Monthly Archives: October 2016

Good Sport Mary Ann

It was working really well … until it wasn’t.

I am referring to my years-long habit of bending over backwards for other people, often keeping my own needs in the side-view mirror.

For years I believed that any blessing I received in my life were due to my habit of putting myself, if not last, at least second-to-last.

I had received warnings over the years about this from friends and acquaintances. Years ago, a supervisor at my first “real” job gently suggested that I take an assertiveness training class offered by the company — I did, and at its conclusion I reported that I “did not get it.” Years later, another supervisor referred to me as “good sport Mary Ann” after I agreed to work extra hours once again.  Yes, that second one gave me pause. And yet, as you know, old habits die hard.

When my life continued to take a turn toward the hectic despite my goody two shoes approach, I got brave enough to confide my deepest fears to a close friend a few weeks ago.

“I feel like I’m being punished,” I confessed.

“You’re not being punished, you’re being schooled,” she said confidently. “And don’t worry, your kind teacher has good intentions.”

I was too shocked to question her, and her words shook me to the core. At the age of 57, what could I possibly have left to learn? Bwahahahaha, said the universe.

For years I had pushed myself to the limit. I said yes when I really meant no.  Instead of ignoring criticism or even gentle correction, I took it as a sign that I really was not as “good” as other people and needed to work on improving. I did not let others know what I needed, figuring that it was a sign of weakness at worst and an imposition on them at best.

The process of turning my thinking around has not been easy. As an example, my mother recently came shuffling out of her bedroom fully dressed and expecting breakfast when I was not even halfway through my first cup of coffee. Good Sport Mary Ann used to put her coffee and newspaper aside, forgoing a half-hour of relaxation and a follow-up shower in order to give Mom what she wanted. Enlightened Mary Ann was honest — she told Mom that she had slept late and needed to get herself together. She sent her shocked mother back to bed (!) with the promise to get her up again in a half hour or so. Surprisingly, everyone survived and the world kept turning.

So it’s official. Good Sport Mary Ann has left the building. Well, at least she is in process of leaving.

Perhaps some people will miss her. I certainly won’t.

Good Sport Mary Ann thought that putting herself last was the brave thing to do. But she was miserably wrong.

Being honest and asking for help when you need it is actually the bravest thing you can do.

Don’t let the door hit you in the you-know-what on your way out, Good Sport Mary Ann.

 

Blast from the Past

“Where did you come from, where did you go?”

This is a line from a song that was played every year at the local HarvestFest carnival back in the day when my kids were in grade school. I didn’t care for the song and I hated its title — “Cotton-Eye Joe.” But it sort of stuck in my head for a while the way some crummy songs do.

I hadn’t thought about “Cotton-Eye Joe” in years. And then I came across an old ID card featuring a photo  of myself as a 35-year-old.

“Where did you come from, where did you go?” was the first thought that entered my mind as I spotted the photo ID in my drawer. I had forgotten about it entirely, but there it was under a prayer card that I had pulled out.

Where did you come from, you slim and wrinkle-free creature? And where did you go, with all your hopes and dreams and energy and ambition and promise?

I remember having that photo taken. I was working at Warren, Gorham and Lamont on the 40th floor of One Penn Plaza, across the street from Penn Station in New York City. I had gone out to lunch with my friend Peter E. (AKA young Peter) and then he accompanied me to get to a small photo studio near our office. Peter was one of my best friends at the time, and certainly one of my closest confidantes besides my husband John. I thought I looked a fright, and that the humid weather that day was wreaking havoc with my fine and frizzy hair (indeed it was). But Peter convinced me – using his usual dry wit — that I looked “passable.” The photo was taken with Peter’s encouragement and despite my apprehension. In retrospect, Peter was one of many people in my life at that time that I took for granted. He was solid, steady, and kind-hearted. Why didn’t I appreciate him more? The answer is that I was pissed off.

Me as a 35-year-old working in New York City.
Me as a 35-year-old working in New York City.

Taking a closer look at the photo, I could see the sadness in my eyes and a hardness in my expression. I recalled that I was at that time feeling profoundly disappointed by life. I desired things that were not being handed to me. I had convinced myself that I was ready for the next chapter, whatever that was. I was distrustful of the future, and angry about the present.  This negative line of thinking resulted in peevish and self-centered behavior. And eventually the end of my friendship with young Peter.

I now realize that, by feeling sorry for myself, I dismissed from my mind all of the great things that had been handed to me and that I should have appreciated more at the time. A fabulous husband. A loving extended family. Regular free dinners and fun conversation at my parents’ and in-law’s homes. Seeing my beautiful nieces on a regular basis, and knowing how much we loved one another. Reliable and fun friends. Kind neighbors. Coworkers and a supervisor who treated me like gold, and with whom I shared so many good times. Insecurity and worry had robbed me a precious resource – the enjoyment of my time.

