Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Forgivness and the Beast

Yesterday on the way to softball practice Dotty was doing some of her math homework in the car. (Side note: These days we do a lot of things in the car such as homework, eat, sleep, get dressed, do our hair, and if we are in a pinch…wet wipes substitute as a shower sometimes.) This part of Dotty’s homework was a timed assignment. She had two minutes to answer all 25 math problems. After the two minutes were up I was supposed to check them.

Sixty-five seconds into the assignment Dotty yells “DONE!”

I replied “You still have some time left…why don’t you use that time to double check your answers.”

Dotty’s head went back down. Twenty seconds later Dotty announces “I am done checking them!”

She couldn’t even wait until I could stop to look over the sheet. She started calling out the problem and her answer so I could verify she was correct.

Dotty – 4+2=6
Me – Correct
Dotty – 2+6=8
Me - Correct
Dotty – 2+8=10
Me – Correct
Dotty – 1+2=3
Me – Correct
And so on and so forth.

About halfway down I hear “6+2=7”
Me – Ummm…what?
Dotty – 6+2=7 (she repeated in her best second grade sarcastic tone)
Me – Noooooo. Actually it doesn’t.
Dotty - ……..

She then starts wailing about how she meant to put down 8 and how I just had to let her change it. I calmly said that not only did she have time to get it right the first time but she also had time to check her answers and that I was in fact going to count it wrong since it would have been wrong if her teacher would have checked it. (We have had problems with Dotty rushing through her work so I was trying to prove a point.)

Oh the wailing and gnashing of teeth was quite the show. Dotty threw her papers into the floorboard of my car…chunked her pencil at the dash…kicked the seat with her heels with such violence I thought she might hurt herself and proceeded to scream like a possessed child.

I sat across from her gripping the steering wheel like I was holding on to a rope for dear life as I dangled over the edge of cliff. Because I was in fact standing on the edge of a cliff. The cliff was Rational Mom. The valley below was Crazy Mom. Not only was I about to fall into the valley…I was almost ready to jump willingly and with gusto into the valley.

I took five calming breaths and I noticed Dotty was taking a few breaths herself (only hers sounded like growls). Through gritted teeth I said “That is quite enough Dotty. What on earth has gotten into you to act like that?”

It was a question I wasn’t expecting her to answer but she did…loudly.

“I knew the answer…I KNEW IT!!!” Dotty yelled at the window.

Just as I was about to match her volume and surpass it by about three octaves I caught her profile out of the corner of my eye.

Dotty was sitting in the seat hunched over…head down…lose hairs falling over her face…arms crossed tightly across her chest…and her lower lip stuck out about three feet.

I was shocked.

She looked just like a picture of me from when I was a little girl even younger than Dotty is now.

That is when I realized it.

Poor kid is so much like me it is scary.

I too HATE to be wrong. I too can throw some hellacious fits when I get angry and frustrated and mostly with myself. I too am a perfectionist. I too have chunked pencils across rooms as recently as last week. I too can go overboard. I too can be mad at everything and everyone in a matter of milliseconds. I too can be so mad at myself I will literally cause myself bodily harm without even caring that I hurt myself.

Dotty is just like me in so many ways…and I think…no…I know…that is why I react so strongly to her outbursts…because I don’t like it that I have them myself so I really don’t want her to have them!

I backed away from the valley of Crazy Mom and headed down the cliff to the land of Loving Mom and in a calm voice said the only thing I knew to say…

“Dotty…it is okay to make mistakes. We all do. You can’t be perfect all the time.”

I saw Dotty tuck her chin down closer to her chest, wrap her arms tighter around her and her lip went out about another foot. She was digging her heels into this fit and she was not coming out without a fight.

I knew the other thoughts I had about being easier on herself and being okay with getting wrong answers were not the way to go. I had heard the same things from my parents, teachers, coaches, friends, employers, employees, and even from a few strangers who were witnesses to my wrath of anger and none of the things they had said had helped either.

I am still a 36 year old woman who will rip about three feet of calculator tape out of an adding machine if I can’t get the same total to come up twice after about four tries. I have left a painting class that was supposed to be a fun night out with friends only to come home and with a vengeance throw my finished project into the trashcan and slam the lid so loud the neighbors three doors down thought we had experienced an earthquake.

Nope. The words that were originally on my mind were not going to help Dotty at this particular moment. Or at least they had not helped me…so I went another direction.

