Too much

It seems like for the majority of my life, I have had a hard time fitting in.

Maybe ‘fitting in’ is the wrong term.

I have just always felt like there times I was out of place.

A feeling of just being the odd one out or somewhat slightly different.

It may stem from childhood, being overweight in a sea of skinny kids and always being a little bit different than the other kids in some way.

In addition to my shortcomings and inadequacies, there have always been moments where I have been accused of being too much of something.

Too mouthy.

Too independent.

Too stubborn.

Too loud.

Too quiet.

Practically every personality trait you can imagine was reduced to being an annoying characteristic.

Some of these things I couldn’t even control.

I couldn’t stop being independent; it was the only way I knew how to be.

Stubborn was part of my nature; being loud came from having a grandfather who was partially deaf. My normal inside voice was probably two octaves above someone at a sporting event.

Being too quiet was only mentioned in cases where I didn’t like someone or felt even more self-conscious of my environment.

Needless to say, being accused of being too much anything has made me feel like I don’t fit in even more.

“It’s okay to be too much,” Mama told me one day.

“I don’t know about that,” I replied.

“It is,” she said. “You come from a line of women that have been too much. I could be too much where you were concerned. Or when things were unfair at work. Being too much is perfectly fine when you are making sure everyone is being treated fairly or being the voice for those who can’t stand up for themselves.

And Granny, as you are aware, was always too much. She was too strident and too harsh at times, but only when she needed to be.”

Mama was right in both of those regards. She had the juxtaposition of being too nice at times to be too scary when it was necessary. Granny’s personality was best described as strong and formidable because she was too independent.

“I feel like I can’t be myself, though,” I said.

I didn’t. I have felt like I can’t say what I really think sometimes because I will be called too much of a shrew.

I have shrunk myself down to where I want to be invisible, so no one will notice what I do –or do wrong – so I can hide from the constant criticism.

“How does that make you feel?” Mama asked.

“Horrible,” I told her.

“Then why do you do it?” she asked.

Why? Well, there are lots of reasons. I hold my tongue, so I don’t tick someone off. I try to be polite and accommodating, even when I am the one being wronged.

I seek to keep the peace instead of rocking the boat.

“How’s that working for you?” Mama asked.

“Don’t Dr. Phil me,” I tell her.

“I’m not. I just wonder how that making you feel.”

Awful. I felt weak and stifled.

Mama agreed. “Well, look back over things. I think you will see, life was better when you stood up for yourself and were too much. God didn’t make you a shy, quiet person. He made you stubborn and persistent because He knew you know how to use those gifts.”

Maybe she was right.

I had felt like my life had been stuck and was it maybe because I was going against my nature and not being myself.

It was, however, a time the too was used to amplify another word.

But, maybe it was time to stop living small and safe and to start living too much.

The world doesn’t need us to shrink ourselves or be less than who we are. That’s a disservice to the world and us.

If anything, we need to stop diluting ourselves and start living life full strength and be proud to be called too much.

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A lesson in procrastination

When it comes to lolly-gagging, dilly-dallying, and dawdling, I am pretty hard to beat.

Now, mind you, if I have a set deadline, I will meet it with time to spare.

But, if you give me some loosey goosey time frame, I will put tasks off until the end of time, or at least the very last minute until I have to rush to finish.

I was bad about doing this in school.

Once, I had a project due for a countywide competition for the local schools. In order to do the project, I needed a certain book, which I did not have but another student in my class did. Granny called the student’s mother to see if she was finished using the book and was told no.

“If there is only one book, shouldn’t there be time limits as to how long you get the book?” Granny asked the mother. The child had had it since the first ding dang day we knew about the competition.

“I don’t know that it will do Sudie any good since the entry is due Monday,” the mother replied. “In fact, it may be too late for her to even get started on it.”

For the record, it was Saturday night. In my young mind, I had plenty of time.

Granny frowned as she gave me a hard sideways glare. I had managed to omit that tiny little tidbit of information. “Well, don’t you worry,” Granny began. “She will get it done and turned in on time.”

When she hung up the phone, Granny turned to me. “How long did you know about this here project?”

“A few days.”

“A few days? I see. Was it several days strung together into a number of weeks?”

I didn’t know what to say. It was clear I didn’t have nearly as much time to get something done as I thought.

“You know it is due Monday, right?” Granny asked.

I nodded. I had one whole day, minus church, and the remaining hours of Saturday to research this project and write up my paper.

Granny sighed.

“Why, oh, why did you wait until the last minute, child?”

“But, I didn’t,” I said. “The last minute would be Monday morning when it is supposed to be turned in.”

This made the old woman sigh again.

“Get in the car,” she ordered.

I wasn’t sure what she was going to do. Maybe we were going to the other child’s house and Granny was going to bargain for the book. Were we going to the library? Where ever it was, she meant business.

Neither happened. Instead, Granny and I drove around our county, looking at those historical markers and doing our own research. We went to the courthouse and even counted the windows to provide detail.

I was exhausted when I got home.
“Now, you sit down and write this,” she said.

