Tag Archives: personal growth

30 Days of Truth Challenge – Day 3

On the third day of the 30 Days of Truth Challenge (Is anyone else hearing the tune for “The Twelve Days of Christmas”? No? Just me? Alrighty then…), we are prompted to write about:

Something you need to forgive yourself for.

Just one? Seriously? I think I had a pretty long list by the time I was 9, so this seems like a case of Pick-a-Card,-Any-Card.

It is certainly tempting to go for the low-hanging fruit – the fact that I left my husband and tore my family apart when my children were only 5 and 7. How easy it would be to wax lyrical about my children having to pack their entire lives into little Dora the Explorer wheelie bags and move back and forth every single Friday of their childhood. Yes, that is definitely an easy one with which to self-flagellate.

But I will resist that particular temptation. Other guilt-ridden siren songs playing in my head right now include: not living up to my full career potential after spending almost $200,000 on college and graduate degrees; distancing myself from my mentally ill and abusive mother (“but she’s your mother!”); and all the times I have unleashed my attachment issues all over some poor, unsuspecting friend or lover.

But alas, those will not have their day on the screen this time.   Because, frankly, I feel that they’ve had enough time on this blog as it is. So they can just shut the hell up.

Today, instead, I will seek self-forgiveness for the times I have not fully appreciated the people that I should have. The people who gave me more than they should have, cared more than was wise, and put up with me with more patience than I would have thought possible. And yet I failed to fully see them. To appreciate them. To make sure that they understood that I had not overlooked their kindnesses.

I am ashamed to admit that there are many.

First, there was the suburban street that formed a village around me and gently guided me to adulthood through a childhood that was strewn with familial loss, the kind of loneliness unique to only children, and a simmering anger that sunk downwards toward depression as the years ticked by. The men, women and older kids in my neighborhood cared for me when I was sick, snuck me treats when I wasn’t allowed them at home, gave me free rein to their pools and yards, and kept a dozen vigilant eyes on me when my single, working mother was otherwise distracted. And I have never properly thanked them. How could I? Are there any words?

And what about the kind strangers who befriended me when I lived in England, all on my own, at the age of 21? There were those professionals who offered me internships (known there as “attachments”) that ultimately changed my whole career trajectory and led to a job that provided some of the most precious (and unrepeatable) memories of my youth. These men and women generously used their contacts to place me in enviable positions in amazing proximity to legendary creativity and power. And I took it all in, accepting their graciousness as if it were my due. Then there were the people on the fringes, who stepped in and offered me a place at their Christmas dinner table, introduced me to the magic of Lemsip when I had my first English cold, and carried me home from the pub when I finally realized that I hadn’t been raised to drink pints of anything. Did I say thank you? I honestly don’t recall. I hope so, but I can’t assure you of that with any conviction.

Finally, what about the people who have offered me their friendship, only to be met with ambivalence and indifference? You know these friends; you more than likely have had one or two of your own. They are the people who aren’t exactly in your squad but desperately wish to be. They look up to you, admire all your best qualities and ignore your worst, and either pine to date you or be you. And you hardly notice them. In the vanity and stupidity of youth, you take and take the gift of their friendship, while tossing them an occasional bone of attention or gratitude, which they devour hungrily and you use to appease whatever guilt creeps into your consciousness. Eventually, they tire or give up or grow up and walk away. And you, sadly, hardly notice.

But these friends are true friends. They offered themselves without guile and with complete sincerity, hoping for nothing but friendship in return. What is real friendship but that kind of desire to give of ourselves and make a connection with another person? I have had several of these peripheral friends in the course of my life, and they have passed through without leaving much of a mark, except on my guilty conscience. I know, in the deepest, darkest parts of my heart, that I was a poor excuse for a friend to them, that I returned almost nothing that was given to me, and that I am terribly ashamed of myself.

Nearly all of these people have passed out of my life, some without leaving even a precise memory of their full name. Others have left this world, and I have grieved them more than they could have ever possibly expected. For a few, I have seized the opportunity to express as much gratitude as I can without making them or me completely uncomfortable. Was it enough? Definitely not.

Sometimes I try to absolve myself by recognizing that we all have treated people shabbily in some fashion or another, and that the best we can hope for is the maturity and growth to recognize it, correct it when possible, and dedicate ourselves to doing better next time.

Is that enough? Probably not.

Oh, well. I guess I’ll keep working on that forgiveness thing.

forgive yourself

 

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30 Days of Truth Challenge – Day 2

So, after exposing our soft underbellies on Day 1 of the Challenge, Day 2 prompts us to write about “Something you love about yourself.” This is just plain easier than Day 1. Not because of vanity, but because focusing on what we like about ourselves means we get to operate from a place of power rather than a place of vulnerability. Plus, it’s incredibly valuable to show ourselves a little self-love once in a while. Makes us feel all warm and fuzzy, doesn’t it?

The thing I love about myself that I’m choosing to write about is not an accomplishment or a natural talent, but something that is still a work in progress: I love that I genuinely try to live authentically. I try, as much as possible, to say what I mean and put myself out there without wearing masks or performing roles or having to put someone else down in order to feel good about myself. I try to be conscious of those things and when I feel myself doing them, I try to step back, take a breath, and start again.

For so many years – maybe most of my life? – I lived in fear of being truly known. Deep down, I was terrified that if the people around me discovered who I really was, they would point, laugh, and reject me outright as unworthy, not valuable, and, ultimately unlovable. So I tried on different roles and masks. I assumed an air of reserve and haughtiness that caused many people to conclude that I was a snob. I hid behind my grades, my accomplishments, my career, my marriage, to create a persona that I thought people would like. I didn’t realize then that I was being disingenuous, honestly. I suppose it felt more like I was sparing people the pain of having to know or endure who I really was.

Not that I was a horrible person underneath. I sincerely cared about other people – very deeply – and was capable of a kind of fierce loyalty and unconditional love that I realize now is not always available. I didn’t use people or lie or cheat. I wasn’t racist or homophobic or judgmental. I was generous with my time, my feelings, and my love. So it wasn’t that there weren’t things about me to like; it was simply that I was subconsciously convinced that, underneath all of that, I was so broken and flawed, so much worse  than anyone else I knew, that if people truly knew me, they wouldn’t like, respect, or value me. Never mind love me.

But it was exhausting. If you’ve ever been the perfect wife or perfect mother or perfect girlfriend or perfect friend or perfect student or perfect daughter, you know this. And you know also that it is, at its heart, a very real lie. By withholding our true selves, we not only feed fear, create stress, and undermine our ability to contribute all our best parts, we deny people a chance to know our best parts in true intimacy.

