• What is this path I’m not on?

    One of the biggest things about being someone’s mama was teaching my small people to learn to self-parent. It wasn’t something I was very good at, and not something I’m very good at now, because I’m way better at bullshitting myself than almost anything else, but blessedly, by my 20s, I found that the word “tender” was my least favorite word in the English language. It was a sort of catch phrase in early ’90s self-help and I guess it still is. For me, it almost has a smell. It reminds me of unexpectedly undercooked chicken and my personal least favorite sign of aging… Bingo wings. Wave back upper arms? You know what I mean. Maybe it was being in advertising. Unless you’re a butcher, tender isn’t a word that markets all that well, and I’m not much of a meat eater.

    Being tender with my own bullshit didn’t actually work for me at all. Patience and appreciation, yes. Acceptance, absolutely. I saw a lot of people “tender” wasn’t working for. Still doesn’t work for. I don’t know, maybe it works for some folks. What I almost always need more than anything is a kick in the ass. That’s what made things get different. What changes things. There’s a learning to trust there that moves things like nothing else. Trust in others to be straight with you and trust in your own ability to change what’s not working. None of this came from a place of any great virtue or ambition, just the clear realization that without it, my life was going to get a whole lot harder. It sure wasn’t wisdom on my part, because I’m pretty sure someone flat out told me if I didn’t get my shit together I would do myself in. And I’m beyond grateful forever for those who were willing to serve me some cold facts and hold me accountable until I could learn to do it for myself. I’m still learning. So, I did that and I found self-respect there. I learned to recognize and reward myself appropriately. I needed to learn to serve them to my kid too.

    It took a really long time, and sometimes I let it all go to hell and had to figure out how to climb back up and out again. More specifically, figure out how to ask for the help to climb out again. But in all of it, I learned what it was like to be proud of myself. For what I’d accomplished, for what I’d overcome. My kid grew up to be a really self-sufficient adult and I don’t think in any of it my parenting could ever be described as strict or mean or well, anything but almost comically adoring. My mothering was and still is kinda Debbie Reynolds and kinda Frank Reynolds.

    And then the quarantine came and while I’ve continued to work, continued to maintain an exemplary skincare routine, continued to clean up and mostly drink enough water, so far my attempts to call myself into account, to ask myself “When were you going to do something about this eating/wall painting/Amazoning situation?” or to continue to make progress outside of my immediate life inside have been met with complete inertia. There will be a future after this, and I seem to have abandoned whatever path I was clearing to prepare for it.

    So today was going to be Day #1. No more allowing myself to live like Lord of the Flies — Lake Ozark edition. I woke up early, (do you come from people who rose at the crack of dawn no matter what once they reached a certain age? Is it genetic or what?) I washed my face, everybody got fed, had some coffee and meditation, and proceeded to come right on in and decide tomorrow is Day #1, or maybe Tuesday because now it’s too wet to paint or work outside and I still have all this stuff for brownies. Because I know when this time has passed, there will good memories (after we all of the birthday and holiday do-overs) from this once in a lifetime season. I’ll remember the spirit and creativity and integrity of those of us looking out for each other. And those who didn’t. And I’ll remember days waking up to packets of Velveeta Liquid Gold and seeing a challenge. And I’ll miss that.

      • Maya Stiles Parsons Spier

      • May 17, 2020 at 3:05 pm
      • Reply

      We are all such individuals with such individual needs. I need that tenderness — buck up didn’t work and felt like cruelty and indifference to just HOW MUCH it hurt — like my heart was ripped out to regrow and be ripped out again just like Prometheus’ liver — because that’s what my life was actually like. And mostly, when people I love hurt, I will be extremely tender. You will NOT hear me say to a small child, sobbing in pain and fear, “You’re okay.” No. They’re not. I say, “I know you’re not okay right now — let me give you a hug — but you WILL be.”

      On the other hand, I knew a kid who had worked herself up into a real state over her upcoming bat mitzvah and I looked at her and said, “Normally, I would be cuddling you and consoling you, but I don’t think that’s what you need. I think you need to buck up, take a deep breath and know that you’ve got this totally down. We’ve seen to that. Now believe in yourself, kiddo, and knock ’em dead.” It turned out to be exactly what she needed and when she absolutely nailed it, THEN she got the tender hug. So I think it really is about what people themselves need — not to give them what WE would need, if that makes sense. But at the same time, caring counts and we can only do what we can, right? <3

      • Shawn Taylor

      • May 17, 2020 at 5:40 pm
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      Maybe I should clarify better, this isn’t exactly what I meant. it was more the idea of learning to overcome my own bullshit than disregarding someone else’s feelings, most importantly my child who is the light of my whole life (or her brother who is the baby of my heart forever) and fortunately, we’ve always had an easy relationship. Depending on the circumstances, I never advise putting everything down on how I felt because feelings can be transitory but i also can’t imagine ever telling anyone who was hurting to buck it up either. I just knew that I couldn’t send her out into the world without some self parenting skills and I had already managed to stand in my own way the whole entire time trying to learn to parent myself. And still do plenty of the time.. Not liking the word tender is just a personal quirk.

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