Full of Disguises

Each October, as Halloween nears, my children pull out their favorite holiday books. Substitute Creature by Chris Gall has become a family favorite. The story is about a substitute teacher that has come to bring order to a class that is out-of-control. The substitute shares tales of children who have misbehaved and the dreadful things that have resulted from their actions to deter his current class. And it is eventually revealed that the substitute used to be mischievous himself when he was his students’ age which results in him having to wear his costume until he can redeem himself. And redeem himself he does. It’s a story of hope, accepting yourself—flaws and all, and living a life you feel good about. It’s about seeing the error of your ways, making amends, and finding your way back home.  My kids love it. We read it almost every night.

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. Not for the sinister decorations or gore that some may find thrilling. Instead I like the imagination it conjures up and creativity is exposes in all who participate. It never fails, each year I’ll see someone in an original costume that makes me wonder why didn’t I think of that?  Or decorations that pull me.

A Halloween costume can be very revealing, and not in the literal sense (though it can be that too). You can tell who has put effort and thought into their costume and who has not. It allows us to hide behind make-up, a hairdo, outfit or mask. For one night we become someone else. It can be freeing.

It reminds me of the book. How many of us are comfortable in your own skin? How many of us wish we were someone else, even if only temporary?  How do we disguise our true selves? Do some wear disguises each day without knowing it? Are disguises worn to protect ourselves from others? Or protect ourselves from knowing our inner most selves? It can be scary to think about.

The good news is there is hope, just like in the story. As we get comfortable with our true selves, any disguises we are wearing more easily come off. It’s accepting yourself as you are—flaws and all and living the life you were intended. It’s about finding your way back home (perhaps figuratively, but it’s true), living a life free of disguises.

Are you comfortable in your own skin, and sharing your true self with others? Or are you hiding behind a disguise like so many of us?

Happy Halloween.

Just Ask

Have you ever needed to ask for help and been reluctant to do so? I found myself in that situation this past week. With a busy schedule, and demands piling up, my anxiety seemed to increase with each passing day. How would I get everything done in the upcoming weeks that I need to do? I thought. I ran various scenarios through my mind over and over again and came to the same conclusion. If I was going to do things on my own, I needed to accept that exhaustion and resentment for having to do it all myself would follow.

Someone suggested I ask others to help me out. Of course that sounds logical and rational, I thought, but as a woman I believe I was raised as many others were—not to ask for help. I was taught along the way that women, especially moms, are supposed to bear the “burden” (in whatever form the hardship takes), and asking for help somehow implies weakness or being inept. Or worse, forces us to reveal our imperfection!  Of course that sounds ridiculous. And have you noticed how men seem to have a much easier time asking for help when they need it?

Asking for help is a way for us to connect and care for one another, and is anything but a sign of weakness. It takes courage to ask. Someone could say “no” or they “wish they could but they can’t” and that’s okay. The fact that you were willing to put yourself out there and ask speaks volumes about you recognizing that you are worth it. We miss out on allowing others to show they care about us when we don’t ask. We miss out on an opportunity to grow when we don’t allow ourselves to receive.

A dear friend of mine has been going through some medical difficulties needing to go to doctor’s appointments and have meals brought to her. She didn’t ask for help, but her husband did. I gratefully accepted. It gives me great joy to bring a meal to share and spend time with my special friend.  It makes me feel like I’m doing something meaningful, worthwhile and I thank my friend for that.

It looks like I’ll have the opportunity to reciprocate with my growing pile of ‘to-dos’. I’m going to muster up the courage to ask some friends for help and I suspect those that are able to assist will be happy to do so.

Interesting how something so simple like asking for help can seem so hard.

Are you comfortable asking for help?

Love is for Free

For most of my life I believed that love was something you had to earn. In order to be loved you had to work hard, behave, be generous (with time, money, energy), do the right thing even if it conflicted with your own wants and needs, sacrifice even if it hurt and give until you don’t have any more to give.  I realize when I write it out that this sounds exhausting and not at all what love should be.

I’m still unsure where this notion came from. Did I learn this from my family, friends, the media or a combination of them all?

I was discussing love with a friend recently who shared a powerful insight. She said said, “Love isn’t earned, it’s freely given.” This was an ‘aha’ moment for me. I think on some subconscious level I always knew this to be the case, but my beliefs and actions were not at all aligned with this belief.

