The Window

Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art…It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival.” – C.S. Lewis

The moving truck has come and gone and with one last sleepover, it’s official that my daughter’s first best friend and our neighbor has moved away. We ticked through the 90 days since the announcement, some went quickly, others with a happy unawareness and then finally the days when it hung over our choice of activities like a dark cloud. And then the time arrived.

This is the first friendship that I’ve seen through my kid’s eyes. It started when my daughter was 3-years-old, I’d put her on my shoulders so she could see across the fence to talk to the little girl next door. If they were really lucky, Miss O would be up on my shoulders and Miss Z who was then 4-years-old would be up on her daddy’s shoulders and they could talk face to face.

As Miss O got bigger and I got closer to my due date with her brother, I searched for a new solution as the shoulder carry got uncomfortable. Putting my 6 foot ladder next to the fence, Miss O would climb up to the highest step we agreed upon, Miss Z would climb her tree and they’d talk.

The ladder stayed next to the fence even as they became more and more comfortable with play dates and visiting each other’s yards. Then one day I found my 1-year-old son who’d just learned to walk atop the ladder looking as comfortable as can be.

Of course I snapped a picture of it as I ran across the yard to get him down. That night after I got the kids in bed, with agreement from Miss Z’s family, I got out my dad’s Sawzall and cut a hole in the fence. After I attached two little hinges and a doorknob for each side, it become Miss O’s portal into the yard next door.

At the beginning of the pandemic, each girl would put a table on her side of the fence and they’d “eat together” talking through the window. They’ve passed markers, stuffies and shared deserts through the window in the fence. They’ve argued and then put apology notes through the portal. When we’ve accidentally stomped a rocket all the way into their yard, sometimes it comes back through the window in the fence.

This window has given me an insight about friendship. About the little windows in which we are visible to each other. The doorknobs we pull tight when the vulnerability is too much. The transparency with which we are willing to regard our own and other’s lives.

Now the window is closed. Sure, they’ll stay friends and figure out how to talk but this open-window era has ended. If fences make good neighbors, then little windows in them make good friends.

Young Love

The minute I heard my first love story, I started looking for you, not knowing how blind that was. Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere. They’re in each other all along.” – Rumi

The other day Miss O came home from playing at a neighbor’s house with a mystified expression. She told me that the 9-year-old brother had been kidding his 7-year-old brother about “playing with his girlfriend.” It appears that the younger brother had confided in his brother about a crush on Miss O and now the older brother was teasing him mercilessly.

Now I understand why that delightful boy is always smiling ear to ear every time I see him. I had just assumed he was extraordinarily happy and polite.

There are so many places to go with this story it feels target rich – the complete and utter delight of having a crush, the irrepressible urge to tell others when someone sparks your heart and the vulnerability of sharing your secret.

Just witnessing the potential energy of this little scene reminded me how powerful young love is – and I don’t mean just love among the young but the first stirrings of the heart. There are so many more questions than there are answers, the anticipation is excruciating and life is so wonderfully alive! It’s the heart begging to be let off the leash and dance, the mind trying to fill in the blanks all the while you are pretending to have it under control even as you know nothing is actually normal or controllable.

So you have to tell somebody – and this leads to the next potential topic from our story. It makes me think of the time in junior high that a friend told me she’d been making out with my best friend’s boyfriend on the side and swore me to secrecy. After I sweated it out for a couple of days, loyalty won out over secrecy and I told my best friend. And it also reminds me of my friend in my adult years that would relish in telling all the dirt she knew about other people’s indiscretions. She always had a story and it made hiking up a trail a little more interesting.

Then when my husband’s infidelities came out, I found out it was my messy life that was her fodder. I was chagrined that I had listened to those other stories. And I also learned that the vulnerability of falling in love might actually pale in comparison to the vulnerability of falling out of it.

So then we get to the third act – the brotherly teasing. In his book, The Thin Book of Trust Charles Feltman defines trust as “choosing to risk making something you value vulnerable to another person’s actions.” It seems like siblings and these juicy secrets full of so much potential energy are often the proving ground for trust. And we don’t always get it right.

