Friday, October 28, 2011

And the award goes to...

This morning Troy and I went to Evan’s school to watch him receive an award. I assumed it was something academic, as that’s Evan’s thing. He’s the kid that asks to do “extra” homework because it’s fun.  Instead, I was happy to find that he was given the “Character Trait Award” that read:

For Evan Dexter: In recognition of demonstrating HONESTY.

I can not tell you how my heart swelled with pride. In my twenty-six years of parenting, this has been the trait I’ve stressed most to my children. And really, based on my life’s work, could there be a better award for my kid?

Just this morning as I was packing his lunch, he stopped me from putting a sweet granola bar in his backpack. “Mommy, you said no sweets for the week because I said a bad word yesterday, remember?”

And a few days ago, he and Ben had their first scrape with “the law”. Yes, that’s right. Our little five and six year old hoodlums got into a world of trouble.

On Sunday, Erin, Beth, Troy and I had spent the afternoon playing baseball with our boys. Afterward, Evan went to Ben’s to play. When I later called to check in, Erin sounded upset. “We have a situation…” she said. Erin and Beth’s neighbor had come to warn them that vandals were running loose in the neighborhood, and had smashed out the window of their Lexus. No worries, he assured her, we’ve called the police and they’re on their way.

Erin thanked him and shut the door, when Beth said, “Uh…did you check with the boys? They’re in the back yard.”

It turns out, Evan and Ben were continuing to practice baseball by seeing how far they could throw big rocks. Over the fence.

Troy and I rushed over, and the four of us sat the boys down to have a talk. We made sure they understood the seriousness of throwing rocks, and that even though it was an accident, they would have to take responsibility and tell the police. Evan processed the situation, as he often does, by drawing it out on paper.

We walked the boys next door, and they apologized to the neighbors (for a second time. Beth had taken them over immediately when she first found out.) We made sure they saw the damage the rocks had caused. Then we waited for the police.

As the two officers strolled up in their intimidating uniforms, billy clubs and guns in hosters, the lead officer said, “Okay, who can explain what’s going on here?” and before any of us could get a word out, Evan stepped up and said, “Mr. Policeman, we did it!” Ben nodded his head, “Yeah, we did it.”
“Well, Thank you for being honest boys.”  The officer shook their hands.
Evan continued, “Me and Ben were throwing rocks over the fence but it was a accident and here’s my drawing.”
The officer took the drawing, looked closely at it, then back at Ben and Evan. He was silent for a moment. Here comes the big lecture…I thought. This is good.
“I’m going to have to arrest you two…” he broke into a smile, “for being ADORABLE!” He chuckled, “You two are the cutest kids I’ve ever seen!”
Beth and I stood behind the boys, frowning and shaking our heads. This was not the intimidating life lesson we’d hoped for.
“But throwing rocks is BAD, right Officer?” I added.
“Yes, don’t throw rocks anymore, boys, okay?” 
They nodded, jumping up and down with glee. The officer looked back to Beth and I smiling. “Seriously, those guys are so cute…”
Ben asked Evan, “What’s gonna happen now?”
“Don’t worry Ben, we’re not in trouble! He thinks we’re cute!”
Beth was immediately on it. “Hey- you still have to take responsibility for this.”

After the police left, we sat the boys down again and told them they’d have to do some extra chores to help pay for the TWO brand new Lexuses that were damaged. (We’re still waiting to hear back for insurance on that…dreading the answer.)
Evan was excited about it. “Can we make a chores chart? Can I pick up trash? And sweep?”

I’ve had my ups and downs, my failures as a person and a mom, but one thing I’m proud of is teaching my kids to be honest. The most trouble Taylor ever got into as a kid was for telling a lie. It was over a silly thing (brushing his teeth) but I treated it with huge seriousness. I told him - when you tell a lie, you break trust with people. Your friends and family won’t believe in your words anymore. I won’t get mad at you for making a mistake, but I will always get mad at you for lying. In our house, lying was the most serious offense of all. Taylor threw himself face down on his bed and sobbed his eyes out for twenty minutes. Cristen, who was then about twelve, went and sat beside him, rubbing his back.
“Why are you crying, boopy-nose?”
“I TOLD A LIE!” He sobbed into his pillow.

