I Hide My Chocolate

Midlife observations

Tag: Introversion

I Write Because


My Heart Is Full

I write because it is the best way for me to express what I believe, deep in my soul. Talking is too fast. The other person impresses me with their articulate point of view. I can’t find my words quickly enough. If it is a person I care about, my worry about what they think of me gets in the way of being fully honest and centered, grounded in knowing and expressing my point of view. I want to please and be loved. So I sweeten my words, or shift my argument, or become agreeable, nodding in sympathetic understanding. Sometimes I don’t always want to please. Sometimes I want to be funny. Or smart. Or biting. Or right. Yes, I frequently want to be right. But usually, highly conflict-avoidant, I want to please.

When I write, I go inside. The words pour out. The words I do not have the nerve to say. Those are the words I write. It is intense. So intense that I do not, cannot, do it every day. No, in a good month, I post about three essays a month. Reflective and prone to introversion, that is all I can muster without becoming exhausted with the intensity and the emotion of writing from my soul, my truth. Besides, I am busy busy busy with my non-writing life. Working, parenting, cooking, cleaning, commuting, caring, reading, learning, achieving, yogaing, and measuring.  Measuring my spoken words, making sure they are the right words to please, or to impress. Anxious and horrified when they are not.

When I do carve out time for writing, I write about something that has absorbed me. Something in my life or something in the world that I care about that has affected me deeply. Something I ponder at 3 am. Something I think about when I close my eyes for the last 12 minutes of my commute. Something I want to have a conversation about but have not yet solidified my point of view. Something I want to reveal but haven’t had the guts to do so yet. Something that I think others are thinking but don’t have the guts to reveal yet. Or maybe it’s just something funny. Or maybe it’s something that has gotten easier in the last couple of years. Finally. Ease.

Sometimes, I am overwhelmed with all that I want to write that I cannot choose, I cannot focus, I cannot get the words out because there are too many words. Too many somethings that I care about.

June was too full. My heart was too full. Too full to write. I could not choose.

Why are some human beings evil? Nine human beings coming together on a spiritual journey were shot dead by a racist with a gun. I dragged my son to an exhibit of photographs showing portraits of human beings who have lost a loved one to gun violence. It was moving and opened several important conversations with my son. A human being can marry their loved one, whoever that loved one may be. Love wins. I am grateful. I am moved. Father’s Day. Sigh. I was reminded that even after lots of therapy, even after the profound realization that I am who I am because of all that has happened to me and all the choices I have made, I still feel shame and cry. Even though I laugh more and more and more, I still cry and cry and cry. I was reminded, not that I need reminding, of the power of yoga at an event honoring how yoga can prevent suicide. Indeed. Yoga has certainly reduced the suffering in my life, if not saved my life. July has begun with an equally full slate. My son has turned 16, which surely warrants its own essay, but my heart is too full. Love wins. Grateful.

Because I am now writing, finding my voice, more confident, both in writing and speech, I find I am less willing to sweeten my words, to be agreeable, to be swayed by the other person’s articulate and cogent argument. Sometimes, instead of being quiet or swallowing my words, I am provoked to blurt out, “I fucking can’t!” “I fucking won’t!” “I fucking must!” Like overexerting physically, I feel the effect of these outbursts for days. A headache, a nap, a retreat into silence. I do hope I will become more eloquent with my speech, moved by conviction, with less frustration and anger building to a hurtful or impotent outburst. Speaking in a constructive way, with increasing confidence, like my writing.  Is it true, is it necessary, is it beneficial, is it kind? 

In yoga, Matsyasana, or Fish Pose, is a big backbending heart-opener. I can’t do it. Years of self-preservation and self-protection have rolled my shoulders forward. Years of keeping my words inside, hiding, have rolled my shoulders forward. Years of not feeling deserving enough to take up my space have rolled my shoulders forward. I regularly practice a restorative version of the pose, stretching the front of my body and breathing deeply into my chest. But the full pose has eluded me. It requires great flexibility in the upper back, while stretching and exposing the throat, my throat. Exposing the heart, my heart, causing me fear and anxiety at such vulnerability. At the end of June, that full month, when my yoga teacher announced we were doing Fish Pose, I paused. Is it time to try it again? I asked her to help me. She gently came over and supported my back. I gently stretched my heart and my throat, releasing the crown of my head to the floor. I couldn’t see myself and whether I was doing the pose “right.” (Remember, I like to be right.) But I felt like I was doing the pose. It felt beautiful. And that is all that matters.

Full month. Full heart. I write because my heart is open.

Image Credit:  Matsyasana image from http://www.mindofpeace.com

You Will Go To Summer Camp Dammit!


Happy at Home 

I have decided my 14-year-old son should go to sleep-away summer camp.

It’s a little late for me to have decided this.

Especially since he is completely appalled at the prospect.

Which is why I’ve decided it would be “good” for him.

Forget that it’s the end of July. Forget that the kids who go to sleep-away camp have been going since they were 10 or younger.   I actually have found a camp for teens that has a one week option that sounds idyllic.  To me.  Hiking, Swimming, Yoga, Creative Writing.  I want to go.

