Category Archives: personality

Grown Up is Hard to Be

There’s this thing about growing up, about working and moving out and moving away, about relationships and making commitments and parenting. This thing we don’t talk about very much. This thing that doesn’t make for great copy in hallmark cards or lyrics in the hell-yeah-life-is-sweet-and-I’m-so-cool songs that they play on the radio.

Sometimes being a grown up sucks.

Not in the grand romantic tradition of great tragedies. Nothing you could write an epic ballad about. Or turn into a memoir. But in small, petty ways that rub and chafe and make us seem like whiners for bringing it up at all. Whether we choose to moan and complain, or bottle it up under the label of positivity, we feel the sting.

It’s no wonder we make heroes of those who throw off societal convention to chase their whims (something every toddler does on a daily basis). That’s right Kerouac, I’m looking at you. They seem glamorous. Romantic. When they’re more likely immature and selfish.

Deep down, we long to escape the menial, the mundane, the constant drip of urgent. We drool over travel brochures and retirement ads. We imagine that if we make this much money or get that job or our kids reach such-and-such a milestone, it’ll be easy and fun all the time. We tally up the costs of selflessness – lost time, lost energy, lost dreams, lost sleep, and some days, lost sanity.

Then a little voice chirps “I love you!” and places a slobbery kiss on your cheek. Or that someone special brings home your favourite treat because they just happened to be thinking of you. Or you sit down with a good book in your favourite chair in your own home that fits you exactly right.

It’s so much more gained than lost.

Day-to-day, being a grown up can suck, but in a long run, it’s a win. So we choose meaningful over happy. We have faith that this path is the right one, the one we were made for.

Until I find another dirty, wet towel thrown on my bed. Then, all perspective is lost.

I’m only human.

So here’s me, in my journey toward maturity. My continuing mission to explore this strange old world, to seek out a good life and civilize my children, to boldly go where so many have gone before.

Yes. I’m a dork.

A great article on the benefits of being a grown up:
There’s More to Life Than Being Happy

Advertisements

I Live In Between

Most of my life is spent in a place of too much and not enough.

Too much to do, and not enough time.
Too much stuff, and not enough space.
Too much eaten, and not enough activity.
Too much spent, and not enough saved.
Too much stress, and not enough rest.

You get the picture. You probably live in this picture too. Most of us internet-trawling, Facebook-posting, smart-phone-clutching, Consumers-and-Users do. We don’t want to. We don’t plan to. We read and write and repost all sorts of things to avoid it. But, it’s the curse of modern life.

I suspect the subsistence-farming, factory-working, drought-surviving, war-enduring, HaveNots-and-MakingDoers are living their own form of too much and not enough. A far grimmer version. Perhaps, it’s the curse of human life.

This morning I gamely wrestled six bags, three children, a dented flute, a half-eaten muffin and a small plastic snailery (hastily fashioned out of an old pop bottle for Mrs Gander’s class) out the front door. We were running late. Again. With even the smallest chance of sunshine, ghostly white people like us must sunscreen before leaving the house. I always forget to account for this extra 5 minutes in my mad dash to all our various schools.

Fortunately we have very good friends who give the highschooler a ride everyday. The elementary schoolers were impatiently buckled into the van, the preschooler was crawling between the seats chasing a bug and I was checking one more time to make sure I had a good copy of my paper for my Creative Non-Fiction class. Even Mom goes to school these days.

As we pulled out, we began our not-so-beloved, but totally neccessary for Mom’s sanity, prayer ritual. Everyone pitches in a couple items, out loud, on the way down the street. And I remember that I actually love these little people and that life, and this day, is bigger than the latest version of yes-you-really-have-to-wear-that (shoe/sock/coat/sunscreen). It’s like a reset, as we face down another day. My favourite was the boy’s prayer:

Ah… God,
School!!!
Ah-mennnnn.

What more needs to be said, really? We arrived at our first stop, flush with success, just as the first bell rang. Of course the snailery was sitting on the porch by the front door. Of course.

Pack it back in, turn around, scoop it up, try again. Even later than ever. Again.

