Jun 112014
 

Use Your Words

Last week I told my therapist that even though I’m too busy, I continue to say yes to new responsibilities. In my head, I mean nope – but I say okay, because I feel on the spot. I panic. Every time.

She and I talked about how in the absence of a plan, even intelligent humans don’t know what to say under pressure. We aren’t great at thinking fast – at considering all the consequences of our decisions in the midst of a loaded moment. When put on the spot, we tend to say whatever we think will please the other person, even if it means going against what we know is right for us. So together we decided to create a non-committal response that I could pull out and use – as a space saver, a time buyer –whenever a new request was made of me. We needed a phrase that would allow the pivotal moment to pass smoothly without making me feel compromised or the other person feel rejected. Together we decided on: “Thank you so much for considering me. Let me think about that and I’ll get back to you.” I’ve said this seven million times during the past week. Even when my kids ask for breakfast. I feel drunk with time-buying power.

Yesterday I was on the phone with a friend whose teen daughter is one of my favorite people on Earth. My friend was beside herself because her precious girl had come home drunk the night before.  My friend wailed to me: “How many hours have we spent talking about alcohol during the past decade? And the first time she’s offered beer, she takes it. She TAKES IT!”  I said: “Crap. What was her excuse for taking it?” My friend said:  “All she could come up with is:  ‘Mom – I DIDN’T WANT TO SAY YES- BUT I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT ELSE TO SAY.’” My friend thought this excuse was a load of crap. I wasn’t certain about that. It sounded quite familiar to me.

You know, Just Say No sounds good in theory.  But it implies that saying no is as easy as saying yes. It’s just not. In practice, saying no begs an explanation and saying yes doesn’t. Just Saying No makes for an awkward moment, which makes it an unhelpful suggestion to teens (and people pleasers like me) who often care about avoiding awkwardness even more than they care about their own well-being.

My friend and I talked about this fact: Yes, we spend hours talking to our kids about WHY to say No, but we don’t tell them HOW to say no. When they are put on the spot – they don’t have hours to explain their decisions to their peers. They have a split second. And while our teens and ‘tweens want to make the right decisions, they often want to avoid awkwardness even more. In the absence of a plan, they’ll likely default to yes. Just like we so often do. Maybe they’re not saying yes because they want to rebel – maybe they really do say yes because they don’t know what else to say. They need help knowing, preparing. That is where we come in.

When our babies are little, we help them understand and navigate their world by giving them language. We point and name: “Look. A Bird! A BLUE BIRD!” Then we help them make sense of who they are in relationships to others by modeling appropriate communication. “Say hello to Mrs. White, Jimmy. Hello, Mrs. White!”  When our kids become adolescents, their world changes so much that sometimes it feels to them that they’ve landed on a new planet. They are babies in this new complicated world of teen-dom. And so we need to start over, because a more complicated world calls for a more complicated language. We need to point and label: “Look. A Beer! A whole keg of beer!”  And we need to model the new language they’ll need to find their way.  If we want teens to use their words - we’ve got to provide some words for them that they can keep in their back pocket and pull out at the right moment. Because we’ve taught them how to get along with others, but now we need to teach them how to get along with others while also taking care of themselves. On their OWN. That’s new.

So my husband and I sat down with our ‘tween and we talked about how he was going to be put in LOTS of awkward situations in the coming years. We told him that being a teen can feel like one long experience in being put on the spot. We told him that he was going to be asked to make big, important decisions under intense pressure and even though his heart and brain are huge, he’s human – and humans make bad, people-pleasing, status-quo-keeping decisions under pressure. We told him that he’ll find himself in situations in which his heart will be screaming NO but his head and voice will have a hard time keeping up. We told him that things aren’t all good or all bad. For example, a GOOD, KIND, WONDERFUL friend could ask him to make a BAD, DANGEROUS decision. Sometimes it can seem to us like the best idea to keep peace and keep our friendship is just to say yes and hope for the best.  But we talked about how wisdom is knowing that peacekeeping and peace making are two different things. We talked about how people pleasing is often a human weakness, and how wisdom is making a plan in advance to work with our weaknesses.

