Monthly Archives: July 2012

The Gratitude Short List – Tradition

I used to think that my family had no traditions. My parents both grew up in  North Carolina and moved out to California in their twenties, so my extended family is scattered all over, but mostly back on the east coast. I have maybe 2 memories of Christmases spent back there, but for the most part, major holidays like Thanksgiving, July 4th, etc. are a four-person affair.

I’ve figured out, however, that even with just the four of us, we do in fact have traditions, most involving food. Cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning. Southern barbeque and cajun gumbo at New Year’s. Deviled eggs on Easter Sunday. And in the summer, my mom and I go to the Orange County* Fair.

I spent about 15 minutes trying to explain to my dad what exactly is appealing about the fair. Prior to our conversation, he had a very one-sided perspective. “Don’t they have deep-fried twinkies, and deep-fried bacon-wrapped oreos at the fair?! That stuff’ll kill you!” He’s never been to any fair, and apparently has no desire. “What do you do? It’s hot, humid, crowded and dusty. I just don’t get it…” Yeah, when you put it that way, it sounds kind of like a low-budget theme park.

I tried to paint a picture for him.

“Well we eat…” He started to interject with the surgeon general’s warning about the bacon-wrapped oreos.

“…we eat TASTY things like roasted corn, street tacos, or gyros on pita bread, funnel cake with fresh strawberries. We look at the exhibits, they have paintings and photography…” The paintings from the local schools are always my favorite. Who knew teens were so talented?

“We go on the rides…” actually, we ride the ferris wheel, and not much else.

“We look at the exhibits on agriculture, where you see the winners for biggest summer squash, sweetest tomato…” (My mom insists.) “… and they usually have livestock, goats, chickens, sometimes horses.” (I insist.)

“It’s like a huge street fair, but with animals and rides. What’s not to like?!”

He mostly stared at me with a heavily furrowed brow, but finally, he says, “So it sounds like it’s about the experience. Kind of like how I enjoy watching movies for the sake of the overall experience.”

My dad is hopeless, but I love him still. “Yes, Dad, it’s about the experience.” So my mom and I did our thing at the fair, and had a great time. Our last weekend before the big drive, which will also be just me and my mom. It felt appropriate and oh-so-American.

Mother-daughter days in general are a tradition for us, and so even though it’s hard to be excited about spending 40 hours in a hot car, I know that our upcoming cross-country adventure will be one for the albums and archives.

*Here’s a bit of trivia: the city of Chapel Hill is part of Orange County in North Carolina. From one OC to the other. I just can’t get away.

Thoughts on cheerleaders, the vortex, and the woman in the mirror

Community is so deeply engrained as one of my core values (and basic needs) that I don’t even think about it until it is disrupted. We cannot do life alone, or even in twos-ies or threes-ies, and also do it well. Even when it comes to the most introverted introverts (this girl), it takes a village to raise a healthy human being.

This week, as reality sets in, and I experience the physical absence of my community in San Diego, I am remembering one of the critical things it provided for me. Having healthy, supportive relationships in your life means you have a chorus of cheerleaders rooting for you. They are there to celebrate the wins with you. And in the seasons when you don’t feel like a winner, when the voice in your head that berates you for your faults crescendos, the chorus of your community is there to remind you that life is not all bad, you are not all bad, in fact you are pretty damn great, that’s why they choose to hangout with you.

I’ve had lots of time alone this past week, and the ‘burbs are slowly driving me insane. I’ve been using the downtime to plan for the next phase of the big move, which involves making decisions about housing. I take forever to make decisions. I dislike this about myself, never mind the fact that I don’t have forever. Generally, having time alone to think has a positive effect on my overall well-being, up to a critical point when said well-being plummets into what I call “the vortex.” I’d forgotten about the vortex. It is the place where rational thought, effective problem-solving and healthy emotional perspective dissolve into a mass of irrational self-criticism, anxiety and runny-nosed tears. Fear reigns supreme in the vortex, and typically I would be fortunate enough to have one of my cheerleaders pull me out, inviting me back to reality.

Things are a little different now.

There’s a little sticker right next to the spacebar of my keyboard, the kind you got on homework assignments in elementary school. It is shiny, bright blue, and it says “Great Job!” My friends Laurie and Jenny gave it to me. Whenever I look at it, I visualize the two of them, in the dorkiest cheerleading getup possible, raising their jazz hands high, and cheering me through my day. Or I conjure up the voice of my dear friend since freshman year, whose voice over the phone reminds me each week, “Mawi, you are doing a great job.” For some reason, when the people who love me — the people who will acknowledge that I am imperfect in a very human way, but will assure me there is not some sort of unforgivable deficit in my character — tell me that I am doing a good job, that I am good enough, I believe them.*

All of this is my doing, my own choice to pursue education a different state, I realize that. I am learning that a good decision, the right decision for the present season, can still be hard as hell. I’m losing the daily physical presence of my cheerleaders, and I suspect it’s going to force me to come to terms with what I’ve been aware of for some time: I’m not so great at being my own cheerleader. I have encouraging words for others, but rarely for myself.

We need community for sure, but at the end of the day, and the start of the next, the person staring back at me while I brush my teeth is me. I have to live with me — for the rest of my life in fact — so I better start being kind to myself, offering myself encouragement, reminding myself of what I did well today, and being patient with the areas where I still struggle.