How could he not want to go?  Why doesn’t he want to go?  How much should I worry that he doesn’t want to go?  Should I force him to go?  Would it be like the time I forced him to go to yoga?  Which turned out to have been not very yogic.  Recalcitrant-son-determined-to-be-miserable prodded by frustrated-type A-mother.  You Will Go To Yoga Dammit.

He seems to be happy.  He plays tennis three mornings a week.  I enrolled him in swimming lessons, much to his annoyance.  A crucial life-survival skill, I told him.  Non-negotiable.  When the teacher said he was doing so well he should join the swimming team, my son told me he was kind of enjoying it after all and might want to continue.  Aha!  See?  I should push him more!

The rest of the time, he pads around the house watching television, checking on his basil and tomato plants, playing with our beloved parakeets, lying on his bed daydreaming.  He’ll practice his guitar and do his summer reading with some nagging.  He’ll even do some chores around the house – though it takes some pleading followed by a stern threat that tv-watching privileges will be revoked.  Occasionally a neighborhood friend of his will stop by, grateful for the tranquility of our house compared to the rambunctiousness of his house filled with siblings.  But mostly my son is alone.  Or leading a parallel life with big sister in another room.  Seemingly happy.

For me, his quiet aloneness raises the specter of my lonely only child summers.  Where watching television meant watching whatever was on one of the main channels at the time:  All My Children, Let’s Make A Deal, or Star Trek.  I renounced television as a pitiful waste of time.  Why watch game shows when I could be Achieving Something Great?  I am still quite disdainful of tv-watching, which means I am regularly condescending to my family because they are quite content planted in front of the television.  While they are, god-forbid, relaxing, I busy myself with whatever it is I busy myself with.  Busy Busy Busy.  Achieving Something Great.  I think they are the wiser ones.  Besides, the offerings on television are now so incredibly varied and sophisticated that getting lost-in-tv is way more entertaining and culturally acceptable than 40 years ago.  Indeed, I am beginning to appreciate getting lost-in-tv and am convinced I am going to wish I had figured this out about 20 years ago instead of now.  I am not sure that my son’s multiple viewings of every episode of The Big Bang Theory count though.  Or my daughter’s obsession with The Royal Baby.  Or my husband’s inexplicable fascination with Pirates of the Carribbean, over and over again.

I am coming to the realization that I am quite possibly the most extroverted, sociable, and exploratory person in my family.  Well, perhaps it is more accurate to claim I am the most neurotically driven one.  To say I am an extrovert is saying a lot, because it is with intentional effort that I have overcome shyness to meet new people and try new things.  I have tested, firmly and on multiple occasions, as an INFP on the Myers-Briggs Type Inventory test.  The “I” stands for Introversion and means I am someone who is happy alone and prefers to think through things myself without a lot of input on others.  Check.  The “N” stands for Intuitive and means I am someone who is creative and can spend a great deal of time imagining and dreaming in my mind.  Check.  The F stands for Feeling and means that I am eager to please and very influenced by the desire to connect with others.  Check.  The J stands for Judging and means I am someone who is measured, planful, disciplined.  Oh yeah, that’s me.  Check.

In retrospect, however, I enjoy meeting people and trying new things and have regularly challenged myself to do so all of my life.  At least as soon as I could break free from my over-protective and risk-averse parents.   It was a badge of honor to push myself to do something new.  In ninth grade, I auditioned for the school musical, alone.  A non-singer, I croaked “Happy Birthday” to Mr. Duncan, the most open and supportive teacher EVER.  I never did get a singing role in high school, but I danced and acted and worked backstage.  Being involved with theater is one of the happiest and most fun things I’ve done in my life.  And all because I felt in my gut that I had to audition on that fateful September afternoon in 9th grade.

As my son pauses this summer before entering 9th grade, I panic.  Will he be okay?  Have I done enough for him?  Shouldn’t he have more friends?  Shouldn’t he be doing more?  Shouldn’t he be busy busy busy?  Do the kids who go to sleep-away have a leg up on him?  Should I force him to do more?  Should I let him be?  Where is the balance?  The balance between pushing him and letting him be.  What will be the feeling in his gut that compels him to take a risk?

When we had a family meeting to discuss how much structure to enforce on our kids’ summer schedule for the rest of the summer, my son reiterated that he did not want to go to sleep-away camp and was terrified I would come home one day and gleefully announce that I had enrolled him.  Yep, that is something I would do.  My husband asked him to articulate why he didn’t want to go.

“Why would I want to leave my comfort zone?” he replied, stating what was obvious to him.

Why indeed.  He has a beautiful life.  Loved and safe.  I spent my life fighting against getting too comfortable because I wanted to Achieve Something Great.  I spent my life avoiding my childhood home because it was an unhappy hide-out for me, not a happy cocoon.  We have created a happy life for our children.  A happy life they are not rebelling very hard against.  At least not yet.  Perhaps that is a Great Achievement I should be proud of.

The desire for him to go to camp is my need, not his, based on my fear that he needs to escape the confines of shyness that I struggled against.  I will honor who he is.  Nurture.  Push gently.  Balance opportunities for exploration with time in his comfort zone.  And I will be happy that he is happy at home in his comfort zone.