Our neighbors were leaving for an extended trip on the day after older brother revealed younger brother’s crush. Hopefully that gives the boys time to work it out. Meanwhile, Miss O doesn’t seem too changed by the news which makes me glad that the power of love is still pretty tame at age almost 7.

Ying and Yang

We spend the first year of a child’s life teaching it to walk and talk and the rest of its life to shut up and sit down. There’s something wrong here.” – Neil deGrasse Tyson

The other day I was driving in the car with my kids when my 2-year-old son, who’s favorite show these days is the British cartoon Peppa Pig, started doing a great imitation of Daddy Pig snoring.

My 6-year-old daughter laughed and then asked, “When we get a daddy will he always be falling asleep, snoring and messing up the map reading like Daddy Pig?”

Which made me want to snort with laughter like Mommy Pig does.

It seems like toxic masculinity is a term we bandy about these days. It reminds me of when I was a kid in the 70’s and Bobby Riggs and Billie-Jean King played their Battle of the Sexes and male chauvinism was such a hot topic.

But years ago I read something from University of Toronto psychology professor Jordan Peterson that made me think that this topic is deeply seeded in humans. In his book 12 Rules for Life, he talked about selection of male partners.

Woman are choosy maters (unlike female chimps, their closest animal counterparts). Most men do not meet female human standards. It is for this reason that women on dating sites rate 85 percent of men as below average in attractiveness. It is for this reason that we all have twice as many female ancestors as male (imagine that all the women who have ever lived have averaged one child. Now imagine that half the men who ever lived have fathered two children, if they had any, while the other half fathered none).

I thought that was a stunning statistic of the big picture view that only 50% of men, averaged over all time, have fathered children. But then it’s the next part of the passage that gave a hint about toxic masculinity:

It is Woman as Nature who looks at half of all men and says, “No!” For the men, that’s a direct encounter with chaos, and it occurs every time they are turned down for a date. Human female choosiness is also why we are very different from the common ancestor we shared with our chimpanzee cousins, while the latter are very much the same. Women’s proclivity to say no, more than any other force, has shaped our evolution into the creative, industrious, upright, large-brained (competitive, aggressive, domineering) creatures that we are.

I know Dr. Peterson is a controversial character. But taking this argument at face value, but it doesn’t seem like too much of a leap to believe that women have sought out men who are certain, successful, strong and seemingly invulnerable. And so perhaps women can help to change that nature too, or at least I’d like to think we can help:

By raising sons who are free to grapple with their emotions.

By being a safe place for our brothers and friends to talk about the pressures they feel.

By helping out with map reading.

By letting our daughters know that it’s great to choose men who let their non-aggressive flags fly.

By listening and supporting everyone who says this is hard.

Maybe when I have a partner in life again, he’ll fall asleep and snore. But like Daddy Pig, he’ll be able to laugh about it because he knows we don’t expect him to be perfect, just true.

What do you think? Can women help with toxic masculinity? Is it too much of a buzz word to have much meaning? Is it okay to quote someone like Dr. Peterson even if I don’t agree with how he’s been politicized?

(featured photo from Pexels)

I Haven’t Tried Anything and Nothing Works

I believe you have to walk through vulnerability to get to courage.” – Brené Brown

I was talking with a friend the other day about her marriage. On the surface everything is fine but underneath one partner feels the pull towards adventure and the other partner doesn’t want anything to change. In fact as we talk through different possibilities of things that could give the relationship new ground – therapy, different types of dates, a shift in the balance of things – the answer was no to everything because it was too threatening.

It reminded me of a man I used to work with who would describe his team as running around with their hair on fire whenever there was a problem, which since it was a technology company, was often. If you asked them what they tried, he’d joke that they’d say, “I haven’t tried anything and nothing works!”

My friend’s situation also reminded me of my marriage after my husband’s infidelities were revealed and we were trying to work on it. He sat around and stoked his anger at his friend who had told me. Meanwhile I was casting about trying to find ways to heal. It felt like his check-ins consisted of asking me if I was better yet while he pursued nothing to find change and healing in himself.

While that might sound overly harsh, let me also admit that I’ve been the person in a relationship too frozen with insecurity and fear at what I might find to look under the hood. I’m thinking of a relationship I had in my 20’s where I found it too threatening to take that step towards introspection so that I preferred breaking apart rather than seeing whether we could alter our patterns and change together.

