Who We Are Instead of Who We’re Supposed to Be

You know the girl who owns every room she enters? Whether she’s walking into her first college exam or meeting up with a girlfriend for drinks, she always carries herself with style, grace, and confidence. She’s the girl who rocks a messy bun, oversized sweater, and sneakers pulling it off as artfully as a traveling celebrity. I learned early in life that though I know that girl, I’m not that girl. I’m more like her frumpy acquaintance whose lack of enthusiasm gives others something to laugh at or, at the very least, something to mock. Though I’m the awkward, dull girl whose mediocrity rings loud throughout daily tasks and responsibilities, I shine a lot brighter when I accept who am as enough, rather than pouring myself into a mold of a stranger. Life starts making more sense when we focus on who we are instead of who we’re supposed to be.

I tripped my way through high school as the blunt, sarcastic girl in the corner. I can remember the rush of freedom that ran through my veins as I walked across the football field (the way we graduated in the good old days) to receive my ticket out of high school and my mundane life as I had known it. I can only imagine the silent sigh of relief my mother and older sister simultaneously released as I gradually transformed my weird clothing choices to an edgy, trendy (much less embarrassing) style as I faced a collegiate social life. While my style did transform a bit alongside the changes of my heart, thoughts, and ideals, I never could quite find a balance of self while swimming in a pool of exquisitely bubbly girly girls. Early freshman year, I strutted out of a job interview dressed to impress in all back and gray (but tastefully done). One of my girlfriends from high school invited me to visit with her in her dorm before she left for an event holding some importance to campus Greek life (I’ll limit the details due to my total ignorance regarding these events). I remember feeling a surge of confidence as I wore a nice skirt, blouse, and heels that fit like a glove, and I had just landed a cushy job. Every drop of confidence suddenly evaporated as I entered the hallway of my friend’s dorm. All I could see were various hues of pink and floral. Hairspray and perfume clouds filled the entire building (confession: I now at least have one mutual friend to those girls because hairspray is my BFF). All I could hear were giggles and stilettos clacking from room to room. I felt so mediocre, exposed, and out of place. I made some lame excuse about needing to hurry out, but the truth was I just felt uncomfortable in my own skin. To be transparent, the feeling I experienced that day as an outsider in a crowd of colorful females continues to serve as a social barrier in my daily life both personally and as a mother of three girls. I have an issue with replacing different with less when I compare myself to those around me. Much of the pressure (most of the pressure) I feel welling inside in these moments are fabricated by me. I just think I’m too mediocre to join the crowd. Simple decisions, such as choosing an outfit, cause so many individuals to shut down and obsess over flaws. I know too many people who not only fight those pressures fueled by self-doubt, they’re fighting real battles against bullies or even family.

I have a dear friend who I’ve known most of my life whose journey to find herself leaves me inspired to fight for the voice of my truest me, no matter how mediocre it might sound. She was the girl who had it all. Her parents had already written her story by providing her with a large, beautiful house, luxury vehicles, name brand clothing, and a respectable social breeding and education, all debt free. She was the wealthy girl, the pretty girl, the smart girl, and the popular girl all in one neatly wrapped package. Throughout our childhood and adolescence, I watched this beautiful girl who had it all battle the demon of who she is supposed to be. Her family placed a plethora of expectations on her, including but not limited to, weight, hairstyle, clothing choice, academic achievement, athletic achievement, social engagements, friendships, career choice, and romantic relationships. She wore these social pressures on her sleeve while she ate like a bird and offered hateful criticisms to the insignificant, mediocre girls such as myself. She would experience moments in which who she truly was grew louder than family expectations and pressures, and in those moments, she was fun, clever, and warm. This beautiful girl learned how to nurture and grow that small voice into the person those in her current life know her to be. She has devoted her life to giving her heart and talents to children in need. She has chosen a career path that is much less glamorous than that which her family expected. She found love and has started her new family in a non-traditional, but no less beautiful way than those in her previous social circle. She’s found happiness and love, and she’s found the volume knob to the voice of her true self. Beautiful girl (you know who you are), you inspire me to continue to grow and learn to love my mediocre self despite social pressures and my own critical voice.

Friends, if you’re not happy, maybe it’s time to be honest with yourselves. Who are you trying to be? Search your heart and spend more time on activities and relationships that make you smile. If it gives you peace, it’s probably a good fit for you. Apply that to your life as you weed out the pain and insecurities. There is no one way to be successful. There is no one way to look. There is no one way to meet milestones and conquer life’s hardships. Do less to make room for yourself to become more. In a world filled with hate, we need to love ourselves and all our mediocre traits that make us who we are. Just paint the room black. There is a loud beauty within the mediocrity. Find it. Bust the speakers. Never turn it off.