Because, the thing is, the best parts of us are never the masks we wear or the roles we perform perfectly. What we call perfect is actually boring and forgettable and not at all relatable.  The moments of true perfection are in the mistakes, the flaws, the flashes of vulnerability we show each other. It is the times when someone does something unexpectedly kind, or reveals something about themselves that we can connect with, or offers some unobligated comfort or support – those are the moments when we can feel the walls between us collapsing and we can feel our human connection most deeply.  Those are the moments in which we create admiration and appreciation for another person.

None of those moments is possible without authenticity. I have come to realize that few people are genuinely bad. Most who behave badly are simply chronically and/or deeply disingenuous for any number of reasons. But at our core, I sincerely believe, almost all of us are good. And want to be even better.

Living an authentic life is scary. Every single time I expose myself, I risk rejection, laughter, and pain. Like most things, it gets easier with time, but I can’t say that it’s actually “easy” for me yet.  And I think that it’s so hard that we lie to ourselves about whether we are being authentic.  We are so used to our masks and our roles, we don’t even notice them anymore.  But simply stating that we’re being authentic is not the same as actually living authentically.  Would that it were that simple!

If you, like I did, are living life in a box of expectations and moving through your days out of obligation, if you are being your best (fill in the blank here) because you feel that you have to or you need to (rather than because it is simply your natural operating system), then you probably aren’t living authentically. If you refuse to post anything negative on social media, if you resist revealing your true feelings to people about parenting or your marriage, if you couldn’t admit the relief you felt after your mother/father/grandparent passed away following a long, bitter war with cancer, then you’re probably not living authentically. In short, if you’re showing people only the best, happy, positive and uplifting side of you, then you definitely aren’t living authentically.  Authenticity demands vulnerability and fears and flaws.

It is so tempting to put our best face forward. The idea that people will admire us and look up to us and want to be like us is an intoxicating incentive to cling to that mask and that role. It is tantalizing to think we might be the “It Girl,” the Carrie Bradshaw, or the Martha Stewart of our girl squad. And I’m here to admit that it might actually work… for a time. But eventually people realize that they can only get so close to you. They begin to suspect that you are hiding things, or, more surprising to me, that you are withholding intimacy because you are judging them and finding them lacking. No kidding. It happens.

My authenticity experiment since my divorce has not been without its lumps and bumps. I have confided to the wrong people. I have revealed more than I should. I have let some really bad people into my life. It’s honestly a case of two steps forward, one step back for me most of the time. But I know that I genuinely like myself better when I am behaving authentically. I can feel it. It isn’t sanctimonious or judgmental. It isn’t better or smarter or more talented. It is flawed and broken and honest and funny and compassionate and open and achingly real.

And whatever else it is or isn’t, at least it’s not perfect. And I love it.

authentic-self-soul-made-visible2

 

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30 Days of Truth Challenge – Day 1

Hi.  Remember me?

Needless to say, it has been quite a while.  I fell off the writing wagon quite a while ago.  First, it was because I was so blissfully happy with James that we couldn’t get enough of each other, and every single spare minute was devoted to basking in that glow.  Then, it was because things started getting hard and I was so confused and overwhelmed, I didn’t even know how to write about it.  Then, finally, life got so busy and full that there didn’t seem to be enough time or energy to devote to writing.  It, along with my yoga practice, faded away and became a silent part of an earlier chapter in my life.

I now earn a living being creative.  I have a  3o-hour-per-week job doing marketing and communications, plus I do freelance writing and website development another 10 or so hours per week.  I no longer need a creative outlet.  I spend my days — all day, every day — being creative. In fact, all these creative outputs contributed to a bit of creativity fatigue that fed my ambivalence about blog writing.

But I missed my blog and the outlet it provided.  I have always missed it. I never felt that it was over or considered pulling it down.  This is the only writing that I do entirely for myself.  The memoir I wrote and revised for hours was ultimately for an audience.  As is the novel I’ve outlined and started.  This, and only this, is purely for me and you.  Not for a publisher or an agent or a client or a boss.  Just some words here, in my little corner of the internet, where we can connect and explore the mundane and profound.

Oh, have I missed it.

Many times I have written whole posts in my head but not quite found the time to put them to the screen.  However, inspired by Oh Jenni (once again), I am picking up my laptop and dedicating myself to getting back in the writing groove again.  The 30 Days of Truth Challenge is a great way to do it.  I’m a day behind Jenni, so this is just my Day 1.  I’m rusty, I know, but hopefully you’ll bear with me as I rediscover my groove and my voice. And don’t worry… I’ll be sure to bring you all up-to-date with the ever evolving soap opera that passes for my life.  But you might be disappointed; things are much quieter these days.

But I digress…

Day 1:  Something You Hate About Yourself.

Boy, whomever created this challenge didn’t start easy, did they?

I spent the day contemplating this question in the back of my mind and then the answer was suddenly so clear to me:  the thing I dislike most about myself (hate is frankly too strong a word) is that I don’t know.  I don’t have a solid, tangible sense of who I am.  My sense of self feels ephemeral, gossamer, translucent.  What I think of myself, how I think of myself, what I see of me, seems to come and go, fade in and out, with the kind of fluttering inconsistency of fog at sunrise or clouds sweeping a windy sky.

I understand and appreciate the psycho-babble that answers the question of why I am this way, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating or strange.  So much of the time, in between rare moments of  grounded certainty, I feel like I exist only as a mirror of other people’s ideas about me.  I fumble to sketch the basic outlines of who I am and end up with nothing but eraser marks and ripped paper.

I’m not talking about knowing what I believe in; that I know.  I know what my values are and what my feelings are.  What I do not know is what I am.  I know what people say about me — the good and the bad — but I have a terrible time discerning the truth within those accusations and accolades.  I don’t seem to have the ability to hear these things and simply know whether I agree with them or not.  I have observed people my whole life and seen how most people do this constantly and usually without much thought.   But not me. It takes endless hours of journaling to sift through what is their stuff, what are their projections, and what are more evidence-based critiques of me, and finally determine what I think about their thoughts of me.  Do I agree with them or do I think their assessment is just plain wrong?

Look, I know that too much belly-button gazing is often worse than too little, and I know that life is a long journey of self-discovery, but it seems to me that, having reached the other side of “middle age” at 47, I should have a better and more immediate grasp of my identity.

And truly, not having a grounded sense of who you are and (perhaps even more importantly) who you aren’t, makes it all too easy for other people to project onto you their own ideas of who you are.  It’s as if you are simply a green screen onto which they projec their images of who and what you are, without any resistance from you.  After all, if you aren’t sure whether you are bossy or incompetent or inspirational or kind, how do you know whether their projected images are true?  Or is truth merely relative in this context? Perhaps the old psychological theory about there being three “real” identities for each person — Me, Myself, and I — is actual and factual and the only real “truth” is that we there isn’t only one truth to be divined about who each of us is.

