Controlled Danger-Fun

You know how boundaries are on a spectrum, right. On one side it’s rigid, and way over here on the other side it’s chaotic. I was raised firmly planted on the rigid side of the spectrum, and it shows. Dinner was at 6pm, every day, never failed. The laundry was done on Saturday morning, every Saturday morning. You call your parents on Sundays. Put simply, we had clear, predictable routines, expectations, and consequences for violating those expectations. As a kid, I didn’t think anything of it. I assumed it was normal. For the most part, I liked it. I’m a person who likes to know what’s coming next, and whether that’s because of the way I was raised or happily coinciding with the way I was raised has yet to be seen. Perhaps it’s both.

Put another way, I’m a person who likes to be in control. Control, structure, predictability all feel viscerally comforting to me. I crave them like I crave my morning coffee. Feeling out of control, at the very least makes me feel cranky or irritable, and at worst makes me feel anxious and downright panicky.

I do things everyday to maintain my feelings of control over my little bubble. I make my bed. I choose what I put into and onto my body. I make lists and cross them off. I pick up clutter- constantly. I organize the fridge, the junk drawer, my kids’ toys. I plan. I think of everything that could go wrong with that plan and then plan for that, too. It’s a careful balance to make sure that I’m staying productive and healthy and not going overboard trying to make every little thing exactly how I want it. Some days are better than others.

They have a weird relationship, anxiety and control. They’re both illusions, to an extent. I don’t have control over very much in this world, and so there’s very little that is healthy and productive to feel anxiety about. Go figure. In an effort to squelch anxiety by trying to control everything, it often backfires and creates even more anxiety. Ugh.

So. What may sound counter-intuitive in my quest to try and control (or, as a healthier reframing word choice: calm) my anxiety is my charming habit to do stuff that I know makes me anxious. I still drink coffee because I likes it and I wants to. I still stay up late because I likes it and I wants to. And I still watch scary movies because my anxiety will not control my choices and I will not live in fear…all the time.

I make calculated choices and I have to decide what risks and consequences I’m willing to take. As a risk-averse person in general, I don’t like doing big, dangerous things where I don’t feel enough in control. Skydiving and bungee jumping are out, but rollercoasters are in! The perfect amount of fear/excitement and control/safety.

Scary movies also fall into this just right category. Surprising no one, I like the psychological thrillers that burrow under my skin and keep me up at night. Sure, they make my blood pressure rise but I get to make choices from beginning to end. Which creepy show do we watch? How often? Let’s take a pee break right now. Right now! PAUSE IT! Okay, now I need to turn on the lights. I don’t know why we started with the lights off because that was a shitty idea. At this point I’m going to talk my way through this scene so I can stay in the moment and not get sucked i-WHY IS SHE NOT LEAVING THIS HOUSE?! HASN’T SHE BEEN THROUGH ENOUGH? Where is her sense of self-preservation?! RUUUUUUN! Aaaaand oh look this blanket jumped right in front of my eyes before the Bent Neck Lady scrapes down the fucking hall again; all I hear is scraping, hissing, and screaming so I’ll let my imagination take it from here and assume they’re defeating the evil spirits and getting the hell outta dodge because who in their right minds would go back to bed after seeing a floating specter turn a kitten inside out and not tell their parents?! Fucking psychopaths, THAT’S WHO!

This is my idea of controlled danger-fun, dear readers. Who needs to jump out of a plane when all you need to do is watch children be tortured by evil spirits in the comfort of your own home? I tell myself it’s instances like these, and people like me, for which Xanax was invented.


Day 13

Did you know that boys can wear pink if they want to?

We were having dinner the other day as a family. My kids were talking about what they were gonna do when they grew up.

My son said, “When I’m a daddy, I’m going to go to work!”

My daughter chimed in, “YEAH! When I’m a daddy TOO, I’m gonna work!”

My son corrected, “NO! You can only be a mommy, cuz you’re a GIRL! And mommies stay home, they don’t go to work!”

My stomach gave a lurch.

I interrupted them – both my husband and I did – and we together explained that some daddies stay home and some mommies go to work. And that me, this Mommy, used to work, and that someday soon, I will again. And that we know mommies who work!

I totally understand that kids his age are very concrete, very black/white, right/wrong, what have you. They need to categorize in order to understand the world, and all those shades of gray can be confusing. Girls do this, boys do that! Easy-peasy. Plus, my kids have never seen me work. Why would they think any differently? To them, whatever our family does is familiar, natural, expected, normal.

I’m just very quick to point out that gender stereotypes don’t have to be followed if we don’t want to. I don’t want my kids feeling like they have to be put in a box, act a certain way, be a certain way, in order to be liked, accepted…whole.

One time, I took my son to get some rain boots. I was going to pick them out myself, but I figured I’d let him choose because then he’d be more likely to actually wear them. I was going to pick out some dark-colored ones from the “boy” section, but when I led him to the kid rain boot aisle, I made sure to motion to ALL the rain boots, the “boy” ones and “girl” ones. He looked at some pink ones, put them down and then mumbled that oh, those are girl ones.

How do you know that? I asked

Because they’re pink. He replied

Did you know that boys can wear pink if they want to?

(Pause.)

And you can choose whatever color you’d like.

Okay.

He still chose some “boy” ones, and that’s fine (they were freaking awesome, actually. they were green alligators with fucking sunglasses on, that’s how cool they were). I just want him to know that 1) there actually are boys who choose pink and mommies who choose to work, that there are many shades of gray and they are all okay, 2) he has the choice, for real, it’s not just lip service, and lastly, 3) he has my support whatever his choice.

I just hope that, if I say it enough, my kids will hear and understand. But it’s so hard when they’re mostly seeing family and friends and a world that strongly encourages and rewards adherence to gender norms. Because if they can’t see it, they can’t be it.

Hopefully I can help them see it.


nanopoblano2019

Contributions and Gratitude

I’m reading Sheryl Sandberg’s book Option B, and in it she talks about how recognizing your contributions to the world helps to build confidence and a sense of agency. She urges people to recognize this in addition to things we are grateful for. Yes, gratitude is important for cultivating happiness and joy, but she argues (and claims the research shows) that because gratitude is passive, it only goes so far. Meaning, gratitude practices acknowledge things you receive, while recognizing and celebrating one’s contributions to the world is more active – it’s something I’ve done to make the world a better place.

And so, I thought I’d give it a try. Here are a few contributions of which I am most proud.

  • Everyday, I am raising my children to be kind, compassionate people. I try to show them with my words and also lead by example.
  • I try to do small kind things for people around me, both friends and strangers.
  • I blog. I put my feelings out there into the world, in hopes that maybe someone will read them and feel less alone.
  • In my previous life (and I will again in my next life) I devoted my career to creating a safe space where clients could come to vent, heal, and be heard. I served as a crucial witness and container for suffering.
  • I keep my household running pretty damn well.
  • In spite of it all, I actually manage to take care of myself, too.

As another year comes to a close, I am also extremely thankful for the following:

  • My health, my husband’s health, my kids’ health.
  • We have enough. Of everything. Food, housing, transportation, money, clothes. In a world that is hell-bent on telling us we need more, more, more – and the flip side of that is that we never have enough – I want to remind myself that we DO, in fact, have enough.
  • Choice. I am privileged, and I have choices in my life. Living under a presidential administration that is working to take choices of all kinds away from citizens makes me realize just how precious and important it is.
  • Freedom of speech. We still have the right to say what we want and fight injustice in this world, and for that I am thankful and do not plan to take it for granted.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. I hope your day is filled with contentment, joy, and stuffing.