As a kid I worried unnaturally about breaking things, spilling stuff, or just generally making a mess. It is possible that this sort of behavior comes with being the last of 5 kids and having a Mom who had just about had it with cleaning up after clumsy little ones and messy teenagers. I remember trying to clean up messes that I was far to small to clean up myself. I remember clenching all the muscles in my neck and shoulders waiting for the reprimand from one of my parents. I remember trying to hide the evidence of things and then trying desperately to “fix” the unfixable.
I also remember my terror when I sat up too quickly in my friend Cristin’s top bunk bed while being silly and broke the glass light cover in her room…with my head. Which makes me laugh to think of now but did not have the same effect on the must smaller much more anxious version of me.
Cristin shot out of bed and said “Let me get my mom.” My immediate reaction was “No…maybe I can fix it.”
I was 7.
Really? Were my glass blowing gifts so great that I thought I could do something about this mess I’d made?
Cristin’s parents rushed in upon hearing the glass break and her dad whisked me down from the bed stating “We’ve got to get you out of there so you don’t cut yourself.” Her Mom then hovered around me looking at my head, my hands, my face to ensure I hadn’t been cut. They each in turn shushed me when I began to apologize hysterically making all sorts of offers to go home or to pay for the damage (again…I was SEVEN!). The Mom eventually silenced me by softly saying “Leah. What’s done is done. Relax. It’s just a little glass.” (Which was a bit of an understatement…it was a LOT of glass…but I somehow heard her through my anxiety)
Cristin’s mother Maureen was a lovely French Canadian woman, who my mother referred to as “the Catholic hippy” because…well…they were Catholic and she breastfed Cristin’s little brother until he was 2. Her dad was a reporter for the Sacramento Bee and the only person I’d ever known who got paid to write. I loved them. I loved their vegetable garden and compost heap. I loved that they asked how my day was at the dinner table since at home I was a little lost in the noise of older siblings. I loved that Maureen made us wear seat-belts before there was a law (drawing more criticism from my mother) and would ride her bike with us to school (little brother in the baby seat) because she didn’t want us to be scared or in danger.
In hindsight…I know she wasn’t perfect…but she was always kind to a overly anxious little girl who her daughter loved. And she was calm. She brought peace with a soft word and ginger ale to some of the hardest and most traumatic years of my life.
And in further hindsight…I offer my mom some grace because she was indeed tired, did not have a stellar support system, and so much more.
Fast forward to today…
This afternoon I was cleaning my kitchen. As I loaded the dishwasher I dropped a plate. The plate broke upon impact with the tiled floor.
The plate wasn’t notable. Neither the broom nor the dustpan that I used were remarkable. What WAS remarkable was the lack of internal dialogue in my head at the moment of impact and during the entire clean up process.
My soul was so still…so peaceful…so very present in the moment…that it was until the mess was removed and I’d picked up the next plate to continue with the job of loading the dishwasher that the awareness of the silence came over me.
You may wonder why the silence was surprising when the plate is mine and I do live alone so must clean up the mess either way. What’s the big deal?
The big deal is that apparently my inner voice is working on being less bitchy. She is no longer berating me for spilling things, breaking things, or general clumsiness. She no longer mentally punches me in the throat when I get something on my shirt or spill an entire cup of coffee before getting a single sip (family reunion case in point). She is learning to choose the words she speaks to me more carefully and she is learning to call the feeling what it really is (fear, vulnerability, shame, anger, disappointment, hurt) rather than launching into a diatribe about how horrible I am.
I’m pretty sure she is working on her bitchy attitude because she doesn’t want to have to keep hearing from me…or my friends…about my being enough and her needing to change her attitude or get out of my head entirely. No…she wants a role on the team and is willing to do her work to keep her spot. Now that calling me names is no longer allowed…she’s willing to acquire new skills.
And so far…her new skill of silence to replace the critic has earned her a “team member of the week” award. (Authors Note: Chad Lowman is in a close second for threatening to pay someone to hit me upside my head if I don’t stop feeling shame when I should be pissed off!)