Careful what you keep

It is the quietest part of my day.

I have tucked in every child, for better or for worse. The living room has been picked up, homework has been pulled out, fought over, stuffed back into backpacks, tonight’s dinner dishes have marched their way from the table to the dishwasher, and the remnants of Judah’s bath time have been put back in order. For all intents and purposes, today is done. Some days, just making it to the finish line is enough for me to declare V for Victory (with hand signs and all), call it good, and sleep the sleep of the hard-fought win.

When I still have a brain cell left or a nerve not frayed to splitting, I sometimes take stock of the day, to determine whether or not I was actually successful (more on that in a minute). So I will sit on the couch, or perhaps, stand in the shower, and make my two mental columns of ‘Good Job!’ or ‘You Suck!’, and at the end, I’ll tally them up, deciding whether or not the day was, indeed, a good day.

Most of the time the columns fill up like this:

List

The Good stuff consists of things that bolster my self esteem, self care, taking care of the children. The You Suck column is often inconsequential, but this negative side fills up with ease. I don’t have to grope blindly in the dark to come up with something to make me feel badly about myself the way I have to cast about for something to put in the ‘You are succeeding as a human being’ column. When I weigh the columns in my head, it is always easier to dismiss the positive column.

It’s a mean voice in our heads that works to hurt our sense of accomplishment, isn’t it? Some days it wakes before me, and goes to sleep after me. There is never a moment that it isn’t there, waiting to undermine or demean my hardest efforts. Some days it convinces me to flush the entire left side column of my list and I do. Then I lift up all those things that have made me feel guilty, or less than, throughout the day and I keep them. Protective over them, nurturing their pessimistic tendencies because it’s easier to accept that ‘You Suck’ than to fight hard to just tread water. After all, the mean voice insists that it’s not so triumphant to get a shower, or to be punctual, or to keep a house clean. But how could I forget those library books, or feed my precious child popcorn, for breakfast!, and how can someone possibly yell within thirty minutes of getting up, and then a lot, (a lot) more times throughout the day.

In time, the weight of all those kept guilts, those categorized and numbered complaints begin to drown me. Instead of just shrugging off the silly accomplishments, I begin to decline pride for the big things too. Talking Sam down from what was surely to be a huge meltdown due to homework? Big deal. Teaching Marilyn how to successfully decipher those tough new words in the book she brought home? Whatever. That epic Jake and the Neverland Pirate dance party Judah and I participated in, in the living room, at 9:30am? Who cares. Everything feels separated from me by a million layers of saran wrap. I can see my impacts on people, I can tell that I am still participating, but I can’t quite feel it.

Then, like a well timed bolt of lightning, today Sam and I were discussing how great he has been doing in school.

Me: Sam, I am really, so proud of you. You work so hard, and it shows.
Sam: I know.
Me: Are you proud too? Doesn’t it feel good?
Sam: Yeah. But I always do good.
Me: Well remember in first grade when it was really hard?
Sam: Nope.
Me: Really?
Sam: I only like to remember what makes me feel happy.

lightbulb
Light bulb moment.

Now I am not saying we should immediately and systematically go through our memories purging every recollection that makes us feel less than stellar, but, I think we should be mindful of what we keep in the forefront of our brain real estate. I want my voice to be the loudest in my head and I want to be shouting my frivolous successes and my personal triumphs because they feel good, because they earned their spots. It is precious space up there, and if that front line of snapshots is what is going to make up the basis for whether or not I was successful today, I want it to be the stuff that matters.

That’s what I want. However, if you see me looking doubtful, looking like maybe my ‘You Suck’ list is winning the property war inside my brain, tell me I can still win the good fight, that every day is only a sum of its many parts, and it doesn’t all hinge on one spilled glass of milk. I promise to do the same, for you.

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