I used to think that this is where life is lived – in the doing: in the tasks accomplished and customers served. The bulk of my life – so  full of too much, so starved by not enough – is not a bad place, not really. I don’t regret it or hate it. I’m not willing to trade it in for another rendition. I’m not looking for a transformation or some fancy new system guarunteed to cure all my woes. Sure, I’ll seek a better balance, but I don’t imagine I’ll ever arrive.

Instead I’m changing my focus. I picked the word “Breathe” as my resolution this year. And it’s a strangely powerful one.

I’m as busy as ever, but that is not how I live. Not anymore. I live in the spaces between too much and not enough.

I live in the slight breeze tickling my face.
I live in the warm press of little bodies beside me at 6 am.
I live in the stretch of my legs on the trampoline during ‘ring-around-the-rosie.’
I live in the laugh shared over a ridiculous inside joke.
I live in the beat of a catchy tune, the blue sky as far as I can see, the smell of rain on the horizon…

I live in these moments that are just right and more than enough. There’s no trick, no equation, no escape needed. Life trickles into the gaps of everyday. It’s a gift. We just have to live it.life

Be still and know that I am God.

Breathe.

So here’s me, the crazy person who thought an intensive May/June writing course (cram 13 weeks of work into 8) would be a great fit for our life. Maybe not, but I’m actually feeling a lot LESS stressed than expected because those technicolour moments of life are powerful. Who knew, I just needed to learn to breathe all these years.


Excuse Me While I Apologize for Living

Every once in awhile it feels like life is conspiring to teach me a lesson. As if God is pointing a celestial finger at something in my life. “See! Do you see? This.”
fingerofGod

The unrelated incidents begin to pile up and a pattern emerges. And I start to see. “Ohhhhhh. This.”

  • I deal with a biting incident at our new church (my son, not me) like a mature, well-adjusted adult – bursting into tears, sobbing “I’m sorry we’re so much work…” The ladies in the nursery both comfort me and call me on it. Why it is so hard for me to receive the same kind of help I’d happily give others?
  • I’ve got a sore throat and a head ache. I need help with the kids. I apologize all day long, until my husband totally loses his cool. “I’ve never met anyone who apologizes so much for their own existence! You are not the only one in the mix.” This is a recurring problem.
  • I read My Sister’s Addiction about the compulsive need to be needed. She quotes Mark Nepo

    “I have been learning that the life of a caretaker is as addictive as the life of an alcoholic… we briefly numb a worthlessness that won’t go away unless constantly doused by another shot of self-sacrifice…”

    This is me. So me. Ouch.

  • I have trouble leaving my son at preschool. Even though he’s totally happy and well cared for and  I have class and I really need the break. I walk down the stairs slowly, so slowly, pushing down a ridiculous upswell of guilt.
  • I make a new friend who is passionate about teaching children to be advocates for each other, especially those with special needs. My kind of people. She tells a story about her daughter learning to advocate for herself, an important first step in becoming an advocate – Short Hair Don’t Care. And I find myself in tears. Again.
  • A blog post appears in my inbox, I mean to delete it (no time to read), but click on the link by accident. Iced Tea, Decaf and the World Changing on its Axis is about a woman going to school while her husband helps cover for her (sounds familiar). She talks about the lessons of her mother’s generation:

    Women are the ones who sacrifice for their families. Not men. Not children. Women. In  her world, God could not be calling any woman to do something that would cost her family anything. Not.Possible.”

    And I start crying (of course), because deep down, I must believe this. Even though I know it’s crap. And I don’t want to.  And it’s not what my parents taught me.

Clearly, I have a problem. I’m pretty good at giving. I won’t back down from a spirited debate. I’m a strong personality in many other ways. But some strange mixture of pride and insecurity makes it hard for me to ask for help. To accept the help I need. To accept that I need help at all. This is more than just a life skills deficit, it’s a spiritual problem.

I go to extraordinary lengths not to put people out, not to be a bother. If they bring me the wrong thing at the restaurant, I’ll usually just eat it. If someone does me wrong, I usually just eat that too. I make myself small.

Also, I’m really weepy these days.