So the three of us dreamed up inevitable awkward situations, and together we thought of sentences he could say that would buy him time but not alienate him from his friends or make anyone feel like he was judging them. We also tried to weave in humor to make sure his responses would be in keeping with his personality.

Here are some we decided upon together:

When you notice a lonely kid: Hey! Here’s a seat for you. Come join us.

When someone offers you a beer: No, thanks. I’m allergic to alcohol. Totally Blows. (Then go fill up a cup with water and nurse that all night to avoid 40 million more questions)

When someone offers you weed:  My mom used to smoke pot when she was younger and now she can smell it from a mile away. She checks my clothes every night. Can’t do it, man. (That’s the one that won, but I liked: HEY! How about we put down these joints and go volunteer at the dog shelter! He liked the first one. Whatever, his show.)

When someone starts texting while driving: Hey, I just saw a movie about a kid who got killed because he was texting and driving. I don’t want you to get killed because I plan to ask you for many, many rides in the future. Pull over if you need to text – I’m not in a hurry.

You find yourself in a sexual situation you’d prefer not to be in: Hey, I like you too much for this to go down this way.

A kid is being teased by another kid in the hallway: Hey. I don’t want anybody to get in trouble here. Why don’t you follow me out of here? I’ll walk you to class.

Someone is about to drink and drive: Don’t risk it, man. My dad’ll get us home- no questions asked. He’d rather pick us up here than in jail.

I don’t know if my ‘tween will use these life preservers we made together. But when that moment comes he will know that they’re available if he wants to save himself. And when he leaves the house in the evening and I say to him, just like when he was two, Use your words tonight – I know he’ll have words to use.

Me and My Boy



Carry On, Warrior
Author of the New York Times Bestselling Memoir CARRY ON, WARRIOR
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Jun 082014
 

 From My Inbox This Morning:

Dear G,

I do not feel beautiful. Everything about your work makes me feel understood and less alone- except for your appearance. Do you wake up looking like that?

Dear M,

Yes. Yes, I do. I am so sorry to tell you that natural beauty has always been my cross to bear. Below are two pictures for your examination. One is my headshot- which was taken after two hours of “hair and make-up,” thirty minutes of arranging perfect lighting, and what I can only imagine was forty nine hours of photo-shop. The other picture was taken this morning, right after I opened your email. Since the extremely subtle and nuanced differences between the photos are certain to make it quite difficult for you to determine which is which, I will tell you that the one on the LEFT is from this morning.

For now- the armor I wear comes in the form of cosmetic bottles from a department store. Since the armor I used to wear came in the form of vodka bottles from the ABC store- I call this progress. One day, the only armor I’ll need between me and the world will be a cup of tea and a smile.  That day is not today, but it’s coming. I’m extremely patient with myself, so I can wait.

And even so…EVEN THOUGH I wake up looking like that first picture everyday- I would insist to you that I AM  beautiful and I’m becoming more beautiful every day. Beautiful means “full of beauty.” Since I am almost forty now – God, I love saying that – I finally know what beauty is. To me, beauty is the beach near my house, puttering around my kitchen, the laughter of a good friend, my dogs’ stinky fur, Amma’s inability to say the letter R, Tish’s sensitive heart, Chase’s darkening summer skin against his ultra white teeth, Craig playing hide and seek by himself, the steeple of my beloved church, a hot chai tea, and the banyan trees in my front yard. Today I will FILL UP WITH THIS BEAUTY. I will SEE this beauty and really NOTICE IT and smell it and hear it and roll around in it and soak it all up. I will allow all of this beauty to become a part of me- to BECOME ME-  and by the end of the day I will be so freaking beautiful from the inside out that folks will stop and stare, probably.