I softly patted Dotty’s elbow and said “I struggle with my anger and frustration daily. Every day I have to work to keep it from coming out of me like a beast that hasn’t been fed in days. I can feel it boiling up and I try to push it down again and again…but sometimes I can’t. Those are the times I yell and slam down my purse and stomp around the house. Those are the times I regret the most. Because when the beast of my anger and frustration goes back to its cave I have to deal with the wreckage it caused and sometimes that wreckage is the look I see on your face Dotty. When I see what all damage my anger caused I have to clean up my mess. Sometimes I have to physically pick up things I threw around like my purse or the bags of groceries…and sometimes I have to pick up your spirit and feelings that I crushed when I let the beast rage like it did.

I never like it when the beast comes out and I always regret it. I have to ask forgiveness from God for my actions…from you and others for my actions…and then I have to do the hardest part of all…I have to ask myself for forgiveness too.

Forgiving myself is so hard. I am my toughest critic. I can beat myself up over the smallest things. I set standards for myself that I would never hold anyone else to and when I fail I tell myself I am a failure. I call myself horrible names and I hurt my own feelings. I am my own biggest bully.

I am also working on not doing that to myself anymore. I am working on loving myself more…being more compassionate and forgiving. It isn’t easy…I still have a lot of work to do but I ask God to help me every day.

I don’t know what thoughts go through your head when you make a mistake but I can guess and I bet I would be pretty close…because I had those thoughts too…and still do. But the thoughts we think are not always the truth…and we can control our thoughts…and we can change them. We can say nicer things in our heads. We can become our own cheerleaders in our own minds.

God knows we are not perfect. He made us to be imperfect people so we would rely on Him to help us while we are here on earth. God wants us to turn to Him and ask for help. He wants to help us…with everything…including the beasts that live inside all of us.

God lives inside us too…and He is full of love, patience, kindness, mercy and grace. We just have to seek Him out when we feel the beast waking up.

I know you hate to get things wrong and I know you hate to be corrected especially by me…because you want me to see you as perfect…and I do…in so many ways. You are my perfect gift from God. He was perfectly correct when He gave me you.

I want you to know that even when your beast is raging and you are being mean to everyone including me and including yourself that is when I am going to love and support you the most. When you are tearing yourself down and become your own worst enemy I will be your biggest fan and your loudest cheerleader. When you make what you feel like is the worst mistake ever I will reassure you that everything will be okay. If the whole world turns against you and you agree with that world, then you will all have to fight me…because I will be fighting for you!”

We pulled up to practice about that time and I wasn’t sure if I was getting through to Dotty but after practice when we got back in the car she picked up her papers out of the floorboard, found her pencil, and help my hand the whole way home.

We didn’t talk much on the way home…I guess I had said a lot and she was afraid I would go for Part Two or something. I don’t know what Dotty was thinking but I was thinking about several things.

#1 I need to watch how hard I come down on Dotty when she makes mistakes in school, sports, and life because I need to remember she is coming down hard on herself already. Compounding the problem won’t make it better but could make it much, much worse.

#2 I need to take my own advice and stop feeding the beast on such a regular basis. While I know God will forgive me, I also know how hard it is to forgive myself when I get so angry and frustrated and take it out on others and myself. I need to stop before the beast takes over and ask God for His help to put the beast back in its cave.

#3 Forgiveness is so easy to give to others but so hard to give to ourselves. I still struggle with this one most of all. If I expect Dotty to be able to forgive herself I need to lead by example and be more forgiving of myself.

I love the fact that Dotty and I have the same blue eyes, the same dimple, the same love of Disney movies and tv shows, the same love to dance and get our groove on, the same love of cheesecake, and so many other things. I love how much she resembles me and my personality in a lot of ways.

But my heart breaks for the negative traits that are being passed down to her either by nature or nurture. In many ways she is a copy of me. Sometimes that scares me. I want to pass along all my good characteristics and none of my bad ones but unfortunately they are all tangled up together in the hot mess that makes me…me.

The best thing I can do I guess is show her what I am learning…how to love ourselves in spite of ourselves sometimes

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Best is good...Better is best...

I am that mom. And I hate it.

I am that mom who sees an 88 on a second grade test paper and thinks "How is she going to be valedictorian if she keeps getting 88s???"

I am that mom who has her child reading her AR book on the way to school in the morning even though we read it five times the night before, quizzes her on spelling words while she takes a bath, and tries to squeeze in vocabulary words during the nightly prayer.

I am that mom who randomly and without warning (and possibly in the middle of a sentence just to see if she is paying attention) will demand her child answer "What is 9+9?? should know this by now!"