Letting Them Dwindle

Are you the kind of person who has relationships totally figured out? Are you that person who spends all your time with the right people, your energy toward the right relationships, and your efforts toward a peace of mind for self and others? If you are, you’re probably lying. Relationships are difficult, yet they are the very center of our humanity and all our hearts’ desire. If you are anywhere near as mediocre as I am, you have failed several relationships over the years. I am finding truth in the phrase, “relationships are about tear and repair,” as time drags on and my relationships deepen, lengthen, and disappear. Though relationships are the center of our lives, we should spend less time stressing over them, less time letting them dwindle away, and more time building and repairing connections.

In my profession, I work with individuals struggling with an assortment of issues, but they all have this in common: a search for connection. No one is comfortable in his or her own skin in an environment of isolation. Whether the struggle is pride, anxiety, depression, abandonment, traumatic stress, irritability, or low motivation, all the individuals I face agree that life is unbearable when facing it alone. The most interesting aspect of relationships is though we all long for connection and acceptance, we are so quick to “cut and run,” isolating ourselves when we experience even the smallest dose of vulnerability.

Can I share a real flaw of self? I have been an anal retentive, anxious perfectionist as long as I have owned the capability for verbal communication. My mother says I came out of her womb witty, sarcastic, and critical. I would clean my room day after day in Pre-K (needing no prompt from my parents) lining my stuffed animals in order from tall to small at the foot of my bed. When I made a mark in school below perfect, I would crumble and serve myself a sentence far greater than my parents deemed necessary. While these traits and characteristics may have served as tools for foreshadowing the struggles that would lie in my future, I never saw my epic fail coming. Hi, my name is Ashlie, and I am a terrible roommate. I completed my undergraduate years smashing relationships with all three roommates. It’s not that I’m particularly inconsiderate, loud, or with obnoxious tendencies. I believe my epic letdown as a roommate lies in my trait: “hard to please” or even “impossible to please.” I’m not certain what happened with my first roommate. From my perspective it went fine. We cohabitated, had some mutual friends, and had some pleasant interactions. Maybe she didn’t like how I consistently urged that dishes should never be left in the sink over night or how I pushed that laundry should be completed the day it is started. The friendship failures of my other roommates leave me totally at a loss. They were fun and entertaining. I guess maybe they didn’t like that I went straight hermit mode and avoided them when they were around “loud friends” whose presence cranked up my mediocrity and insecurity to a ten. With each of these relationships, I never held any malice, only shrunk away at the smallest sign of discomfort. Apparently not only am I anal retentive, when the going gets tough I sometimes get going (into hiding emotionally and physically).

After decades of failed relationships and years of soul searching, I have accepted that holding grudges only hurts me and holding high expectations of others only sets me up for failed relationships. My current friendships work because when I am hurt by the actions of a friend, I state my truth and expectations. They also work because my loved ones meet me in the middle. When I am frustrated in my marriage, I list my needs and wants to my husband, and he musters up energy to follow through (or shut me up and put me in my place when needed, and I can admit I often need to be shut down). When I am frustrated as a parent, I have an honest encounter with my children where I let them know how I perceive their actions, what I feel in the moment, and how I see us climbing to a higher point in our relationships. Even my youngest child can meet expectations when I let her know WHAT THEY ARE. Friends, I have realized that I (we) travel through life expecting other people to read our minds, agree with our ideals, and make us happy when this expectation of relationships is unrealistic.

It is okay to disagree with people and love them anyway. It is okay to argue with people and be the first to reach out with an apology. It is okay to see an epic flaw in a relationship and choose to work for growth instead of creating distance. Friendships, romantic relationships, professional relationships, and familial relationships all have one thing in common: “tear and repair.” To be connected, we must face those moments of discord with courage and humility. We must learn from our past shortcomings and treat our current relationships with the respect they deserve. Connection to our people is the driving force that encourages us to face a world full of brokenness every day and continue to fight for beauty. We cannot achieve perfection. It is a standard that does not exist, particularly in dealings with feelings. In fact, most of us are mediocre so naturally our relationships are mediocre as well. Give your people a break, forgive them, and love them through the relationship tears. The importance of swallowing your pride and loving others through their flaws lies in the reality that you are going to need them to love you through yours as well. Be the person who builds an unbreakable bond amid another’s personal storm. Don’t be too big or important to forgive and see the person beneath the behavior. Don’t fear the vulnerability that arises in needing connection. There is a loud beauty within the mediocrity. Find it. Bust the speakers. Never turn it off.

