This morning, I was looking at my kitchen in despair. I was thinking about all the boxes of Christmas decorations I've not yet carried down to the basement. I was measuring up all the boxes from our move that I haven't yet unpacked against those I have. I was stunned and overwhelmed by the sheer mass of plastic bags that engulf our laundry room, despite my frequently remembering to request paper. I was trying to figure out how everyone else's garage floor stays clean. Yes, everyone else on the planet surely has a cleaner garage floor than I do. I was wrinkling my nose at the horrid smell lingering in my car because I forgot my Indian leftovers in there too long & the smell, apparently, lives long after the actual food has been removed, even when everything is frozen. I was feeling horrified at all that needs to be done in the house before we leave for our wedding trip and our cat sitter comes into our home. In short, I was thinking of all my housecleaning and organizational failures and excoriating myself for not being a better housekeeper, for not being more organized, for not being the kind of woman who, like my friend Connie (who happens also to be our cat sitter), meets a challenge and tackles it right away, diving into closet-building & room-painting after moving in, rather than looking at all the boxes and imperfections and walking into another room to settle in to write or read or socialize online or cook or---well, do anything but something about it. I was knocking myself for not being the sort of person who goes out and clears the driveway, for being the sort of person who hires someone to mow the lawn and weed the beds. I was mad at myself because my house has never been and probably never will be the sort of home which is always company-ready. I was scolding myself, saying, "Well, if you're not going to be a proper housewife, then you should at least be 3/4 of the way finished with your novel and already have a book deal." Oh, I was really letting my mind monkeys chatter and chatter. And, let me tell you, even now, I am castigating myself for writing about this rather than cleaning house or going to Lowe's to get materials for bookshelves or something else useful and yet, here I sit at the keyboard.
We all have those tapes running in our heads. Those inner critics, telling us we will never be enough. For some of us, it's the dad who will never let us think we are good enough, even when we've become VP of Finance by the time we're 35. For others, it's the art school friends who think we've sold out when we take a commercial job that actually puts food on the table. Or it's the pastor telling us we are not godly because of who we love when all we wanted was some relationship guidance from someone we thought we could trust. Or it's a best friend who has always criticized our clothing choices and made us feel less-than. Or a co-worker who always talks about how crazy people are and how when he makes house calls, it's amazing what hoarders those people are, while we wonder what he would think if he could see our house and whether he tells other people we are mentally unstable. Or a brother who doesn't think we have the right to complain about our kids ever because we have three healthy kids while his wife miscarried. Or a music teacher who told us in no uncertain terms that we should just mouth the words at the winter concert, thus shutting down our very own singing voices ever after, no matter how much we love to sing. Or the guidance counselor who had such a narrow view of what success is that very few of us could fit within its confines. Or the Conference that won't ordain us if we don't affirm the doctrine they expect to hear, in the way they expect to hear it. Or the bully on the playground telling us we're weak and not worthy of companionship. Or the wife telling us we'll never measure up to her college boyfriend, who apparently hung the moon but never did it while holding a full-time job and helping raise children. Or the television shows that make it quite clear that people like us who have disabilities aren't really contributing members of society with our own value and worth. Or the commercials that prepared us for being grown women by talking about how a good wife never lets her husband suffer ring around the collar or her children play on a less-than-spotless floor. Or the magazines that tell us men must be well-muscled and rich while women should be slim and compliant. Or the fashion designers who would never risk their reputations by designing for fat people because it would ruin the look of their clothing to have people shaped like us wearing it. My tapes were running rampant and at full volume this morning and I was shoulding all over myself.
And then I thought. I thought, "Hey, I do some stuff. And I don't think badly of people who don't do that stuff. If someone doesn't cook, I don't assume it makes them inferior. If someone would rather go hiking than curl up with a book, I don't assume there's something wrong with them or they are intellectually lazy. If someone hates to write and would rather solve math problems or do science experiments, I don't think it reflects badly on their character. If someone would rather do just about anything than make an art piece, I don't scorn them. If someone has never worn a tiara in her life, I don't think she should just try harder to be a tiara-wearing kind of person."
So, let's knock it off. All of us. Let's start just being who we are. Let's be kinder to ourselves and quicker to notice our talents and special qualities than our shortcomings. And, above all, let's stop judging ourselves based on someone else's idea of what's right, what's normal, what's useful and good. Let's not apologize for bringing food from the market or a fast food joint to the potluck. Let's not spend all day cleaning before a party and then apologize for how messy our house is. Let's not avoid bible study because we are afraid we'll look ignorant. Let's not stay away from social contact when we're depressed or just pretend everything is okay when it's not. Let's not pretend we only like to read complex literary fiction or watch art house films when sometimes, we'd honestly really rather curl up with a James Patterson thriller or enjoy our popcorn to the latest superhero film. If we hate socializing, well, it's fine to stay in on Saturday night & enjoy our very own company. If church is not the place we find spiritually nourishing, it's okay to connect with Spirit in other ways. If coffee tastes like sludge from hell to us, why not just say we'd rather have a grape slushie? If a drag show is a whole lot more fun to us than the ballet, that doesn't mean we have no culture. If we are childless by choice or choose to co-sleep and nurse until the child decides he/she is ready or want to vaccinate our kids and put them on a feeding schedule or allow our boys to wear princess dresses or encourage our girls when they want to join the Army even though we brought them up to be pacifists or have a house without t.v. or let our kids watch all the Disney Channel they can stomach, let's let ourselves just be the kind of parent or not-parent we are. If our dogs are the only babies we need, well, by all means let's carry pics of them on our phones to show everyone. Let's stop with the guilt about not becoming the doctor or the activist or the musician or the teacher our parents wanted us to be. Let's stop worrying about whether we're doing it right and start enjoying the doing of it. Now. Today.
That said, let me excuse myself to continue getting the house more respectable-looking before we leave town.