This morning I had a chance to put some weight behind my resolution to speak up, to stop apologizing for what I need.

The good news, the absolutely thrilling and exciting news, is that a short story I wrote has been published in the university literary magazine. The editorial staff put a ton of work and effort into the annual publication. They did a great job!

As someone who’s done a lot of copy editing I know how easy it is, almost inevitable, to miss something. And they did. Unfortunately, the word missing is crucial. A climactic statement at the very end of my story rendered nonsensical.

It still works. I’m still 99% tickled to see my name in print. I know it’s too late to do anything about the print copies. I tell myself it’s not a big deal, stop obsessing. But I need them to fix it before they post the PDF version online.

That was a hard email for me to write.

So here’s me, taking up space in the world. And that might put people out, or rock the boat, or make a mess. And I’m learning to be okay with that.


The Grass on the Other Side

It’s one of those subject lines that grabs you by the throat. Time slowed as my mouse hovered over “Baby Died.”

I didn’t breathe at all until I realized it wasn’t my friend’s baby. Except, it sort of was. One of the babies she works with in a Ugandan orphanage. Not family, as are the 7 dependants she claims on tax forms, but close to it, when you know her heart and her view of the world.

As I read about her many kids, her son’s broken arm, the challenges of life in Africa and her husband’s upcoming trip, I couldn’t help but feel small. Small in my scope and my reach and the type of things that seem SO overwhelming to me right now.
grass

I pulled up my calendar in Outlook, adding “letter to Cher” to my task list when the words “Nicaragua trip” caught my eye. I realized that it’s almost time for 32 local high school students to put the rubber of global education to the road of real life experience, working with families living, literally, in a garbage dump in Central America.

Since trips to the grocery store down the street take monumental effort for our family, it seems inconceivable that my friend Ginny and her husband manage to not only plan and lead this annual trip, but build an international aid organization and spend summers exploring Europe with their children. Before reaching double digits, their girls have seen and experienced more of the world than most adults. Extraordinary. Adventurous. So beyond our reach.

It should be a good thing, to be trusted with someone else’s story, a much needed gift of perspective. Instead, too often, I let the comparisons steal from me. Spiriting away my confidence and contentment, making my stories seem less important to my own eyes.

Sighing, I scrolled through the rest of my emails, perking up to see an email from a new friend – one of my English professors. I had been thrilled to connect beyond the classroom and honoured to act as a sounding board for her upcoming blog. Not only does she have a depth of experience as a mentor and academic, she’s already a published author. That she also happens to be stylish, beautiful and eloquent only reinforced my belief that her life must be glamorous.

I braced myself for another dose of envy and insecurity. Somewhere along the way, I cast myself as the frumpy housewife inching towards an undergrad degree at an absurdly glacial pace. But that’s not who she sees.

Our paths have been very different. As she put it, we are “opposite ends of the contemporary women’s spectrum,” yet somehow, kindred spirits.

She sent me a draft she’d written for the new blog about our unexpected, providential friendship. I am the other side of that mirror for her, just as she is for me… a glimpse down the road not taken. Reading it, I was reminded that her life, so glamorous to my eyes, has actually been a hard-fought, often scary journey. But she wouldn’t trade it for anything.

That much we have in common.

I don’t regret my journey. I don’t regret my destination. Even though I caught vomit in my bare hands twice yesterday. Even though I haven’t had 4 consecutive hours of sleep since Thursday. Even though I throw embarrassing, self indulgent pity parties for the whole internet to see. Even though I’m not a saint, or a world traveller, or a ‘real’ writer.

(Yet)

I won’t let comparison steal anymore from me today. I am surrounded by exceptional women with challenging, complex, beautiful stories. Not molds I must pour myself into. Not scales to weigh myself against. Not competition.

Friends.

The grass on our side of the fence is a unique strain. It might not spread as far and wide as some… it might not grow as tall or as quickly or as easily… but it’s home. When I stop filtering my life through everyone else’s story, this messy, noisy, beautiful life comes back into focus. And it’s good – hard, but good. And I can appreciate the view into other lives all the more.