Now here I stood, staring at the ID card at the age of 57, and still desiring more than life is delivering. From my mother who lives with us and has dementia, I want improvement.  From my husband who works so hard to earn a living, I always seem to expect more of something. I want only good outcomes for and from my kids, who are trying to make their own way in the world. They need to stumble and fall once in a while without me falling apart. As for my friends, they must surely be tired of hearing me moan about the fact that I have limited freedom these days. They are just too polite to say so.

Like many of the other “lost” items that have somehow made their way back to me recently, the ID card was a timely reminder of something very important. In this case, that I am once again at a point in my life where I have stopped enjoying the present because I have limited faith in the future. I certainly felt that way as a 35-year-old back in 1993. As it turns out, my fears were unjustified. And, in fact, highly counterproductive.

I have decided to put “1993 Angry Girl” into the back of the drawer, where she belongs.

“Where did you come from, where did you go?”

It’s really not such a mystery. I know where you came from, young lady. And I know where you need to go.

 

Good Fortune

When life gets messy, my usually good attitude takes a walk — and sometimes brings my brain along for company.

This happened in a big way last week, when I was trying to gather information to apply for benefits from the state. Here is a tip: If you have a hand in your parent’s finances, save every financial statement for the year’s “quarters”: January, April, July, and October. They  will be the ones that count when you need to prove anything to the state through a five-year “lookback.”

I had seemingly every statement but the ones I needed. I needed to scramble to get the bank statements as well as conduct a search for other important papers.

I was frustrated by my seeming ineffectiveness at gathering this information as well as my horrific bookkeeping skills. My self-esteem is not exactly at an all-time high these days. When a wonderful friend offered to accompany me to the bank on her day off for moral support when I was down to just a few more statements needed — but was having trouble holding if together  — I almost cried with relief.

My kind friend walked me through what I hoped was the last step, the last bit of information I needed to ask for and organize before I could send off my box of financial data. And then, that evening, I saw that another item was still missing. One that I had not noticed, and one that I feared would set me back and cause my information to not be received on time.

I fell apart. I cried, I paced, I cursed myself and my situation. In the midst of my pity party, I missed a call from my husband John who was in Texas on a business trip. Call me, please, his message said.

Here is the trouble with business travel. When I call John to talk, he is busy. When he calls me to talk, I am busy.  We were once again out of sync. And frankly I had just managed to calm myself down with a cup of decaf tea and a binge-watch — shamefully — of cats on Roombas and in other ridiculous situations. (Does it every time for me). I texted John and told him what was happening. And then I added that I was ashamed of myself.

John sent a series of text messages affirming his confidence and faith in me, and the fact that I should not be so hard on myself. I did end up calling him, and he reminded me of how much I was doing for my mom, and what I had done for my parents for years. Most importantly, he assured me that everything would be OK. And if it wasn’t, and I missed my deadline and needed to re-apply, that we would find a way to be OK with that too.

He managed to say all the right things, just as my friend had earlier that morning. I felt blessed to have such good people in my life, and to have actually been smart enough to have married someone who understands me so well and props me up when I am falling apart.

When I headed up to bed I felt relaxed and renewed and knew that sleep would not be a problem. That was when I noticed that the top of the small ceramic jar on my end table — in the form of a coiled-up snake — had been almost knocked off, displaying its contents. I did not recall touching the jar, but was thankful that the top had not broken. It was dangling precariously. And frankly I am a bit attached to the snake.

The snake is a story in itself. When my kids were in grade school, a trip to the paint-it-yourself ceramics store was a fun trip for a rainy day. I had saved the kids’ projects and decided to put Veronica’s lady bug jar in the kitchen and Greg’s snake jar on my end table. It wasn’t until I flipped it over to look at the bottom of it about two years ago that I realized MY initials were painted on the bottom. I guess I had decided to join the kids in a painting session. The story is so goofy, and so typical of absent-minded me, that I keep the snake there just for laughs.

I knew that I had stored some old necklaces inside the snake jar. I  rarely open it. But with the head off-kilter, I could see that along with the beaded necklaces was a white slip of paper. When had I put that in there? I wondered.

There was a fortune on the white slip of paper, the kind you find in a cookie. It must be a good one if I saved it, I thought. Or maybe it was  funny?

“The love of your life will carry you through anything,” it said. I was floored.

My mother loves fortune cookies but turns up her nose at the fortunes. “They’re silly, and they never come true,” she says. “Yeah, you’re right,” I always say.

But not this time.