Has your head exploded yet?  Because mine is starting to hurt.

Anyway, I really, really, really dislike this about myself, and I am chronically envious of pretty much everyone else in the world, who don’t seem to struggle to figure out who and what they are.

It’s okay if none of this makes any sense to you.  That just means that you’re one of the people I envy.

See you tomorrow for Day 2.

I-ve-been-trying-to-figure-out-who-I-am-and-I-fina

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a list of things that didn’t kill me

I work in a library now, and one of the great things about it is that I am surrounded by books. I am a bookworm like some people are foodies.  My boyfriend James can spend literally hours perusing a grocery store, handling the meat, sniffing the spices, eyeing the seafood.  I am the same about books.  So, sometimes, when I am muddling through a creative block or need a walk to clear my head, I will wander the shelves and lose myself in the books.

I have already developed favorites — book covers or titles or authors’ names that intrigue me for one reason or another.  Books that serve as a time machine, transporting me back to my childhood, or some poignant period of my adolescence, or, occasionally, the period immediately after my divorce during which I read rapidly as an escape.

But the book that is my current favorite, the one that I revisit frequently in my mind, although I have not yet even opened it, the one that intrigues me so much that I do not dare read it because I already know that it could not possibly live up to my expectations is one titled “A List of Things that Didn’t Kill Me.”

I suppose it’s not profound, but the idea of a list of things that didn’t kill us is fascinating to me.  I wonder at how easily that list would capture our individual trials and triumphs, moments of bravery, incredible losses, and bottomless grief.  The first day I walked past that book, I couldn’t help but wonder at what might be on my own list.  A few particularly painful episodes immediately sprang to mind, and in the short walk back to my desk, I contemplated how amazing it was that I had, indeed, endured and survived such things. Me. Just me.  A normal, unremarkable person with a pretty normal, unremarkable life.

And now, it has become my own little ritual.  Every time I pass the book on the shelf, I mentally add another thing to my list.  At some point, obviously, I will have exhausted my list, and that is okay, but right now I am enjoying my little validation game.

So what about you?  If you had to create an actual list of things that didn’t kill you, what would be on it? What parts of yourself would it reveal that maybe you have stopped appreciating?  What hardships have you overcome and internalized to the point of almost forgetting about them and how dramatically they changed you?  What horrible moments have helped define and mold you into the stronger, more capable person you are now?  How many of these moments fortified your character, solidified your integrity, and taught you some immeasurable lesson?  What would be missing from your life if these experiences had never crossed your path?  Who would you be without them?  How are you better for them?

So, humor me and take a minute.  Think about it.

What changed you forever? What did you think you couldn’t survive but did? What didn’t kill you?

A list of things that didn't kill me

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the ability to fail

Last night, I went to my daughters’ middle school for Bryn’s 6th grade choir concert.  My girls love to sing, so I’ve sat through my share of school choir concerts.  Sabrina also takes private voice instruction and has performed solo in recitals that I have never missed.

In my experience, middle school choir concerts are typically a crap shoot.  Generally there is lots of semi-off-key singing, a few solos that you can hardly hear because the singers are too nervous to breathe, and the occasional stand-out voice that catches the audience by surprise and generates more than polite applause.   So, when I settled into my seat next to Sabrina, I figured I knew what was coming.  This wasn’t my first rodeo, after all.

The first two songs the 6th grade choir sang were typical – a folk medley, followed by a musical version of MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech.  The next song was the choir’s hotly anticipated interpretation of Pharrell Williams’ “Happy,” made all the more exciting because Bryn had her first ever solo.  As the singing started and my spunky ginger-haired daughter made her way to the microphone at the front and center of the stage, I leaned forward and held my breath.  And then it happened.  Bryn opened her little mouth and, loudly, clearly began singing her solo part.

And she was terrible.

Not just terrible in the way that most 6th grade singers are terrible, but truly atrocious.  From her mouth emanated sounds for which there are no words.  Tones that are not associated with musical notes except in the loosest terms.  My little girl was completely, hopelessly tone deaf.

In the 30 seconds or so that it took for Bryn to finish her solo, I consciously worked to keep my face neutral and avoid Sabrina’s eyes.  I didn’t breathe and sat stiffly waiting for the aural torture to end.  When it did, I promptly got up and made my planned exit, shaking my head incredulously as I made my way across the parking lot.

See, the thing is, Bryn is the kind of person who, when she applies herself to a task, is nearly always highly successful.  Her smarts, determination, and sheer Irish stubbornness serve her well.  She has not yet encountered an academic subject, sport, or hobby that she couldn’t master, and I have always admired her for it.  She may not be the best, or the fastest, or the most knowledgeable, but she has always managed to acquit herself admirably.  It’s something that I’ve come to love and expect from her.

But singing, that which comes so easily and naturally to her sister, is clearly out of reach for Bryn.  She has spent nearly three years now singing in choirs, but without making any recognizable improvement in her voice techniques.

On the drive home, I began to wonder how Bryn would handle this realization when it finally dawned on her.  How would she take it?  Would she collapse in tears and shame?  Would she promptly give up singing, despite her love of it, in order to avoid future embarrassment?  Or would she be galvanized and apply herself even more vigorously to singing?

To be truthful, it won’t matter.  My beautiful daughter has many, many talents, but after last night, I am positively certain that singing is not one of them.  It is clear to me that inasmuch as Sabrina was blessed with perfect pitch, the ability to sight read, and a delicate, clear tone that sails through the air and settles on the heart, Bryn was gifted by nature with none of these things.  She can sing songs, yes, but she will never be the songbird her sister is.  No amount of training or practice will close the gap between them.  And, really, truly, that’s totally okay.  In most everything else that they have mutually attempted, Bryn easily surpasses her sister’s achievements.  So it is perfectly just for Sabrina to have this one thing at which she is plainly superior.

I’m not sharing this to shame Bryn, or to unfairly compare my daughters. But it caused me to consider the power and potential value of failure.  What happens when we want so much to be good at something, to excel in a particular direction or at a particular skill, but we are faced with the reality that we may eventually be okay at it, but we’ll never truly master it?  How many of us are able to be bad at something and still enjoy it?  How many of us can acknowledge and accept shortcomings in our abilities or natural talents that are other than we might wish? How do we perceive a failure to achieve and how does it affect our future efforts to achieve?  Do we embrace the opportunity to develop resiliency or become annoyed, frustrated or dismayed and give up.