So here’s me, in the ongoing battle to just be. Thank God for my story. And yours.

Breathe.


Would You Like Cheese With That?

Yes. Yes I would.

cheeseI’ve always been cheesy kind of gal. And I’m not just talking about hamburgers and pizza.

I savour the warm, gooey embrace of a predictable chick flick, a sappy romance novel and an estrogen-fueled women’s gathering. I’m a fan of baby showers, wedding parties and craft circles. My favourite, however, is a time-honoured church tradition: The Ladies Retreat. With youth group and summer camp in my rear view mirror, this is where I go for a regular dose of silly fun.

A lot has been written online about this phenomenon, and women’s ministry in general, over the past few years. One of the bloggers I love most wrote a piece this past weekend, while I just HAPPENED to be at our church’s bi-annual Ladies Retreat. Her account was funny, honest and mostly positive, in a surprised and begrudging way. Many I’ve read are not nearly so gracious.

I get it. I do. They’ve had bad experiences. I have too. There are judgmental cows. There are sugary sweet phonies. There are women who live to make everyone miserable in the name of God.

As someone who used to organize these events, I have heard every complaint in the book. It’s impossible to please everyone… The die-hard athletes and the girlie crafters. The all-night-gigglers and the crack-of-dawn-whistlers. The girls-who-just-wanna-have-fun and the women-with-deep-thoughts-to-share. The single-and-loving-it-professionals and the babies-are-my-life-wives. Then there’s the food and the location, the uncomfortable beds and finding a speaker who is just the right mix of fun and profound.

There’s a lot that can go wrong. It’s not for everyone. My husband would rather cut off his own thumbs than attend a men’s retreat. It ranks right up there with third degree burns and eating peanut butter for him. Knowing him as I do, this is the right call. Ladies Retreat might not be for you.

But it is for me.

Every time I read the mocking posts or hear the complaints I shrink a little inside. Suddenly I’m back in Jr High and the cool kids are snickering at me. They’re too grown up to play. I wonder if it is childish and wrong.

I wonder if I am.

I’m that dork in the front row, with tears streaming down my face as the speaker shares an emotional anecdote. I’m the belly laugh during the “share an embarrassing story” activity. I’m front of the line for silly games. I’m the introvert who is comforted by schedules and ice-breaker games and name tags. I’m the lady rushing around doing Very Important Work, so I don’t have to mingle so much, but still be part of the group all the same. I’m the one taking a nap and solitary walks during free time, because this is such a luxury. I hear God in the nature and the songs and the words of the women around me.

It’s not perfect and I barely sleep and I always have a few awkward, this-isn’t-working-for-me moments. But I push through, because there’s more good stuff than bad.

I LOVE Ladies Retreat!

So to all those people rolling their eyes and folding their arms: We get it. You’re too cynical and insecure cool for this stuff. That’s your perogative.

With a critical streak a mile wide myself, not to mention a cynical husband, it’s something I understand. There may even be some truth in it. You don’t have to come to the parade, but please, try not to rain on the rest of us.

When I look at the women I admire most, they aren’t the ones on the sidelines. Last weekend I sat beside 80-something year old Gladys. She was gearing up for the Sun Run race the next day. “I take a lot of rests, mind you, dear.” She wore a grass skirt to the tropical dinner and was front and centre, neon pool noodle in hand, for the ball relay. She knows how to laugh at herself and she’s game for anything. I want to be like her when I grow up.

I’m not in Jr. High anymore. I’m learning to embrace my enthusiastically dorky side. It’s not for everyone. But I’m glad I’m me.

I’ll take EXTRA cheese, please!

So here’s me, after a totally awesome Ladies Retreat. Carolyn Arends (one of my FAVOURITE authors) was our funny and insightful speaker – and she remembered me!!! – but I was totally cool about it (sort of). It feeds my soul – the beautiful decorations, the goofy games, the Indian Head Massage (developing a slight girl-crush on Lisa), the worship time, the hanging out with friends, the path by a waterfall, and most of all, no one needing anything from me for a day and a half!