Today, my daughter Cristen tells it like it is. She stands in her truth, lives her life on her own terms and, believe me, she doesn’t hold anything back.
Taylor is living a life of integrity and responsibility, and passing it down to his own son.
And Evan has just passed his first big “life test”.

I know it was just a silly little school award today, but I took it as a huge sign from the Universe that we’re on track.

As I know all too well, being honest does not win you friends, rarely are you rewarded for it, and never are you “awarded”. The true reward is the self-trust and self-respect you gain.  Living with integrity brings an inner peace – and that is what I want my kids to have.

The award today? Just icing on that cake.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Hollye and Amy Ferris discuss the finer points of BLURG

Hollye and Amy in tiaras.
(from Amy Ferris)
Okay, so Hollye and I had our Monday morning with Hollye & Amy talk. Sort of like Tuesdays with Morrie, but ... not. And, as usual, we caught up with life and each other and ... talked about shame. Our shame, our Shame Prom facebook page, and our hot off the presses spanking new gorgeous website, and our anthology - THE SHAME PROM. Holy Batwoman! And we realized, found that we - Hollye and I - are somewhat ashamed that we're not getting enough traction and "likes" on our Shame Prom Facebook page. People are not lining up to watch our fabulously funny shame out-takes and videos on YouTube, folks are not lining up to like us. 

Luckily, I was still in bed, and could creep and crawl under the covers. I mean, here we are, two amazing women with unbelievable accomplishments not to mention husbands and friends, and we're trying to understand why folks are having an allergic reaction to our brilliant and LIFE CHANGING movement - the SHAME PROM movement. And then it happened, Hollye said five magical words: DANCING AT THE SHAME PROM... and in that moment, I pushed the covers off of me (okay, more figuratively than literally) and I smiled and I said to Hollye, God, that's brilliant. It feels so happy, celebratory. It feels less sad. Less tragic. And of course Hollye made it even sound sexy, and no longer scary. 

The thing is (and I will let Hollye continue this thought, idea, realization... epiphany) we want everyone to celebrate their shameful experiences. The one's that make us cringe. Crawl into a ball. Hide under the covers. Change our phone numbers. We want to share our stories, release the gunk, prove we're not alone in doing silly, stupid, hurtful, painful, and unbearable things. We want to open the doors - literally - and dance to the beat of our own - and others - bravery and courage. 
We're finding SHAME has a very bad reputation, not to mention a really bad rap. 
We want to change that. 
Okay, here's Hollye ...

Yep. We discovered that although we rejoice in the releasing of it, most people are repelled by the word  “Shame”. They don’t want to “Like” it, or watch You Tube videos about it, and GOOD GOD NO they don’t want to talk about it. The word alone carries a negative connotation. When someone said “Shame on you” it meant you were a BAD person who had done a BAD thing. Most of us have come to a point in our lives where we feel we are done with that bullshit. I know I am.

But shame is sneaky. 

It hid itself in the corners of my psyche, in the stories I didn’t tell. It lodged itself in my heart in the moment that I let someone else define me, or control me, or belittle me. It hung over me like a sad umbrella, keeping the sun away. And until I learned how to find it, it was keeping me small. Very small.

Our objective with this anthology is to RELEASE it, to sweep it out of the corners and shoo it away, and we want you to join us! We want to connect with you and share this glorious feeling.  But there’s that problem…that icky word.

Okay so how about we don’t call it shame. Let’s call it “blurg”.

I felt blurg in my childhood because my father was in prison, and because of things people did to me, and because I thought I was a mistake and didn’t belong anywhere.

I felt it as a young woman when I betrayed myself trying to gain someone else’s love, or when I shared my body with someone who did not value me.

So I wrote a book and got it all out and it changed me. And although I’ve more or less healed myself of the past shame, er, I mean, BLURG,  it still creeps up on me. I start to feel it when I chide myself for gaining five pounds, when I see the age in my face that society tells me is not acceptable, when I’m the only one at the dinner party who doesn’t get the intellectual reference because I’m a college dropout.

Yes, I feel BLURG.

Oh, that’s ridiculous. Let’s call it what it is - it’s SHAME. A universal emotion, just like fear, love, jealousy, desire. It’s what makes us human. It's what binds us. Connects us. Lifts us. Spurs us into action. 

