The line between honoring & dismissing

I am a sensitive person.  I have sensitive children.  None of this is news.

I have often in my life felt as though I have to get a grip, get over it, be less sensitive, be less intense, stop taking things personally.  These admonitions to myself are deeply embedded in my self-conscious, and I am frustrated with myself on a nearly daily basis.  I feel like my reactions are my fault.

Often, this is true.  I know it is.  When I wrote 10 Things I Want my Daughter to Know, to and for Grace, I included a specific point on this:

8. It is almost never about you.  What I mean is when people act in a way that hurts or makes you feel insecure, it is almost certainly about something happening inside of them, and not about you.  I struggle with this one mightily, and I have tried very, very hard never once to tell you you are being “too sensitive” or to “get over it” when you feel hurt.  Believe me, I know how feelings can slice your heart, even if your head knows otherwise.  But maybe, just maybe, it will help to remember that almost always other people are struggling with their own demons, even if they bump into you by accident.

It did not to take me long to realize I was writing to myself as much as I was writing to Grace.  These ten things – life lessons, central points about the human experience – were things I wanted to know, too.  This one for sure.  And I’m still struggling to learn it.

I’ve written before that parenting is an exercise in coming face-to-face with our own demons and flaws animate in another person.  Also, of course, our gifts and our deepest joys.  But it’s the demons and flaws that are on my mind right now.  When Grace and Whit come home with bruised feelings, I often feel torn about how to react.  I want to honor their reactions and sensitivities while not playing too much into them.  Does that make sense?  I don’t want them to develop the internal voice that I have, the one that says get over it already (not saying my parents gave this to me: they didn’t.  I’m not sure where it came from).  I do want to honor their feelings. And I do want to help them develop the coping skills not to be buffeted by their every reaction.

Sometimes I worry that responding too emotionally to their hurts will actually create anxiety for them – oh, wow, wait, there is a real reason to be worked up here!  I also fret that if they engage with me mostly or exclusively around hurt feelings, they’ll think that that’s the best way to get my attention.  But I know instinctively that telling them to not worry about it is dismissive and doesn’t validate what I know are authentic feelings.

What I try to do is to say I get it, I know that this hurts, and I would feel badly too, but you have to remember that it really isn’t that big a deal. Try to remember that it is likely not about you (again, a lesson I’m still learning, at 41).

I haven’t figured out how precisely to honor Grace and Whit’s feelings while simultaneously helping them learn to manage them.  Just one of parenthood’s many liminal areas, places where what I think is the right answer lies in a gray, murky zone.  Or maybe it’s not murky at all! Maybe saying I refuse to dismiss your feelings is crystal-clear.  And maybe saying you can feel something and at the same time choose to not be gutted by it is also entirely straightforward.  It doesn’t always feel that way, but maybe what’s muddying this matter for me is my own sometimes-intense empathizing.

I don’t know.  But I’ll keep trying to figure it out.

Get Lindsey's thoughts on mindful living and parenting in your inbox

taking this chaos and making a story

One of the greatest gifts of writing memoir is having a way to shape that chaos, looking at all the pieces side by side so they make more sense. It’s a supreme act of control to understand a life as a story that resonates with others. It’s not a diary. It’s taking this chaos and making a story out of it, attempting to make art out of it. When you’re a writer, what else is there to do?

– Dani Shapiro from Why We Write About Ourselves, ed. by Meredith Maran

Get Lindsey's thoughts on mindful living and parenting in your inbox

Things I Love Lately: book edition

I have read some great books recently, and so this month’s Things I Love is about them.  What have you read and loved lately?  I’d love to hear.

Catastrophic Happiness– I love, love, love, LOVED Catherine Newman’s new memoir.  I was honored to review Catherine’s book for Brain, Child, and that review is here.  I’m an unapologetic Catherine Newman fangirl and have been since, oh, the beginning of time. This book is just so wonderful.  I’m giving it to everyone I know.  I underlined basically the whole thing, and can’t possibly give you a favorite quote, so here are just two I adore: “I don’t always understand my own sadness. Me and my Achilles heart.” “Loss is ahead of us, behind us, woven into the very fabric of our happiness.”

In Twenty Years – Allison Winn Scotch’s new novel, out this summer, is flat-out marvelous.  No doubt I related particularly intensely to this story because Allison’s protagonists and I are the same age, and the details in their college flashbacks are incredibly resonant for me.  Beyond my personal identification, though, this is a poignant story about the formative friendships that stay with us, in ways difficult and wonderful, as we grow into adults.  It’s about the people who stood next to us as we became who we are, and the ways that history is braided throughout the present.