NOTE: My friend Jessica attended this retreat with me. It’s not really her thing, but she’s a good sport like that. She has plenty of good reasons to stay on the sidelines, but she doesn’t, and I respect that a lot. Her post Be Kind to the Cynics is the slap upside the head I needed, a reminder to be more patient and understanding. It had me doing some soul searching today. Not always comfortable and rarely fun, but definitely good for the soul.

I thought about ignoring it. I thought about deleting this post or parts of it. I thought about rewriting. I  thought about chocolate (cause that always helps). In the end, I decided to add this link and hope you will read it too!

cynics


Everything! Everything! Everything!

Five Minute Friday:

Remember

One of the interesting side effects of being a known blogger amongst your circle of friends, is the influx of blogging suggestions. Remember when… becomes a prelude to “you should blog about that.” All the time.

When I hear the word “Remember”, I know what’s coming next. And I often do. Blog about the things we’ve waxed nostalgic about. But some of my best stories will never be immortalized online. Some, I choose to keep my own. Some, don’t feel like mine to share. And some, I just can’t remember right, no matter how hard I try.

I had one today. And I’ve been wracking my brain since I got this e-mail. The timing was perfect.

Once when I was over you told this story (the details are sketchy in my mind) but the essence of the story was a crying fit with Glen that had you repeating over and over ‘Everything! Everything! Everything!’.

I just wanted you to know that among my friends and my friends friends this has become a phrase that communicates crystal clearly when we feel like we’re waaaaaay in over our heads and we’re feeling emotional, about it.

It came up this morning again, and I felt like I should tell you that you are a legend. You should blog about it. 😉

I’m not at all surprised that I have acquired some small amount fame based on my complete emotional breakdown. Not even a little bit. I’m sure the story was both funny (at my own expense) and personally embarrassing. They usually are.

I do remember this story. I remember the day. I remember feeling completely overwhelmed, beyond words and reason. But I can’t, for the life of me, remember the comedy of errors that preceded it. The details have completely faded.

I’m pretty sure it was that magical time of the month. I had just given Glen an exhaustive list of everything that was wrong with my day, my life, my wardrobe and the universe in general. And I remember him asking what SPECIFICALLY I was upset about. No doubt so he could whip out his handy-dandy, husbandly tool-kit of advice to FIX it for me.

Rookie mistake.

Everything! Everything! Everything!

I can’t remember what EVERYTHING was that day. But it’s still the cry of my heart on a regular basis. And it really does feel better to say it. Next time you’re overwhelmed you should try it. I promise it helps. Then, maybe you should blog about it.

Remember that most of life’s overwhelming moments will be nothing more than a funny story someday.

overwhelmed

So here’s me… I spent the morning in a mall in Bellingham with my aunt and the 4 kids. B threw up all over herself and me, then used up every pull-up I had brought and one of her brother’s diapers (stomach bug is officially back). S had a meltdown and proceeded to get his head stuck under the canopy of his stroller while thrashing and screaming. My aunt walks with a significant limp, so this whole sticky, smelly, grumpy, shrieking gong show moved at snail’s pace down the length of the mall.

Everything! Everything! Everything!… indeed.

Today I’m joining up with Lisa Jo and a whole group of writers for a fun writing challenge. Though I must confess, I slightly exceeded my allotted Five Minutes today. Just one more thing to add to Everything. 😉

1. Write for 5 minutes flat – no editing, no over thinking, no backtracking.

2. Link back here and invite others to join in.

3. And then absolutely, no ifs, ands or buts about it, you need to visit the person who linked up before you & encourage them in their comments. Seriously. That is, like, the rule. And the fun. And the heart of this community..


Unstoppable?

I’m awfully fond of breathing.

Usually my lungs and I are on the same page about this one, but today we are at odds. My “lingering cough” has taken a turn for the worse. When the hacking gets so bad I’m sleeping on the couch each night and I have to hang up the phone mid-conversation because I’m unable to get a word out, even I have to admit it’s more than “just a cold.”

There’s never much time for Mom to see the doctor. It falls down the list along with “pull out the refrigerator and dust the coils” and “back up computer files.” Something that really does need doing, but isn’t causing immediate problems and can just as easily be done another day. Or the one after that. Or never.