M.C. “B”


Boys and School

“You know Mom, I think the only thing I’m going to miss about 8th grade is Mr. B.”

I smile quietly, “Yes, you’ve really enjoyed Social Studies this year.”

I whoop inwardly:  YES!  Finally!  There is something about school that he likes!  YAY!!!!!!

Thank you Mr. B., energetic rapper, grandfather to another Aidan, and devoted teacher.  With your sense of humor and enthusiasm, you sparked Aidan to have an interest in politics, the electoral process, and World War 2. It was the one subject this year that neither I nor my husband needed to coach.  (I do the humanities, my husband does math and science.  At least until we get so frustrated that we opt to switch places.  My husband has assisted with writing some remarkable poems.  And everything Aidan knows about linear equations, he learned from me.)  Mr. B., you were organized and predictable, which helped him tremendously.  You listened to Aidan and allowed him to play a prominent role in the classroom, inspiring him to be more confident.   In short, you connected with him.  For that, I am profoundly grateful.  P.S.  I heard your rap was awesome.

When my son was about a year and a half, our babysitter’s husband fell ill and she couldn’t take care of Aidan.  For this period, I brought him to back-up daycare at my office.  The daycare center was well-run with good people, but it was not home and the good people were not “Grandma Phyllis.”  Day 1, I followed instructions to minimize the separation torture – ie, quick hug and walk away.  Off to work, I spent the day worrying.  I did not visit him at lunchtime – I was assured a mid-day visit would make the separation worse.  Day 2, he knew where we were going.  This little 18 month old who was hardly speaking any words yet, sat next to me on the Manhattan-bound train and gave me the silent treatment: proud, stubborn, hurt.  He looked out the window, refusing to make eye contact or snuggle with me in any way.  Enraged at the person he loves most, he stared stiffly out the window.  I took his hand and tried to explain.  He said one word:  “Home.”  This from the boy who did not speak yet.   My heart broke.

My mother tells the same story about my first day at Nursery School.  When she asked me how I liked it, I said:  “Too shy.”  Never an extrovert, I did grow to love school.  Eager to please and competitive for the A’s, I thrived at school.   I wanted my children to do so as well.  Not just for the intellectual stimulation and social life – and social validation – but because I was busy busy busy with my career and couldn’t really deal with them not fitting into the realm of “normal” school life with its structure and schedule.  I have fantasized about living a more adventurous life of travel and home-schooling them, but alas, I am very risk-averse and quite embedded in our suburban life.  My children have had no choice but to plod off to school dutifully every morning and work on their homework diligently every evening.  No breakdown in the routine allowed for working mothers, nor their children.

So the years go by.  After Grandma Phyllis, there is Pre-School, Kindergarten, Elementary School.  We are in a “good” public school district with an array of teachers.  Most of them are competent.  Many of them are truly gifted and dedicated educators.  My older daughter got the competitive-for-A’s gene and sailed right to the top of the class and has stayed there.  Because she is a girl, who is smart, funny, and obedient, her teachers adore her and encourage her.  My son is also smart, funny, and obedient, but he really has not liked school very much.  He is not competitive for A’s.  That is his sister’s territory.  His motivation stems mainly from a desire to not disappoint us, not from a burning desire to learn.  Because he is a boy, who is sensitive, distractable, and disorganized, most of his teachers have treated him like just another boy in the middle of the pack.  He doesn’t get the encouragement that the top of the heap gets, nor the attention that the truly challenged genuinely require.  There have been a few exceptions.  Pre-School was nurturing and safe, a supportive entry point.  First Grade teacher Mrs. G. whispered that he is a treasure.  Fifth Grade teacher Mrs. B. tried a tough approach, recognizing that he was smart and demanding that he actually work.  But mostly, Aidan has just wanted to come home.  Homework was a chore that took him away from more comfortable at-home activities, like tending his garden, playing with his birds, or getting lost in the stories on tv.

Every year, we are all relieved when Summer arrives and the school routine ends.  No more checking the homework, coaching the hard subjects, organizing the backpack.  No more nagging – “Did you remember:  your library book, your lunch, your homework, your essay, your permission slip, your housekey, your instrument, your gym clothes.”  Constant nagging. We try to encourage Aidan to read and write and practice math over the summer, but I really don’t have it in me to insist.  September re-entry is rough.  It’s a long uphill slog until December.  He gets grounded January – April and then really catches some wind and sails through to June.  Here we are at June.  I am so proud and so relieved.  Finals still to go and then graduation from Middle School.  I remember Kindergarten orientation where I had to leave the room with a lump in my throat after the Principal said:  “Don’t blink!  Before you know it they’ll be on their way to college!”  Sure enough, I blinked, and my daughter is beginning the college admissions process and my son will soon be embarking on high school.

And so, as I wonder how to help my son navigate the choppy waters of puberty and high school when all he really wants is to be home, I thank the teachers who muster their entire arsenal of professional and personal experience to connect with their students – recognizing and encouraging what is unique about each individual in the hope that they will shine forward and become a fully realized human being, even if they are not competitive for the A’s.

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