The Abundance: Narrative Essays Old and New – Annie Dillard’s book of essays is as spectacular as you’d imagine.  I love what Marilynne Robinson says (talk about one idol blurbing another) on the inside flyleaf: “Annie Dillard’s books are like comets, like celestial events that remind us that the reality we inhabit is itself a celestial event.”

Grace, Whit and I enjoyed a couple of new picture books recently, also:

Very Last First Time (Jan Andrews) – a reader recommended this book and I was worried it would make me incredibly sad because of the title alone.  But we finally read it and it was marvelous. A bittersweet story, for sure, but also one that explores a world I didn’t know about.  The story and the pictures are gorgeous.

Iggy Peck, Architect (Andrea Beaty) – we already love Rosie Revere, Engineer. In Beaty’s trademark lighthearted poetry and wonderful illustrations, this story talks about another resourceful, determined child.  It is inspiring and fun.  We are all looking forward to Ada Twist, Scientist.

I write these Things I Love posts approximately monthly.  You can find them all here.

Get Lindsey's thoughts on mindful living and parenting in your inbox

INFJ

IMG_0231

I have written at length about the Myers-Briggs, about my own type (INFJ), about how recognizing my introversion helped me understand my behaviors and preferences.  Susan Cain’s Quiet was an important book for me in that realization (and, as an aside, writing for her site, The Quiet Revolution, is a huge honor).  At the end of last week, I had a fascinating exchange with my friend Aidan Donnelley Rowley about introversion and understanding what that really means.

The topic was on my mind all weekend.  I’ve always been an introvert, I know that now, though for years I masqueraded as an extrovert.  That’s something I’ve heard many times from other I’s who function in the world as E’s.  My professional life requires me to be quite E, which means that when I’m not working I am even more I.  I am often quite spent by the end of the day, worn out from many hours of interacting with others.  That explains at least in part why I’m so loath to make social plans and why evening usually find my in my pajamas, with a book or my children (or both).

I admit it was an aha for me to realize that the various MBTI types are not proportionately represented in the world.  I assumed that each accounted for the same percentage of the population.  It was surprising – and confirming of a deep sense of other-ness that has suffused my experience as long as I can remember – to learn that INFJs are only 1.5% of the population.  I know three in my “real life,” and a great many more online.  It’s one of the great gifts of blogging, to be honest, that I’ve connected with so many kindred spirits in the ether, here and elsewhere.

Last summer Grace and Whit each did their first MBTI tests (simple, free on-line ones).  I was irrationally thrilled that I guessed both of their types 100% correctly before they did them.  They are quite different from each other (though both NF, as am I) which was not a surprise.  Whit is, like my mother, a roving extrovert.  I’ve written about her before, said that “she has always attracted people to her, and, like a sun, is surrounded by more orbiting planets than I can count.”  Many of my closest friends are also extroverts, and it took me a long time to realize that I was trying to replicate my mother, I think, getting close to another sun, familiar with that energy and that warmth.  Whit is like that too.

I know that not everyone is as smitten with the MBTI as I am, and that not everyone finds the introvert/extrovert distinction as  illuminating.  For me, though, the tool is hugely powerful.  It helps me understand myself and the ways that I respond to various environments and experiences.  Susan Cain’s description of the business school I attended was particularly helpful; I see now how I’ve compensated for my own natural predilection over the years.  I also understand the ways that my professional life affects how I behave in my personal life.

Another thing I learned, once I started reading about this topic, is that introversion, sensitivity, and shyness are three separate things.  They are correlated, and I am all three, but not everyone is.  Both shy extroverts and outgoing introverts exist.  I know some of each.  This was an incredibly helpful distinction for me to understand.

Are you an introvert?  Or are you an extrovert?  Do these terms help you understand yourself and how you experience the world?

Get Lindsey's thoughts on mindful living and parenting in your inbox

the mundane itself

“We don’t need great writing to tell us that obviously amazing things are amazing, just as we don’t need high-powered telescopes to tell us that the sun is warm. What we need from great writing, most urgently, is an understanding that the mundane itself—snails, fireplaces, shrubs, pebbles, socks, minor witticisms—is secretly amazing.”

– Annie Dillard

I’m reading The Abundance: Narrative Essays Old and New right now (WOW) and found this beautiful, perfect passage on Calm Things.  A Dillard day.  As they all are, really.

Get Lindsey's thoughts on mindful living and parenting in your inbox

On being in between

IMG_0589

I am in between.