If you do not feel beautiful then FILL UP, Precious Sister.

And if that doesn’t work, I‘ll send over hair and make-up. Freaking magicians.

One more thing, friend. Just in case you’re too tired to search for your own beauty today-  you can borrow some of mine. This is our banyan tree holding our Amma. She’s on her wope swing, having a weally wonderful time.

amma swing

Cawwy On, Wawwiow.

G



Carry On, Warrior
Author of the New York Times Bestselling Memoir CARRY ON, WARRIOR
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Jun 042014
 

Originally published July 30, 2012.

On Thursday morning, Chase and I returned from a mommy/son overnight date. It was really a let’s get the hell away from the girls who will never ever, ever stop fighting date. It was awesome. We played and talked and talked and talked. We splurged on donuts for breakfast and snuggled in bed at night and woke up early for walks on the beach and dolphin sightings. I got to say yes, yes, yes instead of no, no, no all day. We dreamed up a book we’re going to write together. It was perfect. It kind of made me wish I could raise my kids one at a time.

Exhausted and happy, we boarded the plane for the flight home. Since I just had Chase- no girls- I was envisioning a relaxing, blissful flight.  I would not be breaking up fights or crawling around on the cabin floor trying to find tiny plastic toys the size of my fingernail that someone who really, really hates parents created. It was just Chase and me, happy and relaxed after our trip, ready to curl up with our brand new books.

But the Universe decided that I had had quite enough relaxing, thank you very much.

I wedged myself in the seat next to an older, furious, panicked man who was having trouble sending an email. He was huffing, puffing, moaning, and cursing. He was making all the noises that beg the person next to you to say, “what’s wrong?” But I didn’t say “what’s wrong?” No way, Jose. All I could do was think about how this man’s state of being was a lesson to me. Nothing that can be done over a computer is worth that much angst and stress. Unless one is trying to reach a dying friend, one should not allow a two hour loss of technology to work him up that way. Not healthy. This man’s level of stress was so high that I could FEEL it radiating off of him. Killing my vacay buzz. I wanted none of it. I kept leaning closer and closer to Chase’s side until half of my body was in his seat. What are you doing? Chase said. I just love you, I responded. He gave me his “I’m practicing to be a teenager” eye roll.

The man finally shut his laptop. Then he started taking huge, deep breaths. Loud, angry, breaths. But his deep breaths were interrupted by deep, repetitive coughs. Smoker coughs. Loud, jarring coughs that wracked his whole body. I tried to discreetly cover my face with my Monkee sweat shirt.  By now I was basically sitting IN Chase’s lap.

We take off. I start reading.

And he starts.

He starts talking to me, in monologue form, and it is clear right away that he plans to get a few things off of his croupy chest. To me. He is grizzly. He is angry. He is, how shall we say…not my type. Something tells me to close my book and listen anyway. I resent that Something. But I do. I close my book and look at my new teacher and listen.

This man talked for a full hour before I spoke at all. During this hour I learned that he was a small company owner on his way to DC to tell his employees that he was moving his headquarters out of the country because, according to him, the Obama administration’s new rules had made it impossible for him to stay in the US.

Then, during the next hour, He talked about the poor in sweeping generalizations. He discussed any sort of service program workers or supporters as foolish enablers. He repeated the word fools twenty times. He proclaimed all non-profits to be corrupt money grubbers who hire hookers and buy drugs with donations. He said that liberals would be the ruin of our country. He talked more about his own company, and how liberals hated him and were always trying to put him a box and make him the bad guy. He explained that he’d fight his way out of that box any way he had to. He was a fighter, he said. He spoke loudly and peppered his sentences with curse words.

As God is my witness, I am not making any of this up. Every single thing he said was something that makes my fists clench and heart want to jump out of my throat and onto my lap. Even my beloved Mitchum stopped working. But something told me to stay open. Ride this out. I kept listening.

Once Chase leaned over and said, “Why are you arguing?”

