Finding Peace in the Smallness

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There’s an inspirational quote that has made the rounds in my social media networks:

“You are bigger than what is making you anxious.”

The statement is painted in vibrant red and orange stencils against aged brick facades and emblazoned across oversized coffee mugs in chic metallic script. It is an uplifting statement, designed to help those of us plagued with daily stress and anxiety to rise above the seemingly trivial triggers that undermine peace.

But there’s an adjacent philosophy that makes this all a bit tricky.

Women in particular are constantly being urged to take up space, to pull up a seat at the table, to speak loudly and unabashedly, and to make no apologies. Aggressively squash the imposter syndrome, and where you have very real knowledge gaps, fake it ‘til you make it. LIVE LARGE.

Undoubtedly, employing these mantras are necessary to revolt against the social conditioning that has pushed so many of us to shrink away from the spotlight, to be talked over, passed over, and marginalized. 

But then, here I am, seemingly an outlier of these social norms. I assert myself. I take up space. I speak up. I cozy up to “the table.” I make the tough calls. And I’m anxious, sad, angry, and stressed precisely because of the boisterous assets that are propelling me forward.

“Your bigness is what is making you anxious” is what my cover image should say. Forget the cheeky brick wall stencils – instead, Banksy should spray paint a woman with a big mouth and sleep-deprived blood shot eyes, painfully stretched across three chairs at the proverbial table.

In the words of the young people: It me.

And I’ve been having trouble sleeping lately. The anxiety runs deep, coursing through every vein of my practical, middle America suburban existence. The stakes feel tremendously high, and every decision I make – from what to order from Uber Eats to what my 3-year strategic plan looks like at work – weighs on my shoulders in equal proportion.

Yes, I’m a 21st century Rosie the Riveter, the portrait of modern femininity (ordered off Etsy from the #Empowerment category, packaged in a shiplap frame). Maneuvering middle management. Navigating the pressures of breadwinning. Mothering a pre-adolescent daughter who wears “Girl Power” buttons on her jacket and just started wearing deodorant – Dove deodorant, which, incidentally, is the leading consumer packaged goods brand in fourth-wave feminist marketing spend.

“You can’t know everything,” I explained to her little angelic type-A face after getting a tire patched up at a local auto parts store. That’s what I said to the condescending little twerp behind the counter after he asked me some stupidly specific question about my vehicle that he, as a subject matter expert on automobile parts, should absolutely know but instead chose to attempt to knock me down a few pegs for not knowing the answer.

“I can’t know everything, okay?” I lobbed back at him. “Look it up.”

But despite that momentary surge of defiance, I’m routinely beating myself up for not immediately landing on The Answer to Everything in every facet of my life. In my preoccupation with stomping out my imposter syndrome and faking it ‘til I make it, I’m incapable of asking for help or accepting support or admitting failure. And to support these deficiencies, I’ve built a personal “brand” of wisecracking self-deprecation. Though I’ll let you in on a little secret: it’s mostly just repressed anxiety masquerading as self-assurance.

It’s a mode of self-preservation.

And sometimes, it hurts.

When Anthony Bourdain died, a tidal wave of quotes surged through the 24-hour news cycle, Instagram and Twitter, and celebrity tributes. (We sure love our inspirational quotes, don’t we?) One quote in particular jumped out from my newsfeed and to this day, I can’t shake its resonance in my own life:

“The more I become aware of, the more I realize how relatively little I know of it, how many places I have still to go, how much more there is to learn.

Maybe that’s enlightenment enough – to know that there is no final resting place of the mind, no moment of smug clarity.

Perhaps wisdom, at least for me, means realizing how small I am, and unwise, and how far I have yet to go.”

Such calmness these words have brought to me. In a world where you’re being pushed to be big, you need the strength to accept how very small you actually are.

Smallness can be a comfort, alleviating the pressure to have all the answers and halting the grind on all cylinders. And, most importantly, smallness frees up space for others to sidle up next to you – whether at “the table,” at the bar on a lonely Sunday afternoon, or in your bed during a sleepless night – where the demons can be unrelenting until a familiar arm pulls you towards a heart that recognizes your own.