Everything right now feels tentative, uncertain, transitional.  It’s not fully spring yet, but we’re basically out of winter.  I’m a full time professional but I am also a writer.  My children are tweens and teens, and their departure from my daily life looms on the horizon, but they are still here and they still need me (they need me even as they separate, and yes, sometimes it hurts a lot).  Everything feels like it’s in flux, though even as I write that I realize it almost always feels that way.

The one constant is change, no?  Like all cliches, that one has roots in deep truth.

I’ve never been fond of change.  And transition and the in-between is a place of discomfort for me. I’ve written before about my attraction to liminal worlds – the borders between light and dark, sea and land, day and night, child and adult.  Is it inconsistent for me to like those edges, and to acknowledge, for example, that it is dark that gives light its meaning, but to dislike change?  I don’t know.  Perhaps both of those things can be true.  Many years ago I was talking to someone who was talking about how she knew she’d be happy when X or Y was true.  Even then – I was in my early 20s – I recognized the fallacy of this way of thinking, and swore never to adopt it. Postponing living until some X or Y are achieved is a recipe or unhappiness and torment. I knew that then, and I know that now.

One thing I’m certain about is that the in-between is where life is lived. There is no arrival.  There is only getting there. It’s in the whitewater after a wave crashes that we see pieces of mica glittering. The tide is always going in and out. We are always in between, and so I wonder why some times feel more that way than others. I don’t have an answer for that. Right now is such a time for me. Learning to live with that truth, the fundamental instability of this human experience, is one of our central tasks.  That I know.

I know all that, and I still find it difficult.

Get Lindsey's thoughts on mindful living and parenting in your inbox

Alleluia

FullSizeRender

Last week I shared a quote from Paul Lisicky’s gorgeous memoir, The Narrow Door, about the life that the cup can’t hold without spilling.  I shared a shard of the same quote on Instagram, and asked “is all writing an attempt to capture some of what spills over our cups?”  I suspect it is.  I know that that’s precisely the goal of this blog, of why I started doing this almost 10 years ago.

Then, on Sunday, we went to church for Easter and I heard one of my favorite words over and over again: alleluia!  alleluia!  I kept thinking of the drops of life that spill from our memories – really, the torrent of life that we don’t recall.  That flood of drops is full of alleluias, isn’t it?

A few of mine, lately:

IMG_0470

For Whit’s backpack as he headed to Florida to visit Matt’s parents.  His four friends who sleep with him, still, a copy of Make magazine, and the new Rick Riordan hardback book.  Folks, this is my son in a single photo.  Alleluia.

IMG_0474

The crocuses in our backyard.  I love these for several reasons.  First, because I did not plant them, but they come up every year, this time, our 16th in this house.  Second, because I would not have noticed them unless Matt told me to go look.  And third, because they survived the late-March snowstorm we got in Boston and kept shining, bright, a harbinger of spring, a reminder that we are coming around again, always.  Alleluia.

IMG_0546

Picking Grace and Whit up at Logan after their week in Florida.  I felt grateful for the generosity of their grandparents, grateful for the intimate and comfortable relationship they share with those grandparents, grateful to have them back with me.  Alleluia.

IMG_0555

An upset win by Whit’s team in the quarterfinals of their playoffs.  Which Grace, Matt and I watched with my parents by our side.  I felt grateful for these grandparents, for their presence and nearness, for the relaxed and joyful dinner we had all together after the game.  Alleluia.

Get Lindsey's thoughts on mindful living and parenting in your inbox

the life the cup can’t possibly hold

So why don’t I remember more of the fun we must have had during her stay?… I need to say that there was delight when that visit has concentrated into two memories.  I don’t want to define that visit by only two memories. There is always more, isn’t there?  There is the life the cup can’t possibly hold without spilling.

-Paul Lisicky, The Narrow Door

Get Lindsey's thoughts on mindful living and parenting in your inbox

Choosing

IMG_0289

I shared this image on Instagram a few days ago.  This is what Sedona felt like – the sacred was all around us, and I couldn’t stop noticing it.  One day we went for the short hike up to the vortex on the property of our hotel.  We sat up there for a bit, talking to another guest, and Grace and Whit had lots of questions.  She was very nice, and told us all about the energy of the place.  I could tell that certain members of my family weren’t buying it.

As we walked down, though, Whit trailed behind with me.  He stopped briefly to examine the cairn he’d built on the way up, and I paused with him.  As he stood up he looked at me.  “I think I felt something,” he said quickly.

“Me too, Whit.”  I smiled, rubbed his shoulders, and we kept walking.