In our society, we are told to never, ever give up.  We are supplied ample examples of people who refused to accept a limitation and overcame monstrous obstacles to achieve miracles.  I am inspired by those stories as much as the next person, and I know myself capable of substantial perseverance.  But that doesn’t mean that I haven’t learned through the years that there are some things that I am simply no good at.  Rollerblading, grilling steaks, and doing the splits, for example.

I, for one, have definitely been guilty of discarding or giving up on something once I discover that it’s truly not in my wheelhouse.  If it doesn’t come relatively easily, I’m likely to drop it.  The exception to this is when I derive so much pleasure from the act itself that my success at it is irrelevant.  However, if I don’t love it deeply and I have applied myself to the best of my abilities and I still haven’t achieved anywhere close to the success I would have liked, I move on.

And what of the people who fail and fail again and still persist at something until they become leaders above everyone else in their field, such as Bill Gates and Steve Jobs?  Is their persistence the reason for their success?  I actually think not.  I have this little theory that there is some deep intuition that drives us when everything else seems to suggest we won’t succeed, some sense that we are meant to do this thing and do it well.  I, for one, do not have the natural aptitude to be a master computer programmer – my brain simply doesn’t work that way.  But then again, I can take words and convey meanings that others can’t, so I tend to think that life balances out.

I also know that there are plenty of things that I can do but not do especially well, and that I still enjoy.  Just because I’m not good at them doesn’t stop me from quietly enjoying them on my own time.  Gardening and cooking are in this category for me. With age, I have decided that this is what hobbies are for – those things we can do and enjoy, but not do well enough to ever do it professionally or to really shine at it.  In this vein of thinking, I hope that when Bryn is forced to relinquish her dream of being the next Katy Perry, she does not also set aside her true love of music and singing. I hope that she is able to enjoy singing for her own pleasure, even if no one ever pays to hear her.  And I hope, sincerely, that she confines her singing to the shower, car, and her bedroom, sparing the poor ears of those of us who love her deeply but never, ever, ever need to hear her sing publicly again. ❤

failure

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the blessing of oblivion

My stepbrother hates me.

Or, maybe that’s not entirely accurate, since he’s not really my step-brother and I’m not sure “hates” is the optimum word.  You see, he is the natural son of my former step-father.  So what does that make him to me, exactly?  My former step-brother?  But that sounds too much like he’s dead, and he’s not. Also, hate might not be the exactly right word.  Perhaps “resents” is better.  Or “misunderstands”?  Or “begrudges”?  I guess I don’t really know, since the one conversation we had about his feelings was years ago, and true to form, was characterized by naive honesty on my part and guarded suspicion on his.  So who really knows how deeply his negative feelings for me fester.

But the fact remains that we are somehow at odds.

The situation sounds like something out of a nighttime soap opera (think Dallas or Dynasty for point of reference):  My mother was my dad’s fourth (yes, fourth) wife and I was my mom’s adoptive daughter, aged 13 at the time of marriage.  Their marriage lasted five L-O-N-G years and culminated in a nasty divorce in which my step-dad lost a significant percentage of his net worth despite a good prenuptial.  None of this was my fault; in fact, I disapproved of my mom’s marriage.  Not because I didn’t like my step-dad, but because any primate with a 50 IQ could see that they were not destined to a bright future.    Any primate, of course, except for an primate in love.

So, their marriage was  a disaster but my step-father was a terrific dad, and the only one I’d ever had, since my adoptive father died when I was 9-months-old.  Indeed, my step-dad has since told many people that he married my mom because he felt that I “deserved to have a real father.”  That’s a pretty noble undertaking, I think.

Their marriage didn’t survive, but my relationship with my step-dad, who after their divorce became just my “dad,” did.  In the 27 years since my parents’ divorce, he has done everything for me a dad does for a kid:  sent me money when I was broke, offered advice (solicited and unsolicited), invited me to family functions, visited me from out-of-state, sent presents and cards at appropriate anniversaries, and called “just to check in” on a regular, if not frequent, basis.  He has been, in every regard and every part of my heart, my dad.

And my former step-brother hates me for it.

My dad had four kids from his first wife — two girls and two boys.  The other three have mostly accepted my strange place in their dad’s life.  They seem to understand (mostly) that our relationship has brought both of us a lot of happiness and is no threat to them, so they let it be.  My oldest step-brother, however, is not so generous.  No, he views me as an interloper, a gold-digger, someone who has no right to his father’s time or love.

But he’s wrong.

My dad, Dex, and I have a deep connection that goes beyond words.  We understand each other in the way that only soul mates do.  My dad’s current wife, Meri (his 5th and last wife and true soulmate) understands this and has welcomed me with open arms from the first day I met her.  But Dex’s kids have struggled more. I think the other three have gradually realized that I am not in competition with them in anyway.  Indeed, I easily cede my position to them at any opportunity.  But Richie, my oldest step-brother, cannot abide my presence in his dad’s life.  I am threat to him that neither he nor I understands and he would like nothing better than for me to disappear forever.

I am in dad’s last will and testament.  It reads that after Meri dies, all proceeds (because she has no children of her own) shall go to Dex’s three other children and me in equal 20% measures, with Richie’s two girls receiving his share divided between them as 10% each.  This was constructed many years ago, when Richie’s obstinate insistence that my dad disavow me resulted in Dex’s cutting Richie out of his will altogether and apportioning Richie’s share to his daughters instead.  When I found out about the Will Drama, I asked my dad — twice — to rewrite the will and leave me out of it.  Both times he replied that it was “none of my business” and that he would do what he damn well pleased.  But he also knew his son and made me promise that I would respect his wishes and defend his will — in court, if necessary — after he was gone.  I reluctantly agreed.

At the time all of this was going on  (many years ago), I really had no appreciation for how intensely my step-brother disliked me.  It has only been my most recent trip to Seattle, spending time in their home and with my former step-sisters that I have fully appreciated how deeply resentful Richie is.

Apparently, unbeknownst to me, Richie has been waging a war against me for many years, with both my dad and my former step-siblings as the targets.  The mere mention of my name is supposedly enough to send him into a diatribe, and his siblings have grown weary of the conflict.

When my step-mother, whom Richie also does not like, called to ask me to come help her, Richie was away in Africa on a medical missionary.  I have since learned that this was fortunate timing, because if he had been in the country, the call would have been nearly impossible for my step-mom to make as the other three siblings are so intent on avoiding the “conflict” between us that they would have likely begged her to reconsider.

I guess I am fortunate that he was on his mission and I, states away in Colorado, was oblivious to the family politics swirling around me.  Had I know,  I would have approached this trip with far more trepidation.

