Archive for Self-Esteem

Becoming Picasso

My husband loves to remind me that the ‘id,’ that awake and alert and oh so literal part of our inner brain, does not understand sarcasm. Not one little bit. If you were to say, “I’m so stupid” then that is what the id hears and believes.

What we understand to be true dictates our behavior and choices each day of our lives. The subconscious rules up to 96-98% of our activities on a daily basis!

I am talented in many areas. I am reminded of this when talking to friends or clients. I usually get the head shake and a, “So you write, teach, build your own websites AND [fill in the blank]? Christine, is there anything you don’t do?” To which I usually grin and say, “Plenty. Don’t ask me to work on a car. I also prefer to leave the lawn mowing, laundry and trash duties to my husband, and I can’t draw stick figures to save my life.”

The last is especially true. When it comes to putting pen or pencil to paper and creating a visual representation, I’m lost. This became a very real problem when I wanted to create an exercise on observation. Basically, I wanted to show my class participants a sketch of five children and question what they saw.

Problem #1: I needed a sketch of children.

Problem #2: I couldn’t FIND a sketch of children. Perhaps I was having a brain freeze on the subject.

Problem #3: I realized that I would have to create the sketch!

I had hit up my oldest child for such a sketch, but she was busy and didn’t get back to me. I was on my own and I NEEDED it. So I pulled out some blank paper and decided that stick people would be just fine for this exercise. As I drew, erased, corrected I realized I was being watched…intently.

I glanced over and took in my 3-year-old’s expression. She was staring at my work, a mixture of longing and wonder on her face. She so wanted to do what I was doing, but when I offered the pencil to her she shook her head. She watched me from beginning to end and I must admit, by the time I was done her attention had me feeling like the Picasso of stick figures.

This is not the first time my little one has reacted this way. Somehow, and I’m not sure how, she has become uncertain about her abilities in the drawing department. This concerns me, mainly because both my husband and I are very encouraging of her efforts.

I thought about the id and the subconscious and I have to wonder what those two aspects are telling her right now about her abilities. Does she already think, right now, that she “can’t draw?”

See, I might be the Picasso of stick figures to my child, but I know my limits. Right now, my limits are that I don’t make time to improve my sketching skills. This is a choice I have made. Having seen the evolution from scribbles to sketches in my daughter as well as in a high school classmate, I can attest that, although a knack for it helps immeasurably, but barring physical impairments, anyone can learn how to draw fairly well.

I am certain that I could learn to draw at some point if I made time for practice and learning.

Human beings are capable of so much. Most of us barely skim the surface of our potential. We live half lives because we are told that this is it, this is the way things are. We learn, just as the child who reaches towards the flame and is burned learns, to limit ourselves when reaching out into the world.

Think about that for a moment. We…limit…ourselves.

Ouch.

It isn’t enough to react to that statement by turning to your child and saying, “Sweetheart you can do anything you want with your life.” That is an empty sentence and an impersonator of belief in and of itself. Instead we have to encourage the thought process through questions and answers, dancing with them sideways towards their amazing futures…

“Look at how that artist painted the hands. How do you suppose he learned how to do that?”

My mother once gave me the best gift she could have given. I was talking about wanting to re-upholster a recliner and going on and on about how I just didn’t know how to do it. She said, “Honey, after all, somebody put it together, you just need to figure out how to take it apart.”

A month later I was looking at the finished product. It had turned out pretty darn good! She hadn’t told me, “Sweetie, you’re so smart, you’ll figure it out.” She had simply reminded me that the chair had been put together by somebody and I was certainly somebody who could take it apart.

  • Giving our children answers doesn’t promote learning
  • Providing grand promises does not help build self-esteem

Keep it real. Picasso was a person, just like you or me. Make people, things, objects and ideas real and accessible. Make them a matter of course, and less like some high ideal that can only be achieved if you can perform magic or spend 30 years in a monastery perfecting your craft.

In this way too our children can see the reality and accessibility of their dreams. They will come to believe that they are capable of so much more. Once that is achieved they can choose where they want their focus to be.

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4 a.m. Compassion

All right. I’ll admit it. I was a bed-wetter. I figure I’d better get that out of the way right now.

Most children are potty-trained in their second year or by their third. My parents say I fell somewhere in that range and was certainly potty-trained by three. But the bed-wetting lasted for years. At four I held the record for wetting three beds all in one night – both of the twin beds in my room and then my parent’s bed!

I am sure they tried to be patient and understanding, but 4 a.m. compassion is hard to come by when you are struggling to rub the sleep crusts from your eyes and stay upright long enough to strip a bed, sponge off or even bathe a child and then (hopefully) get them and you back to sleep.

It was a shameful experience, etched into my memory dozens of times in those early years.

This morning at 4:30 a.m. I snapped awake. I am an early riser, but typically I get up at around 6 am. I also have a rule with myself, I’m not allowed to get up earlier than 5 am. Not having a full 7-8 hours means I will not be at my best. I forced myself to lay there and tried to go back to sleep.

