What to do when you hear yourself say, “The holidays can suck it!”

An excerpt from a lengthy out-of-the-blue rant given in the direction of my poor spouse, by me: “THE HOLIDAYS CAN SUCK IT! I have done ZERO shopping. No one is getting ANY presents. I don’t care WHAT we eat. We can have peanut butter and jelly FOR ALL I CARE!”

To his credit, my spouse didn’t reference that particular rant again, opting instead to let it evaporate into the ether like it never happened. (Although the next day he suggested we consider setting up a regular food delivery system via Amazon Pantry. “One less thing to stress us out,” he said. He’s known me for awhile.)

Even though I laughed about my rant later that day, I was troubled. It seems to me that shouting “the holidays can suck it” and really meaning it, is not me being my best self. It’s probably a sign that something is off. And more troubling still, I continue to carry the residue of that sentiment, I’m just not saying it out loud….as much.

So I made a list (like you do this time of year, and checked it twice, etc.) It’s for me, but if it gives anyone else inspiration or comfort, then I’d love to hear that.

What to do to de-suckify my attitude, get myself together, and stop being a Grinchy jerk:

  1. Check myself and don’t spread the suck. This season is fun and meaningful for some; for others it’s a damn difficult time of year. I don’t need to suck the joy out of people who are riding the wave of holiday cheer, and I don’t need to make folks who are struggling feel worse. So, shut up, Tamara. [See also: Check your privilege. There’s a lot of legit bad shit happening in the world, so get a grip about your stocking stuffers. ]
  2. Contain the suck. Find an appropriate container and pour the sucky feelings into that, and only that. Appropriate containers: a journal, a friend who gets me, a spouse who understands that I’m not always a crabby, mean-spirited person — basically someone or something that will listen without comment or judgement. Like #1 above, don’t pour your suck on everyone who happens to pass by.
  3. Name it, don’t shame it. When a feeling arises, I skip straight to asking whether I should have that feeling or I deserve to have that feeling or whether that feeling is appropriate. If I decide that I shouldn’t feel that feel, then I squash it or ignore it. This is a bad idea because it backs up my feeling tubes — which is a fancy term for the channels that your feelings flow out of when you need to release them and move on. If you’re not a scientist, then that probably didn’t make sense to you, but I’m just saying when I work really hard to deny feelings, then my feeling tubes get clogged and that’s problematic. So, hence forth, I will name the feeling that I’m feeling, and regardless of whether my brain thinks it’s ‘appropriate’ I’m going to hang with it for awhile. I’m gonna do some observing and feeling and chill out with that feeling until I decide whether to kick it out like an unwanted guest or take it on the town and introduce it to all my friends. Either way, it’s gonna flow. Cuz I don’t need to control the feeling. I need to manage the action that I take because of it. Or something like that?
  4. Breathe. My therapist told me I’m bad at breathing. Well, she didn’t say “bad”, but that was the upshot. We were doing belly breathing exercises that I totally goofed which was so irritating because I’m like, an actor, and I can breathe….most days. But it’s true, I couldn’t breathe while lying on the floor of my therapist’s office. My belly wouldn’t cooperate and all my breathing muscles were too tight. I looked like a fish on dry land. “Your body isn’t helping your emotional state,” she said, “Calm your body to calm your emotions.” Over here, I’m practicing my breathing.
  5. Go deep. Anger isn’t my go-to emotion; I generally try out all the other ones first before arriving at anger. (The reasons for that are 1. I’m not an angry person, I’m more of a sad person. 2. I’ve internalized that anger is so wrong that I’d rather implode than actually express anger even in a healthy way. Yay, me!) Anyway, I’ve learned over time that Epic Crankiness is the final stop before I really go to Crazy Town, so for me, getting angry is a definite sign that I need to slow down and figure out what’s really going on. Anger is me masking the deeper questions and concerns that I’m struggling with, but don’t want to actually deal with. Going deep is a drag….but it’s necessary.
  6. Be grateful. How embarrassing that I get so caught up in childish First World problems that I forget who surrounds me and how lucky I am and how exceptional my life is!!! Gratitude journaling STAT. Gratitude is good medicine.
  7. Take care. We know kids often act out to get attention. We know that self-care is a really important component to maintaining a healthy mental state. So when I hear myself saying shitty kid words, well then, I think that means I need to give myself attention and take better care of myself. It was hard for me to type that sentence. I find self-care really confusing… but gosh, I think…it’s important? Cuz here’s the thing — after venting about the Great Holiday-Suckfest, I  went to a play and saw some friends, and I LAUGHED. I stretched before bed. I ate an actual dinner. I went right to bed instead of staying up late stoking my anxiety. And in the morning, I could picture a season with some cheer. I didn’t do those things on purpose to make myself feel better, but all those accidental care-taking things had a noticeable effect. Imagine if I actually put my mind to taking care…of me.

I have two small children. Christmas will come to our house. The question is, “How will I show up?”

I wish you a gentle season of love and ease and just the right amount of fun.

Beauty fail, beauty win

A few weeks ago, I freaked out and bought some cosmetic spackle to “fill + seal” my frown lines.

Yeah.

I was killing time in the Barnes and Noble, and I wandered across an article in a fashion magazine about my ‘elevens’. I didn’t know about these until I read this article — ‘elevens’ are the two frown lines between your eyebrows.Yes, ELEVENS.

Thank you, staff beauty writer, for pointing out this problem to me. Another potential flaw with a special name that I need to vigilantly guard against. I’ll just slot that into my lexicon next to muffin top, bat wings, bra rolls, cankles, and menopot. Fab.