I am that mom who watches her child miss pitch after pitch when she is at batting practice or ball after ball when she is playing first base and I think "How will she make varsity as a freshman if she can't hit or catch a stinking ball???"

I am that mom who wonders if we can squeeze in private softball lessons into the only free night we have that week?

I am that mom who heads to Academy to buy every piece of catcher's gear because they tried my kid in that position for five minutes during a practice and in my mind she might be the female version of Pudge Rodriquez someday.

I am that mom who thinks my kid should be exposed to every sport and extra curricular activity in case she is the next Serena Williams...or Dara Torres...or Dorothy Hamill...or Mia Hamm...or even the next...Taylor Swift...or Maya Angelou.

I push. I push when I tell myself I shouldn't push. I push when I tell myself she is smart enough...or talented enough...or strong enough to handle being pushed.

I push until she breaks. And then I break because I failed as a parent and hurt my kid.

My kid is only 8 years old and she already knows what it looks like to see her mom disappointed when I look into the folder of her backpack or when I watch from the sidelines. She knows. She has seen my face...she has heard me yell...she has heard my silence.

She knows.

And she is a competitive perfectionist herself which makes this situation even crazier. She hates to not be the best. She hates to mess up. She hates to get answers wrong. She REALLY hates to be corrected...ESPECIALLY by me or her dad.

So Friday night as I was driving home from a football game getting text messages about how Dotty's first slumber party was going at her dad's house I found myself not thinking about five little girls being silly, or playing dress up, or watching movies, or giggling with each other.

No...I found myself thinking how else I could get Dotty to be better. How I could get her to get 100s more often than almost always. How I could get her to be perfect.

Then it hit me...not another vehicle...although the impact of my realization did bring about physical pain.

I was that kid who strived for perfection in every area. I was that student who had stomach ulcers in high school from worrying about grades. I was that player who loved sports but never really enjoyed them because I was so worried about messing up. I was that friend who wanted everyone to like me so much I didn't like myself very much.

I was also valedictorian. I also did make the varsity basketball team as a freshman. If you look at my high school and college resume you might be very impressed. And I will say I loved being good and smart and successful. I still do. I still push to be perfect.

But I am also the adult who has spent many hours in counseling working on my addiction to perfection. I no longer get "graded" and without those grades I have lost a lot of validation that I am still "good enough". I no longer play sports in which whole towns cheer for me and my team and now it is hard to be my own cheering section.

As all this hit me so suddenly Friday night I pulled my car over. I could barely breath under all this new insight.

I sat there thinking to myself..."How much good did being valedictorian or on varsity really do me in the long run???" Yes I got scholarships that were very helpful and yes I learned how to work hard both in school and in sports and I carry that work ethic over into my every day life. But when high school and college were all said and done...what did a 4.0 GPA or a letter jacket with a bunch of patches on it really mean now at almost 36 years of age.


So I had to reevaluate what I really want Dotty to learn in school and sports and extra curricular activities and life in general.

I want her to learn how to be a good person. I want her to learn how to be kind and compassionate. I want her to learn how to help those who can't help themselves. I want her to learn what really makes her happy (not what will make her momma happy). I want her to learn how to be her own #1 fan. I want her to learn how to fail...and then try again...and then fail again...and still be okay. I want her to love herself. I want her to know that nothing...and no one is perfect. I want her to learn to do her best and then to let the rest go.

I am a big believer in the power of positive sayings and if you walk into my house you will see post-it notes all over surfaces with positive affirmations written on them. My newest favorite that I heard the other day is "Best is good...Better is best".

I have it written on several notes throughout the house and I asked Dotty if she knew what it meant.

"Nope...but I bet you are going to tell me" she said with her best second grade sarcastic voice.

I explained to her that being the best is isn't bad to be the best and in fact it is good to be...but just trying to make ourselves better is really the best way to look at life. Every day we should wake up and try to make ourselves not the best...not perfect...but simply better than we were.

My favorite Maya Angelou quote is "when you know better you do better" and I swear this is my mantra for life and especially for parenting.

I still struggle with my addiction to perfection but I am trying to get better.

As her mom I don't want to pass this addiction onto my sweet girl. I want her to be better than me. I want her to be happier and healthier and whole. I want her to work hard and try hard and do her best but I don't want her to feel like she has to be perfect to be accepted or okay or loved.

So my homework as a parent is to practice letting go of the ideas that my kid can or should be the best at anything and to simply let her be the best Dotty she can be. After all the world has lots of valedictorians and people who can hit homeruns but in this world there is only one Dotty.