In the work scenario, I know it was our office dynamic that led to people not being willing to try anything because there was a company culture that was big on blame. Stepping your toe out to fix something could result in exposing yourself to fire. Creating an environment where it’s safe to be vulnerable seems like the best way to lead people to change, whether that be a family or a workplace.

Thinking about my friend and her marriage, I think relationships often set us up in dichotomy with each other. The adventurous one – the stalwart one. The one who wants to look – the one who wants to avert their eyes. So I silently root from the sidelines that they can cultivate a little more vulnerability to face change together.

I understand the fear that looking inside might reveal something ugly but I’ve come to learn it’s the not looking that is the real threat. If you don’t change from the inside, life will often change you from the outside. “I haven’t tried anything and nothing works” was a great company joke but it always required someone brave enough to break the trend to fix the problem.

(featured photo from Pexels)

Feeling Things All the Way Through

What is not expressed is depressed.” – Mark Nepo

The other day our honorary grandfather said to my two-year-old son who was fussing over a circumstance in his life, “Boys don’t cry.” While it was said totally genially and as a way to humor a child out of a mood, there was no doubt that he believed that mantra.

Which brought to mind the quote included at the top of this post by author Mark Nepo, “What is not expressed is depressed.” The longer that I live, the more that I have come to understand that emotions wreak havoc if not allowed to be felt all the way through. It brought to mind a comment I heard from emotions researcher Barbara Frederickson that all emotions have utility – sadness and depression when experienced in the typical course of life often tell us to stop doing what we are doing.

It’s when we refuse letting them tell us things that we shut down our own ability to listen to our inner source of knowledge. I spent years doing that when I was married because numbing my emotions was easier than taking the steps to acknowledge that under the surface of my positivity that I was miserable.

I haven’t gotten much better at vocalizing my less enthusiastic emotions since then but I have gotten better at recognizing them. The other day I was really resistant to working on a particular client project and internally thought, “Wow, I can’t stand this project.” And that strong note which often doesn’t arise in me made me realize that the way this particular project is structured doesn’t work for me. Observing that, I could acknowledge I won’t do it this way again.

Watching my son with his honorary grandfather reminded me of a passage I read in Listening to Your Life by Frederick Buechner. In it he points out the similarities between old age and childhood – the body does not support everything you want to do so you learn to play, you aren’t at an age where you have to prove yourself and:

Very young children and very old children also seem to be in touch with something that the rest of the pack has lost track of. There is something bright and still about them at their best, like the sun before breakfast. Both the old and the young get scared sometimes about what lies ahead of them, and with good reason, but you can’t help feeling that whatever inner goldenness they’re in touch with will see them through in the end.

Listening to Your Life by Frederick Buechner

The great thing about toddlers is that there seems to be very little artifice to the emotions they share. In the course of learning to regulate them, they express what strikes them at the moment. Boys do cry as do girls, and then they move on. It’s like watching master class on authentic expression and I can’t help but be impressed and learn a little bit more every day.

The Learning Curve

It always seems impossible until it’s done.” – Nelson Mandela

We worked hard on potty training this weekend. I found it to be a fascinating window into the nature of learning. And that’s not just me putting a positive spin on it.

Day 1: Chaos. The first morning was hit and miss (or more miss than hit). By naptime we were both exhausted. My son because of the huge change that comes learning how to use his body and me because infinite patience takes a lot of energy! So the first lesson came after we’d both napped. Rest helped consolidate the learning so that he was a better student and I was a better coach.

Then after an afternoon and evening of more efforts and celebrations, my son was never happier to have the feel of a nighttime diaper, jammies and to snuggle up and read books. And it underscored for me the need to have comforting rituals to soothe ourselves when in the midst of big change.

Day 2 was characterized by a lot of resistance and efforts to control everything else around. It reminded me of a Brené Brown podcast I heard years ago that whenever she has led or attended a three-day conference, day 2 was always marked by the doldrums. Brené likened it to the middle part of the hero’s journey as described by Joseph Campbell. The hero does everything in their power to pursue all options except for the one that they are called to that leaves them feeling vulnerable.