I was struck by the notion that my self-worth had gotten wrapped up in this warped belief of conditional love. When I had this jarring revelation recently, I became for the first time fully aware of how affected I’d been by this belief. For instance: any physical deficiency I had (real or imagined) I felt I had to overcompensate for in order to be liked and loved. Sad, I know, pathetic even. As a teenager and young adult I would get uncomfortable whenever someone showed me any affection. I can think of so many dates I went on where I got just plain freaked out if the person liked me and wanted to go out with me again.  How could they be sure they liked me? They hadn’t even seen my flaws yet, what was wrong with them?  In reality, nothing was wrong with them, and nothing was wrong with me other than my warped point of view. I wish I had been perceptive enough to realize how askew my thinking was at the time. I wonder sometimes what I might have missed out on because of my fears.

Thankfully I continue to learn more about myself every day and I’m so grateful to have had this revelation and to have found a way to allow myself to be truly and deeply loved.

After all, my husband didn’t marry me because he felt sorry for me and I don’t have caring friends because they pity me. Just as I married my husband because I love who he is, and I love my closest friends for who they are. There are no strings attached, no money needed, no conditions they have to adhere to. I love them freely and they love me back in return.

Love is sometimes easier to give than to receive, at least to those of us that are just figuring it out it’s for free.

One is Silver the Other Gold

Make new friends

But keep the old

One is silver and other gold

Anyone who was in the Brownies and/or Girl Scouts growing up like I was is probably familiar with this little tune. I’ve always been fond of it: it’s short, sweet and in its way very poignant. As a child I didn’t fully grasp the concept of friendships and their value the way I do as an adult.

My oldest son, who will start first grade this year, is starting to learn lots of big lessons about what it is to have, and to be, a true friend. As his parent, this is something that leads to moments of great pride and can at other times be very painful.

When he has a play date with a friend, it can be fun to watch the interaction and see the joy on his face.  But when he wants to engage in something with someone and gets rebuffed, it breaks my heart.

Our family recently took a trip out of town and for the most part, we really enjoyed ourselves. During the trip, there was a group of boys my son’s age who were playing and he wanted to join them. But instead of including him in the game, they made a game out of excluding him. They would lure him in as though they were going to let him play and then laughingly reject him. Thankfully, their game ended when I encouraged my son to simply say “no thanks” the next time they asked him to play with them.  Once he’d turned the tables on them and the kids no longer knew they could engage him, they lost interest in teasing him.

During this exchange I struggled with a range of emotions: from pure anger and a desire to discipline or yell at the boys (where were their parents?), to reminding myself to keep calm, knowing that I have to let my son make his own choices. I won’t be able to witness all of these encounters every day for the rest of his life after all. All I can do is try to prepare him to handle situations himself and give him different things to think about and different approaches he can take.

Truthfully, my son wasn’t nearly as phased by the encounter with the bullies as I was. After the incident, I reflected on my own childhood and tried to pinpoint when it was that I truly figured out what real friendship entailed, and realized that it wasn’t until I was in my early 20s.

I shared some advice with my son. He may be too young to understand it right now, but I hope he figures it out earlier than I did.

“A friend is someone who makes you feel good about yourself,” I told him.

He looked at my quizzically so I elaborated some more. “A true friend doesn’t ask you to do, be or act in a different way. They don’t like you for what you have or what you can give them. They like you for who you are. ”

The experience was a good reminder for me that true friendship doesn’t come with a price. It’s more valuable than anything money can buy and best of all, it’s free.

Today is my Birthday

I have friends who get bummed out when they turn a year older but I’m one of those people who love birthdays. I love all birthdays but mine in particular. It’s a day to celebrate and treat yourself. For me, it’s the one day a year I fully love myself and allow myself to be loved all day long. That may sound a little depressing I know, but don’t despair, I’m working on fully loving myself all the days of the year but that’s another story (and possibly book) for another time.

Last year was a milestone birthday year for me: I turned forty. As I prepared for the day I sought advice from friends that had gone before me. The resounding theme from pretty much everyone I asked was the same: that the forties were a great time in one’s life, that you will really start to get comfortable with who you are, and all the “stuff” we concerns ourselves with—like what we look like, where we are in life professionally and personally will all become less important. I was fascinated!  That all sounded so freeing.  Like many of us, I feel like I’ve been wearing heavy invisible chains most of my life: trying to be the right weight, look the right way, work hard to advance in my career, appear happy at all times regardless of how I’m really feeling inside, and the list goes on.

Now that I’m a year into my forties, I see that my friends were right. As my birthday clock readies itself to hit forty-one, I think about the year in review and smile. I feel like I’m continuing to get more comfortable with who I am and am much less concerned about things that used to monopolize my time. I am more honest and open about how I feel with my friends and seek deeper more meaningful connections with others. I’m happy with where I am, but still have a ways to go and I’m actually really excited about what the future brings.

No, I don’t like the idea of lots of wrinkles and I am dropping a bit more cash at the hair dresser than I used to, but these things also remind me of the road I’ve traveled to get here, and I can’t wait to see what I find on the road ahead.

Now, where’s my cake?