Richie and I are the only children who don’t live in or right outside my dad’s hometown of Seattle.  I am in Colorado, and Richie and his family live in southern Idaho.  I suppose his distance from his family gives him some cause for anxiety and me some cause for oblivion, for I have been mostly unaware of the family politics at play.

True, my dad had hinted that Richie resented me and did not respect his marriage to Meri, and he had made me promise to defend his will and protect Meri from whatever predatory interests Richie has after his death.  But the extent to which Richie had complained to his siblings was not clear to me until this trip to the Pacific Northwest.

Here’s what I mean:

I have been here for 12 days now and in Richie’s group emails to the family about my dad’s illness, he refuses to acknowledged my existence or anything I have been doing for his father or step-mom.  To be honest, though, he basically refuses to acknowledge his step-mom at all.  Richie sends daily emails to his dad, which we have to read to him since Dex can’t operate a computer at the moment, with strong “suggestions” for his care (Richie is a doctor, and one with a “healthy” doctor ego).  I know that Richie knows that I’m here because he apparently has said various things to his sisters which they have relayed to Meri in aggravated and hushed tones, and she has related to me in annoyed and angry tones.

It is very strange to learn that you are the object of someone’s intense emotions, when they mean so little to you.

I honestly do not think of Richie but a few times a year when he comes up in conversation with my dad or step-mom.  He is completely inconsequential to me.  The fact that he does not understand why my dad stayed my dad after he divorced my mom is of no concern to me; my dad and Meri and I understand it, and, in my mind, that’s all that matters.  But I am clearly the object of much negative emotion on his part and likely have been for years.

But what I’ve come to realize over the last ten days is that my oblivion has been a blessing.  Had I fully realized the amount of tension and conflict my presence had caused in my dad’s life, I would have likely gradually receded from him, so naturally conflict-averse and prone to keeping the peace am I.  I am so averse to wanting to cause trouble for those I love that, had I known, I would have probably, gradually, but resolutely, left his life.

And what a shame that would have been!  I would have deprived myself of precious moments of parenting from a father who so sincerely wanted the job that he held onto it even after being fired by my mother.  And I would have deprived him of a daughter who knew him — dark secrets and all — and loved him completely and unconditionally and defended his character and integrity from anyone who dared to question it.

With the benefit of age and the certainty of my dad’s love, I can acknowledge that my former step-brother’s animosity is his journey to wrangle with, not mine.  My dad and I, we understand and accept our unique relationship, even if some of those around us do not.  And we are both willing to make sacrifices and defend that relationship when necessary.  Until this month, I had not realized the full nature of his sacrifice or his struggle, and he will likely never know the nature of mine, but we have both fought for and protected this relationship in ways that have cost us dearly.

But what a life lesson that has been for me.  I have not bothered to defend this relationship to others; if they do not understand it after my best effort at explanation, then I leave that as their struggle, not mine.  And I have been grateful every single day that a man with no obligation chose to be a father to a young woman who desperately needed his guidance and love and reassurance.  I am different woman for his care-taking, and I hope that he is a different man for my love and devotion.

As for my step-brother, I am determined to return to Colorado and sink back into my oblivion.  Let him emotionally rail against me.  Let him target me with all his resentment and animosity.  Let him assign all blame to me for the relationship with his father that is so much less than what I share with him.

Because I know — and my dad knows — what is true and what is real and what is right.  And my step-brother can wrestle his demons all night long, while my dad and I sleep peacefully, secure in the knowledge that a love that is pure and well-intentioned and generous is never wrong.

coelho quote

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Filed under blended families, parenthood

what’s in a name, revisited

This fall, as I was in the midst of pushing toward completion of my first book, I had the good fortune of picking up Cheryl Strayed’s Wild.  If you haven’t read it, you simply must.  Seriously.  Stop reading this and head immediately to your locally-owned bookseller and purchase a copy, because you’ll want to read it again and again.  Or, if you do not have a local bookseller available to you, open a new browser window and head to Amazon whereupon you must order a copy and commence reading it as soon as it arrives.   Yes, it is that good.  Both in content and in remarkable storytelling.  It’s so good, in fact, that it caused me to have panic attacks about the quality of my own work, inspiring me to rip apart my manuscript draft and completely reorganize it into a different book altogether.

But this is not a book review. It is, as the title suggests, about the meaning of names.

I have, of late, been thinking quite a bit about names, an exercise prompted by the realization that I must come up with a proper pseudonym under which to publish my future work, in order to protect my children’s identities.  My typical nom de plume has relied on a name gifted to me by my birth mother and listed on my first, later-sealed birth certificate.  But, for reasons that I detailed in a recent post, I have finally relinquished my claim on that name.  I now realize that it was simply a placeholder, no more.  And so it is time to move on.  But I am fairly stumped as to how.

At the end of Cheryl’s book, she explains how  she came to have the unusual surname of “Strayed,” and the story is both simple and mind-blowing.  Simple, because she just picked it.  Mind-blowing because she picked it not because it sounded good or reminded her of someone she’d once loved or was a distant family name, but because it was descriptive of who she is.  She decided that she needed  a new name to go along with a new beginning, and she sought one that best described the essence of who she was and is.  And, because she is someone who has struggled to stay on a designated path (even one of her own choosing), she picked the fabulously abundant “Strayed.”

Which made me wonder …  if I were to do the same exercise, what name would I pick?  What combination of letters would produce a meaning that best reflects and captures the choices I’ve made, the roads I’ve taken, the mistakes I’ve pushed through? For the better part of a day, the question rolled around in my brain, tantalizing me.  My imagination alighted on various words before discarding them — Attempted, Gave, Found, Sought, Wondered, Persevered.  All were good in their own way, but none felt exactly right.

And then I found it.  My descriptive surname a la Cheryl Strayed.

It is Hoped.

The only constant in my life has been my hope.  I think it has both held me up and caught me from beneath more times than I could possibly count.  It is, most definitely, what I have done most and what I expect I will always do.  While this discovery does not solve my question of what surname I shall use for my upcoming book, it was a satisfying and insightful exercise.

So now I ask you, what would your word be?  What mingling of letters would you use to tell the world your story in one word? Feel free to share it here or keep it to yourself.  Be sure to look forward, as well as back.  And, most importantly, don’t worry about what meanings others might attach to the name.  Your meaning is what matters.

And whatever your word, whatever its genesis or cause, I wish you a self-aware and mindful 2014, constant with peace, serenity, and love.  And, of course, hope.

a-ray-of-hope

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deleted.