“I’ve got tomorrow,” I began.

“Littl’ un, you park your tater in that chair. What if something happens tomorrow and you can’t write it? You are getting this done right now.”
The look on her face made me sit down at the table and keep my procrastinating mouth shut.

We stayed up all night, organizing my notes with Granny proofing my rough draft.

“Is it ready?” I asked her.

She shook her head. “Not quite, but you are getting there.”

After church the next day, I worked on it some more, until finally I had it completed.

“I am so glad to be done with this!” I exclaimed.

Granny frowned. “This wouldn’t have been so difficult if you had started working on it sooner. There is no reason whatsoever for you to have waited until it was due to start it. To do it right, you should have started on it several weeks ago.”

“But, Granny, it is not due until tomorrow!” I said. How could I not get her to realize that?

“If it’s due on Monday, it’s as good as being due this weekend. You knew about it long enough to get started on it weeks ago. You should have had a few weeks to properly research it and then at least two to write and change it.  Let that be a lesson to you.”

And in some ways, it was.

Granny’s words taught me to prepare and look ahead at what needed to be done, so I could plan accordingly. I don’t like that feeling of being rushed and worrying about if something happens and I can’t get a task completed.

I don’t like thinking I have something hanging out there that needs to be done.

I don’t like it, mind you; but that doesn’t stop me from procrastinating in the least bit.

Sticks & Stones semantics

There have been a few words I have tried to eradicate from my child’s vocabulary.

Fat is one of them.

Retarded is another.

These are words that have bothered me for various reasons for a long time.

Fat is a word that taunted me as a child and is a word I have called myself, even in the times I was frighteningly skinny.

Retarded is a word that just shouldn’t be said.

There are other words that are just hurtful as well, and they all vary in their sting depending on their intent.

Does that mean bad words don’t sometimes fall out of my mouth for various reasons?
I’m not about to lie and say they don’t.

In moments of anger I have heatedly used hurtful epitaphs, not to anyone’s face mind you, but I have uttered them in furious outbursts, usually in the confines of my car or locked in the bathroom.

Not some of my finest moments.

Other words have floated around lately, words that I thought had been stricken from the vernacular, that created conversations as to the power, weight, and importance of words.

More importantly, the conversation focused on how some words can be used to hurt and are never okay, regardless of the relationship between the people using them.

And as I try to be vigilant about the words that are uttered and said about people, two words that I didn’t even think about have found themselves on my radar.

Dumb and stupid.

Being a parent makes one hyper-aware of the words that are said.

You expect the occasional swear word to slip out as a means of pushing the boundaries.

You wait for a teacher to send you a note saying your child repeated words that are unacceptable and she wonders where he heard them.

Dumb and stupid seem to be innocent words, uttered about things that are common and everyday.

“That’s so stupid,” I have muttered under my breath when I hear something I don’t agree with.

“How dumb,” has been whispered about instructions on the back of the pizza box.

It wasn’t until I heard the words come out of my child’s mouth that I realized how these words that seemed so benign to a degree could hurt.

He wasn’t even saying the words in a mean manner. But hearing him say them made me realize how hurtful they could be.

“Who was dumb?” I asked for clarification.

“Not who, Mama. What. And it was the rules. The rules are so dumb and stupid.”

I can understand feeling that way as a teenager. Rules do feel that way at times, even when we are adults, and we appreciate them.

“So, it wasn’t a person?”

He shook his head no.

“Why would that matter?” he asked sincerely.

It would matter for many reasons, I thought.

But I could see what was confusing. We say things – and people – are dumb and stupid all the time.

We do it to be funny, to be mean, to be hateful, and even when we are just irritated by them.

Mama has always taken offense when I have commented something she said was dumb or stupid.

“I am not stupid,” she said.
“I didn’t say you were,” I reply.

“You said my reaction was stupid; that’s the same thing.”
“No, it’s not.”

“Yes, it is.”
In my mind, it wasn’t but most of our communication is the other person’s perception of what we said. If we are belittling them or at least make them feel like we are making fun of them, odds are they won’t listen to us.

“I don’t like those words,” I told my child after thinking about some of the heavier implications.  

He was confused; they have been words he’s heard me say.

“Why?”

“Because calling someone dumb or stupid is not nice,” I said. “Someone can’t help that.”

“They can’t?” he asked.

“No, they can’t. Dumb traditionally speaks more to their intellect, or capacity to learn.  Not everyone learns at the same speed or level. So, I really don’t like that word at all.”

He understood that part.

“What about stupid?” he asked. “Is it the same?”

I took a deep breathe. In my mind, stupid was different. Stupid could mean someone was choosing to be ignorant despite the information that had been presented to them.

Stupid, I explained, had some application in certain circumstances as long as it was used to address an action or behavior and not a person.

He nodded.
“So, it is better to call someone’s actions stupid but not the person. And never dumb.”

“Right,” I said. “But it would just be better if we didn’t use it at all. We need to think about how we would feel if someone said that to us.”

Perhaps, if we did that, none of our words would have a hurtful sting.

