over farts and old private jokes that resurface and remind us of the past. But there are other moments too. I witness rejection and hurt and isolation and I feel it as if it were my own. I wish their relationships were different and yet at the same time I try to accept that our family, although my greatest source of joy and what I treasure the most, is not idyllic.
As I look out the windows and see the smooth rippling water, the blue skies, white clouds, rocky shores and tall pine trees I hear the birds singing and I’m grateful. If this truly is our last family vacation, the setting is beautiful. As we sat around last night and played Balderdash there was a connection to the fabric of our family identity even though there were four and not six.
We are surrounded by such beauty in nature and there’s enough space so no one feels overwhelmed. Even the best cottage in the best location wouldn’t prevent personalities and behaviour patterns from emerging.
Do I wish they would all get along and appreciate each other?
Does my heart hurt when I see how deeply it hurts one to feel the rejection of another?
These are my people, the ones I’d actually give my life for. I’ve never wished away one stage for another, nor did I ever try to hold them back. I do however hold the collections of moments like the best treasures, knowing love is strong and my love for all of them never weakens.
The mischievous squeak of the rocking chair on the porch floors, the banana boats around the fire, the tipsy boys climbing into a row boat and trying to sink the dock, the father and son fishing trips in the canoe, the game playing and father-daughter puzzle completion – these are the collection of moments that I’ll try to preserve. The sound of the whippoorwill and the discussions around what if all birds called their own names will put a smile on my face every time I hear their call.
This vacation seems to mirror our family quite well, not idyllic, but amidst dysfunction, there’s fun and imagination and treasured moments more precious than jewels! I’ve made most of the meals and there’s no mention of birthdays – in fact Father’s Day was barely acknowledged – but but they came. I don’t know if they did so willingly or for me, but they came. If this be our last official family vacation then I savor each moment and send out my love and appreciation to my people for whom I have such gratitude and immeasurable love.