My Worrying Ways

I was busy putting together picture collages last night – pictures from our summer Great Lakes trip. Sure enough, the pictures show kids and adults having fun with smiles on their faces. The amnesia is already starting to set in. Pretty soon I’ll be planning another trip.

In the background, while I worked, the television was playing “How Do You Know,” a romantic comedy I’d never heard of about a man and a woman who individually fall on hard times, coincidentally find each other, and end up an unlikely, but happy, pair. I mention this because there were some good lines in the film, which I will reference in just a minute…

Skye Falco is celebrating her 14th birthday in a few days. She chose this past weekend to have a party with her friends. The theme was Justin Bieber. While shopping with Skye for all the party supplies, she made the comment that I was “not athletic.” Skye has told me, at one time or another, that I am old, wrinkled, and unattractive, but this latest dig was new. It was also more painful to me. Not athletic? How can you say that to the high school winner of the Stephen Davis Memorial Award for the student with the highest grade point average who also lettered in two sports? How can you say that when you see the rack of runner’s medals hanging in my bathroom?

I realized — while I have partially accepted the truth in Skye’s other derogatory statements about me — I am not ready to be seen as a non-athlete. Yes, I am slower. Yes, my degenerative disc disease interferes with my performance. But I really thought I was holding my own among other 53-year-olds. She’s 14 and full of herself! Why was I letting this get to me?

In the movie, referenced above, the female lead is a professional baseball player who has been cut from her team. At one point, she is telling her male friend that most aging players plan to spend the next part of their lives in love and having children. She can’t imagine that scenario for herself. She thinks the women who say this are pretending that love and children are better than baseball. She says: “I’m good at ONE thing.”

This monologue struck a cord with me. I was good at academics. And I always had a job – professional or otherwise. I was self-supporting and self-created until, for the sake of my children, I chose to sideline myself from the workforce. Bit by bit, my confidence in my abilities as a thinker and as a worker have been eroded by disuse, and my children call me out for my inadequacies in the role I chose to take as their stay-at-home parent. Perhaps I gave up – for love and children – the ONE thing I was good at. And I get tired of pretending that being a mother feels better than doing other kinds of work.

So, when Skye says that I am not an athlete, she is attacking the only vestige I have left of my old life before children. This ONE part of my identity as an individual, I thought I could hold onto.

But there is another exchange in the movie that spoke to me. The male lead brings a birthday present to the female. It is a can of Play-Doh. He tells the story that the inventor of this children’s toy had originally invented a white goo that helped remove stains on walls from coal-burning stoves. When the method of heating houses changed, his goo was no longer needed. The inventor’s sister was a preschool teacher. She had discovered that her students loved playing with the goo more than playing with stiff modeling clay. She encouraged her brother to color the goo, and Play-Doh was born. The male lead remarks to the female: “We are all just one small adjustment away from making our lives work.”

I feel uplifted by that statement. I am probably already holding most of the ingredients that will enable me to have a happy, fulfilling, and successful life. It’s a matter of making that small adjustment.

A final note on the movie: In another scene, an employee of the male lead has a baby. While the new mother, baby, and two main characters are in the hospital room, the father of the baby shows up. He tells the new mother that he didn’t marry her before because he believed he wasn’t good enough for her. She is a worrier, and he feared she would be worried about him all the time. But, then, he began to realize that another man might come along and try to change her worrying ways — though he believed she was perfect exactly the way she was. He did not want that to happen to her. And, for that reason, he was proposing they marry.

I mention this because I am married to a man who doesn’t try to change me. He carefully edits me (or tries too) when I over-expose my vulnerabilities, but he accepts my worrying and my weaknesses as part of what makes me “perfect.” I don’t thank John often enough, but I wanted to acknowledge his “gift” to me in this writing.

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