 

 

Photo by Jeff Perry

“Tear and Repair”-Phrase learned working under the supervision of Heidi Nelson

We Are Not Robots

Do you ever feel consumed by roles and responsibilities? After a week full of rushing, a Saturday arrives that you’ve looked forward to all week in hopes of sleeping in and binge watching some guilty pleasure Netflix original. By sun set, you’ve forgotten to eat lunch, you’ve ceaselessly completed hundreds of chores and tasks, and you’re going to have to skip the shower to meet up with your friends for dinner on time. This adulting thing can be heavy and overwhelming. It’s time to give ourselves permission to drop a role or task from time to time. I don’t mean to minimize the strength and resilience of the mediocre population. Most of us believe we can only manage a couple roles, responsibilities, or crisis at once, but as life tosses more balls of chaos into our orbiting burdens, we conjure up the skill and energy to continue moving, never dropping balls or losing momentum. Does having the capacity to cope with pain and stress mean we are required to power through? Is there a number of balls that we cannot manage at one time? Is it okay to drop a ball sometimes? I am working on accepting that adulting is about juggling, and sometimes we need to put one ball down to pick up another.

You know what makes being mediocre the hardest for me? I have this inability to quit. I cannot give up on responsibilities, relationships, tasks, occupations, or goals. I really struggle with letting people and things go. I am not certain if my issue stems more from a nature of competition in which I can’t let life beat me or from an idea that I’ve poured so much into the role or relationship that I would lose a crucial piece of self if I walked away. Whatever the reason, these things I do know: If I love you, I love you for life, if I say I’ll be there, I’ll be there even if no one else shows up, and If I say I’m going to do it, I will do it and do it well. I’m aware that I’m not alone in this battle against quitting. I belong to a club of doers. Doers have it so hard because along with life’s typical stressors pushing us forward, we push ourselves twice as hard and feel like failures no matter how productive we are. The concept of failure is so unfair whether we label ourselves or others. Taking a detour on the road to task completion does not make us failures. Furthermore, is failing such an awful fate? In competitive sports, we teach children that losing builds character. “It’s important to know how to lose gracefully because you can’t win at everything in life.” Yet as adults, we pressure ourselves to be consistently perfect and successful. Who needs character when you can be a winner, right? We keep picking up more roles and goals, never putting down the old, and if (when) we topple over or simply collapse from the pressure, we are plagued with self-hate because the problem must be that we’re too weak, rather than the reality that one person can only carry so much responsibility.

I have always placed a significant portion of my identity in my profession (even amid the climb as a student). As a mediocre achiever throughout my life, I finally “found myself” once I landed in a beautiful graduate school program surrounded by encouraging mentors, a priceless educational foundation, and genuine colleagues. I am a counselor with both the natural gifts and the work ethic necessary to aid me in pouring into the lives of thirty-plus individuals and families per week while they journey into better versions of self. Professional goals were the peak of my existence until November of 2016. I was blessed with professional leave time for the first six weeks of my transition into parenting when my three girls were initially placed in my home. During those six weeks, I was the perfect mother (I can hear you laughing already). I provided consistent safety and care. I gave constant attention. Once they were asleep securely in their own beds at night, I would complete every unaccomplished household chore before crashing for the night. The challenges (beyond simple exhaustion) began when I resumed my passion fueled, emotionally exhausting career while attempting to keep up this perfect parent performance.