The missing ingredient

“Old woman, I cannot read your recipe,” is how I began many a phone call to Granny after I moved away.

“What does it say, old gal?” she would ask.

“I don’t know. You have the worst penmanship I have ever seen.”

“Maybe if you had paid attention when I was making it, you wouldn’t need the recipe,” she commented.

I sighed.

Granny’s idea of baking would probably drive modern day bakers and chefs crazy.

She didn’t really use measuring cups or spoons, preferring to eyeball her ingredients, a cardinal sin in baking.

“You are supposed to use exact measurements,” I told her once.

She gave me a sideways glance and ignored my comment.

When I married, I wanted to have her best recipes with me so I could continue some of her traditions, so I asked her to write them down.

“No.”

“What?”

“You heard me. I said no. I ain’t giving you my recipes. They mine.”

“Why not?” I asked.

“They mine. I ain’t writing them down. I ain’t never wrote ‘em down – someone could steal ‘em that way. And I ain’t about to start either.”

Steal her recipes? Did she not know that people could find recipes for things practically anywhere? To Granny, her recipes were sacred and top secret; surely no one else could be trusted with the power to make a biscuit.

Still, I was shocked. Was she really not going to share her recipes with me?

Maybe I should have wrote it down when I was with her, but it never occurred to me that she would not me give a recipe.

I also was a little hurt. Granny had been the one who taught me how to cook, standing me in a chair beside her or sitting me on the table as she sifted flour, patted out biscuits, or mixed cake batter. How could she take away something so precious she and I had always bonded over?

“One. You can have one,” she announced one day.

“One what?”

“One recipe of mine. Choose wisely.”

I felt like Indiana Jones being told to choose the cup that was the Holy Grail in the Last Crusade.

I thought about it for a minute.

“I want your biscuit recipe,” I said.

“What? Are you kidding me? You’ve been making biscuits with me since you were three; if you don’t know how to make biscuits 20 years later, you don’t need to be in the kitchen. Choose another one.”

“But I can’t remember what you put in them,” I said earnestly. Everyone raved about her biscuits; I wanted rave-worthy biscuits, too.

She frowned, partly in disappointment that I could not remember and partly in the fact she was conceding her own rule and going to give me two recipes.

“Alright, I will give you the biscuit one, too, but it is so simple it is ridiculous,” she said. “What else do you want?”

I thought a little longer. I knew I wouldn’t be able to handle her coconut cake recipe; that involved too many steps. Things like pot roast or her golden fried chicken were not at the top of my list either. I wanted something that when I made it, people proclaimed it tasted just like Helen’s.

“Your chocolate pound cake recipe,” I declared brazenly.

She inhaled sharply. “You want me to write all that down?”

I nodded.

“Alright. I will. But it’s gonna take some time. I ain’t even got it wrote down; I just do it from memory, something you should be able to do.”

“That’s the one I want, Granny,” I said.

She nodded. “And that’s the one you will get.”

A few days later, the smell of the chocolate pound cake permeated the house and she handed me two index cards, one smudged with chocolate.

“I had to make one, so I’d know what all I put in it,” she said. “Don’t you go being like that woman that sold that high-dollar cookie recipe. You sell my recipes and I will sue you.”

Gleefully, I tucked the cards into my purse for safe keeping and went to eat the fruits of her labor.

It wasn’t until about a month later, when I pulled them out that I noticed something was missing.  I called her.
“Old woman, this makes no sense.”

“It should make perfect sense.”
“Well, it doesn’t,” I protested. “You only have flour, Crisco, and water or milk. No measurements.”

“It depends on how many biscuits you want to make. You should know that part. Now I gotta go, the Wheel is on, but you call me back if you need to. At 7:30.”

The next day I called her to tell her the dough did not turn out right.

 “You gotta get your hands in the dough,” Granny said.

“That’s gross,” I protested.

“You want biscuits? You gotta get your hands in there. Did you ever see me mix dough with a spoon? No, you gotta get your hands a little dirty if you want to cook.”

It took me a few tries – and several phone calls and a reminder from Granny about her super top-secret biscuit trick she omitted off the recipe – but soon, I was a biscuit baking master.

I should have known if she called that recipe easy her chocolate pound cake one would be a doozy.

Every time I made her cake, it involved staying on the phone with Granny.

“I couldn’t read a word the woman wrote,” I told Mama. “And what I could read, I couldn’t understand. She had just ‘cocoa powder’ or ‘butter’ but didn’t put down how much.”

Mama laughed softly. “Well, Kitten, if Granny used butter, more than likely it was one of two measurements: the whole stick or the whole pound. For a cake, go with a pound, just to be safe.

“And her leaving off the actual measurements was just her way of making you have to call her every time you made it so she would talk to you.”

“Yeah,” I said, finally understanding some of the Redhead Prime’s stubbornness.

Granny kept me in the kitchen with her just a little bit longer.

Love harder

When I became a mom, one of my dearest, life-long friends gave me some advice.

Whatever I did, do it out of love and it would be the best decision for my child.