I could hear my little Emily down the hall, talking and crying in her sleep. It was probably her who woke me up in the first place. This in itself was not unusual, she has had vivid dreams for the past year or more and often calls out in her sleep. From the sound of it, she’s usually fully in the throes of a conflict dream. Typically they pass and her sleep quiets again, but this morning no such luck.

Sleepy as I was, I knew something was wrong. I got out of bed, walked down the hall and pushed her door open. Her blankets were pushed aside and she was huddled on the bed, crying.

“Mama, I’m all wet.”

“Oh sweetie, did you wet the bed?”

“Yeah, I wet the bed,” and with that she really began to wail.

I petted her back. “It’s okay sweetie, these things happen.”

She stopped wailing, although she was still upset, and asked me to carry her into the bathroom. I did and I ran a warm bath while I peeled off the wet pajamas from her shivering little body. As soon as she felt the bath water against her skin she relaxed and lay back floating in the water with her long hair spread out around her like a cloud. A warm, wet washcloth warmed her stomach.

I stripped the bed and started the washer and then re-made the bed with soft and warm blankets. I thought about my parents and how tired they must have been at 4 am and those other wee hours of the night. I am the odd duck in the family, everyone else seems to be night owls. But at 4 a.m. nobody is at their best.

I returned to the bathroom and smiled down at Emily, still floating calmly in the warm, soothing water. She looked so peaceful and thoughtful at that moment. I drained the tub and wrapped her in a large towel and dried her off.

“I want pajamas.”

“Okay sweetie. Look, here’s Sponge Bob.”

She smiled because Sponge Bob is her favorite character right now and I helped her into them and tucked her into bed. “Sweetheart, please don’t feel bad about wetting your bed. These things happen, they are part of growing up.” She nodded sadly.

“I used to wet the bed, did you know that?” Her eyes got big. “One time I wet three different beds in one night!” She looked a little shocked at the last revelation.

I pressed play on her cd player, kissed and hugged her, and told her how much I loved her. As I closed the door to her room and entered my office, tired but too awake not to sleep I thought about my reaction. I would like to think that I helped her feel better. She didn’t want to wet the bed and she certainly needed a little compassion at 4 a.m. when she was wet and cold and miserable.

Who wouldn’t feel the same way?

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If You Aren’t Laughing, You Should Be

When Dee was young I had a great deal of laughs…often times at what would seem to be her expense. She would say or do something that would set me off and I would chortle away.

I didn’t laugh in a mean way, but she was sensitive, oh so very sensitive!

She would frown, “Stop laughing at me.”

I would stop laughing long enough to say, “I’m not laughing AT you, I’m laughing WITH you.”

“But I’m not laughing.”

“You should be.”

“You should be” was the short answer. My long answer would have been to explain to my daughter that, even in the face of ‘serious’ issues, her life would soon hold so much more than she could possibly dream of or imagine right now. That this drama that held her in its grasp so seriously, so deeply, would fade quicker than a daylily’s bloom.

I wanted to see her view expand and encompass all that she would be, could be, and should be in life. That the words of some small-minded bully or cattiness of the popular girls would fade and become irrelevant all too soon. That she would thrive and come into her own – and create her own description of what beauty and intelligence and success was.

I dreamed of her laughing at the small things, the silly things, and putting it all in perspective. Recognizing that we are more than just that one friendship or a difficult teacher or even that less than perfect report card.

I prayed for her to find the grace to laugh at her imperfections and realize how very special she was in all things – most especially in my heart.

But all I said was, “If you aren’t laughing, you should be.”

I will confess that I didn’t think about it too deeply. I didn’t ever try to explain to her what I meant. And, until she reads this, I’m doubt she has ever truly understood all of the love and hope and belief in her that lay behind those simple words.

My daughter is now 21. An independent, beautiful, talented and intelligent young woman. And two years ago, as I struggled through a particularly frustrating financial experience, I would hear those words come back to me.

As I related my tale of woe, Dee began to laugh. No matter what I said, she seemed to find it funny! I grew angry, resentful and I felt misunderstood. I told her she just didn’t understand what I was going through and that she wasn’t taking me seriously. I ended the phone call, went grumpily to bed, and awoke the next morning still in a bad mood.

And there on my computer was an email from Dee. As I read her words my dark mood vanished…

I was just thinking about things, and I realized I have to let you in on an aspect of the “new me.”

Remember when I was a little kid and you used to laugh at something I said or did, and I’d get all mad and say, “Stop laughing at me.”

You’d say, “I’m not laughing at you, I’m laughing with you.”

“I’m not laughing!”

“You should be.”

I’ve realized that by laughing  a lot, I get into the habit of doing it in situations that are not normally called for to laugh. I laugh when I’m angry, stressed, pleased, thinking of something quite serious, or for no reason at all.

I’m not laughing at you, mom, I’m laughing with you. And if you’re not laughing, you should be.

I realized then that she had been listening and that she had understood what I was trying to convey. It was at that moment that I felt one of the biggest successes I have ever felt as a parent.

My daughter knew I would get past this dark, angry tunnel. And she was there, standing in the sunlight, laughing, and waiting for me to join her.

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