There’s this funny thing about people. We’re not robots, yet we’re expected to operate as such. Approximately three months into my parenthood journey, I began feeling those hard parent feelings (it’s like when they named me “mommy,” I naturally adopted mommy self-hate). I had every aspect of our lives organized as best as humanly possible (or at least as best a mediocre, full-time working, adoptive mother of three can). One struggle at this time in our lives was piecing together childcare while my husband was basically absent (because he was a soccer coach, and soccer is a stupid long season), and I couldn’t be available between 8:00 AM and 5:30 PM Monday through Friday. One exhausted Friday morning (it should probably not go unmentioned how much of a non-morning person I am and that my toddler experienced a total meltdown the night before because “it was a really good day, and she didn’t want it to be over”), I crawled out of bed with only half an hour to prepare my household to conquer the day. It was one of those days where I sacrificed my appearance for sake of two extra snoozes (thank you, to the inventor of dry shampoo), and we each made our way out the door missing at least one essential for the day. Just as my toddler entered her typical toddler meltdown (because it’s not fair that she’s shorter than her older sisters), sitter number three sent me an urgent text explaining that she wouldn’t be available to pick up my 2nd grader from school. I quickly responded, “no problem,” with every intention of rearranging the afternoon schedule to accommodate the change. Have I mentioned that I’m a mediocre mother at best? Late in the afternoon (approximately 3:30 PM), my supervisor interrupted an intense trauma therapy session to urge me to call my child’s school. The walls came crashing down on me with the realization that I never made the “no problem” accommodations, and my 2nd grader’s school had dismissed at 2:30 PM. The solution existed in the form of calling on sitter number two to cram my three children into her Mini Cooper after my 2nd grader’s two hour wait convinced that I had abandoned her. I had officially failed to “do it all.” I thought I was artfully juggling this mediocre life with both old and new balls in circulation, and suddenly I realized, “I can’t do it all, and I shouldn’t have to.” While no one died, my refusal to accept that I was overwhelmed, led to dropping balls when I should have responsibly and proactively chosen to put some down. I slumped into my supervisor’s office and explained to her that I would be resigning from my position before the next school year. No thought or discussion was needed. I understood that my juggling act needed a major change, and the only adjustment that made sense was to spend more time with those in my household and less time with those in my office.

I toppled over from the stress of my chaotic life and dropped some balls. I confess that I’m a mediocre mother, wife, friend, and employee. When I gave myself permission to examine my priorities and thoughtfully choose which ball to put down, I allowed myself to pick up so many more balls that just so happen to be a better fit for me in my current place in life. I didn’t fret over money or being a “failure.” I simply focused on the good things. My kids were the good things that needed most of my energy. I was able to keep my career, social life, and family life in rotation while under a lot less stress by simply reducing my work hours and caseload. Friends, don’t be afraid to shift your priorities. Don’t be afraid to make the necessary changes to keep your juggling act in circuit. It’s okay to “fail.” You’re not the only one facing the fact that we are not robots. Just relax, and allow yourself to be human, and when the time comes, choose to put down a role or responsibility for your own sanity. Just paint the room black. There is a loud beauty within the mediocrity. Find it. Bust the speakers. Never turn it off.

More Living and Less Longing

You know those families who have it all? They own a new build 3000 sq. ft. house in your hometown’s desired gated subdivision. Both parents drive the latest model luxury vehicles equipped with XM radio and hands-free phone access. Each member of the family has his or own iPhone X starting at age 5. The children spend evenings scattered throughout their home listening to music, playing games, or watching television on one of their 500 electronic devices. Mom scrolls through social media pages dreaming of being a happier and more successful family than the posts of her friends lead her to believe they are while dad asks Alexa to give him the updates on today’s NFL games. They chatter about planning a vacation to the beach house while they really have no reason to ever leave their castle equipped with a pool, jacuzzi, big screens, golf carts,  five different gaming consoles, and more. Friends, meet the Joneses. I don’t know about you guys, but my mediocre household looks a lot different from that of the Joneses. Our culture is dominated by stuff: wanting more stuff, getting more stuff, and admiring other people’s stuff. In this accelerated world filled with distractions, I want to do more living and less longing.

In the third grade, I was snubbed for wearing off brand Birkenstocks to school (shoutout to the 90s kids-we’re making a fashion comeback). As the mother of an eight-year-old, can I just express how insane it is that any prepubescent child be offered a pair of 100-dollar shoes that he or she will inevitably outgrow within a matter of weeks (why are her feet growing so fast?!). Our children start coveting the Joneses possessions before they even learn to read. “Little Sally, do you know your date of birth?” “No, but I beat the first 400 levels of candy crush on my tablet.” The pressures only grow in adolescence as EVERY teenager, even those living in poverty, owns his or her own smart phone. Wouldn’t it be refreshing if we outgrew this trend of “keeping up” by adulthood? As adults, we feel pressured to buy houses we can’t afford in subdivisions with neighbors we don’t know driving SUVs we can’t afford to keep filled with gas, much less make the payments. It’s so exhausting trying to make ends meet and keep up appearances that our culture is full of parents who don’t know how to play with their children and children who don’t know how to play at all. At least we all have an exceptional amount of stuff, right?