Those words have guided me and been in my heart for the last 14 years, my frequent gauge as to what I did, how I reacted, and what I said.

Loving our children should be natural – I know it isn’t always for some. Not everyone is nurturing, or expressive with words; some show love in different ways. My Granny was not one who heaped praise or wasted words on endearments, but she loved in a different way.

Mama is the one who loves unconditionally and quietly, not making a big fuss or demanding.

So, love has different modes of delivery when you’re a parent and is cut from different cloth depending on the person.

But love is love and it is supposed to cover a multitude of sins.

It doesn’t always work that way though.

I have heard of people who have turned their backs on their children for various reasons.

Some of those reasons are painful reasons, too.

It is hard for me to imagine because I knew growing up, no matter what I did, no matter how wrong I was, nothing would have separated my Mama’s love from me.

Granny wouldn’t have stopped loving me either, but she would have fussed about whatever I did until Jesus returned.

Nothing I could have done would have made them stop loving me. Sure, they may have been disappointed, and I am sure Mama is still disappointed by some of my choices, but she never stopped loving me.

As a mother, I have said nothing would ever change my love for my child.

I couldn’t foresee there being anything that would make me stop loving him or forsake him.

But let me tell you something, you should never say make such presumptuous statements because you will have a doozy thrown at you to test you.

I had thought of every possible situation my teenager could throw my way and the very one I had not considered was the very one that came up.

I couldn’t grasp it. All the things I had taught my child were discarded and it felt like a personal attack on me since it was a topic I had so verbally expressed my opposition to.

Had he not listened to me?

Did he not care what I believed or thought on this subject?

I was told that it didn’t matter what I believed or thought, it was his beliefs and not mine. He was being tolerant of my beliefs and position, and expected a little tolerance in return.

I was devastated. I was not prepared for this.

I told Mama and she was shocked.

“Oh my,” she said. “Goodness.”

I sought solace in my dearest friends and one lovingly suggested that maybe this was his way of rebelling.

That made sense.

My way of rebelling was wearing Black Sabbath shirts and lots of eyeshadow. I still wear the eyeshadow but have long discarded just about anything related to Ozzy.

My music was the way to rebel against my Mama’s country music. The main thing she was vocal about was my music and her dislike for the loud, headbanging noise she said wasn’t fit for audio consumption.

Was this his way of rebelling against me in the one area that he knew would strike a chord?

“He is trying on different perspectives to find himself,” one friend said, “It’s his way of just seeing if this fits.”

What if it does? I wasn’t sure I could handle it.

“Then, that’s what he is. What does it change?”

It changes that he is not following my way, my path, and the presumption I had that he would be like me in this regard. It meant he was not living up to the expectations I had for his life and the things I had assumed for him.

“Are you going to love him any less?”

“No,” I said. “But I am hurt. Really, deeply hurt. And disappointed.”

“I get that,” she replied. “But he is learning. And maybe this is a time where you love him harder.”

It doesn’t matter what he did.

Just like it doesn’t matter what someone else we love has done that we deem to be a mistake, or some path we wouldn’t necessarily chose for them.

Sometimes, we have to let them make those mistakes and choices and just love them harder through it all.

Always be kind to your mama

Mamas, it seems, can be a sensitive bunch.

Particularly mine.

I don’t remember her being that way when I was younger, but she has become so in recent years.

She claims I am not as compassionate as I could be.

Case in point, she can’t hear most of the time.

I am not sure if it is because of her age that her hearing is declining or it’s because she and my uncle normally have the T.V. volume at some obnoxious level that can probably be heard five miles away.

“What did Cole eat after school?” she will ask.

“He ate two orders of fries,” I said.

She hears: “He was attacked by flies?”

“He ate two orders of fries.”

“Flies?”

“Fries.”
“Rice?”

“No, Mama, he ate two large orders of fries. Fries. Fries!” I am practically yelling by this point, straining for her to hear me.

Mama takes it the other way. “I don’t think you should talk to me that way,” she says, a tone of indignation creeping into her voice.
“I was not talking to you any way. I was talking so you would hear me.”

“You were yelling.”
“Mama, I told you four times he had fries and you didn’t hear me. I had to practically yell, and I still don’t know if you heard me or not.”

She gives me the silent treatment for a few moments. She probably didn’t even hear what I said the last time.

“I am so sorry I cannot hear that well. I am 74 years old, my hearing may not be the best,” she said.

“Mama, you may need to get a hearing aid.”

“I am not getting a hearing aid,” she said. “I don’t need one. I am just not hearing as well. And this phone is not the best. I don’t like it. But you could be a bit nicer and more compassionate. You know, one day you will be old and may need some patience, too.”

I sighed. It wasn’t that I was impatient with her. I just felt like she needed to get her ears checked.

When did her hearing start to decline? Had it been around the time she started going a bit slower when she walked? The woman that worked two jobs after she retired– often getting off work at one job and sleeping a few hours before going into her next job – now found grocery shopping too tiring.

“Why do you get so angry when I can’t hear you?” she asked one day.

“I don’t get angry,” I replied. I don’t.