(From Amy and Hollye)
Dancing at the Shame Prom was conceived and born out of courage, passion, compassion, joy, and self-awareness. It's not a place for wallowing in self-pity, or sorrow. Well, you can wallow for just a little bit, but we're grabbing your hand, and we're taking you out onto the dance floor, and we’re not letting BLURG hold any of us back any more. 

Care to dance with us?
*start small...tell us a tiny little story that you never tell. post it anonymously if you like. Go on...get it out. you'll feel better. Here's my story...

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Being True to You

Ophelia's art poster:
Yesterday I watched an online discussion between Martha Beck and Oprah, following Oprah’s life class entitled “The Truth Will Set You Free”. This of course was of interest to me as my life’s work is centered in this issue.

Martha Beck had a spiritual experience while undergoing a surgery, and it changed they way she lived. She had been touched by a divine love, and the only way she could come close to experiencing that feeling again was to live in absolute truth. The alternative became too painful. She could no longer say yes when she meant no, or do work she didn’t believe in, or be in a relationship based on false selves.

This was the part of the conversation that riveted me. She said that if you are in a relationship in which you can not truly be yourself- meaning you can’t say what you really think or feel for fear of the other person rejecting you- then you are presenting a “false self” to the relationship, and therefore it is a “false relationship”. I could instantly flash on several relationships in my life past and present that fit that bill. And it made me wonder…If I’m not being myself so I won’t lose the relationship, but it’s a false relationship, then what am I really losing?

I can recall countless work or family functions I’ve attended where everyone forces a smile while simmering with resentment underneath. Or times I’ve said yes when I really meant no. And this is what I think shame really is. It’s when your actions are not in alignment with your heart. Shame is born in the moment that you betray yourself.

And yet most of us live this way.

So why do we do this? Why would we ever live a life that is not true? Why do we betray ourselves? Why do we say one thing and do another?

What do we gain by living this way? And more importantly, what do we lose?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Blue Hawaii

I have been blue all week, a deep sadness welling up inside me at random moments. It has really caught me off guard. No surprise that I also lost my voice this week.

One of the triggers is that tomorrow is Grandparent’s day at Evan’s school. They had to write and talk about it all week, and tomorrow the kids’ grandparents are coming to class for a celebration. This upset me. What about all the little kids who will have no one there for them tomorrow, like my son? Troy’s parents are in New Mexico, and my Dad is in Texas, and then there’s my mother who lives only twenty minutes away but doesn’t know Evan at all.

And perhaps the true source of my sadness, I just found out, through the grapevine, that my mother is moving to Hawaii next week.

My mother and I have been estranged for ten years. The rift between us was not a result of some petty squabble. In my extended family, there has been sexual impropriety, drug use and abuse, and, on the women’s part, enabling and denial. I made the choice to break the silence, and therefore break the cycle. I was rewarded for my honesty by being outcast, and then blamed for breaking up the family.

We tried to set it right again. We went to therapy, but my mother quit. She said she couldn’t afford it (then went on vacation to Costa Rica, and remodeled her house). We tried without therapists. We met in a park a few years ago to talk things through. I brought Evan who was only two at the time. My mother’s anger took on a life of its own, like a feral cat backed into a corner, hissing and clawing, and all of it directed at me. And there was sweet little Evan, witnessing it all.

I made the choice to protect my own children from that toxicity. I know in my heart it was the right thing to do. But when Grandparent’s day rolls around, it still hurts.

I realized that what I am experiencing is mourning. I still held on to a thin thread of hope for my mother and I. They say times heals…I was waiting. I kept telling myself, any day now, something’s gonna shift. But it never did, and now that she’s leaving, the thread of hope was snipped for good.

The bridge between us was not only burned, it was blown to smithereens.  This is not something that could be fixed long distance over the phone, or without professional help.

So as my mother packs her things and prepares for her new life, I am mourning the death of hope, and of possibility that things could ever be different.

I’ll give Evan pictures of his grandparents to take to school tomorrow. He may grow up without grandparent’s at his birthday parties, recitals or school events, but there is certainly no shortage of love surrounding him. As long as we have love, we can get through anything.

