A Lesson in Letting Go of Fear

I took my newly-minted eight year-old to the park yesterday to ride her bike. The snow had melted, the sun was shining and she was eager to be reunited with her bike after such a long, hard winter.

Teaching her to ride her bike and riding with her has always been her father’s job (I’m not a confident biker and I’d always rather walk on my own two feet than balance on two wheels.) As I wrote here, if it wasn’t for him, she’d have never learned for I was always too fearful, terrified she’d fall, scared she’d hurt not just her knees but also her confidence.

Oh, I was so wrong.

It wasn’t her who needed to conquer her fears, it was me.

She set off on her bike yesterday, pumping those pedals, the wind in her hair. “Be careful, don’t go too far out of my sight,” I cried out. But it was already too late. Her hair was streaming out behind her, her helmet getting smaller as she accelerated away from me down the path, picking up speed. Though I couldn’t see her face, I knew she was smiling from ear to ear.

She rounded the corner. I could still see her flying like the wind. And then, she was out of sight, around another corner.

I listened acutely for for the high-pitched wail that I would surely hear as she’d crash off the bike and hurtle to the ground. I hastened my already speedy pace, desperate to catch up to her or at least spot her in the distance.

A glimmer of stranger danger dangled on the edge of my nervous system, taunting my imagination with every parent’s worst fears. Yes, there were lots of people at this park but maybe among them, there might be one with ill intent, looking at her that way?

What if she gets scared when she realizes she can’t see me, I worried? I picked up the pace even more, blisters forming on my sockless-in-shoes-for-the-first-time-since-winter feet.

Panting and sweating and on the brink of panic, I rounded the corner and stared into the distance, squinting to make her out among the swarm of adults and kids walking, biking and skateboarding on this beautiful spring day.

Suddenly in the distance, I spotted the shape of her helmet, her long hair, her knees moving fast up and down, zooming towards me. Triumphant, happy, cheeks aglow. “Mama!” she cried. “I was pedalling so far, so fast. It was so cool.” She grabbed a sip of water and took off once again, yelling that she’d meet me back at the park entrance.

And it was then I realized.

She’s now a confident bike rider. There was no fall, no wail, no grazed knees.

She knows how to get out of a stranger’s grip. She’s a blue belt in karate – she can punch and kick and shout, really loudly.

She knows my cell number, we’ve talked about what to do if she’s lost, what kind of adult to find.

For parents, fear is a constant. Fear that we don’t know what we are doing, fear that we’ll screw up, screw them up. Fear they’ll get hurt. Fear they’ll get lost. Fear of strangers. Fear they won’t accomplish what we – and they – want to achieve.

Yesterday, for me, was a solid lesson in letting go of some of that fear and replacing it with confidence in my child. Confidence in her abilities and smarts. Confident that her father and I have equipped her with many of the tools to succeed. Fear will always be there, but as I learned yesterday, it’s my problem, not hers.
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A Lesson in Losing

Yesterday I stood by and watched as my kids were kicked and punched.

It was their first karate tournament and they were sparring. They’d practiced for months and today was the real deal. There were trophies to be won; there was pride at stake. Both kids thought they were each pretty good. Neither was nervous. My daughter calmly informed me she was “pumped up.” They weren’t cocky, just self-confident, assured that they knew what to do in the ring, no matter the belt, size or gender of their opponent.

This was also my first rodeo as a karate mom. Actually, it was my first time as a mom at any form of competitive kid’s sport. My kids might not have been nervous but I was, unsure of how to build them up, but not too much. Worried about their fragile egos. Hopeful they might win. Scared they might lose.

All around us were other parents, some new to this gig, some old-timers. There were those who quietly directed their kids, up close, looking them in the eye, reminding them of their lessons. There were those who were chill about the whole thing. And there were many vocally coaching their kids from the sidelines.

“Use your crescent kick!”

“Let him come to you.”

“Go on the attack!”

That wasn’t me. In truth, I wasn’t sure what to do. I tried to catch my kids eyes before they went on, giving them a small thumbs up of encouragement. Mostly, I watched mutely from the sides, mildly terrified, unprepared for this role and the psychology it would demand.

I don’t think it ever crossed their minds that they might not win. But let me tell you, receiving a “participation” trophy is a phony substitute. One kid took home two of those suckers. The other took one. They regarded these trophies with disdain, evidence of their not being good enough. There were tears of frustration and disappointment. Then to our surprise – and even his – my son took third place in his last match. His face lit up, and he fairly grew an inch with pride and delight. As if his earlier assurance had been warranted. His smile said “See, I can do this.”

At almost 8 years-old, my daughter had the hardest time repelling that ineffective phrase “It’s the taking part that counts.”

I wanted to win. But I lost,” she sobbed.

I wanted to provide all the justification in the world, encourage her to use this moment to look around and observe what it takes to win. To remind her that, with effort and practice, those trophies could soon be hers too. I feared she’d want to throw in the towel, abandon her karate altogether. Instead, I decided the best thing to do was to just hold her and let her absorb it all.

Because letting them fail is something we have to do, as parents. It’s a bitch of a lesson but it’s a healthy one.

The best part? She shook it off pretty quick and her happy spirits returned. And her brother, fortunately, didn’t gloat over his win.

I’m sure they’ve filed yesterday’s experience away. I’m hoping the next time they “suit up” for karate, it’ll be maybe with a little less confidence but a whole lot more determination and respect.

As for me, I’m also going to need to thicken up my game-day skin if we are all going to come out of these tournaments unscathed. It’s been a solid lesson in losing for me too.

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After The Car Crash & What My Kids Are Teaching Me

I could write about how a nanosecond can shatter your self-confidence, rendering you emotionally and physically fragile.

I could write about how I feel like puking at every intersection I encounter when driving.

I could write about my stiff back and bruised clavicle.

I could write about the depths of fear at the possibility of my kids being in harm’s way. And the goosebump-inducing, engulfing relief that they were not hurt.

I could write about the bewildering amount of paperwork and phone calls associated with insurance and personal injury claims.

Instead, I am going to write about what I can learn from how my kids’ have responded to and dealt with last Tuesday’s car crash, when we were T-boned at the traffic lights near our home.

Everyone says that kids are resilient but seeing this in action is remarkable. Yes, there were screams and panic in the moment. Followed by tears and anxiety in the hours following. But there’s no evidence of trauma or emotional scarring. They accept what happened. They understand it’s not normal, that is was the exception, not the rule. They show no fear getting back in the car with me. They defend their Mother. They trust in me.

As we drove our new car home last night from the dealership, my youngest said “It feels good to be in this car.” This, for me, was the most reassuring moment of the past seven days. I too must accept that what happened, and not judge or doubt myself. I must get over my fear. I must trust in me.

 

My Zumba Journey

This morning I dragged my lazy derriere out of bed and to my 10am Saturday morning Zumba class. Every week, it’s the same. I really don’t want to go. It takes having a serious conversation with myself to talk (aka guilt) myself into it. Off I go, begrudgingly.

Fast forward 60-minutes or so and I emerge – sweaty, my muscles aching beautifully, invigorated and high on the having shaken my booty to great tunes! After all, I’m my happiest when dancing and that’s what Zumba essentially is.

It’s a mixed blessing that, as part of this, I spend an hour in front of a mirror forced to examine my pudgy, jiggly fleshy bits squeezed into my exercise gear. This mostly unpleasant vision reminds me why this weekly “torture” is required. However, what mitigates my negativity, is that fact that I am surrounded at Zumba my similarly bouncy, middle-aged woman. Ninety-nine percent of the class attendees are, like me, in their 40s, working Moms, trying to squeeze in an hour to themselves, trying to squeeze in some exercise, trying to squeeze into their Lycra. Some of them come to class fully made up, wearing dangly earrings. This confuses me. However,  together, we jiggle, strut, samba, cha-cha, groove and sweat, in a merry, flabby fashion. Sure there’s always at least one super skinny gal there, sporting a dancer’s body and a six-pack. I try not to look.

What I love most about the studio I go to – VavaVoom Fitness –  is it is focused on celebrating women, curves and all. Large posters on the wall display a fleshy Marilyn lifting weights, a seductive Beyonce, gorgeous J Lo performing and Shakira’s incredible body. Not a skinny waif in sight. No ripped muscles. Just images of sexy, confident, resplendent curvy woman. The goal is to motivate us to reclaim our bodaciousness, to celebrate our confidence and womanliness through dance. And given dance is something that inspires and motivates me, this is why I come here. However, putting aside inevitable self-consciousness and allowing yourself to circle your hips, grind a little, wiggle your butt, shimmy your shoulders and dance sexy is not always an easy journey. In fact, one of the male Zumba teachers often complains that his hips move better than ours!  The fact is that, in our day-to-day lives, especially as working Moms, there’s no time or, quite frankly reason, to act and feel sexy. Even long before becoming I mother, drawing attention to body through clothes or shoes was an anathema.

But every Saturday morning, for one hour, I revel in shedding this insecurity and I gloriously strut my stuff, buoyed by the music, the dance and the fact that I’m not alone in this journey.

On Perspective and Empathy

It’s been an interesting couple of weeks. A whirlwind of challenges swooping into my usually happy, upbeat daily existence. At work, a disgruntled client and a whiplashed team. At home, childcare logistical conundrums, preparations for a change of routine with school graduations and the start of camp. Nothing insurmountable, but enough to cause some self-doubt, angst, hand-wringing and yes, tears.

It’s very easy to get sucked into your own personal dramas. Especially if your energy is drained, your confidence is in a funk and there’s no clear path between each of the small obstacles cluttering your mind. Not to mention the crushing feeling when you put them all together – especially during the night when they conspire at the very edge of REM and blur reality with nightmares.

Truth is, my issues are wrinkles in the usual carefree life that I am incredibly lucky enough to enjoy.

But each of us has drama. These past two weeks I’ve heard of, shared, and listened to the dramas afflicting family, friends and colleagues. Sickness, divorce, heartbreak, death. On the flip-side of the doom and gloom, there have also been new babies on the brink of arrival, romances rekindled, achievements and breakthroughs.

A veritable slice of life.

I’ve been reminded that, to move through your own personal funk, you have to look outward. Perspective and empathy go hand-in-hand, each bolstering the other – a veritable renewable energy source. First, being able to express your woes to an active, empathetic listener helps you grieve, crystallize, process and ultimately, rationalize. Second, being the listener, providing an ear and a shoulder, as well as counsel if warranted, provides the source of focus, a mirror for perspective, new strength.

I’m not really sure where I am going with this, except to say that I’ve been on both sides of the fence and it’s actually very healthy. If all I do is bitch and moan about my issues, then quite frankly, I wouldn’t want to spend much time with me. But if, by being an empathetic listener, I can help – as well as find perspective to my own problems – then together we move forward.

On Shoe Envy and Insecurity

If you know me, then insecure is not the first adjective that comes to mind.

But like almost every human being, I naturally have some insecurities. I have a horror of being over-dressed. Strange though it may sound, nothing makes me want to shrink up and die more than being out of place because I am too dressed-up or decked out.

And like many people, to counter my insecurity, I take it too far in the opposite direction and prefer the security of being casually dressed. Unlike my mother who is always impeccably put together.

Consequently, I rarely wear skirts or dresses because, to me, they give the impression that you are trying to make an impression even if it’s just to go the store, or out for a meal, or to the office. (And I wonder why my daughter has an aversion to skirts and dresses … hmmm … Go figure.)

So what does his have to do with shoes, you say?

I love shoes. I obsess about shoes. I have a Pinterest board littered with exquisite examples of them. I used to spend hours as a teenager designing imaginary shoes, my school books filled with doodles.

I also detest breaking in new shoes. Blisters are one of shoes’ many way of punishing us. When I do wear any shoe with a heel more than one inch, I quickly me realize I‘m not as young as I used to be, as I always wake up the next day with my hips feeling like they are back to front, my knees tender and my back shrieking.

And yet I look around me, especially at the feet of my colleagues at work who effortlessly and beautifully sport gorgeous, stylish and dramatic heels, day in day out, with grace and style and confidence. Without grimace or clumsiness – or appearing overdressed. Or complaining of achey backs and joints.

I want to be able to do that. But I’m scared of looking like I’m trying too hard, looking like a phony or a mutton in sheep’s clothing. At the core, I’m scared of drawing unwanted attention to myself. Heaven forbid I should look womanly, a by-product of arching your feet, extending your calf muscles and having to walk with an exaggerated sway, like Joan from Mad Men.

I know this is ridiculous. So I am taking baby steps to remedy my insecurity. A large part of this is my road back to finding the woman that’s been buried under the messy morass of motherhood. She’s in their somewhere but most of the time does not have the time or energy to make an effort. Looking presentable is accommodated through safe, colorful, always comfortable clothes, plus lots of lovely jewelry and a smile. But this Mom has started taking measures to reclaim herself, including reinstating the pre-party before an evening out, ensuring she is not harried and can linger over her choice of clothes and preparations.

Last week, I took my therapy one step further. Having waiting several months, scoured though many web pages, catalogs and pins, I finally splurged on new shoes. I didn’t go all-out Jimmy Choo (the dollars don’t stretch that far!) and I didn’t select anything ridiculous or, heaven forbid, impractical. I played it safe and, don’t laugh at me, shopped at Clark’s, seeking assurance that my feet and posture were in the trusted hand of a sensible brand.

I love the shoes I bought, Even the sales assistant remarked they were the only ones that didn’t look like Clark’s. I wore them out to dinner that evening, with jeans, of course (just in case anyone was looking.)

On Monday, it came time to get dressed for a day-long business trip. Here goes, thought I. I selected a dress – a safe, black, comfortable one, already tested once for its non-attention drawing values. I strapped on the heels, walked gingerly like a new-born deer to the mirror. A leggy trollope looked back at me. You fake, she sneered. Do you think you are still 20? What are you trying to prove? My stomach lurched. Off came the heels, replaced swiftly with some safe shoes.

I kicked myself all day for not having the balls to do it.

The following two days, I made up my mind to give it another shot. Day 2, I wore the heels but under the cover of pants, a safer combination. Day 3, I took a deep breath and wore a skirt and heels.

I felt very self-conscious. And tall. I also felt powerful, confident, and dare I say, womanly.

But the funny thing was, I don’t think anyone even noticed. So maybe, just maybe, I actually fitted in more and it’s my casual wardrobe that’s doing me a disservice?

I’m not going to be found sashaying in my new heels every day, that’s for sure. You’ll still find me in my comfy, safe flats/clogs/boots. But I’m determined to strap on my heels and even a dress from time to time, and wear them with my head held high, my tummy sucked in and a subtle sway of my hips.

Maybe someone will notice? Maybe I won’t be terrified of that? After all. What’s wrong with a little attention?

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