Except when it starts causing immediate problems. The kind where I have to cancel plans.

Like taking the ferry to Vancouver Island last weekend to hang out with my cousin (and longtime bff), her 5 kids and 11 newborn piglets. I was SO excited to show off my new son and enjoy a day of big-city-cousins-run-wild-on-the-farm.

Or our plans today to meet the daughter our dear friends just brought home from the Philippines. We’ve been praying for her and oohing over pictures for months. I couldn’t wait to finally meet her and have a long been-there-done-that “adopting a toddler” discussion.

Or the playdate I JUST set up yesterday with the little boy we’ve chosen to be our son’s new best friend. They haven’t met, but he’s so cute and we love his parents and it’s just meant to be. I had decided I would definitely feel better by Friday, so why not?

This is a problem for me. I hate cancelling. I hate it.

Not only do I miss out on the activity, but I have to rearrange my plans and change my expectations. I hate that too. But the worst part is: I have to admit my weakness.

I can’t do it. I can’t blame the kids or the weather or the economy or the politicians or even my husband for being unreasonable (as he is wont to do when I overcommit us). I have limitations and I’ve just run smack dab into them.

I HAVE to get better at noticing those ahead of time. Apparently acute bronchitis doesn’t need to get this bad. If only I would slow down and rest. You know, BEFORE coughing up green and sticky all the way to the walk-in clinic. I’ve had pneumonia more than once and that’s where I’m headed if I don’t slow down.

There is a time for pushing through and getting things done. There is a time for rest.

There is a time for making plans. There is a time for cancelling and rescheduling and just letting things go.

There is a time for doing, making, cleaning, teaching, writing, talking, fixing, helping… There is a time for breathing.

So here’s me, *hack, hack, hack* and it’s time to rest, even if it kills me. Because in the long run, it’ll kill me not to.


5 Things You Didn’t Know About Me

Finally! A post all about me, me, me…

I enjoy reading these on the blogs I lurk on ahem… follow. So I decided to link up to Jessica Bowman’s 5 Things You Didn’t Know About Me post, with my own never-before-revealed-on-this-blog facts.

This is a picture of me,
if I looked like Uma Thurman.
And was in jail.

1. I prefer going to movies by myself.
This is not to say I don’t enjoy going with friends (and my studlier half). But, as far as I’m concerned, SOLO is the best way to enjoy a film on the big screen.

I used to slink in, embarrassed to be alone, imagining looks of pity and derision on the faces around me. “I’ve got friends! It’s not what you think…”

In those days, I felt defensive and ashamed of my unorthodox preference. No longer!

I don’t have to share my popcorn. I can pick any mindless sappy/historical/comic book/sci-fi/action flick I want (preferably all rolled into one movie). I don’t have to explain who that man in the hat is or that he’s actually having a dream right now or why the blond girl is ACTUALLY his sister. My conscious mind can be entirely enveloped by the plot without distraction. I can relish my few blissful, responsibility-free hours.

2. I have my next tattoo all planned out.
I love the two on my ankle. It took me 8 years to get the guts to actually go through with it. I got them to remind me of my sons, Noah and Simon, and the afterlife where I will see them again someday. And just a tiny little bit, to feel like a badass (which would have worked so much better if I hadn’t gotten pretty, girly butterflies; also if I hadn’t worn socks around my Grandpa for 2 years).

The next one? The Hebrew words “b’tzelem Elohim” which means “in the image of God.” If I can remember that about myself… if I can remember that about everybody else in my orbit… won’t I do better in life?

3. I am writing a novel.
At the rate I am going, I expect it to be finished by early 2042. Seriously, I only have a prologue and some of the first chapter, but the stories are spinning around in my brain and the characters feel like real people to me. I’m just worried that I don’t have the writing chops to do them justice.

I’m enjoying all kinds of writing. But fiction is new and different and exhilarating. I’m just one more dreamer with “Write a Book” on my bucket list. I don’t expect fame or fortune. Or even a publisher. I just want to finish telling this story. And maybe I’ll even let someone read it someday. Maybe.