As a mediocre individual, wife, mother, and friend, I’m tired of feeling the pressures to keep up with the Joneses because if I’m honest, I don’t even know those guys. My husband and I have chosen to own a home in the middle of town where I can yell at my neighbor to run over and help me get the top off my jeep when I need man power (shoutout to all the Mr. Doug’s out there). We’ve been able to easily make ends meet financially living in our 1000 sq. ft. home with one television and driving our dated, crowded vehicles as a family of five. When we sit in a waiting area, and my children grow restless, I pull crayons and notepads out of my bag to entertain them. My husband and I could pool all our resources (let’s be honest, it would still be unimpressive) in efforts to keep up with the Joneses, but instead, we try to keep up with our relationships. I’m not claiming to have mastered living in freedom from longing. Designer shoes and hair products are my vice. I am challenging myself and the other mediocre adults out there to give ourselves a break and get outside our homes. Living in a tiny 1000 sq. ft. home, we go outside to survive. We play outside, often we eat meals outside, and on a typical Saturday we hike outside.

For the sake of transparency, can I share a snapshot of the gloomy parts of my life? Fall has always been this romanticized time of year for me. I chose to marry my husband in the fall (scheduling around the SEC football schedule of course) because it’s the time of year that represents good spirits and good memories for me. At least it did before I had children. A great deal of trauma has occurred in my children’s lives during fall in the past. It seems to represent months when horrific events occurred for them, as well as months in which they were ripped away from one household and family and thrown into a new one, on more than one occasion. When the leaves begin to change, attitudes change in my household as well. As tensions rose this past October, one of my daughters began exhibiting an excessive amount of anger. She could so quickly convert from a laughing, playing angel to beating the snot out of her older and larger sister over the smallest disagreement. One night as we enjoyed the company of our friends on my birthday weekend, my angel released her anger on the pedestal sink in her bathroom. I felt so hopeless and frustrated. What kind of mother doesn’t even know her child is angry, much less angry enough to destroy a sturdy necessity within our home. Apparently, the mediocre kind of parent fails in such areas. As our house continued to feel more like a pressure cooker than a warm and friendly home for the next couple weeks, we decided to spend more time outside. Weekend hikes and picnics were filled with deep talks, sing alongs, jokes, running, wrestling, and most importantly a chance to take a breath and appreciate how small we actually are in this huge world.

The world is so much bigger than my home, household, job, and the people I encounter day in and day out. When we take time to unplug, we notice that the world is actually pretty beautiful and inspiring. The most crucial lesson I have learned about life to date is that relationships matter more than stuff. Friends, take the time to get to know the people who matter in your life. Give yourself a break from comparisons and coveting. Get outside to take care of yourself mentally and to need less materially. I’m always going to be a mediocre person, wife, and mother with a mediocre income and mediocre stuff. My relationships don’t have to be mediocre as well. My relationships are the most rich and beautiful aspects of my life, and I’m choosing to keep up with my people instead of keeping up with the Joneses. Your mediocre lives are beautiful too, friends. Be content with your mediocre stuff. Just paint the room black. There is a loud beauty within the mediocrity. Find it. Bust the speakers. Never turn it off.

EF4

You know how they say, “Don’t sweat the small stuff”? There are so many self-help books and affirmations focused on the concept that if we make it all small, there is nothing left worth our worry. Do you know people who are completely relaxed and stress free about every tiny detail in their lives? I do. They’re high, and once they come off the high, they’re plagued with stress and worry too. The mediocre people who cross my path every day are sweating a lot of small stuff, and if I am honest, they are sweating a lot of BIG STUFF too. Maybe we should change perspective and approach the proverbial “they” about changing their mantra to “Don’t sweat the BIG STUFF.”

Let me offer a picture of my definition of BIG STUFF. BIG STUFF is the kind of life event or circumstance that is beyond your control. BIG STUFF is not planning your wedding. It’s desiring marriage but feeling trapped in single life with no eligible bachelors in sight. BIG STUFF is not choosing a college major. It’s landing a job post-graduation that will allow you to start the climb from broke college kid to a slightly less broke adult. BIG STUFF is not choosing how to discipline your toddler. It’s watching your adult child make huge, life altering mistakes day in and day out. Life is full of both detailed decision making and falling into place in good faith. I know as both a therapist and a believer, I am supposed to say I never worry about anything, but don’t forget I am just a mediocre therapist and believer. I offer this perspective as a chronic worrier who has often resolved to fall into place in good faith when life gets too big. In 2013, buying a fixer upper house in a low-income neighborhood in a community two hours and one state away from my job and classes was not the BIG STUFF. The BIG STUFF ravaged my life in the form of an EF4 tornado with 170 mph winds.

