I have not blogged for a few months now. It’s not because I haven’t had anything* to say but because I no longer have a routine that places my time for writing in a secure place. That time has become subject to a chaos of activity that would be called insanity by anyone who doesn’t recognize that this is how my journey at this time needs to look. Most of the time I am the one calling it insanity. I have also been laboring under the delusion that the scarcity of time I get to devote to writing means that when I sit down, I need to write something worthy of that precious time. But something, no matter how simplistic, is better than nothing, so here I go.
If I thought anyone out there was suffering as a result of my blog silence, you would have heard from me much sooner. But I trust you are all exactly where you need to be and have found some words to relate to your own journeys without my bloggy voice trudging along beside you. I am returning to this blog because I know that I need it. I need to share some of what I am learning and experiencing in order to feel like I’m accomplishing something. That’s the results-driven perfectionist in me.
The purpose of this blog I write is to put into words the tangle of beliefs and observations that reside within me. In May of this year I managed to unwind a tangle of beliefs that had kept me stuck. With this newfound clarity, my family and I then catapulted into another phase of our journey, which has resulted in a whole new set of tangles. So before my mind turns into the matted hairball on my childhood cat, whose invented birthday takes place on Veteran’s Day (perhaps we thought she’d lost her tail in the war?), and we just clip off the hairball for a fresh start, I am going to write even if I don’t know what to say yet.
Tangled messes. I’ll just see where that takes me. I knew when I was a very young child that I had a gift for untangling knots. I remember finding a bag of string among many of the projects my mom had shelved between moves, raising kids, and morning sickness. I want to call it crocheting thread, but it is used in a different kind of needlework that I cannot remember the name for now.
Anyway, it was pretty clear why she had shelved this project. Not only is needlepoint a painfully tedious (maybe that’s the name? Perhaps I have worked out a knot already!) way to personalize a pillow sham, it is also a nightmare to have your crawling infant massage all the colorful strands into a knot. As I recall, my mom had provided me and my three-and-a-half-year-old twin sister with our own needlepoint projects while she worked so that we would feel included. I’m guessing that my infant brother, who relished tying things together as he got older, had gotten ahold of her threads one day and that she had reached the end of her rope on that one.
So there I was at the carefree age of six, digging through my mom’s bags and boxes of sewing and craft items in the prematurely dark hours of a late autumn evening while she sewed. I had probably just come down to the basement to hound her about when were we going to eat? And how long does it take you to just sew a dress? Why does having a baby mean you need to sew yourself new clothes? Why do you need to make our Christmas presents for us? Why can’t we just buy them with your checkbook? And on and on.
When the pestering approach didn’t work, I started in on the “make myself useful” approach. Which meant that I did whatever I wanted to do and got offended if my mom told me to “knock it off.” When I landed on the knot of needlepoint thread, I was intrigued. I’d dealt with some knotted shoe laces, ratty hair, and tangled kite string in my short life, so I knew that where there was a will there was an angry and frustrated optimist waiting to erupt, or “overfloat,” as I stubbornly called the phenomenon of boiling over.
I quickly learned that tugging at the tangled strands did little to release the knots since that show of impatience just tightened the constricting coils. I had learned early from my mom’s wise counsel to not bite my nails, and I only occasionally peeled them down to the quick, so I had enough sturdy nail edge to pick a strand apart from its strangling neighbor.
I loved taking on the challenge of a seemingly impossible task that then melted into order and simplicity before me. I felt so able, so powerful. I had succeeded in dealing with some smaller tangles at the tender age of six, but I cannot recall now whether I finished untangling this particular knot. I probably abandoned it as soon as my stomach, which would have worked itself into a considerable knot of emptiness, learned that dinner was forthcoming. But I did know where to go when the friendship bracelet fad hit my demographic and I had to at least braid something for my friends, lest I lose them.
Either a few months before or after this encounter with the monster knot, I recall hearing a story in Primary, the children’s organization in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.** As I recall, it was shared by Sister Loucks, a dear friend-of-my-mom’s. In it, a boy begins to feel trapped by the lies he keeps using to cover up some initial misdeed. At some point he also has to clear his garden of bindweed. He compares the tendrils of this constricting plant with the feeling that he himself is getting wrapped in tight coils. Trying to live according to all of his lies has cost him his freedom. The accompanying illustration for the story showed a rather frightening plant entrapping a child, though this memory may be conflated with a movie my grandpa shouldn’t have let me see around this same time.
Disentangling my garden plants from bindweed is another small triumph I had had in my budding career as a de-tangler, so I figured I would never be that kid caught in the trap set by all of their lies. I was also very informed about weeds because my dad had taught me that despite the pleasing fragrance of the bindweed’s blooms, it was a weed because it was a plant growing in the wrong place. So not only could I be sure to keep weeds from growing up and ensnaring my precious plants, I could also remain free from restrictive consequences because I was so good and honest, just like this sweet child of mine [yes, every time I use that phrase I break into the Guns’N’Roses song].
Except that this week I learned that I have been a liar for nearly as long as I can remember.
Yes, it’s true. I’m not even lying. You see, a long time ago, I learned to be a people pleaser, and according to some insights that I have gained through this Bold New Mom (listen to episode 35), I cannot be honest with myself and others if I believe I can cause others to like me by silencing my inner voice. I cause only dissonance within myself that (and I can absolutely say this has happened in my life) ultimately leads to feeling like a complete fraud. And it makes others feel a little manipulated–i.e., “Why is she agreeing to do this thing I asked of her even though she clearly doesn’t want to do it? Does she really not trust me to handle it if she says ‘no’ to me? What? Am I supposed to fall all over myself now to thank her for being a martyr? Great. Now I don’t get to be honest either unless I want to be a jerk.”
Getting a little frustrated with myself now. Maybe I went too far with my example. That sounded a little mean.
And I wonder why I don’t recognize my own needs, why I don’t know how to respond to them, why I expect people around me to get cued into my feelings so that they can tend to me like I’m just an overgrown toddler on the precipice of a meltdown?
Yep, definitely feeling impatient with myself.
I literally had a boyfriend one time who was trying to make pasta in a way I didn’t agree with, and when I stomped my foot to protest that the bottled sauce needs to be heated even if it was just opened for the first time, he handed me an ice cream bar and escorted me to the couch, tucked me in with the throw, and told me to take a nap. I was 23 years old, but I was behaving exactly like my 18-month-old (as of today) does when he needs some sleepy-by.
Yeah, it sucks to admit how childish I have been, and that is probably my only humorous example.
I regret to own that my husband has learned to watch for my meltdown cues, and I feel even worse when I see him beginning to “tend to me.” If I make it to full meltdown mode, he tells me to take a walk because kids are watching and would start lining up with tantrums of their own if I still got an ice cream bar every time my inner toddler was tired of being told she didn’t matter by her outer adult.
I am actually glad that my oldest daughter, whether because of ADHD or her personality or an unwillingness to be a people pleaser has thrown me off my game so many times that I have had to realize the problem is with me.
I think I am getting better at identifying the dissonance, searching for where I betrayed myself in the recent past, and making it right before the second Elissa starts stomping her foot and claiming that “no one ever listens to me!” But mostly I manage to fold my inner threads back onto themselves in such a convoluted attempt to keep others from being upset with me that it’s just a matter of time before I am too tangled to move. I’m like a dog on a rope wound up between two tree trunks who can’t retrace her steps because she can’t even turn around. She’s just staring in futility at her goals that seem so close and yet eternally out of reach.
So when I taught the Primary lesson to my daughter and her preschool-age friends last week called, “I Can Be Honest,” I asked myself, “Can I? Can I really be honest? Is it really OK to say to someone, “I love you and want to see you succeed, but I don’t agree with this approach you’re taking, so I won’t be participating,” or “No, that’s really not my thing,” or “That wouldn’t work for me”?
I decided to answer in moments like that as if my children had just asked me to play Monopoly with them. No part of me wishes to say yes to that, and I don’t care what anyone thinks of me for saying no. When I turn down a game of Monopoly, somehow the strands of my soul stay aligned and my children and I still get along well enough to find something that works for all of us.
So instead of tip-toeing around a temperamental, manipulative, and fearful little volcano-of-an-inner-child and trying to pay her off with little indulgences, I can just start small with some boundaries. Believe it or not, kids like boundaries. It may not seem like anything, but just giving myself the right to say “No” again could cause great knots of frustration to melt where meltdowns once threatened.
*I love this song, Say Something by James, but it is from my “I’m-in-Junior-High-now-so-my-music-must-match-my-angst” phase. I’m so glad we didn’t have cable TV because video really would have killed all my radio stars. Hence, I shared only the lyrics version from YouTube.
**I say a few months before or after because I assume from some of the story’s details that it would have made sense to share this story during garden-weeding season, which would be about May through September in Colorado. It may have been this story, but it’s hard to know without the illustrations.