Adoption is such a mixed bag of blessings.  The most valuable for me as an adopted child has always been the fluidity with which I view relationships.  Family is truly those who inhabit my heart, because any other definition would necessarily create a very lonely life.  This definition is expansive, endless with possibilities and rich beyond compare.

The flip side of this approach has sometimes been that I place more importance on a particular relationship than does someone who has ample and strong genetic family ties.  I have, on more than one occasion, realized that my sense of family with someone was misplaced; in the end, I was “just a friend” or “just a girlfriend” or whatever the small, definitive category was that I occupied.  I don’t begrudge these people their categories; indeed there have been occasions when I have envied them the clear distinctions of their lives, the ease of prioritizing relationships, the simplicity of explaining how one is related to another.  But that was not the hand I was dealt, and so I have bent and manipulated common categories to suit my own needs and life.  And that approach has mostly served me well.

After I was three weeks old, I didn’t lay eyes on a single soul possessing my genetic thread for nearly 29 years.  It was then that I met my birth mother, Kathleen, after a lengthy search.  Ours was a joyful telephone reunion, followed by pages and pages of emails, futilely trying fill in the missing years since she had held me as a screaming infant in her arms.  There were early morning and late night phone calls, exchanged photographs and small gifts, and a visit by her to the home I shared with Bryce, when I was newly pregnant with Sabrina.  Later, when Sabrina was 18 months old, I traveled with her to Kathleen’s home on the West Coast for a short visit.  Sabrina charmed her new “Gran” completely, and Kathleen seemed delighted by the prospect of a grand-baby, having missed so much with me.

Every relationship has its honeymoon period and, had I read any adoption reunion books I would have known that the same applies to adoption reconciliations.  Our honeymoon period lasted longer than most, but small fissures erupted and, without the grounding of a stronger or deeper friendship, they expanded into deep chasms.  There were so many parts of me that not only reminded Kathleen of her beloved younger brother, but also of her despised older brother.  She disagreed forcefully with many of my life choices and was unimpressed by my choice of husband.  But perhaps most damaging was the fact that, aside from my skin and hair coloring, I physically favor my birth father, a man who brutally hurt her and about whom she cannot speak. So perhaps the relationship was doomed from the beginning, or even from the second beginning, but I was determined to at least keep the line of communication open, even as she clearly withdrew from me.

My first inkling that perhaps I had been abandoned by her permanently came two years ago when Sabrina was in 5th grade and completing a family history project.  I had received lots of family stories and histories from Kathleen in emails during those early, breathless days, stories I had been waiting a lifetime to hear and she’d been hoping for the chance to share.  I’d compiled them all into binders that I stored with my photo albums, the closest thing I had to a family history.  Sabrina thumbed through them, amazed to discover the richness of Kathleen’s family history, the surprising realization that we were, in fact, a Western homesteading and ranching family, and the terrific tales of Irish lore handed down.  Then she sat down and wrote Kathleen a very sweet email, telling her of the family history project and asking more questions.

Kathleen never answered her.

I was more than a little stunned as the days dragged by and there was no response to Sabrina’s email.  We worked on her project as best we could without the additional information.  I offered, but Sabrina refused to abandon Kathleen’s family and instead do something about her dad’s side, which was equally interesting.  She completed her project and received an A, but I was still reeling from the silence.

I sent Kathleen an email via Facebook, where I know she is very active, asking her to please reply to Sabrina even if it was just to say that she couldn’t provide anything else.

Silence.

As an adult, I was able to cognitively process the rejection.  Kathleen is a woman who, at least since the harrowing and unfortunate circumstances of my conception and birth, has struggled and mostly failed at maintaining relationships.  She knew she would be a poor mother, having had a very cold and critical role model to follow, so she relinquished me rather than risk perpetuating the family problems.  The quirky and interesting commonalities we shared did not bridge our larger differences.  And basically, no amount of genetic material could make up for what was lacking between us.  I knew all of this.

But, still.

The adopted child in me cried out for her.  Wondered at how she could abandon me, again.  Wondered how I could be so very flawed that, even having gotten to know me, she could reject me so completely that her rejection would encompass my innocent children.  Wondered at how blood was so thick for some people, but apparently counted for nothing in my own life.

I accepted Kathleen’s complete retreat and did not pursue the family history issue again.  I did notice, however, that she did not unfriend me on Facebook, so I assumed that she had some lingering interest in me, my children, and our lives. I continued to send her school photos of the girls, Christmas cards and presents, and a Mother’s Day card that always read, simply, “Thank you.”  I thought we had reached some kind of plateau, in which I would continue keeping that thread alive between us, and she would continue to ignore me.  I rationalized to myself that there was no harm in it; after all, it wasn’t like she could actually hurt me anymore.  Right?

One day not long ago, she posted an interesting exercise on Facebook.  It was one of those cut-and-paste, perpetuating games in which the poster asks each of her Facebook friends to leave a one-word comment below the post, describing how the poster and the friend met.  I don’t usually comment on Kathleen’s posts, but they are not usually an invitation to participate, as she is more fond of political diatribes and humorous videos.  This time, though, I thought I had a very clever contribution.  And so, because I am apparently a pathetically slow learner, in the comments section, I wrote “Birth.”

Later that day, I noticed her post on my timeline again, as our sole mutual friend had also provided her one-word answer.  I clicked on Kathleen’s post, and as it filled the screen, I saw it.  The void.  The emptiness where my comment had been.  It was gone.  Deleted.

I should not have been surprised.  You, reading this, are not surprised.  But I was.  I truly was.

I stared at it for a long time, the obvious irony settling in.  She had deleted me.  She had deleted my birth.  So swiftly and easily, with merely the click of a mouse.  And I knew, for what was probably the first time, that if she could do that for real, she would.  She really would.

I know that getting pregnant with me changed her life dramatically and my birth father’s cowardly response to the pregnancy demolished her in ways I can’t fully appreciate.  And I know that my birth nearly killed her and did disable her for a year, and that she never had a family of her own after that for reasons that only she knows.  And I know that I am not what she had hoped I would be.

But I am her only child in this whole world.  Her blood.  And she deleted me.

In the days that followed, I felt foolish for the photos and the Christmas cards and gifts that have likely met the trashcan unopened, but not too much.  I offered her as much love as I knew how and I considered her as much a part of my family as the other wonderful parents I have.  I shared the most precious part of my life with her, my children, and encouraged them to pray for her and offer her love, too.

In short, I did nothing wrong.  It was not my fault that I was conceived under such ugly circumstances.  It was not my doing that she suffered an aneurysm during my birth.  I cannot apologize for how I have turned out or who I have loved.