4. Each time someone tells me they read my blog, I am simultaneously thrilled and horrified.
I’m crap at taking compliments. And usually people follow that revelation with some type of positive reinforcement. I’m just going to assume that everyone who doesn’t mention that they read my blog, does read it and hates it. It’s really awkward to bring up in that case. So, thanks for not mentioning it.

As for those who do: it feels kind of like you just admitted to seeing me naked. Which is awkward for both of us. And kind of scary. And I never know what to say. So I usually mumble something self-deprecating and change the subject.

But mostly, I’m thrilled. So thanks.

5. Every single blog post I write goes on the chopping block at some point.

I never feel good about actually posting anything until after I hit “publish.” And sometimes I wish I could take it back immediately.

But I make my peace with it eventually and I’m glad to have it out there (or I wouldn’t be doing this at all). If Glen didn’t edit and approve of almost every post, this little hobby would have stayed in my imagination along with hang gliding and mixed martial arts.

So here’s me, slightly less mysterious than yesterday.


Breaking Up With Normal

From: Christie
Sent: Monday, September 17, 2012 4:27 PM
To: Normal [mailto:conform@JustLikeEveryoneElse.com]
Subject: It’s over.

Dear Norm,

I’m sorry. I’ve chased after you most of my life. But I’m done. We’re through.

I know it’s not cool to break up by e-mail, but it’s your own fault. Despite your constant presence in my life, you’re hard to pin down. We don’t really talk. It’s all hidden pressures and unspoken expectations. Not healthy at all. I’m not angry. Really. I’m just done.

It’s not you, it’s me.

After all this time, I’ve outgrown you. I’m finally ready to admit after more than 30 years that you’ve never been my type. Because a relationship like this shouldn’t be so hard.

I’m tired of checking with you about what I should wear – sometimes your suggestions are uncomfortable. And I know we never saw eye-to-eye on hair. You make me nervous when we go out. What should I talk about? Which opinions can I share? What parts of myself should I hide? I know you’re thinking “the hair, that crazy hair” – but I kind of like it the way it is. So there.

You’ve changed.

It’s not all bad. I’m glad that you are recycling more and have dialed back the racism. But I hate the unhappy marriages, the workaholism and anorexic body ideals. Democracy is great, but it’s not always the best way to decide what is good and right and true.

If that’s not enough, you’re constantly reinventing yourself. And it’s exhausting juggling the different versions of you. There’s “Church Norm” who’s really into Jesus-talk, but kind of gossipy and judgmental. She tries to do a lot of good, but is arrogant and clumsy about it. “School Norm” talks a good game, but expects everyone to act and learn and regurgitate in exactly the same way. She’s inflexible and competitive, and sometimes more of a hindrance than a help to learning. “Hipster Norm” prides herself on being edgy and enlightened, but often forgets to be kind. Cynical and sarcastic makes for a funny punchline, unless you are on the other end of the punching.

Without even realizing I was doing it, I’ve tried to keep up with you. And I don’t like juggling the different versions of me either.

I’m ready to just be. Rough edges, awkward pauses and comfortable pants… the me who isn’t trying so hard.

I’ve met someone.

I’ve met a lot of someones, actually. People who dance with their dogs competitively. People who sell their belongings and move to Africa. People who dress up in costume for movie premieres. They’re offbeat. Out of step from the rest of us. Flat out weird sometimes. Which kind of freaks people out.

But here’s the thing: they’re awesome. They are fun and passionate and not afraid. And that’s looking pretty good to me right now. That’s what I want.

I hope we can still be friends.

There’s nothing wrong with you. I’ll raise my children to respect you. I’ll teach them to be appropriate, even socially acceptable. But they are special and unique and ultimately, I don’t see you as a life long companion for them, either.

We’re just not that into you.

I’m sure we’ll run into each other from time to time. After all, you’re insanely popular. That’s kind of your thing.

So, no hard feelings, k? I wish you the best… or the average, rather. Cause that’s more “you” after all.

