Not a Bumper Sticker
Today, my girls and I went outside to enjoy a “mini-Olympic” or Field Day-type afternoon. We’d done this once before a few days before, and it was a big hit so we thought we’d do it again. We’d enjoyed the Frog Hopping Contest and were in the middle of the Hula Hooping Contest when a man from our neighborhood approached our yard. When we’d just moved in, he saw us working in the garage and stopped by, to introduce himself. That’s been the only other time we’ve seen this man—and honestly, I couldn’t even recall his name.
Now, let me preface this by saying, I love strangers. Really, truly I do. I mean, you only have to read two or three of my posts before you’re likely to come across one devoted to the gifts that perfect strangers have imparted onto my life. I have never been given a really good reason to dislike or fear strangers; indeed, they’ve often been the source of tremendous enlightening and comfort for me. So, when this man struck up a conversation with me, frankly, part of me was kind of in awe, sort of, towards the idea of anyone trying to strike up a conversation with me. The other part of me was wary because I’d found him odd the first time he visited. Still, he started casually asking questions that became increasingly personal. They started out innocently enough—you know, the run of the mill, “where you from” and “what do you do for a living” type thing. Basically, get-to-know-you questions. But he all but ignored my girls, which made me not only suspicious but ill. Ignoring my girls is –not– a good way to get into my graces. Eventually, he commented on my outfit–a pair of dark jeans and a shirt. Nodding towards me, he said, “So… you stay cold a lot—I can’t imagine wearing hugger jeans ‘stead of shorts on a day like today?”
I kept my glance on my girls, who were both acting shy and hanging onto every word. Finally, I looked up and smiled at him. “I’m not sure if that was a question or not but, either way, the observation was too personal, given we don’t know one another. It’s a game I won’t play, especially given the circumstances,” I added, sliding my eyes back to my girls. I began walking the girls inside the house when he snorted and said, “It’s just a comment. Good grief, lighten up, lady.”
I didn’t respond, and I didn’t look back. I just ushered the girls inside the house and, once in, locked the front door. When the girls asked questions, and told me he was just trying to be nice, I shrugged and said tentatively, “Hmm mm, but… well, grown-ups are supposed to be polite and I just didn’t feel like he was being polite. When you feel like something’s not quite right, or like someone’s saying something you don’t really understand, it’s best to walk away.”
Only later, as we played games indoors instead, did it all start to bother me a bit more. His parting comment, “… lighten up, lady,” hurt even though I didn’t want to admit it. I know all about the importance of enjoying life, I can play like a child…when I’m with a child. I smile all the time and I deliberately strive to greet others cheerfully, energetically and optimistically because I know that light-heartedness is a valued characteristic. But. It’s well known and well documented that I’m rather serious most of the time, once you manage to get past the ready smile. I’ve never enjoyed bars or dancing clubs. I’ve never even taken a sip of alcohol. There’s a song that says “… I stay on the sidewalk.” That pretty much sums me up. I don’t know any jokes on my own. I’m not funny and I seriously doubt other adults would call me fun. If I had to name the most repeated advise I’ve been given throughout my life, it would be to “relax” or “lighten up.” So then, the question becomes: “Did I over-react? Couldn’t I have just ‘lightened up’, laughed nonchalantly and tolerated the rest of the conversation? Maybe I just don’t understand adult humor. Did I act impulsively, throw off what might have been a new friend?”
I’ve ruminated over these questions the rest of the day. When you’re not funny, and everything in life is drop dead serious, you actually appreciate good humor very much. The people that can make you laugh, you find yourself wanting to be around more. Laughter really is medicine. It takes fewer muscles to smile than it does to frown. I try to surround myself with people who help keep my seriousness balanced. So he struck a nerve with his “lighten up, lady” comment. It bothered me because I was afraid he might have been right.
Still, several hours past, I don’t think he was.
I’m very quick to assume I’m wrong. I’m quick to assume that I over-analyzed something, just because I’ve been known to do it before. I tend to think that I’m awkward and clumsy, especially in situations which require me to interact with adults. Yet… respect should come before either a humorous or serious nature, right? And if I feel disrespected…. do my feelings not count, just because the manner and the words were intended to be funny? Is asking personal questions about how much I paid for my home, questions that lead up to questionable comments on my clothes really acceptable? If my intuition tells me something, should I really just disregard it simply because I have a habit of taking things seriously? You can second guess yourself into trouble. You can undermine your own feelings and your own intelligence and your own self-worth so much and so well that overlook inappropriate or even dangerous situations. I’ve never been overly serious without a good cause. My childhood WAS serious, and so were its long lasting effects upon my heart and life. Multiple surgeries, lost babies, fires, fear, carrying the responsibility of educating your children — these are all perfectly valid reasons for being serious. So is treating cautiously anyone who can disregard very present children in lieu of making comments like this neighbor made. Even if he intended to complement me, even if he intended nothing more than an observation… I have to trust my own judgement, I have to listen to the still small voice God gave me, I have to take every precaution when it comes to the well-being (physical, emotional and mental) of my children and if I feel like any of those things is being compromised, wouldn’t I be a bit irresponsible if I didn’t take it seriously?