I wish that we could have been family.  Some kind of family.  But I know now that we will not be.  So this holiday season, I instead turned my attention fully and completely to the family that does love me, truly and deeply and without reservation.  Some ties are actually thicker than blood.  And for that I shall be forever grateful.

photo

Me, at about 2 1/2 years old.

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Filed under adoption, healing, parenthood, relationships

was it worth it? (pt. 4)

One of the things that enabled me to finally pull the trigger on my divorce and take the blind leap out of my marriage was the noble idea that someday, somehow, it would all be worth it – that me, my children, and even my ex-husband would someday, somehow be better off for my choice. It wasn’t just a hope, it was a certainty that I clung to fervently. Indeed, had I not convinced myself of its truth, I might never had taken that leap.

The question of whether the pain inflicted by my decision will ever be permanently offset by the benefits realized later, during and after the dust had settled, is one that I have mulled often and written about several times (for a look at those earlier posts, search “was it worth it?”). I realized fairly quickly that my own well-being had most definitely been improved by my choice, but that alone was not enough, because then I would be haunted by the pure selfishness of my decision. No, I needed to see that my children and my ex-husband had grown, improved, become better versions of themselves as a result of our family breakdown.

The question of my children remains to be seen, certainly, as they are still young and the full ramifications of our divorce have yet to have to manifest themselves. Later, when my daughters begin choosing and navigating relationships, then, perhaps, I will have a better sense of what they have actually learned from these experiences. For now I see only that they seem well-adjusted, with friends and decent grades and close bonds to both their dad and me. In fact, one recent morning, my 10-year-old informed me that she thinks our divorce has made her stronger and more compassionate. Huh. So, for now, I check that box as being as good and healthy as I could hope for and remind myself to wait and see what the future holds.

But then there is my ex-husband, Bryce. There have been many, many times since I first announced my intention to leave that I saw glimpses of remarkable personal growth in Bryce – self-awareness and openness I’d never witnessed previously in our 13 years together. Those glimpses offered me hope that our divorce would someday cease to be the worst thing that ever happened to him, and instead would be looked back upon as a fork in the road that led to a deeper happiness and peace in his life.

Have I mentioned that I’m a hopeless optimist sometimes?

Or at least that’s how I prefer to describe this part of myself. Others might label it naivete. Or foolishness. Or plain, old-fashioned stupidity. But I’m going to go with optimism. Faith in humankind. An overarching belief that most people genuinely do want to do and become better.

In one perfectly organized, perfectly courteous email sent to me at the end of October, Bryce revealed himself to me as the same man I stopped loving many years ago. The same man I left without much more than a glance over my shoulder. The same man who prioritized, above absolutely everything else, money. The same man who had tunnel vision on his own wants and needs to the extent that the girls and I simply didn’t factor in at all. At. All.

Ah, yes, I remember him.

When I read his email, with its passive-aggressive insinuations that I was not financially carrying my share of the water for our daughters, my first reaction was fear. Unemployed for 8 months at that point, with my savings running dangerously low and James’ slow season nearly upon us, I was already worrying – okay, beginning to panic – about money. But I hadn’t asked him for additional money during my unemployment, and had cut absolutely all fat from my budget (including decent health insurance for myself), in order to not have to cut back on the children’s expenses. I was doing absolutely everything I could to stay afloat, and he had to know that. So, his professorial tone and implied assumptions made my heart race. And that’s when the angel of Reality showed up and sat me down for a talk.

Alone in the house in the middle of the work day, I sat on the stairs, iPhone in hand, and re-read the email, seeing and absorbing each word carefully, allowing their full meaning to sink in, surrendering to the truth they carried.

“Okay,” I said out loud, “I get it now.” I saw what I had to do: First, I had to deal with the practical and logistical implications of the email. Then, later, I would sit down with the emotional truth within it.

The first part was easy. I called my attorney, discussed my legal obligations and options, and made arrangements for taking the necessary steps to stop the financial nonsense once and for all. They are steps that have been available to me for two years, but I have resisted taking out of my determination to maintain a solid, healthy, supportive relationship with Bryce for the benefit of my daughters. But his email helped me realize that he does not share my goal, or at least his commitment to it ends with financial considerations. I realized that I have been sacrificing my financial security for something that I value far more than he does, and while I would normally say that it’s healthy to follow my own values without reference to anyone else, there comes a point where one must accept that one is being taking advantage of. Being “nice” or “accommodating” can quickly be transformed into doormat status by those too self-absorbed to realize that they are on the receiving end of consideration. And just because he loathes paying child support does not decrease his obligation to do so. Knowing how much he hates it, I have tip-toed around the subject, to my own detriment, apparently. So, legal action may have to commence and I will deal with it as I would any other business arrangement. But, honestly, I have remarkably little anxiety about that.

After I hung up the phone with my attorney and gathered the necessary documents, I made myself a cup of hot tea and sat on my bedroom balcony, contemplating the Rockies spread out before me and wondering at the more subtle message in Bryce’s email.

I took a deep breath and willed myself to look back at our history. To honestly assess, as I might for a friend, the give and take in our relationship. I stared hard at the signs of his personal growth and at my own need to be assured of that growth. I examined the bias I had about which direction that growth should take and how it should manifest outwardly. I recognized the heaviness of the guilt that I carried about our divorce, and how desperately I still clung to the hope that Bryce would cease to be all the things that made me want to run away from him, as far and as fast as I could.

And then I realized that it doesn’t really matter. It doesn’t matter if Bryce grows at all from the divorce, or if he grows in direction or manner that is not of my preference. It doesn’t matter if he always harbors anger and resentment toward me for ruining his life. It doesn’t matter if he blames every single unhappiness he experiences on me and the divorce. It doesn’t matter if he clings to his swollen bank account with the certainty that it will bring him peace and security. Not really. Not to me. What he does with the lessons available to him from our divorce is outside my control and responsibility. His choices, his life, and his truth are not mine. Not any longer. I do not need to reference his happiness or growth to justify my own. It is entirely his choice whether to rise above his pain and create authentic happiness, or not. I have no control or responsibility over that. At. All.

Possibly, that is the beauty of divorce. At its very core, it is about no longer being emotionally responsible for or to each other. Your life becomes, again, your very own. I did not do something to him that requires atonement or restitution; our marriage failed because we were badly suited to one another and lacked the love and commitment to last a lifetime. He is not a victim, any more than I am. It is time for me cease to measure the success of my choices by how they affect him. Time to put on my Big Girl panties and approach my relationship with Bryce with the detachment and guarded civility with which he has consistently dealt with me. Time to let go of childish fantasies of friendship and closeness, and time to realize that I don’t actually need any of that.