Day 3: We needed expert help. Which is uncomfortable for me not have it dialed but the amazing teachers at my son’s daycare have said repeatedly that they are more than willing and able to help with this journey. For which I am so thankful. I left him on Monday with a “Good luck” and “God bless you” and I couldn’t have meant both more!

This learning curve at times has felt impossible, exhausting, vulnerable, and not worth it. Somehow it reminds me of learning to snowboard – and also mastering a new technology, figuring out to give my dog allergy shots, starting to blog, and learning how to do mosaic tiling.

Each new venture has roughly followed the same pattern of chaos, resistance and then leaning in and asking for assistance if needed. And it’s not just me. I have a dear friend who didn’t learn how to swim until she was 60 years old. And my 82-year-old mom has been figuring out how to do piano performances online for her retirement community.

Watching my son, I am reminded how hard learning something new is – until it isn’t. And while grown-ups might not be taking on changes as transformative as potty training, we still need to give ourselves the rest and rituals to support our learning, grace to survive the resistance and the courage to lean in to expert help when we need it.

Because as Nelson Mandela says, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

(featured photo from Pexels)

Imitation

Imitation is not just the sincerest form of flattery – it’s the sincerest form of learning.” – George Bernard Shaw

When we lived in the Philippines when I was growing up, we had two young women who helped us – one who cooked and one who cleaned. One day when the cook had a day off, my mom made toast and accidentally burned it. She took it to the sink and scraped off the burned bits before buttering it and serving it. The woman who did the cleaning thought this is how Americans made toast. Whenever she made toast for us, she intentionally burned it before scraping and serving it.

I thought of this story last night as I was sitting with my kids as they watched their shows. My daughter picked up her milk cup and accidentally banged it against her bowl of popcorn. My son, who even when he doesn’t seem to be is always watching his older sister, followed suit. He picked up his cup of milk and intentionally banged it on his popcorn bowl.

Imitation is such a natural way to learn. I know this from the last six years of seeing how children learn walking and talking just by imitation. As I watched my kids last night, it occurred to me that sometimes we copy people instead of asking.

In this week that mark’s the seventh anniversary of my dad’s sudden death, it’s no surprise he’s on my mind. But again and again, the thing I am so grateful for is that by following the Divine whisper in my heart, I found my way to asking him what was so important about his life and what he knew.

Imitation works fine for learning when how to make toast but doesn’t replace telling someone how much we admire them. Only by asking can we find out what are the important things they want to pass on to others. It feels more vulnerable to do it but it’s a precious gift that leaves us closer instead of at the sink, scraping off the burned bits of toast and wondering why we never asked.

(featured image from Pexels)

Old Friends

Hold a true friend with both hands.” – Rumi

Yesterday I had lunch with my dearest and oldest friend, Katie. We met when I was my daughter’s age – six and a half years old and she was seven. We went to grade school, junior high, high school and college together. We’ve lived together, dated the same guy (not at the same time), argued and most of all laughed. We’ve aged together, sometimes growing apart and then returning to be close again.

Sitting there talking with her, I realize there is so much comfort in effortless vulnerability. We don’t need to be anyone in particular because our shared context means we’ve seen it all. And more than anything, we’ve earned the right to hear each other’s stories because we’ve shown up for all these years.

When my friend calls these days, which isn’t very often because we mostly text, I always try to pick up. And whatever and whenever she asks something of me, which is also rare, I say “yes” to. Because we’ve gone on so long that I know she’s considered the impact on me as well as any other person can.

I think movies, specifically RomCom’s gave me the mistaken impression that friends like Katie come into our lives all the time. Life has told me that we are lucky if we get one or two in all of our years. She embodies the lovely description of an honest friend I recently read again in The Book of Awakening.

“Having an honest friend – one before whom you can dump all your heart’s pockets and still feel that you are worth something – is a form of wealth that will buy you nothing but will give you everything. And mysteriously and rightly, to find such a friend, we must be such a friend.”

The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo

Driving away from lunch I felt so light, even with stomach full of pasta. I realized that time with her is like time without my armor on – the armor of accomplishment or knowledge or experience or humor — whatever it is I use to protect against vulnerability. That, along with understanding, might be one of the best gifts of an honest friend.