A Simple Mother’s Day Agenda

Mother's Day, Motherhood

To my beloved family on this blessed Mother’s Day:

Here is my proposed agenda for the day’s festivities. As you know, I am a simple woman who enjoys simple pleasures. I hope you find the following itinerary as lovely as I do.

First, even though it will be Sunday morning, I will still set my alarm for 6AM. I have no intention of rising at 6AM, but as you know, I derive great pleasure out of hitting snooze every 10 minutes while chaos slowly erupts around me. Dear son, please know that if you choose to drag that chair across my wood floors so you can climb to the top of the pantry and dump Grape Nuts all over the place, understand that you’ll have to eat it off the floor because Mommy will still be upstairs hitting snooze with her face buried in her pillow.

Now that breakfast is out of the way, I will roll out of bed and make my way downstairs. Dear husband, this is when you will comment on my natural beauty. Notice how my hair is both sticking straight up as well as matted flat against my drool-soaked cheek. That’s no accident. That’s how I keep things spicy.

Time for me to groom myself! I love a good at-home spa day. Some moms may exfoliate with a homemade sugar scrub or apply an organic conditioning mask to their hair. Not me. I’m just going to stand in the shower motionless under the scalding water for 35 minutes, because I can. I hope no one else will need to take a shower after me because at this point there will be no more hot water left. I love self-care!

At this point, I’ll feel refreshed. Time to slip into my Sunday best and hit the town! First I’ll need to pick out what I want to wear. Something floral for spring? Something with the shoulders cut out? I know! Something that says “I bought this dress online specifically for this occasion but I’ve never tried it on until just now.” Well, that was a huge mistake – now it’s time to cry on my bed. But don’t be alarmed. It’s just hormones. I’m 226 weeks post-partum.

Dear daughter, this will be your cue to bring me a mimosa. No, I don’t need OJ in it, and no, I don’t need a glass. Please stop asking Mommy all these questions.

After a couple “mimosas,” I’ll be ready to get back on the saddle. I can get back on the saddle because I decided to ditch the dress and just wear leggings as pants. And no one better say one word about how they’re not pants. They’re pants because I put my legs in them, end of story.

Time for brunch! I’ll order an egg white omelet with sliced tomatoes and a cup of fruit. “This is hardly any points,” I’ll announce to the table as I log my meal into my phone. “Weight Watchers is not a diet, it’s a lifestyle change,” I’ll continue, as I grab greasy handfuls of tater tots off the kids’ plates and stuff them in my mouth when no one’s looking.

“Hey, who ate all my tater tots,” they’ll cry. I realize there’s a lot more spontaneous crying in this itinerary than you may have anticipated, but why shouldn’t Mother’s Day be like every other holiday?

Once brunch is over, it will be the perfect time to take in the spring air with a long stroll around town. It was a long winter and it will be so nice to just walk around, window shop, and enjoy the simplicity of the moment.

Kids, this is when your legs stop working and you have to go to the bathroom. No, dear husband, I didn’t remember to pack the stroller, I thought we were past that. Please just lug him back to the car and I’ll take her to the most disgusting store restroom possible, where every surface is wet for some reason.

Okay, now everyone’s crying. Let’s just go home and take a nap.

You’ll all fall asleep immediately but it will take me a good 50 to 60 minutes to doze off because the act of relaxation will give me a severe guilt complex, the result of centuries of oppressive gender norms. Rejuvenating!

When we wake up a few hours later, it’ll be dark out and the day will almost be over.

Kids, this is when you’ll remember that you have Mother’s Day projects from school hidden in the downstairs closet. You’ll run to get them. They’ll be covered with construction paper hearts, dried glue, and shaky little letters spelling your names.

You’ll tell me you love me and I’m the best mom ever. I’ll cry some more.

I’ll go to bed that night happy, my heart full.

And before drifting to sleep, I’ll set my alarm. For 6AM.