As I rushed out the door to head to a fundraiser at my church on a quiet Sunday evening, I turned and straightened up the bow on the wreath I had just made for the front door. One of my coping skills for trudging through the stressors of life (as both a commuter student and commuter wife) was restoring the charm of my slightly historic little home and adding some special touches with DIY projects and crafts. I think Alanis Morissette would have said something like, “It’s like remodeling your home just to watch a storm rip it apart.” Shortly into the Relay for Life fundraiser, those in charge rushed the attendees into a large hallway as the town storm sirens sounded. Living in Mississippi, there are many tornado scares but rarely any real damage. As we huddled into the hallway, for me, it was more of a time to mock those who dramatically and tearfully fear for their lives at the sound of thunder. The cries gradually morphed into phone calls and passing of news of actual damage in our little safe haven. I began overhearing details of destruction as close as one block from my home. My knowledge of tornados is mediocre at best, but I realized at that point if the hardware store about a football field’s distance from my house was “Flat! Completely gone!,” chances were, my house was no longer my home.

I began searching the crowd of people for my husband. I soon discovered that not only had my house been “hit,” my husband was pulling a superman out helping people, leaving me at the church to receive this news alone. I had a thirty-second moment of panic because though I am not an overly emotional girl, I knew how much money sat in my bank account (shout out to all those struggling newlyweds). I quickly pulled myself together when I thought of Pam Beasley (the dog, not the human). Pam Beasley is my first child, and though I am aware she is a dog, she becomes highly offended if one suggests that she is any less human than the rest of us. There was some walking in the rain (in a pencil skirt, tights, and leather Gianni Bini boots-No big deal) involved in reaching my actual street. As I rounded the corner, I saw my roof perched upside down on my front lawn. People swarmed my property like ants surrounding a freshly stomped anthill. I found my husband who confirmed that Pam Beasley is a survivor and was in his truck unharmed but with a large host of doggy PTSD symptoms. A man I did not know handed me a black garbage bag and instructed me to pack up any clothes that I could find. Sunday was laundry day, and the laundry room was gone. It did not have some damage. It had ceased to exist. As I made my way to step through the threshold into the laundry room, I was looking at my backyard and a huge drop off to the wet soil that used to be under my laundry room. After kicking broken contents of my life out of my way to reach the master bedroom, I began pulling clothes from dresser drawers and closets and stuffing the bag. Another man I did not know was kind enough to help me hold the garbage bag as I emptied my lingerie drawer and other personal items from my bedroom. Friends, all pride and privacy ceases to exist when the place you live starts to look more like an opened can than a house. As I walked away from my house that night with the clothes on my back soaking wet and my anxiety ridden Boston terrier in my arms, I did not feel stress or worry. I was full of faith and assurance that my God was big enough to create beautiful things out of even the most chaotic life circumstances. I continued to grow more at peace and thankful in the following days as friends offered a place to live, food to eat, and donations to help my husband and me piece our lives back together.

I focused my stress and worry on the little things in my life. I rewrote my graduate school papers that were due in the following week (Not only did my laptop have some water damage, my husband and a friend decided my damaged computer was a perfect opportunity to reenact the printer scene from Office Space). I focused on helping clean up my neighbors’ lots, as well as my own. I focused on sorting and washing all of the damp clothing recovered from my roofless, flooded house. I focused on organizing my closet in my temporary home. I focused on making sure everyone knew how grateful I was for the love and support. While I focused on stressing the small stuff, God took care of the BIG STUFF. My home was rebuilt (costing very little money beyond our insurance coverage) in less than five days, and I was allowed to return to my refinished home exactly 2 months after losing the original one thanks to Catastrophe Inc. (HGTV), Baggett Construction, Griffin Architecture, McAlheny Plumbing, and so many others. The friends who loved on us and held our hands through our struggles became family away from family. Our small town and tiny house became the place we would raise our 3 beautiful daughters. Any stress-motivated plan I could have constructed would not have compared to the conclusion of that beautiful chapter in my life. I am so glad I did not sweat the BIG STUFF.

The things I could control during that catastrophe in my life were tiny details that made me feel like a better, more productive person. Pay attention to the little details in your life. Worry about whether your boots are too casual for work. Worry about finding new nutritious but tasty snacks for your kids to eat. Worry about keeping your closet organized by color to make your mornings easier. Sweat the small stuff because focusing on the tiny things makes you feel like a huge success. Then while you are focusing on these tiny aspects of self and your daily life, focus on the way the clouds are sailing by more swiftly today. Focus on the fact that you made it across town and only caught one red light. Focus on the kisses and “hold me’s”. Focus on the smiles you see throughout the day. In a chaotic world filled with an uncontrollable, unpredictable social and political climate, choose to do the best you can in the moment. Be mindful. Find peace in your mediocre, boring life. Peace in the BIG STUFF will follow. There is a loud beauty within the mediocrity. Find it. Bust the speakers. Never turn it off.