Our new friend said, “Son, we’re not arguing, we’re just stating very different opinions in a tense way.” (I still hadn’t said a word.)

“Isn’t that the definition of arguing?” Chase said.

I shot him my best, “I’ve got this and respect your elders even when they think differently than anyone you’ve ever met.” look.

I took inward deep breaths and shot a twitter prayer up to the G-O-D.

Not subtle with this one, huh? What am I supposed to do with this? Politics? Politics? There are two things I avoid like the plague- politics and real ticks.

Then in the back of my head, I hear. “It has been said to love your friends. But don’t even jerks do that? I say – Love your enemies and those who think differently than you.”

Daaaaaamnnnniiiiiiiittttttt.

In the middle of describing various tax codes he looked at me and said, “Are you following me, here?”

I said, Well, I’m a writer, so I’m not familiar with a lot of this, but I think I’m with you. I’m learning as you talk.

He said, “Oh, a writer. I tried that road once. I tried to do nothing, because my doctor and wife told me I was going to die if I didn’t slow down. So I stopped working and sat on the couch all day. But how much Jerry Springer can you watch, right?”

Right. Well, maybe your doctor didn’t mean for you to go from 100 to 0. Maybe she just wanted you to cruise at 50. Also, as a writer, I don’t do nothing. But you’re right, I have found a way to live without so much stress.

Right, right, that’s not what I meant,” he said.

I know, I said. Stay open, the Something said. Stay open. Ride this out.

At one point the man took a breath, looked sideways at me and said, “You’re a liberal, aren’t you.”

I said, I try not to label myself, because I don’t want to shut down conversations. Right now I’m just a person trying to understand you.

“Oh you’re definitely a liberal,” he said.

When he started back in on non-profits and how they were all money grubbing thieves, I said, You know, I run a group like a non-profit, and we give back 100 percent of what we raise. No overhead. We all work for free.

He raised his eyebrow and didn’t respond for a minute.

He looked out the airplane window. He was remembering something. His tirade stopped. His voice changed a little.

Then he turned back and said, “I haven’t given a penny away for fifteen years. I used to. Every Christmas I used to buy ten turkeys and deliver them to the homeless shelter myself.  But I don’t do that anymore. I don’t give anything away anymore.”

What changed? I said.

He looked out the window again and I thought- HERE we go. HERE we go- here comes the real stuff. Here politics die and the person behind them introduces himself.

Scruffy angry man said, “When my daughter was little, we left a candle burning in our house and the whole house burned down. With all of our things. We had nothing. We lived in our car for seven months with our daughter and no one reached out to help us. Not our neighbors, not our families, friends. Not even our church. No one.”

God. That must have been awful.

“It was. But I eventually found work and I pulled us out of there on my own.”

That’s amazing. Still. Don’t you wish someone had reached out to you?

“Well, they didn’t.”

I know, but doesn’t a part of you really wish they had?

“No. We’re fine. I pulled us out of there and I turned out perfectly fine.”

Here is where I couldn’t help but stop the conversation and give scruffy angry man my face. I can’t describe it so here it is. I used to be able to appear much more skeptical but you know, all the Botox.

“What??” He said defensively. Then he laughed.  “What?”

You’re perfectly fine? Not a teeny bit hard hearted, friend?

Scruffy man laughed again. Hard this time. Hard enough that his whole body shook again. Thank you. baby Jesus, I thought.

“Maybe a little,” he said, “Maybe a little.”

I walked through this heavenly door of laughter and I told him that I was glad he’d told me his story. I told him that I usually did lean to the left and so I didn’t often have a chance to hear the stories of folks on the other side. I told him I understood a lot of where he was coming from, and I do. Being a small business owner, from my friend Tim’s point of view, is a very tough gig these days, and maybe always.

“I’m not a bad guy.They are always making me out to be a bad guy. I’m not.”

I know, I said. I’m one of the “theys,” most days, and I don’t think you’re a bad guy.