I first noticed my lines in college – they were easy to smooth out then — but over the years I’ve done much concentrated thinking (and ok, some frowning), and they’ve become permanently etched in my brow even in my most serene moments.

I always kinda liked mine until I read an anxious reader begging for help, “Emergency! Please help! My frown lines are terrible. WHAT CAN I DO?”

“Oh,” replied the advice columnist (well, my interpretation of the advice columnist’s reply) “you mean your ELEVENS? Your horrible vertical stick-like elevenish frown lines? Holy crap! Go immediately to purchase this spackle and that illuminator and this concealer. The spackle will fill in your cavernous wrinkles with a paste-like substance, the illuminator will create a shimmering mirage of young skin while redirecting the eye, and the concealer will smooth everything over so your wrinkles blend in with the rest of your makeupped face. These three products together will cost you over $100, but you must stop the ELEVENS! No wrinkles no matter what the cost. And, always wear bangs to hide the evidence of your thinking and frowning so you never look OLD or MEAN or SEVERE or SERIOUS…. or OLD. Your goal for the rest of your life is to appear 30 years old. Color those grays poking out from the top of your head. Drink two Diet Cokes and call me in the morning.”

Wow, I fell for it. I took that bait. I don’t know if I was having particularly low-self-esteem that day, but I did not blink, I did not pass Go and I did not collect $200; I marched myself to the Target with my daughter in tow and grabbed that recommended spackle off the shelf. In fact, I seized the remaining two boxes in a scarcity induced mania fueled by beauty desperation. On sale! Hooray! Wait, the sticker says they are discontinuing it?! No no no this always happens I find something I like then it’s discontinued what am I going to do when I run out of these two boxes oh my god my wrinkles everyone will see that I am getting older…must. have. this. product….

Never mind that the spackle comes in a toothpaste-sized tube, and you need apply only two centimeters of it to your frown lines. My two tubes will last at least a decade. And never mind that the company was probably discontinuing this particular product because IT DIDN’T WORK. Excuse me while I wipe the word ‘sucker’ off my forehead.

So, I raced home and spackled myself. Yes, very nice. Oh, yes, much younger now! My elevens are fully camouflaged.

That evening, a propro of nothing, my daughter reached up and traced my frown lines with her lovely little index finger. Then she traced each of my eyebrows and rested her hand on my forehead like she was checking for fever.

“What are you doing, honey?” I asked.

“Tracing lines,” she said. Then she skipped away.

She didn’t seem to have a particular point of view about my lines. To her, they’ve been part of my face since the day she was born. Just lines. Completely unremarkable, really. And good for tracing. Apparently, despite my best efforts, they were still in plain view. Huh.

Shortly after my daughter was born, I stopped buying all of those fashion/women/beauty mags. I didn’t want them around the house for her to see and for me to try to explain. I’m a feminist, ok? I’m trying to raise a four-year-old feminist. Victoria Secret ads on the coffee table muddle things up. Even still, I’d eagerly look for opportunities to thumb thru magazines in the grocery store or bookstore. Furtively, joyfully, gluttonously. However, since the Spackle Incident, I don’t read them at all anymore – Mademoiselle, Glamour, Marie Claire, Vogue, Self, Harper’s Bazaar, O: Oprah Magazine, etc. — despite how much I LOVE them. Because I love them so much – so glossy and gorgeous and fantastical and young and sleek and inspirational and full of promises and comparisons and gossip and full of answers and possibilities and the BEST stuff I NEED to make myself HAPPY. I love those magazines like I love a hot fudge sundae, but they make me crazy.

I don’t need any more crazy.

I need to be myself — which is plenty hard enough, right?  I’ll trace my lines, get over them, and then spend my time, my money and my life on something that really matters. At this point in my life, as I march toward 40, I am finally waking up — waking up to my voice and my body and my self in this world. Finally, at long last, the picture of ‘what really matters’ is coming into focus. I’ll be damned if I’m going to waste my life f-ing around with my wrinkles.

Because also, this happened…

During a peaceful car ride last week, my daughter chirped from the backseat, “When I grow up, I’m going to be beautiful.” [My internal monologue = I failed to protect her from our culture’s obsession with physical attractiveness as the ultimate achievement. She is four years old and thinking about being beautiful already. Is that all she wants to be? Wait, does she have low self-esteem? Does she think she’s ugly?]

“I think you are beautiful now,” I said.

“No, mom,” she laughed, “I’m just a kid. Kids can’t be beautiful. Womans are beautiful.”

“Oh. Who’s a woman you think is beautiful?” I ask. [My internal monologue = She’s going to say one of the princesses.  Oh, here we go with the princesses. Now I’m going to have to deconstruct the Disney Princess.]

“You, Mom,” she said.

[Internal monologue = silence]

“Thank you,” I said, “Who else is beautiful?”

She listed all of the women we know — all of our friends, her teachers, babysitters, grandmothers, and the moms of her friends.  No ‘womans’ from books or DVDs or pictures. None of her favorite fantasty-play-acting characters like mermaids, princesses, fairies, ballerinas. Just real live women in her world.

My daughter’s simple formula was WOMAN = BEAUTIFUL. She didn’t rule anyone out. She didn’t mention clothing, shoes, size, shape, skin, hair, job, money, age. She believes that when she is woman, she’ll be beautiful too. Just like all the rest of us.

My heart leaps at this thought.  A reminder of the beauty in all people, not just women, but everyone. A generous application of beauty, a blanket and universal acceptance — yes, we all can be that. We are all beautiful. All of us in our different ways. Beauty-full.

What or who is beautiful to you?