 

Photo by Jamie Gominger

An Imposter Soccer Mom

You know when you walk into a gathering or public venue and immediately feel at home? Maybe it’s a social club, church, or even your favorite city pub. You walk in, and as you soak in the environment, you see other people who look like you, you hear your favorite song playing on the speaker, or maybe you smell something that brings back a nostalgia for home. Before your thoughts even catch up to your feelings, you become a regular or even like family to the other individuals in that environment. You’re in the right place at the right time, and it becomes a part of who you are. That’s exactly the opposite of how mom life throughout the community feels for me. Because my husband and I have chosen a nontraditional path to parenthood, we rapidly transformed from a married couple with two incomes, a cozy home, and a spontaneous lifestyle to a family of five (including a seven year old, five year old, and two year old) living in a constant state of crowded chaos. Though my journey to parenthood was destined to happen in a fast, reckless manner, I was mentally and emotionally prepared to be a great parent (let’s all take a moment and laugh at the idea that anyone could ever be prepared for this parenthood thing). What I had never considered before having children was just how dysfunctional my transition into soccer mom would be and how mediocre I would feel.

When I say soccer mom, I mean a literal mother of a child playing soccer. My oldest child (now eight years old) decided to plunge into soccer for the first time this season. My husband and I are fans of change and trying new things so this was an exciting adventure for our family. There were some challenges from the start, such as: apparently most children don’t wait until eight years old to try a new sport, and apparently most parents are at least acquainted with each other by the time all their children are playing the same sport as eight year olds. Those hurdles seemed minor enough.

I was running late to my child’s first soccer game because I’m me, and I’m late to everything (plus I had the great idea to cook waffles and bacon before the 8:00 game in an attempt to be mom of the year in spite of my social blunders soon to come). I pulled into the parking lot searching frantically for a spot to park my Jeep Wrangler amongst all the Suburbans and minivans (Are you wondering how I fit a car seat and 2 boosters into the back of a jeep yet?). The carpool line has already prepared me for my vehicle to stand out so at this point, I’m just grateful I have 4WD allowing me to park in the grass with no fear of being trapped in this swarm of mom cars for the rest of my life. That “what am I doing here feeling” didn’t really set in until we made our way to the fields.

It was an exceptionally hot day in South Mississippi. I made my way to the crowded soccer fields wearing cut off jean shorts, a large t-shirt, high top chucks, and my natural wavy hair with kids hanging off each arm. I usually try not to let stereotypes drive my expectations, but I suppose stereotypes exist for a reason. Apparently there’s a soccer mom uniform, and I totally missed the memo about the pregame meeting to pick up my school apparel t-shirt, yoga pants, tennis cap, and running shoes. Also, apparently there’s no bleacher seating at the soccer fields. No wonder not only was I the only mom walking up dressed like a fifteen year old, I was also the only mom who was empty handed (in my defense, we’re a baseball family, and there are ALWAYS bleachers at the baseball fields). As my two younger children and I sat on the ground (criss-cross applesauce) to watch the game in a sea of bag chairs and yeti coolers, I realized apparently the good soccer moms care about their children’s hydration. I quickly resolved the hydration situation because though I’m an imposter soccer mom, I’m a survivor. As the game started, I couldn’t stop laughing. I wouldn’t say I’m the type who laughs at inappropriate times. I’m just a transparent person, and if it’s funny, it’s funny. Friends, eight and nine year olds playing soccer is funny. Midway into my child’s team getting stomped in the ground by the other team, one of her male teammates began crying so hard that his mother intervened on the sideline to calm him down. While definitely not calming down, the kid started vomiting. As the herd of tiny soccer players kicked the ball back to our side of the field, the vomiting child ran onto the field from the sidelines and kicked the ball with all his might then sprinted back off the field to resume vomiting. Actual tears poured from my face as I hyperventilated with laughter while all the other moms stared at me with disgust. Apparently good soccer moms are also empathetic.