Trust Me

Forget injuries, never forget kindnesses.” – Confucius

My toddler has learned to say, “Help me” when he needs assistance. He pronounces it with a soft “h” so it comes out “elp me” but it still is very effective at signaling when he wants help opening or moving something.

What’s fascinating to me is that even at 2 ¼ years of age, he is already learning some selectiveness of who he wants help from. He’s happy to let his older sister help him open pouches (those packets of apple sauce he can squeeze out and drink down) and fruit snacks because she doesn’t like those and never takes a cut off the top. But he does not want her to help him open candy or toys because she often takes a sample first.

Watching these two, it’s like they are illustrating the concepts of trust from the recently aired Brené Brown Dare to Lead podcast with author and leadership coach, Charles Feltman entitled Trust: Building, Maintaining and Restoring It.

Charles Feltman’s definition of trust is: “choosing to risk making something you value vulnerable to another person’s actions.” Wow – I had to listen to that one twice.

And when we choose to trust another person or company, we not only expect that they’ll take care of what we value but do it how and when we want. This makes me think not only of many examples from my career but also of the precious few clothes that I take to the dry cleaners and entrust them to take care of them, clean them and get them back to me on time.

Charles Feltman colors the definition in with several additional factors: sincerity (meaning what you say), reliability (meeting the commitments you make), competence (having the ability to do the job), care (having the other person’s best interests in mind).

The podcast had so many great examples at how we build and also destroy trust at work. Often overcommitting so that we can’t actually meet the deadline or pretending we have competence that we don’t are some of the ways we erode trust. Those descriptions brought back my first year of work after graduating college. I had been hired to build out the computer network for the local electric utility using Union labor from their Communications department. I overcommitted all the time and pretended I knew what I was doing again and again before I learned my lessons to check with the team before making promises.

But eventually my reliability and competence caught up with my care and sincerity and I was able to build and in some cases rebuild, trust. And then I moved on to manage people and experience the other side of the relationship.

All of this gives me great hope for my daughter who wants to be a big help to her brother but can get distracted by what she wants. My kids are learning to trust and to be trustworthy one interaction at a time. They don’t always get it right but they seem to learn a little bit every time they negotiate it as do the rest of us!

Trust Falls

The angel seeing us is watching through each other’s eyes.” – Rickie Lee Jones

My friend Eric was over the other night and my daughter accidentally did one of those “trust falls” when she tripped over something, fell backwards and he caught her. She thought that was so much fun that she wanted to do it again and again.

Watching this, I was trying to think who I trust to catch me. As I started listing all the wonderful people in my life in my head and thinking whether I’d trust them to catch me if I metaphorically fell (like if I got sick), I started automatically providing excuses why I wouldn’t ask. Like there’s Lindsey but she is so busy, there’s Eric but he just started a new job, there’s Katie but she’s a half hour away, and there’s my mom but she should be enjoying her senior years.

I had to meditate on this for a while. Why is it that I don’t “trust” any of the people that I really and truly trust? And the answer is my own fear of vulnerability. I don’t want to ask. I fear having to ever own that there are some days I’m a hot mess on the inside.

Of course this is all thankfully hypothetical but also represents my ongoing battle with over-preparing for life. It’s not just now. I can think back to when I climbed mountains and I would check the packing list over and over so that I wouldn’t have to ask anyone to borrow anything. Or sleep with my contacts in so I wouldn’t be late to tie into the rope team when we’d leave for our final summit bid in the middle of the night.

When I really dig deep, I see that I trust my spiritual guides like my dad and God much more than I do living people. Because I don’t have to ask out loud!

When it comes to trust falls, I think it is far easier to be the person catching than the person falling. Unless you are a 6-year-old and then you love doing the falling. But if I remember correctly from the group building exercises I’ve done in the past, you have to both do the falling and the catching.

A good reminder that we have to practice vulnerability. So I’ll go first. I started blogging regularly because working remotely and being a parent means that I don’t have enough conversations with adults that go deep. That leaves me feeling this weird kind of loneliness that isn’t bored or even unhappy but just scared I’m missing the point.  So I write but I don’t advertise this to anyone outside the blogging community just in case I’m overreaching. But I aspire to one day own all of me and to know the power of doing so.

Whoa! That was scary. But I’ll catch you if you want to take a turn!