I think that one of the biggest myths we tell ourselves each day is that everyone else has got their shit together.
And after 48, nearly 49 years on this earth, I’m here to tell you, 99.99% of us DON’T.
It’s something I have to remind myself of on a daily basis.
We cultivate that brave, capable look. Go on, tell me you don’t, I’d love to meet someone who is completely 100% comfortable in their own skin. We plaster on a confident smile, remind ourselves to relax and look carefree, and we step into the unknown and try not to lose our shit.
I felt that way going to a doctor’s appointment the other day. I had to deal with a new doctor because my old new doctor is on maternity leave. I got to see her twice and then she’s gone for three months (it should be longer, don’t get me started on maternity leave here in America and how shamefully short it is). And I’m sitting there trying to keep my face from betraying my embarrassment/shame/discomfort as this new new doctor lectures me on my eating habits when he’s known me for all of two full minutes.
By the way, the key to healthy living is eating less. Just in case you were wondering. Don’t bother to ask what I’ve eaten, assume it’s too much and begin your standard lecture.
I felt that way a couple of days later just spending fifteen minutes in a friend’s house before dropping my husband off for Boys Beer Night. I smile, I play with the dog, try to think up scintillating conversation, hell, just smile. Afterwards I was glad I had gone inside, but still, it’s hard. Harder than it looks, harder than I want to admit.
But here’s the thing I have figured out along the way. We don’t have to have our shit together. It doesn’t make us less, it doesn’t make us incapable of making a difference or unworthy of being listened to. It just makes us…human.
A couple of years ago, at a deeply trying time in my life, I had a family member break my heart. It was hard, really hard, and I spent months questioning who I was as a person. Was I a good person? Was I a monster? Lots more questions, and not many answers. Just a lot of grief and betrayal and hurt.
And one of my coping mechanisms was to try to replace this family member. Only, you really can’t replace someone, can you? So about nine months ago, after much trial and tribulation, arguments, uncertainty, and emotion – we found ourselves face to face with a beautiful, frightened, confused, and often recalcitrant toddler. She didn’t know why she was in our home, my husband wasn’t sure he wanted her there, my tween quickly barricaded herself in her room so that said toddler wouldn’t invade and touch her stuff, and I found myself consumed with guilt.
Each time she misbehaved/cried/screamed/wouldn’t sleep, I felt like it was my fault she was there and it was up to me to deal with. I guess the words of my dad over two decades ago still rung true. When, in my early 20s I had said to him, “I’m unhappy in my marriage,” he had responded with a shrug and said, “You made your bed, now you need to lie in it.”
Over the past nine months, I became the enforcer. If I heard my husband getting frustrated with our foster daughter I would run in and try and deal with it. And because I was the one handing out all of the punishments and rules, the balance of power was off-kilter as well. Little Miss wouldn’t come to me for comfort, she’d head for my husband. And she wouldn’t listen to my husband’s rules or boundaries, she would wait for me to come along and enforce them.
Until just the other day when I said it out loud, those words I had been thinking every day for the past nine months.
“When there is a problem, when there is a misbehavior, I step up. Because I feel guilty for bringing her here in the first place, for pushing for this thing that you did not initially want.”
And my husband stared at me. “Oh my God, what? That’s seriously how you feel?”
I nodded and I could see the understanding dawn in his eyes. “And I guess I figured that if she likes you and Em, but not me because I’m the enforcer, well, I kind of deserved it, because I pushed for this.”
Sometimes, the saying of something out loud, the verbal uttering of it, gives it a life of its own. In this case, it brought clarity, and suddenly all of my behaviors over the past nine months made sense to my husband.
“But that’s not your burden to take on,” he said. “Yes, I was against it at first, but I love that little girl, and I want more than anything to adopt her and for her to be part of our family forever.”
And with that, my burden was lifted. Suddenly the onus of responsibility, of enforcing boundaries and having to jump up and swoop in was no longer this clanging imperative inside of my head. He wasn’t just “making me happy” – he was an equal partner in it, and had been all along.
I looked at my husband this morning as he sat across from me in our library, a mug of tea in his hand. I looked at him and I smiled, because I can’t imagine spending the rest of my life with anyone else. I’m one of the lucky ones.