Then I asked if he’d do me a favor. I told him that I’d keep his story in my head and heart if he’d consider changing one teeny part of the way he spoke. The alls. The mosts. I told him the generalizations were killing me. All the poor, Most of the non-profits, all the democrats, every single liberal.  It discredits you a little, I said. Weakens your arguments.

Then I told him about the poor people who were the parents of the kids at the school where I taught. How many of them worked 24 hours straight and then came into my classroom, blurry-eyed, to hear about the children for whom they’d sacrificed everything.

Illegals? He said.

No, friend. Or maybe so. But do you understand what I’m saying? We can’t say all or most. We just can’t.

He nodded. “I hear you. I’ll stop saying all. But I might stick with most.”

Okay, I said. A compromise. I love compromises.

Then he said, “Give me the name of your non-profit. I’ll look it up.”

I squealed and clapped like a seal. He rolled his eyes and stuck his finger down his throat like he was gagging. But it was definitely an affectionate gag.

As I wrote our website on his work folder,  I told him about our Love Flash Mobs. About how we send money to hurting people to let them know we care.

He said, “Why the hell do you send them money? Why money?”

It’s not about the money. It’s about what the money represents-  love, care for a stranger, sacrifice.

More gagging. “How much you send them?”

Last time we raised 80 thousand dollars in six hours. All kinds of people gave. Conservatives, liberals. People like you. Actually, I don’t know if there are any other people like you.

Laughter and huge eyes. “80k? And you gave it all away??

 Yep. I know.

“Well, if it’s not about the money, you should just send them a card. Have all your “people” sign it and send a goddamn card. I’ll even give you $2.50 for the card. I wouldnta done that before this conversation, I’ll tell you that. I don’t get you, but the world needs people like you and your monks or whatever the hell you call them.”

I looked at him and said - I wish we were around when you were stuck in your car.

“Well you weren’t, and we were fine.”

 I know, I still wish though.

“Yeah.”

Then I went in for the love kill.

Look at us, friend. We did it. We made it through two hours. I learned a little about you, you learned a little about me. The rightiest and the leftiest. Maybe in the whole WORLD. We didn’t yell, You taught me a lot.

“You taught me a little.”

I’ll take it. Tim, can I get a picture?

“No. hell no. You’re just gonna put it on that Mama’s Tree of yours.”

True. That’s what I was going to do. Well let me at least shoot this, so I can prove this really happened. That the rightest right man and the leftyist left girl sat together on a plane and said all of our things and learned from each other. And made friends.

Tim said – “I’ve never made friends with a goddamn liberal before.”

I am proud to be your first goddamn liberal friend, Tim. And I want you to know that I can see how upset you are about your company, and this upcoming meeting, and the country, and I’m rooting for you.  Just treat them like people, not issues, Tim. And you must start sleeping more. And you gotta quit smoking, Tim. We’ve gotta take you down 6 million notches.

“I know. You’re right,” he said. “Good luck with your book and all of  your giving people’s hard earned money away.”

Thank you Tim, I appreciate it.

“Write down your book’s name too. I’m going to order it as soon as it comes out.”

Thank you, Tim. I hope you like it.

And then we HUGGED. We HUGGED.

On the cab ride home I thought: our world views usually come from the world we’ve experienced, not from the goodness of our hearts. If you’ve experienced the world as loving and generous – that is how you will live, in abundance. But if you’ve experienced the world as uncaring and cold, then it only makes sense that you will continue to live with that world view.

It’s really why we need to take care of each other. Listen to each other. Undig our heels. Surprise each other. We really do.

Tim- thank you for teaching me so much. You are in my prayers. For real. Not just saying that.

Love and Peace,

Glennon- the goddamn liberal from Mama’s Tree



Carry On, Warrior
Author of the New York Times Bestselling Memoir CARRY ON, WARRIOR
Join the Momastery on-line community on Facebook, Twitter & Pinterest