Letting go of needing that approval from Bryce might be the final step in our divorce. Letting go of feeling that my happiness is undeserved unless it somehow feeds the greater good is difficult for me, but might be the biggest lesson I will ultimately learn from this process.

On the whole, of course, only time will reveal all of the effects of our divorce, but time is a phenomenal teacher, if only you allow her teachings to gently rest within you. That week, she taught me that I no longer need Bryce’s approval or friendship or happiness to enjoy my own.

And that’s worth more than the contents of any bank account.

letting go - kite

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boobs

One of my favorite bloggers, The Edmonton Tourist, published a post recently about how desperately so many women (she and I included) have struggled at times to be someone’s physical ideal.

Raised in North America and fed a steady diet of fashion magazine models, MTV video stars, and movie queens, I think we women fail to even realize a lot of the time how much we measure ourselves against certain criteria, and typically find ourselves lacking. I think we’re aware of it in a big picture sense; but the insidious little moments when those doubts whisper in the back of our brains are probably far more common than we notice. Sure, I think it gets better with age – most of my female peers are relatively content with their appearance – but certain aspects of our bodies remain or become trigger points of insecurity. We all know the usual culprits: thighs, tummies, butts, and, with age, wrinkles, grey hair, and flabby arms. But really, the list goes on and is super-dependent on our individual bodies and how we perceive them.

The men that we are with – particularly the ones granted the privilege of seeing us naked – are incredibly powerful determiners of our self-image. And it’s taken me a pathetically long time to realize that men have almost no idea how easily an off-hand compliment or put-down can completely alter our sense of what is beautiful about our bodies. It’s almost frightening how much control we cede to them in this regard,and how perpetually clueless they are of this power.

When I was younger, I took every male comment of this kind as an absolute. If a guy said my legs were hot, I assumed all men would think so. It wasn’t just his personal opinion; I extrapolated and assumed that I simply had empirically hot legs. But the same was true with negative comments. It wasn’t just one guy who thought I was “too pale.” No, my fair skin was basically ugly and something all future men would have to look past if they were to be attracted to me.

Then I grew up (or, rather, grew older…), and it finally dawned on me that the same things that one man might not like about me, might be another man’s favorite. Let’s visit my pale skin, for example. My skin is pale, yes. It does not tan. I will never look like a summer goddess in a swimsuit. But, it is also silky soft, even on my arms and legs, as more than one partner has commented on. So, one man’s “ick” factor might be another’s quiet fetish.

But what’s interesting to me is how persistently (and subconsciously!) I held on to certain ideals about female bodies, even armed with this perspective granted by maturity. It seems I am still coming face-to-face with my own pre-conceived notions. For instance, I am relatively tall – 5’7” – and have always seen that as an asset. All my female friends who are short want to be taller, my daughter Bryn, who is short, wants to be taller, my mother always wanted to be taller. But James, being only about 5’9” himself, has always preferred petite women – small and tiny, which I am not. It’s strange to confront the idea that something I’d always banked on as a physical asset might not be so in every relationship. Here was something I’d never even questioned, and yet it, like all other aspects of physical beauty, was in the eye of the beholder apparently. Does my height bother James? No, I don’t think so. But is it his perfect ideal? No, it’s not.

Then there are the flagrant, incorrect assumptions based on gossamer-thin evidence that we make about what our man might prefer. Maybe these assumptions are founded on off-the-cuff comments about actresses, old girlfriends, or even women on the street. A couple of comments about other women’s “great legs” and we may – without even realizing it – assume we’re with a guy who places a high priority on long, shapely legs. And so we file that away and critically examine whether our legs stand up to that ideal.

In the best relationships, of course, these ideals don’t really matter or affect the relationship in any identifiable way, but I would argue that they usually creep in and get in the way without us even noticing.

And this is where boobs come into my story.

One of the first things I noticed about James when we started dating was that he’s a Boob Guy. In my experience, most guys are particularly fond of a certain part of women’s bodies – he might be an Ass Man, a Leg Man, a Boob Guy… you get the idea. Before getting a real glimpse of the woman’s personality, he is likely to notice and appreciate some part of her physicality. Seems like it’s just male nature, and, frankly, I think women are pretty much the same way, except that we don’t talk about it all the time. I, for example, am an unabashed Chest and Arms Girl. Legs? Eh. Six-pack? Whatever. But give me a man with a broad shoulders, great pecs, and strong biceps, and I melt. Sad, but true.

So, anyway, James is a Boob Guy, and unashameably so. It’s like he can’t help it. He’s never rude or creepy about it, but I’m certain that his particular idea of Heaven involves lots of well-endowed girls in bikini tops. And, as best I can tell, he’s always been this way. There is a long line of relatively large-chested (some made by God, others by man) women in his past, and as soon as I realized this, the little worm of insecurity started wiggling in my brain.

Because I am not big-busted. I am a solid B-cup. Aside from the years when I was nursing my babies, I have never been any bigger. There’s nothing wrong with my breasts but there’s nothing amazing about them, either. Were a musician to wax poetic about my attributes, my breasts would likely fall into the Fine-but-Forgettable category. I’ve never particularly thought much about them. They’re there. They’re fine. They functioned as needed for my babies. But I’ve never used them socially or capitalized on them the way women more physically gifted than I seem to.

And then I ended up with a Boob Guy. After many months together, I realized that I was avoiding walking around bra-less or naked on top in James’ presence. When we were in bed, I would pull the sheet to cover myself without thinking. In fact, if I thought about it all, it was only to be grateful that he was so strongly attracted to me despite my breasts being not the best he’d seen.

But I was wrong.

One night, as I lay naked in his arms and we watched television, James commented – so casually that it took my breath away – that I had the most perfect breasts. Sincerely shocked, I looked at him to see if he was being facetious, but he wasn’t. In fact, continuing in the same tone, he very matter-of-factly enumerated what he loved about them. I was so stunned, I don’t think I even responded. Perfect breasts? Me???

The Moral of the Story should be obvious, but in case it’s not, I’ll spell it out for you: Men are more complicated than we give them credit for much of the time. What attracts and holds them is most definitely not as simple as the latest Cosmopolitan would like us to believe. There is truly no empirical ideal of female beauty, THANK GOD for that. Seriously. A man’s ability to appreciate and admire so many different aspects and manifestations of female beauty is a blessing and a wonderful treasure that we should never discount or ignore.

So, whatever part of your body you’re scared of showing off, or whatever piece of yourself you’ve been covering up in front of your guy, STOP. You never know what he’s thinking or how many parts of you make him totally, crazy hot. The fun is in the finding out.

So go find out. Right now. What are you waiting for?

cleavage

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