We can travel in the direction which will lead us to that place where we might find out who we really are. -Madeleine L'Engle
Isabella invited to our house four friends from school. I was told by several people that I was brave for doing this. But I consider it possession more than bravery. I'd rather know what's happening than have her elsewhere, and not know what's happening, so I let the circus in my house. By the time they left I had a migraine, was disappointed in Isabella's attitude toward me, and was trying to comfort an exhausted Isaac while we waited for the last friend to leave.
I walked into Isabella's room to say good-night and to also share my displeasure in her attitude, but she started crying. And I can't go into all of the details for the sake of her privacy, but she blew me away with her self-analysis and the strong feelings that had obviously been brewing for a while. I think it's true of any human, we get snappy, short-tempered, act out, respond unfairly, when there is so much confusion or hurt deep down, just waiting to pour out to the person we feel safe with. And thankfully, on this day, she felt safe enough with me to let it bubble and brim to the top. In case there comes a day (which is basically inevitable) when she doesn't want to share this stuff with me, I just hope she turns to a trusted adult. I've always had a person in my life I could be completely honest with and I hope the same for her, even if it isn't me.
Anyway, she expressed a lot, and most of it centered around not knowing who she is anymore. And yes, she's only eight and these are big feelings for an eight year old, but we're an emotional, touchy-feely kind of people over here so I understood. I'm in my thirties and I feel like I'm finally starting to figure out who the heck I am, so this hit home. She actually pleaded with me to help her. I promised we would come up with a way to help her remember who she is and what makes her Isabella.
The next day I still didn't know exactly what to do about this situation, but I finally came up with an idea and it really worked for her. It's super simple and doesn't take long.
The I Am Jar:
I cut strips of paper. I'm not a fancy person so this was just white printer paper, but you could use something cuter.
Set out a jar, which I happened to have, but you could use a ziplock bag.
We each picked a pen color and I told her to write on each strip of paper, "I am" and then something that defines her. And told that on my strips of paper I would write, "You are" and a trait that I feel defines her.
After we finished the I am exercise she hugged me and told me she felt so much better.
I told my parents about this idea and my dad said he would write, "I am not", which I feel would also be a good idea because we all walk around with little self-doubt or shaming bubbles over our heads.
I think this exercise is applicable to anyone. You don't need to have a jar, just take out your journal or planner and pick a page to write your list and remind yourself who you are. As a stay-at-home, my husband is always trying to remind me that my job in this house, as the mother of Isabella and Isaac, is a lot of work. And I'm a forgetful person, so I always forget this truth and wander around thinking I'm not doing enough.
So I suggest starting out the most basic list:
I am a mother. (And if you're having a day where this doesn't feel like it is enough, write out all the tasks you do as a mother. I bet the list you come up with surprise you...maybe depress you a little bit since being the CEO kinda sucks sometimes, but read over that list and absorb how awesome you are--even if you put sticky peanut butter knives in the dishwasher to annoy your dear husband. Hey, maybe a tantrum was happening in the background so he'd better just be thankful the knife made it in the dishwasher, right?)
I am a wife.
I am a daughter.
I am a sister.
I am the bill payer. (I mean, that's totally boring, but it counts!)
All the while reminding yourself that these are big tasks. I'm reminding myself of these things as I'm typing.
And then go deeper:
I am a writer. (true, I have yet to publish anything, and my grandma is the most consistent reader of this blog, but I am owning being a writer)
I am a Christian.
I am an artist.
I am a photographer.
It's good to remember that this list is allowed to change and your list is uniquely you, good or bad. Madeleine L'Engle wrote in, A Circle of Quiet:
I don't know what I'm like. I get glimpses of myself in other people's eyes. I try to be careful whom I use as a mirror: my husband; my children; my mother; the friends of my right hand. If I do something that disappoints them I can easily read it in their response. They mirror their pleasure or approval, too.
But we aren't always careful of our mirrors. I'm not. I made the mistake of thinking that I 'ought' not to write because I wasn't making money, and therefore in the eyes of many people around me I had no business to spend hours every day at the typewriter. I felt a failure not only because my books weren't being published but because I couldn't emulate our neighboring New England housewives. I was looking in the wrong mirrors. I still do, and far too often. I catch myself at it, but usually afterwards. If I have not consciously thought, 'What will the neighbors think?" I've acted as though I had.
I've looked for an image in someone else's mirror, and so have avoided seeing myself. (30)
It is so hard to stay true to our self and resist looking in those other mirrors. As part of this public school experience, I signed up to be a room mom. Basically, big mistake. I am not room mom material. Ask my husband. I actually had a full-blown pre-Valentine's Day Party tantrum. It went something like: "I don't even like crafts, and I don't even like kids"--tears and everything. For the record, I do like kids. I'm pretty partial to my own though, and I legitimately could never handle being a school teacher. It's just not my thing. Kids are unpredictable, they whine a lot, they are basically covered in germs and goo of all varieties at all time...So this experience has led me to be completely okay with the fact that I am not going to spend very much time planning for school parties and make amazing, pinterest quality cupcakes like the other room mom. Furthermore, I am enormously grateful for that other mom because without her, I think the third grade class would have some really crappy parties.
Try to steer clear of the person you think you should be or the person other people want you to be. Trust me, I don't think I should be a great room mom. Try to be thankful for differences, and think of yourself through your own eyes and not the eyes of others.