“Americans are all so confident,” my safari guide says. “Just look at that smile. You look like a movie star!” I laugh. My smile is the combined result of an orthodontist’s acumen and the sacrifices my parents made to put me through braces. Luther’s smile glows against dark skin and seems equally confident to mine. From the passenger seat I suggest that perhaps the kinds of Americans who travel internationally and who make going on safari a priority in their visit to the area are already confident people. We don’t really represent all Americans.
I was 24 years old, a newly minted RN, working through some survivor’s guilt from a car accident, and living out my childhood dream. I hadn’t been this “in the moment” for at least a decade. Of course I came across as confident. Luther would have concluded otherwise had he seen me at the wood carver’s market trying to negotiate. I was so far out of my comfort zone that I had to be coached by the vendors. Price tags became stamp-sized security blankets for me. No more nebulous games.
I thought I was confident because I did well in most of my pursuits, but I lasted only four more years as a practicing registered nurse. I faked confidence so well that when one of my co-workers, whom I had trained, commented later that she was sad to see I had lost my confidence, I thought, “Is confidence something I can lose? What did I have if it wasn’t confidence?”
Well I am slowly learning that a key to my self-pity and lack of confidence is pride. “I shouldn’t have to [fill in the blank with a verb I should get to skip] because I am so much better than [people who…who what? should have to do this verb?] Self-pity isn’t even logical.
Yesterday while listening to another of the free and life-changing podcasts from Jody Moore (a life coach who is also a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), I found out where my confidence had gone. Self confidence–I’m paraphrasing Jody–is a willingness to try something and be awful at it. What am I willing to be terrible at? Not the nursing field any longer, that’s for sure.
Well, today I was willing to be terrible at making a friend. I went to my first day of kindergarten field trip with the goal of making a friend, and after the excitement of getting to be a passenger caring for only two kids wore off, I realized how skeptical I really felt.
Background: my daughter got invited to a birthday party a few weeks ago, and like a good invitee, I texted an RSVP to the mom of the birthday girl. We got texting more because I thanked her for having the party on a Saturday instead of a Sunday. We both go to churches, it turns out. After meeting her at the party and visiting a bit, I thought, “We should get together sometime.” Since I am a hermit by nature, sometime would never come.
And the more I thought about it, the more I found reasons to talk myself out of even trying: “Elissa, you’re so up and down. Do you really want to go out on that limb during the good half of your cycle only to act like a jerk in front of her during the bad half?” Probably not, I would concede, and I’d go back to my too-busy-for-friends ways.
But then this weekend at some church meetings I heard more about making friends. [Side note–if you ever hear the words “steak conference” from your weird church friend, they did not spend the weekend at a barbecue competition, which is something I learned all about when practicing my friend-making skills on an unsuspecting retiree at the park yesterday], The leaders kept talking about their friends of other faiths, and I started pouting because I have no neighbors and never go hang out in places to meet people (I tried at the DMV and that is not a place where people smile unless instructed). My friends of other faiths are all far away now (hi friends!).
The last speaker, though, spoke straight through my doubts and nudged my perspective away from self-pity. He said to walk with an eye of faith rather than my limited sight because the Lord can put my unique qualities and experiences to great use if I trust in Him. Wow, so maybe being Unpredictable, Up and Down, One Step Forward and Three Steps Back Elissa is who I need to be. It’s a thought I wanted to keep.
That’s when my higher brain–the part that seeks solutions–started working a little in the social department. I remembered that I would be chaperoning for my daughter’s field trip, and who knows? Maybe this mom would be going also.
I decided to make a fool of myself texting out of nowhere to ask her. Yes, she’s going. Yes, she stays home as a mom, too. Yes, she had no idea what time she was supposed to show up and didn’t even think to check her daughter’s backpack for instructions. I could really relate to this mom!
Fast forward: It is field trip day. I overthink what to wear. I realize that with the struggles of getting my kids all put together for the day, I would have to rely on yesterdays’ shower and make-up. I cringe because this potential friend-mom has the fit and polished mom look that I’ve never exactly attained.
For better or worse, I show up a few minutes late. Parents line the inner walls of the classroom, and I see that my maybe friend (MF for short) already found a talking buddy. I suddenly remember that I hate sharing friends. I wonder what she has that I don’t. I’m fretting about the scarcity of friends and how someone moving in on my friend might mean I miss out.
Stay friendly, I say. I work on making friends with the usurper. I soon like her very much. While sorting out details, I keep up a little small talk and hope it is enough to have secured a talking buddy for the bus.
My two charges and I enter the bus with MF and her two littles right behind. I purposely choose a seat with an empty across-the-aisle seat. But the former birthday girl wants to sit much farther back, and just like that, they’re gone.
Dang. I turn to my phone to see if I can cancel the BFF (Best Friend of another Faith) necklace I had just ordered.
Since I can’t be with the friend I want, I try to be friends with the neighbor I’m with, but it goes nowhere, and who can hear over the din of bouncing 5- and 6-year-olds anyway?
I am telling too much about this interaction. It’s just that I have seriously not done this in so long. If she reads this and isn’t freaked out, I will count it a miracle, or proof that she really is crazy. Which is another great quality to have in a mom-friend.
Anyway, I want to give up and save myself the embarrassment of looking like a dork who can’t get the hint, but I keep thinking, “I’m walking with an eye of faith” until I remember that I could pray. You know, ask for help. That thing that pride won’t let me do.
So I offer a little prayer in my heart: “Heavenly Father, you said you could put me to use as the messy person I am. I’ll keep going, but you’ve gotta show me the way.”
I stay in the moment with the two delightful girls I have. I am helpful and natural about my interactions with everyone. I’m just being me.
Then after lunch when MF and I have both managed to momentarily lose each of our two charges, we start laughing about a scene of childish manipulation unfolding between her daughter and a friend. The old, “I like your toy better, so I’m going to show you how to make it work better and then offer to let you have my shabby toy” routine.
We get talking about girls and emotions and what puberty will do to that mix, and she mentions she has a hormone issue that she hopes her daughter doesn’t get.
The nurse in me perks up. “Oh, really? I used to be a nurse. Which hormone issue is it?” I no longer sign my name with the trailing RN, but I like to catch up on metabolic mysteries now and then.
“It’s called PMDD.* It’s not very well known–“
“That’s what I have!” And we are off to the races.
The field trip wraps up as we, only vaguely aware of our surroundings, gather our four worn-out girls to the bus. We of course sit across from each other. We shout over the cacophony of voices about issues that touch on all the letters that follow my name now, some of which she has also experienced: MDD, AD, SAD, maybe ADD.** We talk therapies and social media support groups. I learn about her family and their plans. She finishes my sentences. One of her kids falls asleep on her our conversation is so grown-up.
We haven’t even pulled out of the parking lot for the ride home and I suddenly get misty-eyed as I realize that walking by faith has led me to a friend. I am humbled. Messy Elissa Makes a Friend, a Kindergarten Success Story. Thanks, Robert Fulghum.
And I am publishing at the stroke of midnight because I have confidence, baby. [Update: Dang it. The slow internet here landed me on tomorrow, so I am not a daily blog poster…yet. But it was worth losing some of my peaceful slumber if only to make the attempt. I will be well-rested…someday.]
[Update on my Update: I can backdate my posts! Which means I could have gone to bed hours ago. Self-pity creeping in. First child will awake within five hours. I think I’m willing to be terrible at the mom thing tomorrow…]
* Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder, which reminds me I was going to write a post about this ** Major Depressive Disorder, Anxiety Disorder, Seasonal Affective Disorder, Attention Deficit Disorder (if I remember, I will add links to useful sites for all these disorders)