I learned from this one experience that to be a good soccer mom, I need a new vehicle, a new wardrobe, and a poker face. Let’s be honest: I’m probably always going to be a mediocre soccer mom (because yes, my child has decided to stick with it despite my humiliation). This is how out of place I feel every time I take my children to a school function or any other community event. Maybe I’m a mediocre parent. As I have talked to more mothers over the past year, I have learned that we all feel pretty mediocre and even more often like total failures. Sometimes we’re so concerned with being good enough that we forget to admire the beautiful things in life and laugh when life’s funny. It’s beautiful that my tough little eight year old who has been thrown into a completely new life, family, and community is brave enough to try a new sport. It’s beautiful that my husband and I are both working hard to support her in this endeavor regardless the challenges. It’s beautiful that her coach took a special interest in encouraging her because even without knowing her story, he could sense her fear and anxiety. It’s funny that the same kid who booted the ball across the field mid vomit also lost a shoe at least two times each game that season. It’s funny that I live close enough to the fields to walk, and I was still late to EVERY SINGLE GAME no matter how early we woke up on game days (but we did do a big family breakfast before every game so I’m still in the running for that mom of the year title, right?). Friends, don’t be scared to try things that don’t give you the warm fuzzies. Don’t be afraid of feeling small and mediocre. Just paint the room black. There is a loud beauty within the mediocrity. Find it. Bust the speakers. Never turn it off.

 

 

Hi, You’ve Found Me.

Maybe to paint a clear picture of my present, I should offer you a snapshot of my past. You know that girl who peaked early? She’s a teenager so of course she’s the perfect blend of anorexic and athletic, but she also has impeccable taste and Daddy’s credit card transforming her into a prototype of all things trendy. A bronze tan, bouncy hair, and flawless contouring skills turn every head as she struts down the locker-lined halls of her high school. She’s killing it before she’s even aware there’s an it to be hunted, much less killed. Visualize that girl from your class. Now look behind her and maybe a little to the right. There she is: The completely mediocre looking, angsty girl with the dirty chucks and thrift store tee. Hi, you’ve found me. I have spent my entire life thriving at mediocrity. Shoutout to all the kids bringing home straight A’s but not making a top ranking in their graduating class. Shoutout to all the kids who are passionate about their extracurricular activities but are unimpressive to watch. Shoutout to all the kids who care about people but are too salty and sarcastic to be considered upstanding. Shoutout to the kids who are known and liked but are never considered popular.

Mediocrity is nothing to hate or fear. Something I’ve learned about life is even the little people have big voices. By early adulthood, I had found my volume knob and twisted to full force. I found a confidence in my interests and sense of humor that aided me in conquering my social shortcomings. Through the journey of balancing insecurities, a deeply rooted desire for control, and fearless risk-taking, I landed in my present. I spent the majority of my twenties as an energetic, adventurous clinical mental health therapist working ceaselessly for a regional community mental health agency where I love the individuals and families I serve more than I hate the paperwork. I was married with no children while both my husband and I have chosen careers completely submerged in the success of children. I’ve lived just close enough to family to remain connected while living far enough away to require the construction of a new day to day network of support (that’s harder than it sounds, and it’s not like it sounds easy). I’ve been a coffee drinking, music obsessed, wine enthusiast clinging to the idea of appearing younger than I am. I have made the lame (and let’s be honest, pathetic) joke that I’m twenty-one on every birthday since my actual twenty-first. For the sake of transparency, I’ve held onto twenty-one because of the romanticized ideal of a wide open future that exists at that place in life. I think we hold onto youthfulness due to fear of fading into a more lifeless and mediocre self with time.

Through the ups and downs of 2017, something has changed at the core of who I am. I’ve thrown myself into thirty with enthusiasm and pride. I’m a hard-working, hard-loving mommy, wife, and friend who never lets go. I am not mediocre. My story is not mediocre. The strength I call on to fight and win the battles of my life is not mediocre. As I am facing my 30th year, I have decided to give a voice to the mediocre persons with the everyday experiences, thoughts, and passions that can make a difference in the lives of others. But what does all of this have to do with painting?

My favorite color has been black for as long as I can remember. I have this quirky bit where I habitually lie about my favorite color and say it’s green then I admit it’s really yellow, but that’s only because you can’t say your favorite color is black… That’s a story for another day. My point: my favorite color is black. In my tiny house bursting at the seams with 2 adults, 3 little girls, and 1 dog, I decided I wanted to make my bedroom a reflection of the happiest version of me. I wanted to paint my bedroom black. Everyone I knew said it was a bad idea from a design perspective to a mental health perspective. One night as I lied in my bedroom in complete silence (obviously everyone else was asleep), I looked up and thought, “Just paint the room black. It’s what you do. Take the risk. Trust your gut. Paint the room black.” Paint the room black, friends. Do the little things you feel in your gut will make a difference in your life and the lives of others. Just paint the room black. There is a loud beauty within the mediocrity. Find it. Bust the speakers. Never turn it off.

 

Photo by Matt Warren-Photographer