All week I felt the holiness in the air.  Maybe because I’d heard so much about it, who knows.  But whatever the reason, the very atmosphere in Sedona was charged with something both humming with vitality and deeply peaceful.  I thought about it a lot.  Annie Dillard rang in my head, alongside Barbara Brown Taylor (above, and the passage about altars I quoted on Monday): “What a hideout: Holiness lies spread and borne over the surface of time and stuff like color.”

And since coming home I’ve been thinking about choosing.  Do I choose to see the divinity all around me? It doesn’t feel like a choice, I can tell you that. We can remain open to the sacred that exists in our ordinary lives, of that much I’m sure.  But do we opt to see it, or does it just appear to some people?

Maybe this ambivalence about choosing what we see is connected to how I’ve always felt a little reservation about the notion that we choose happiness.  Do we choose joy?  I’m honestly not sure.  I don’t know that I choose how I am in the world – I’ve been porous since day one, and as I get older I’m getting more that way.  But is this something I choose?  I don’t think so.  It feels more like how I exist in the world, the way I’m wired, some kind of deep-seated default orientation. Not saying I wouldn’t choose it, but I’m not sure that I do.

How do you feel about the notion of choosing joy, or choosing receptivity to life’s holiness? 

Get Lindsey's thoughts on mindful living and parenting in your inbox

The Grand Canyon and Sedona

Last week was spring break.  I’ve written before about how important it is to both Matt and me that Grace and Whit see the world. That impulse has driven us to Jerusalem, to Washington DC, to the Galapagos, and to Paris.  Last week it took us to the Grand Canyon and to Sedona, Arizona.

IMG_0094

In the Grand Canyon we stayed at El Tovar, a historic hotel right on the canyon’s south rim.  It was old and beautiful.  The first day after a long drive (pro tip: meclizine for motion sickness) we walked around the rim and ogled the outrageously beautiful canyon. It really is hard to fathom, in its enormity and its glory.

We had a drink and dinner in the El Tovar bar and dining room, overlooking the canyon as night fell.  The next morning we woke up early to go on a mule ride along the rim.  Our guide, Josiah, was absolutely phenomenal: full of both information and good humor, entertaining, energetic, competent. It was beautiful to see the canyon on mules, and we definitely got views that we would not have had otherwise.  Whit’s mule was called Seymour, because he liked to get you nice and close the rim.  So you can see more, of course.

IMG_0326

Then it was off to Sedona.  Several people told me that I would love Sedona, and they were right.  There is a tangible peace and holiness to the place.  I kept thinking of Barbara Brown Taylor’s line from An Altar in the World that “earth is so thick with divine possibility that it is a wonder we can walk anywhere without cracking our shins on altars.”  We stayed at the Enchantment, and the views from the pool, our room, and the restaurant were all equally astonishing.

IMG_0106The red rocks, yes.  But also the blue sky!  Perfect, unbelievable blue, like I’ve never seen before.  We hiked, we hung out, we read books, we felt the energy vortex on the property.  At least Whit and I did.  I swear we did.  We did a few things we did that I’d really recommend.  The first and best known is a Pink Jeep Tour.  The driver (of an, indeed, pink jeep) took us way off-road into the national forest.  This afforded both some very exciting and bumpy riding and some breathtaking vistas.

IMG_0272

I am pretty sure that Grace will be taller than I am in 2016.  We also went out for an adventure with Catherine and Jef from Center Focus Adventures.  They were great.  We rock climbed and we white water kayaked.  Highly recommend.  Both Whit and Grace are incredibly inspired by rock climbing, and Matt and I loved watching them.

PicMonkey Collage

Finally, we went for a Cowboy Cookout at M Diamond Ranch.  This was a solid hour outside of Sedona, and I think because of that, it felt like we were the only people in the world.  We went for a ride (we were part of a group of 10) and then were driven to a beautiful spot at the top of a hill to watch sunset and enjoy steaks cooked on the grill while an older man sang country music.

IMG_0211

When we got home (on the redeye – everyone was a little bit luggage) I asked Matt, Grace, and Whit what their favorite part of our week was.  Everybody had a different answer.  That’s the mark of a good vacation in my opinion.  This is a huge and gorgeous country we live in, and I am glad to be showing Grace and Whit corners of it that are far away from where we live.

Note: this is not a sponsored post and these are not affiliate links.  I was not compensated in any way for these links.  I just loved our trip and several people have asked for our itinerary, so I wanted to share it.  If anyone wants more information, please email me or leave a comment and I’ll get in touch with you.

Get Lindsey's thoughts on mindful living and parenting in your inbox