Every morning, I make my girls go into the bathroom and say out loud something positive about themselves and their appearance. I insist on this because I hope it’lI serve as a roadmap to self-worth. I do this because I’m trying to instill a sense of confidence and self-esteem that will prove fundamental to their emotional well-being as adults. I do it because I want them to learn to trust in themselves and believe that they have something to offer that no one else does. I want them to believe that they matter, and that whether they are funny, smiling, crying or right-out mad, they are worthwhile. I don’t want them to think that they have to smile all the time. Humor is an important aspect of life, but respect is more important. Staying true to myself is more important. If I feel like you’re overstepping boundaries, if I feel like you’re totally ignoring the presence of children…. I fail to see anything funny about any of that. I give myself a really hard time about being serious. I work very hard to consciously balance it with fun and trust but, on the flip side of that, I know that I am who I am for very serious reasons, I know that I will not compromise the emotional, physical or psychological well being of my children voluntarily, ever, or make them feel invisible. As deeply flawed as I may indeed be, I am still me. I may be guarded, I may not be the easiest person to get to know, sometimes my scars still bleed. But I am still me. And if I don’t want to “lighten up”, if I feel like something’s off…. that’s the only reasons I need for removing us from whatever the source may be. “Being you is good enough. Always.” That’s what i tell my girls every day—and it’s true.
How many times during the day do we see someone we think is super pretty, someone that makes us instantly feel like the ugliest, gaudiest creature ever to walk earth? How many times a day does someone say something that makes us think we’re stupid? How many sarcastic remarks (see related post here) a day are aimed our way before we feel like we’ve taken a beating? How many times a day do we see other moms or dads who seem to have it all together, who make us feel like rotten parents? I used to feel like a failure every time I passed a car that had those little people stickers that depict how many members were in their family—it made me feel like they must love their family more than I love mine. How stupid is that? There’s no way I could love my girls and my family more than I already do….they’re what I go to sleep and wake up thinking about. But just because I hadn’t sought out 2 little girl stickers to put on the back of the van, I worried that I was not good enough. Pinterest makes me feel stupid too, which is why I don’t use it. Seriously, people.
There is no one like you…. not anywhere. No one could love your children like you do. There are little things you do every day, things that you probably don’t even think about, that your children will miss, and love you for doing later. Maybe you send notes in their school lunches. Maybe bathtime is special somehow. Maybe you play a cool game during dinner. Maybe you have a way of making chores fun. Or maybe not. Maybe it’s just that you hug them tight every single day of their lives—not just little hugs, but real, hugs where you stop and take the time to appreciate them as you hold them. They’re going to remember that and no one else’s arms could ever feel like yours. But you’re not just a parent. Did you know that the exact shade and size of your eyes is unique to you? Did you know that you probably did something that felt insignificant at the time—maybe you held a door open for a stranger, maybe you smiled at the homeless person on the corner—that is going to ripple across the world. I’m not kidding. Every little thing you do has a consequence and we each perform acts every day that somehow improve the lives of our loved ones, our friends—-or maybe it’s someone you don’t know. You matter. You really, really do. And there is no competition going on—it isn’t supposed to be about who is better; it’s supposed to be about unity and reaching out in compassion and gentleness to one another. What we think are harmless remarks on another person’s behavior may actually change that person’s entire life outlook. When you mentally review your mistakes tonight, when you mentally kick yourself for not getting ____________ done tonight…. maybe you should stop and take a different journey through the day’s events, counting only the mediocre, boring or good behaviors you exhibited instead. No action is too small. Did you say thank you to your secretary? Did someone drop a spare quarter only to have you pick it up for them? Did you let someone go in front of you at the grocery store? Did you smile at the teenager walking around with a skateboard and a dozen tattoos? What about the dozens of people around you at the time—did any of them do the same?
You’re a treasure. You’re a diamond waiting to be found. You’re you for a reason, and there isn’t anything wrong with who you are. Just as you are, you’re beautiful. You matter. Sometimes I feel like we should all stick that message to our fridge so we have to read it every day. Because if we could cling to it, and remember just how valuable we are, we’d stand in wonder, we’d be in awe… and we’d learn that it isn’t about family bumper stickers or feeling uneasy over what was probably a meaningless observation. No. It’s actually more about how we uplift each other, how we care and love our families, it’s about how remain true to ourselves even when we don’t agree with everyone else, it’s about learning to trust the instincts we’ve been given as much as we trust outside opinions. In other words…. maybe I do need to sometimes “lighten up.” Or maybe he needed a reminder that life is not a game to play. Life isn’t only about appreciating the beauty and inspiration of others but also about learning to discover the beauty inside ourselves.
Look in the mirror: what is one positive thing about you of which you are proud or find attractive?