Christie


The Great Educational Debate: Grades vs. Learning

I’ve had a recurring nightmare for the past few weeks. Perhaps I should call it a “day-mare” since I’m usually awake when it slithers into my conscious mind.

I’m at the University, where I started taking classes in January. With shaking hands I turn in my Developmental Psychology paper, worth 60% (60%!!!!!!!) of my final grade.

In the inexplicable way that dreams often do, I skip ahead to the return of my graded essay. On the top is a giant red F.

F for fraud. F for faker… F for Failure.

The teaching staff morphs from my likeable Scottish professor into a group of angry, faceless beings. They shake their heads in disgust and instruct security to escort me from the premises immediately. I am ordered never to return again.

This neurotic little fantasy has not inspired me to greatness. I stare blankly at my laptop with the words 60%, 60%, 60%!!!!! echoing through my mind. After two weeks of false starts and half-hearted research The Impact of the Environment on the Cognitive Development of Preschool Children is no closer to being done than when I started. The pressure is paralyzing.

On the other hand…

It’s so different with my English assignments. I was thrown the first time I received one back with only witty comments and suggestions scrawled in the margins. I looked carefully through each page and even on the back. No mark.

I’ve been conditioned to work for a grade. I was slightly miffed. If I am not being measured, does it even count?

But I find myself craving these assignments. They flow easily. I enjoy them. It is some of my best work.

Because I forgot…

I attended a workshop at school last week: Study Skills for the Mature Student. Despite my penchance for slurpees and children’s fiction, the university has decided I am “mature”. It sounds so respectable. I’m not about to argue.

The speaker reminded us that we are here to collect knowledge, not grades. Marks do not always reflect learning. And my GPA is not a measure of my worth.

She seemed like a nice kid. And frankly, it’s the same advice I’ve given to my own kids. I know this. Now that I’m “mature” I shouldn’t need to be reminded of the obvious. But I do.

So I set aside my need to get an “A” on my psych paper, which somewhere along the way became a way to prove my worth to the entire academic community (who, I’m sure, are on pins and needles wanting to know just what I have to say). In fact, I chucked the whole topic and started over again. Successful Ageing: the Cognitive, Emotional and Social Effects is working out much better for me. And no, the irony of the topic does not escape me.

What works and what doesn’t…

The entire educational system is structured around extrinsic rewards; the carrot and the stick, so to speak. Jump through these hoops and you get such-and-such a number or letter to reflect your value. Do not perform according to some, often arbitrary, standard and you will be punished.

This kind of conditioning works fabulously for simple, mechanical tasks. Eat your supper, get dessert. Ignore your chores, no TV. But it doesn’t work so great for anything that requires creativity and complex thinking.

In fact, studies show that incentives, especially high value ones, have a very NEGATIVE effect on creative productivity. They are not the motivating factor we expect. Rather than performing better, people perform WORSE when a reward is on the line. The “carrot and stick” of extrinsic motivators inhibits innovation and discourages critical thinking.

People are inspired to greatness by intrinsic motivations: curiosity, imagination, creativity, and personal satisfaction, to name a few. We were designed to learn and grow. In a pressure-free, encouraging environment we do this so much better! This is the reason my ungraded assignments excite my best work, while the high pressure paper overwhelms me entirely.

Dan Pink gives a brilliant talk called The Surprising Science of Motivation which makes this point better than I ever could! He is mostly interested in its application in the business world; companies who make amazing strides by loosening control. Instead of bigger incentives, they are giving autonomy and a sense of purpose to their employees, with remarkable results.

What would happen if we did the same thing in education? Students who learn because they are interested in the discussion and excited to play a part, not merely regurgitating what the teacher wants to hear. Nurturing thinkers and artists and builders, not a pecking order based on a narrow set of skills.

I’ve had a few teachers who truly believed this over the years. They seem revolutionary, more interested in what I had to contribute, than in measuring me (or themselves). There’s a reason they make so many cheesy “teacher-inspiring-a-tough-inner-city-class-to-greatness” movies. Because teachers like that really do exist and they make all the difference.

So here’s me, 60% certain that the grade on my paper does not define me.


%d bloggers like this: