As a personal exercise, I wrote a list of the things in my life that I am proud of. It was interesting to look into my own past and not know where to go or what to write. It took me a few minutes, but the first one I came up with was States.
When I was in high school, I took culinary arts my junior and senior years. As a senior, I had the opportunity to go to a state competition. Four students were chosen from every high school with a relevant program: two for baking and two for “hot foods”. I was chosen to compete my senior year, along with three others. I trained for months, taking apart whole chicken after whole chicken. I perfected my salad dressing recipe, my cream of mushroom soup recipe, and my knife skills. The day of Skills USA, I arrived nervous and jittery. We all stood at TINY (by comparison) stations and first we demonstrated our knife skills by dicing a potato. There were time limits and no speaking. Chefs walked around the room and observed us. Once that was finished, I had to “break down” a chicken, which involves separating the chicken into: two breasts, two thighs, two legs (with wings attached). Chefs continued to walk around while we worked. After that, I had to prepare a meal. The meal had to include a salad, soup, and entrée with a side. We had, I think, an hour and a half. Once we were finished, we had to hand-carry the salad, soup, and entrée plate into the judging room. We all shared about sixteen burners and four ovens. It was stressful. It was long. It was intense. A girl who stood behind me – her station was always organized, she never seemed frazzled, and she completed every task before her time was up. She, obviously, won. She out beat us all by miles. After that, it was a close race for second place. I didn’t get the results for quite a while. There was some kind of banquet or ceremony. Of course, the girl who stood behind me won. When they called the second place winner, I didn’t hear my name. My teacher nudged me and I walked, in a stupor, to the stage to get my award. I received scholarship money from some of the premiere culinary schools in America. I am proud of that moment because it revealed my ability to stay on-task and dedicate myself to something, and pure talent.
Next on the list would have to be Iowa. When I was eighteen, I had decided to defer enrollment to culinary school for six months. I worked full-time at a restaurant as a line cook, and part-time for a political campaign for a friend of mine. When the political campaign told us, in September, that they needed volunteers to relocate to Iowa, I volunteered immediately. I requested pay compensation for quitting my full-time job, a place to live, and travel expenses. They agreed to all. One week later my possessions were in my car, and my dad and I drove to Iowa. I am proud of that experience not because I chose to go, but because I didn’t run back home when I was alone and scared. I lived with a 90-year-old woman who had upwards of one hundred cats, I knew no one, and I had no professional or educational experience with political science. The other staff in my office had bachelor degrees (or were pursuing bachelor degrees) in poli-sci, and I was just a high school graduate that worked as a line cook. I didn’t even like to talk about politics. But, one day, when it got really hard – I called my dad. I told him I couldn’t do it and I wanted to come home. He said the wisest words I’ve ever heard – and tops one of the best five “dad” moments for him: “Honey, if you were going to come home, you would be here already.”
Also on my pride list is karate. I studied Shaolin Kempo for several years, and made it to brown belt. I had another six months until my black belt test, but was low on funds and stopped studying in order to work more. It is one of those decisions that I vehemently regret. I wish I could say I have a black belt as opposed to a brown one, but I cannot. I am proud, though, because I was able to prove to myself that my mind is stronger than my physical being. I can push myself harder than I ever thought possible. I am in complete control of my mind, body, and spirit… minus all the crazy mood swings and the short temper.
Also on my list? The way I handled my divorce, especially in the beginning. It was so important to me that I handle that with class and dignity intact. I wanted it to be clean and brief, not long and nasty. There are only two occasions I can think of that I did not handle that with class, and I think that’s pretty good. But, somehow, I knew exactly what to do. I didn’t have him arrested because I didn’t want that following him around for the rest of his life, on his record. I neatly arranged his things for easy pick-up for later. I washed and folded all of his laundry and arranged it neatly in a basket when he came to pick up his stuff. I didn’t “go after” him for anything, and I didn’t try to make him miserable. I did my best to avoid “talking shit” about him and I made all the right choices. Except for maybe trying to sleep with one of his friends (hey, I was lonely, and he did it first) and yelling and swearing at him on the phone in front of my extremely classy and “walks-with-Jesus” aunt. Also, I did just leave town without telling him and leave him straddled with twenty-thousand worth of debt due to a legal technicality, but hey, he was awful to me and probably should have been arrested. Anyway, it feels right to reveal the good and the bad, even when it comes to me. Other than that, I can’t think of anything else I did that wasn’t adult and appropriate. Plus, I instinctively knew what to do without my therapist telling me to. I moved furniture around to change the visual energy of the room, I took pictures off the walls, and I didn’t throw anything away that was sentimental. I held onto it for over a year, until about a month ago when I threw it all away because I was ready to let it go. I wrote, I attended therapy, I moved. I worked really hard on myself. I decided to try this again. I’m brave and compassionate and a good person. I can be damn proud of that.
Thinking on the things I am proud of, it is a pretty short list. It made me think about my own perception of my past and how I judge myself. I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately – what pride and support mean to me, and how I learned to be this way.
As a child, I had a middle-of-the-road childhood. It wasn’t horrific or sad; I wasn’t beaten or bounced from foster home to foster home. But, it wasn’t ideal. I was born to two people madly in love, but people who were (in a way) still children themselves. Times were tough around the house, but they told me we had such inexpensive things to “build character”. Brilliant parenting – better than a five-year-old thinking there’s money trouble in the house. My parents worked opposite shifts and sometimes would fight. Reflecting, I think they fought rarely, but sometimes they would yell. They would yell at me, especially my dad. He would get angry about work and yell just to yell. When we moved to New Hampshire, my mom was the one that worked all the time, and when she came home she was often very tired and just spent. She wasn’t really engaged all the time, but as an adult I understand that she worked so hard to support our family. My dad was the “emotional” parent – the one I got the most affection from and a shoulder to cry on. All in all, I think for my whole life, there has been balance. My parents weren’t always what they needed to be, but they did the best they could. They didn’t half-ass it and they weren’t selfish. They were generous and loving and they were there for me every day.
I was a problem child. I had sensory issues, I was diagnosed with ADHD but my parents refused to drug me, and I was high-energy. I was sensitive and loud and just a wild child. I acted out in different ways as I got older, and I took much of the attention from my younger siblings. I was a tough kid. I’m sure I made them very tired. I know they wish or think that they could have done a better job.
When it comes to pride, though, I have to say that they screwed this up. Looking back, I don’t recall many scenarios where I felt like my parents were all that proud of me. Certainly I can remember them saying “good job, honey” or showing up to my plays or softball games or karate classes. I have hours and hours of home video, but I don’t have a lot of memories feeling like they were proud or that I felt supported. They are amazing people and, as such, have pretty high expectations. The bar was set high and failure just wasn’t an option. Everything from vacuuming and cleaning the house to grades and how I dealt with my emotions – I struggled and struggled to get it right. I did receive praise, but also a lot of criticism, complaint, and negative feedback. Part of me thinks that this was good, because it created balance. It created a high bar to set for myself so that I knew I could always reach it.
However, the other part of me feels like I can never get it right enough, that I will never be good enough, and that I will never be met with a beaming smile and tears in the eyes. Perhaps on my wedding day, when my parents cried and held my hand every step of the way. Also, when my dad drove to Ohio to pick me up when Kyle and I separated and they let me live with them. Other than that… I can’t think of much.
A lot of this could have to do with my own perceived sense of self-worth, or it could have to do with so many memories mixed up with negative ones that it’s hard for me to remember happy times. In general, I review the past twenty-four years with indifference. There’s not much I can think of that brings a genuine smile to my face, because almost everything that’s ever happened that’s good can be wrapped up in something sad or bad. Since the majority of this 24 years has been spent with my parents, they are a part of that. It would require further analysis to figure out if that is real or skewed. In a way, I feel ungrateful for even saying this out loud.
In any case, part of growing up and being an adult is letting go of the things that you don’t like about yourself. It doesn’t matter that I did not feel particularly supported or a sense of pride from my parents, what matters is that I can say to my partner “I don’t feel supported”. Recently, I discovered that Dave does not read my blog. I live with him, I talk about being a writer, I talk about my writing, and I tell him when I update my blog. He doesn’t read it. Others will make comments to him about the things I write, and I know he feels sort of embarrassed that he doesn’t know what they are talking about, because he hasn’t read it. He told me this a few days ago.
During that conversation, I told him that he needs to read it. I told him that he needs to read it because I am scared and don’t know what I’m doing and am afraid that I don’t have the chops for this. If he’s not reading it, why would anyone else? I need feedback and support – just to know that the person that loves me thinks its important enough to read. I realize these are lengthy and rather self-indulgent. I realize that they may not be that good. But, he needs to read it. So now he does.
It’s more important that we can have that conversation than whether or not I have hang-ups about it and am affected. There are lots of things about me that are wonderful and are directly tied to my parents. It’s a good-with-the-bad scenario. It’s coming to me a little late in life, but I am really starting to see them as people instead of these Godlike creatures whom I idolize.
So, I suppose the result of the exercise is that I realized two things: my memories are disturbing in that there are few positive ones and it makes me curious as to why; and my parents are actual people who make mistakes that affect others. All of that is okay, and knowing that makes it a lot easier.
I know my dad reads my blogs. I can’t tell you how awesome it is to know that he reads them every time I post them. He raves about how awesome a writer I am. So, papa, I know you are reading this. Sorry if I hurt your feelings, it’s just part of the message.
And, as Dave is reading over my shoulder and mentioning my word count, I’ll end with this: Show your pride. Own it. Decide what to be proud of and do not let others decide what to be proud or ashamed of. This is your journey and no one else’s. You get to create your own reality and create your own universe. Try to be positive and think about the positive in everything. It’ll feel better, I promise.
Also, fight the urge to cast away your family when they make a mistake. Or, better still, when they made mistakes twenty years ago because they didn’t know any better. We’re all just trying, and if we are going to see the best in ourselves and our reality, we need to see the best in others.