Bringing up Mama

I have decided that I have to bring up myself while I bring up my kids. So much of what I am attempting to teach or show or model for them are things I either can’t do myself, need to get better at, never even thought of before, or are long-time secret or not-so-secret sources of shame for me. I have negative reinforcement in my bones, in my heart, in the structures of my mind. I’ve worked on (and made progress with) cultivating self-love, walking away from the self-hate that has bloodied me psychically for so many years. I’ve adapted to the physical realities of babies and toddlers, letting go of at least some of my squeamishness. I’ve made some progress with accepting that the mistakes I make and will make are legion, and that it’s absolutely unavoidable, due in part to the huge amount on my plate. Lately, I have arrived at the conclusion that cultivating gratitude as a daily practice, not just in moments in which I’m centered and mostly cheerful, but in the midst of chaos and turmoil, is and will be vital to my survival, and to my well-being.

All of these are adult-level realizations, though they are things I want to share with my children too. However, as I writhed in shame the other night over the hash I’ve made of my daughter’s piano practice schedule (read, it’s been twice a week if we’re lucky for the past many weeks) as well as the fit of over-reaction I had this weekend that resulted in my hacking off a lot of Emily’s hair (more on that later), contemplated the amount of music I need to learn soon and elevate to the level of professional and artistic performance, and thought about how much I resist going to bed early enough, I thought, adult arguments have only been partially effective in me changing some of my ways, no matter how compelling they are.

I need something else. Specifically, I need a sticker book.

I am going make myself a journal/personal tracker. In it, I am going to record my absolute top priorities in general, as well as an item or two specific to each day. Then, each night at 10:30 I am going to put in a sticker for each thing I accomplished. I’ll leave space for writing in as many other good things as I want to add and give myself stickers for those too if I want to. I will do this just before I get ready for bed, and there will be no more computer or phone screen time once I start getting ready for bed. So once I’m done contemplating all the good things from the day, I will turn out the light.

I need a way to focus my attention on the positive, to take it in, to remember it. Shame could be defined as a pernicious and relentless focus on painful/difficult events and feelings, so complete as to leave not even a whit of sky visible around them. I am a shame master. It is not that I am going to remove anything challenging; but I can make sky and give myself emotional room by strongly encouraging myself to mark the good things as well as the bad, the happy things as well as the sad, the proud moments as well as the embarrassing ones.

I’ve been talking about trimming the twins’ bangs for a while now, and Emily being the motivated little person she is, decided to get a pair of scissors and start the job herself. Normally I’d find that funny, certainly wouldn’t flip my lid over it. But for some reason Saturday was a day I felt I’d gotten out of bed on the wrong side, and I had an internal fit about it. Then I got some scissors and started cutting the rest of her bangs just as short. It was ridiculous. She looked like a tiny, ill-kempt monk who’d gotten drunk and attempted to tonsure his own head. And I was so wound up. I was aware that I was over-reacting, but I didn’t manage to think about stopping myself, or stopping what I was doing.

Then we went off to the store to pick out a new front door (the old one with the old frame that mostly consists of large splinters screwed together after it got kicked down by a drunken and confused intruder is still in place). In the store I was still struggling with shame over my over-reaction, and finally I asked Ted for a hug, because I just wasn’t getting past it. He gave me a wonderful hug, and I said that I was so sad, because I’d made such a stupid mistake. Hazel said, “You didn’t make a stupid mistake, Mama,” and she was echoed by Emily and Joanna. Their love and compassion brought tears to my eyes.

I want to dignify and celebrate their lovely spirits, and mine, by extending myself the same grace. So, this afternoon I’ll go buy myself those stickers, and tonight I’ll start celebrating my successes. I don’t mind being six years old again.

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