As for my mother, I wish her peace in her heart, and a beautiful life in paradise.
As the sun sets on our relationship, I guess there’s nothing else to say for now but…
Aloha, Mom.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Gossip Girl

 Years ago, the “Gladys Kravitz” of our neighborhood told me that one of our local handymen was a pedophile. No one else in the neighborhood ever confirmed that, and this woman told me many other things about neighbors that proved to be untrue. Still, every time I saw that man I grabbed my kids and pulled them inside. She had tainted my opinion of him forever, and he was most likely innocent.

Gossip spreads like virus, and causes irreparable damage. You may one day have a change of heart and forgive the person you are maligning. But it’s too late. Opinions have been formed based on your words.

I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing to talk - we’re all interested in each other’s lives. What’s important is intent. Are you talking about a friend to knock them down a peg? Are you vilifying them to make yourself look like the good guy? Are you trying to lower others’ opinions of them?

Or are you coming from a place of love?

This reminds me of an old Jewish proverb:

A man went about his community telling malicious lies about the town Rabbi. Later, he began to feel remorse. He went to the rabbi and begged his forgiveness, saying he would do anything to make amends. The rabbi told him, "Take a feather pillow, cut it open, and scatter the feathers to the winds." The man did it gladly. When he returned, the rabbi said, "Now, go and gather the feathers. Because you can no more recollect the damage your words have done than you can recollect the feathers."

So keep this in mind. If you’re going to be a gossip girl, once you’ve fired off your missives, you’ll never be able to put those bullets back in the gun. Or the feathers in the pillow.

Whoopi Goldberg had a great line in The Color Purple:

“Everything you done to me, you already done to yourself.”

No truer words were ever spoken. The damage you do to others in spreading malicious gossip will always be with you, and will ultimately hurt you in the end.

The moral of the story?
Words have power. Wield them wisely.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Judge not...or do. Whatevs.

“When you judge someone, you do not define them. 
You simply define yourself as someone who needs to judge.” 
– Wayne Dyer

We all make judgments every day; I like this, I don’t like that. I don’t like the way he drives. I like the way she dresses. We pick and choose what’s right for us from the judgments we make. But most people spend an inordinate amount of time talking about and judging others. (…aaand that’s why we love reality TV.)

I used to make judgments on my friends lives, because I was a “fixer”. I’d obsess over their missteps; “Why does so and so keep choosing the same abusive guy?” “Why is so and so spending money she doesn’t have? She’s going to end up in debt!” And then I’d set out to “fix” them. A lot of my sentences began with “What you should do is…” until one day a friend spoke up. “Let me make my own mistakes. I’ll deal with the consequences.” And I totally got it. It was her journey, and she’d find her own way, just as I had to find mine. Maybe she needed to be with the wrong guy to learn something about herself. Maybe she needed to go into debt to learn how to manage money. Who knew? It wasn’t my job to fix anyone but me. And it was time I switched my focus.

I spent the next decade in and out of therapy, doing yoga, meditating, reading, unraveling my past by writing a book. I was intent on fixing my own issues. I would still be a shoulder for my friends when they had a problem, but I listened, and put faith in them to solve their own problems.

In doing this long decade of inner work, I realized that none of us is perfect, and mistakes are a necessity in this school called life. I forgave myself for my flaws and my own missteps. I accepted myself as an imperfect human being in an imperfect world, and that’s when things began to shift inside of me.

When I stopped judging myself, I no longer felt the desire to judge others.
When I made peace with myself, I was at peace with others.
When I was happy with me, I didn’t need anyone else’s validation.
When judgment and criticism came, I no longer doubted myself, because I knew where my heart was centered.

The greatest thing about getting older is the wisdom and inner peace it can bring. When my heart is at peace, I like myself. It’s okay if others don’t like me. I like me.

I am careful with my words and judgments now. I certainly slip up more than I should, but I bring myself back to center by reminding myself of Maya Angelou’s wise words:

"A person’s speech is a mirror to her or his soul."

Every day I ask myself, What do my words say about me?

“Judge not, lest ye be judged.” That’s what the bible says. But even if I choose not to judge, others will most likely still judge me. But you know what? It’s none of my business what anyone thinks about me.

It’s not my job to prove to anyone who I am. My job is to be the best me I can be, and to keep myself centered in a positive place.

If I do that, my life will speak for itself.