I get…I am not even sure what I get.

Sad, frustrated, scared – that’s what I get.

My Mama, the crazy redhead, was always able to hear every swear word under my breath as a teen and could live off coffee and nicotine for days. She was the one that would move the biggest mountain standing in the way between her Kitten and whatever I needed to do.

And now, I am fearful as age seems to be creeping up on her.

It scares me. It really does.

“You do get angry,” she insists. “You need to remember I am your mama and you shouldn’t get angry with me.”

I tried explaining I wasn’t angry again, but she had already decided I was. “Did you ever get angry at Granny?” I asked. When all else fails and you can’t win an argument, deflect.

Mama felt silent again.

“Well?” I pressed.

“I didn’t get angry with her; I got frustrated.”

“Uh huh.”

“I did.”
“And, why was that?” I asked. Before I asked the question, I knew the answer.

Mama didn’t say anything. She didn’t have to. Granny refused to get a hearing aid, doing the same Mama had done, and accused her of raising her voice because she wouldn’t hear.

“Didn’t she say you used to yell at her? Simply because she wouldn’t hear well. And you got so frustrated with her.” Hello pot, meet kettle.

“I had a reason; there was nothing wrong with that old woman’s hearing when she wanted to eavesdrop.”

True. Granny could hear a pin drop, or a bag of cookies open when she wanted to; the rest of the time, she exercised selective hearing and tuned us out.

Something I think Mama may do, too, though she denies it.

“You just need to remember one day, you will be old, and you will want Cole to be patient with you,” she said.

Right, I thought.

A few days later, Cole was trying to tell me something and I had to ask him to repeat himself.

Three times.

As he walked away, I heard him take a deep sigh.

And so, it begins.

Intrinsic grace

I have found one of the most challenging things about being a parent is when a child starts forming their own opinions outside of your own.

Free of your dogma, your point of view, your very strong position.

At least that is something I have encountered since my own child has hit his teen years.

It was so easy when he was younger.

His questions revolved around gentler topics, such as which Charlie Brown holiday special was the best or if cereal truly constituted a suitable dinner.

My answers were the Great Pumpkin and yes, absolutely.

When I stated my opinion on something, it was regarded with earnest respect and as gospel.

There was no hesitation, no question.

Just a cherubic little face, smiling up in adoration and agreement.

But suddenly, that changed.

His overnight deepening voice also brought a contrast that surprised me.

Out of the blue, he disagreed with me.

I was shocked.

Not because I want my child to just parrot what he’s heard me say over the years.

I knew people who did that; who merely regurgitated facts and beliefs they had heard their parents say, void of any real meaning.

I didn’t want that for Cole.
Or did I?

“How can you think something like that?” I asked one day.

“It’s not a thought, it’s a fact,” he argued. “I have researched it, Mama. Have you?”

I stopped in my tracks.

No, I had not researched it. I was going strictly by my gut reaction. Or was it my heart?

“You are responding emotionally to this and if you would take five minutes and do some educated research, you may see a different side of things. Don’t just believe what supports your opinion.”

What the what – who was this person? Was this really my child?

I did not like this turn of events.

Did I raise him to be a critical thinker? Yes, I had.

Did that mean I only wanted him to be a critical thinker if it aligned with what I thought?

I was starting to wonder.

I didn’t like this shift, and I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about some of his differing opinions.

The things he wanted to discuss and talk about were so different than what he had been interested in before and so vastly different that areas I felt comfortable talking about.

I expressed my concern to Mama one day, telling her how unsettled these changes, this growing up thing, had made me.

She listened quietly, letting me whine, vent, and question everything I had maybe done wrong.

“Sometimes I feel like I don’t know this child,” I finished.

“He’s fine,” she said gently. “You’re fine. He is growing up, Kitten.”

“But he is coming up with stuff that I don’t like!”

Mama laughed softly. “Oh, really?”

How could she find this amusing?

“Is any of it morally wrong or is it just not your opinion?” she asked.

My child is pretty moral; he has always had a good sense of right and wrong and been quick to point it out to anyone who was violating it.

“Let me tell you something,” she began. “Cole is his own person. He is going to have his own thoughts, ideas, likes and dislikes, and perspectives about things. Those may at times be totally different than yours. And that is okay.

Right now, he is forming his own point of view. You can guide him and re-direct him if he gets way off base, but you need to realize some of those may not be the same as yours. Let him find his way.”

I didn’t like this and said so.

“You really have no say in it,” she said. “I didn’t with you; Granny didn’t with me.”

“So, we raise children to grow up and be argumentative and contradictory?” I exclaimed.

“No. We raise them to think for themselves. And to stand up for what they believe in. Let that baby talk to you about everything he wants to. Don’t quiet him or silence him. It’s better for him to talk through these things with you than someone else who may really give him some bad information.”

“But some of the things he is saying –”
“Hush, Kitten,” she said. “It’s not about you. It’s about your child. He’s forming his view of the world and how you guide him and provide the grace for him to do so will stay with him for the rest of his life.”

I sighed, a heart-weary sigh.

In Mama’s gentle way, she had done just that as I was growing up, listening to me talk about the craziest of things, enduring my wild ideas, and my whimsical nonsense. And, especially tolerating my different opinions, my perspectives, the times I rebelled against any of her compassionate teachings. Those moments I wanted to be mean-spirited, hurtful, and as Granny decreed, “evil.” Mama listened and held the space for me to learn my own boundaries without swooping in to make me change.

She let me find my own way – and grow up in the process.

Sharing what I had been so graciously given was the least I could do.

d one of the most challenging things about being a parent is when a child starts forming their own opinions outside of your own.

Free of your dogma, your point of view, your very strong position.

At least that is something I have encountered since my own child has hit his teen years.

It was so easy when he was younger.

His questions revolved around gentler topics, such as which Charlie Brown holiday special was the best or if cereal truly constituted a suitable dinner.

My answers were the Great Pumpkin and yes, absolutely.

When I stated my opinion on something, it was regarded with earnest respect and as gospel.

There was no hesitation, no question.

Just a cherubic little face, smiling up in adoration and agreement.

But suddenly, that changed.

His overnight deepening voice also brought a contrast that surprised me.

Out of the blue, he disagreed with me.

I was shocked.

Not because I want my child to just parrot what he’s heard me say over the years.

I knew people who did that; who merely regurgitated facts and beliefs they had heard their parents say over the year, void of any real meaning.

I didn’t want that for Cole.
Or did I?

“How can you think something like that?” I asked one day.

“It’s not a thought, it’s a fact,” he argued. “I have researched it, Mama. Have you?”

I stopped in my tracks.

No, I had not researched it. I was going strictly by my gut reaction. Or was it my heart?

“You are responding emotionally to this and if you would take five minutes and do some educated research, you may see a different side of things. Don’t just believe what supports your opinion.”

What the what – who was this person? Was this really my child?

I did not like this turn of events.

Did I raise him to be a critical thinker? Yes, I had.

Did that mean I only wanted him to be a critical thinker if it aligned with what I thought?

I was starting to wonder.

I didn’t like this shift, and I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about some of his differing opinions.

The things he wanted to discuss and talk about were so different than what he had been interested in before and so vastly different than areas I felt comfortable talking about.

I expressed my concern to Mama one day, telling her how unsettled these changes, this growing up thing, had made me.

She listened quietly, letting me whine, vent, and question everything I had maybe done wrong.

“Sometimes I feel like I don’t know this child,” I finished.

“He’s fine,” she said gently. “You’re fine. He is growing up, Kitten.”

“But he is coming up with stuff that I don’t like!”

Mama laughed softly. “Oh, really?”

How could she find this amusing?

“Is any of it morally wrong or is it just not your opinion?” she asked.

My child is pretty moral; he has always had a good sense of right and wrong and been quick to point it out to anyone who was violating it.

“Let me tell you something,” she began. “Cole is his own person. He is going to have his own thoughts, ideas, likes and dislikes, and perspectives about things. Those may at times be totally different than yours. And that is okay.

Right now, he is forming his own point of view. You can guide him and re-direct him if he gets way off base, but you need to realize some of those may not be the same as yours. Let him find his way.”

I didn’t like this and said so.

“You really have no say in it,” she said. “I didn’t with you; Granny didn’t with me.”

“So, we raise children to grow up and be argumentative and contradictory?” I exclaimed.

“No. We raise them to think for themselves. And to stand up for what they believe in. Let that baby talk to you about everything he wants to. Don’t quiet him or silence him. It’s better for him to talk through these things with you than someone else who may really give him some bad information.”

“But some of the things he is saying –”
“Hush, Kitten,” she said. “It’s not about you. It’s about your child. He’s forming his view of the world and how you guide him and provide the grace for him to do so what will stay with him for the rest of his life.”

I sighed, a heart-weary sigh.

In Mama’s gentle way, she had done just that as I was growing up, listening to me talk about the craziest of things, enduring my wild ideas, and my whimsical nonsense. And, especially tolerating my different opinions, my perspectives, the times I rebelled against any of her compassionate teachings. Those moments I wanted to be mean-spirited, hurtful, and as Granny decreed, “evil.” Mama listened and held the space for me to learn my own boundaries without swooping in to make me change.

She let me find my own way – and grow up in the process.

Sharing what I had been so graciously given was the least I could do.

The Mama Daughter Dynamic

There are two things I have grappled with most of my life.

One: I have always had hair angst. If it is long, I want it short. If it is short, I can’t wait for it to grow out. And, I have always wanted bangs. That thick fringe that sets off your eyes or the side swept bangs that frame your face.

The second, and one that is most shocking, is I have always typically done the complete opposite of what my Mama has wanted me to do. Pretty much every big decision – from marrying the first husband to not going to law school– has been the polar opposite of what she has wanted and demanded of me.

Both – the bangs and the Mama – have given me fits throughout my life.

And the horror of both is that Mama has always tried to dictate what she thinks I should do with my hair.

There was nothing quite like going to the salon as a teenage girl, with dreams of how you wanted your hair only to have your mother standing behind the chair telling the stylist, “Just give her a perm. And she’s growing out her bangs, so don’t cut them again.”

“I don’t know why I can’t do what I want to my hair,” I would protest.

“Because I know better,” she said.

In a moment of desperation, I once cut my own bangs the night before going to a school competition at the state level.

I think I placed out of pity.

“Why did you do that to your hair?” she asked me.
“You wouldn’t let me get bangs. I needed bangs!”

“You didn’t need that!”

I had cut them so short and unevenly, they were a jagged line about an inch below my hairline and would curl up like corkscrew pasta. It was a wretched mess and there was no way to fix it.

Granny took me to get a pair of shoes.

“Shoes?” I asked. I never turned down shoes but thought it was an odd outing.

“There’s nothing we can do with your hair, but you may as well have some cute shoes as a consolation prize.”

Of course, this probably set me up with the belief that when all goes wrong, buy shoes.

Mama just used this as a multi-purpose example of what goes wrong when I don’t listen to her.

She never lets me live down anything, either, so for the longest anytime I didn’t heed her warnings, she would remind me: “Don’t let this be another cutting your own bangs incident.”

Mama has been quite outspoken and vocal about all my mistakes.

“I don’t know why you married your first husband,” she said one day. “I never could stand him.”
“Maybe if you had, I wouldn’t have,” I replied dryly.

Granny snorted at this comment. In all of her infinite wisdom, Granny never uttered one bad word about my first husband while we were dating or married. She waited until the divorce was final before she expressed her utter disdain of him.

“Well, Jean, you knew how we felt about her daddy, and you married him anyway. Reckon that’s the only thing the old gal got that was like you,” Granny stated.

Mama reminded me every chance she got about what a mistake I had made by marrying him. She recited every time she had warned me and had been right.

I did like I always had and tuned her out.

“You aren’t listening because you know I am right!” she would say.

She urged me to go to law school and I didn’t.

Every time I have complained about my career – or lack thereof – her immediate response has been: “Well, if you had gone on to law school like I told you, you would have had a better career. But you don’t listen to me. Even when I am telling you something that will help you.”

“Where’s the fun in that?” I asked. “You would have absolutely nothing to hold over my head.”

Granny once told me to not pay her any attention.

“She ain’t never listened to me so I don’t know why she expects you to listen to her,” she said. “Bobby listens to me; Cole will listen to you. That’s what a son does. But a daughter is made to not listen to her mother.”

Maybe she was right.

I was needing a change recently, tired of my chin length bangs and sent Mama a photo I found of the hair I wanted with soft, long bangs.

 “Cute!” she texted back.

I called her the day of the appointment. “What do you think about that cut I sent you?”

“I thought it was precious! You would look so pretty with your hair cut like that!”

“Really?” Did she see something different than the one I had sent?

“Absolutely.”

“You saw the photo of Emma Stone, right? With bangs?”

“I don’t know who Emma Stone is, but I saw the girl with the red hair and bangs and loved it. Are you getting your hair that color, too, or just the bangs?”

“Just the bangs.” What was going on? She always fussed about me coloring my hair.

“Well, it will look good on you. I can’t wait to see it.”

“So, you think I should get bangs?”

“It’s your hair. You should get what you want, and I think that will be adorable. So, if you want it, get it!”

I walked into the salon in shock. Had we finally, after 46 years of existence, turned a corner?

And then it hit me: she was reverse psychology-ing me.

Not only did she reverse psychology me; it worked.

I didn’t get the bangs I wanted, but I will.

Even if I have to cut them myself.

Ears Wide Shut

Listening is truly a lost art form it seems.

People just flat out no longer listen.

Instead, it feels more like people are only listening long enough to catch an opportunity to talk about themselves.

I find myself telling people things – important things – only for my words to be completely ignored.

Don’t even try to ask someone if they were listening. Odds are, they won’t hear that question either.

Listening is important.

You can pick up some pretty important information just from listening.

Case in point, a situation my child came to me about recently.

“You may hear from my teacher,” he began.

That’s never good, I thought. My experience had taught me teachers only called when something was wrong and usually, it was when the wrong-doing was on my behalf.

Instead of jumping right in with my questions, I decided this would be a good time to listen.

Mama always knew if she gave me the quiet treatment long enough, I would spill what she needed to know.

I thought I’d give her tactic a whirl instead of jumping in with my accusations and allegations.

“I made a zero on an assignment, but it counts as a test grade,” he continued after my silence.

“But it wasn’t my fault.”

I nodded slowly.

“Do you want to hear why it wasn’t my fault?” he asked.

“Sure.”

“Well, my teacher told us we had to grade our own assignments, but we had to do in pen. She told us we could not use pencil.”

“OK.”
“I had picked up a pencil in my left hand and had a pen in the right,” he went on. “It was just out of habit. Really. I always have a pencil that I am bouncing. But she came by and picked up my test and gave me a zero. Just because I had a pencil in my hand – and it is not even the hand I write with!”

Now, I could understand his disappointment and frustration at getting the zero. I would have been devastated.

But that was not where his frustration was coming from.

The first point of contention was the teacher was one of his favorites.

She has known him most of his life and in Cole’s opinion, knew he wouldn’t cheat.

His second issue – and the one he was the most vocal about – was that she did not let him explain.

“I wasn’t using the pencil to grade my assignment. I was just bouncing it. Like I said, it wasn’t even in the hand I write with. It was not fair.”

“It didn’t have to be fair,” I said. “She said not to use a pencil.”

“I wasn’t!” he argued. “You aren’t listening to me. I had the pencil in my left hand – I am right handed! I couldn’t change the answer with my left hand.”
“She didn’t know that,” I said.

“She would have known had she let me explain.”

“She didn’t have to let you explain. She said no pencil. You had a pencil. End of story.”

“Did you hear what I said? I said, I had the pencil in my left hand. Not my right. I was not using it. Only bouncing it.”

“Did you hear what your teacher said? She said no pencil. She is a teacher. Not a cop. Not a judge. She is not there to hear your argument or for you to state your case. She told you if you used a pencil, you got a zero. She walked by and saw a pencil in your hand. So, it made sense to conclude you were going to use it. I don’t blame her and stand by her zero.”

I think at that moment, I lost a lot of mom points with my child.

I had always been the first to rush in with the cavalry to defend and protect him.

I had always stood up for him.

But this time, I didn’t. Instead, I told him the teacher was right.

I wasn’t going to call her, nor was I going to email her, asking her to let him explain.

I was going to let him learn this hard lesson.

He had heard his teacher say one thing – not to grade the paper with a pen – and thought he could go do another, as long as he wasn’t grading it.

Her instruction was implied.

It wasn’t spelled out explicitly, but it was more of a subtle understanding: just don’t pick up a pencil, because it will look like you are changing your answer.

And sometimes, those subtle understandings are the hardest to discern. Especially when we are only listening for what we want to hear.

Switching my default response

If you asked my child what my favorite word was, without hesitation, he would respond: no.

No has been my go-to word for a while now.

I felt a certain sense of pride in saying no when asked to do things I didn’t want to do, things I felt infringed on my personal time and space.

Being raised by two independent women taught me to speak my truth long before it was some kind of personal development rally cry.

And my truth was usually “No.”

Did I want to get together?

Nope.

Did I want to volunteer for something?
Um, not really.

Would I like to watch someone’s kids while they ran errands?
Absolutely not – my house was not childproof. Yes, I knew I had a child. However, my house was not childproofed for other people’s kids.

No was my favorite response and reaction.

I heard my friends getting sucked into things they didn’t want to do, and they were miserable.

“If you didn’t want to do it, why did you say yes?” I asked once.

I knew the answer before they said it.

They didn’t want to disappoint someone or let them down. A lot of women are raised to be accommodating and to put everyone else first, even if it causes them to neglect themselves. A lot of women, except for those raised by Helen and Jean, feel that way, that is.

I have joked to my girlfriends that any time they needed me to say no on their behalf, I would be happy to. Delighted, thrilled, ecstatic even.

My child knows no is my initial response, yet, he still tries.

“Can I –?”
“No.”
He sighs, knowing not to press the issue because I can dig my heels down in a no and make it stick.

In professional settings, my variation is a softer “no, no.”

I don’t want to seem quite as unyielding, so I put the extra one in as a gentle decline.

It had worked so well, of a number of years, this whole no thing.

Until one day, I heard some friends talking about an outing they had over the weekend.

I was kind of hurt; why hadn’t they asked me to go?
“You always say no,” I was told.

True. I do love my no. And being an introvert makes me also avoid most social gatherings like the plague.

But what they did sounded fun. I may have actually said yes this time.

My no wasn’t set in stone – was it?

Did it seem like it was?

“You would have said it was too far, or we’d get back too late,” my friend said.
That did sound like something I would say.

Or, I had too much to do, or I had plans.

Plans that involved putting on yoga pants and watching Hallmark Movies & Mysteries while looking at cat videos on social media.

“We figured you couldn’t go so we just went without mentioning it.”

Had my no become so standard and common that people were pre-emptively using it on my behalf?

I did not like this.

Sure, I liked saying no, but I wanted it to be my no, my choice.

It was my no to use, gosh darnit.

“If we go back, we’ll ask you,” my friend promised. “But you will probably just say no.”

“No, I won’t,” I said. See – I found a way to work in a no.

“Yes, you will.”
“No, I won’t.”
Perhaps I needed to change my default in some way. A slight tweak.

I had missed out on a great afternoon; what else had I missed on by saying no all these years?

Had my love for the no caused me to stop saying yes to everything that was potentially good?

“So, you will go if we go back?”

“Maybe.”

“Maybe?” My friend groaned.

It wasn’t as harsh as no; didn’t feel as locked in as yes.

It had so much open-ended potential that could give me the opportunity to decide if I really wanted to do something or not.

Maybe is my new favorite word.