A couple of weeks ago our family enjoyed a dinner gathering with some extended relatives. As we were catching up on each other’s lives, I shared with a cousin how I had an opportunity to do a spot on a local TV show in the coming week. I was telling the story in the context of how I freeze and stammer when a camera is pointed at me and how worried I was that I would blow it. (Incidentally, I was spared from finding out how I would react since the opportunity went to someone else.) As I was going on and on about it in a rather dramatic fashion, she stopped me dead in my tracks and told me I needed to tell a different story. What was she talking about? This was my story, and I was telling it exactly as I saw it. But she would have none of it.
Before I could even object, she began painting a much different narrative for me, giving me positive phrases such as “I was given this opportunity for a reason” and “I will feel calm, capable and confident when I go on set.” When I realized how dead serious she was, I also instantly recognized how absolutely right she was. I was creating a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy by visualizing my failure and even telling others about it in full detail! I needed to tell a different story.
Fast forward to this week as my family spends Thanksgiving in Sedona, Arizona. We are staying in a time share resort on a week that was given to us as a Christmas gift last year. While I certainly don’t want to be the person who complains about free accommodations (and in such a beautiful part of the world), I couldn’t help but notice upon check-in how tiny the little mobile home units were and the rather funky smell inside our particular unit. (Time share owners know that all exchanges are not created equal, especially when you are trying to get two units out of what is typically one, which is what we are doing since we’re traveling with children.)
Curious, I checked Trip Advisor to see how this place ranked among reviewers. It certainly wasn’t listed among the top 10 places to stay in the area, but I was struck by the story that was told by those who gave the resort overwhelmingly positive reviews. After reading those reviews, I had to agree: Rhe units are indeed very clean, they are located in a very peaceful and secluded part of town, and the little galley kitchen is quite well equipped. Not only that, but there is a heated pool, mini golf, work out room, and, best of all, free laundry! (Huge bonus for a mother of four.) In short, my outlook on our accommodations changed dramatically after reading the stories told by those optimistic reviewers.
One last experience: I am actually writing this on Thanksgiving Day while our family makes the two hour drive from Sedona to Gilbert to share dinner with my husband’s grandparents who live in a senior living center. In fact, they are the one and only reason we chose to spend Thanksgiving week in Arizona. Truth be told, in terms of comfort and fun, I’d rather be sleeping in my own bed and making my own favorite Thanksgiving recipes, but because we haven’t see his grandparents in several years and they are at the point where they can no longer travel, we decided to make a family trip out of visiting them.
When we first saw them on Sunday afternoon, I was reminded why we would go to so much trouble to spend this one meal together. Grandma always has a smile on her face and never fails to make you feel like you are her favorite. In fact, despite forgetting our names and asking us several times who we were, she still managed to make us feel like a million bucks. She must have told my little 5-year-old (who I’m sure she doesn’t remember) about five or 10 times, “I love you a hundred and a ton!” while giving her squeeze after squeeze. Grandpa has a type of Parkinson’s that makes him much less expressive, but in the past he was always the same. Both of them are expert at turning their full attention to whoever they are with by asking lots of personalized questions, showing great interest in the response, and then dishing out compliments for traits that only become obvious when in their presence. You can’t help but honor people like that.
As I admired the pictures from their long and happy life together covering the walls of their tiny apartment (they were high school sweethearts), I felt a tinge of sadness for how their life is now. But did I get that feeling from them? To the contrary! The story they told of their current life was not of declining health, loneliness or their inability to get out and about as they used to. It was a story of the lovely people who live and work at their center, how tasty the food is, and the gratitude and love they felt for us. I greatly admired their ability to tell a story of optimism and gratitude even in the face of something that, to me, seems very daunting. And really, how can you feel sorry for these two?
I know by the time this is published Thanksgiving will be over and many people will have moved on to Black Friday sales, but I’d like to spend just a few more moments reflecting on these experiences and their connection to gratitude as well as their relevance to the motherhood.
How often do we set ourselves up for failure as mothers by telling a story (sometimes just to ourselves) of incompetence or fear? A nasty narrative that says we aren’t cut out for this opportunity and will probably mess it up? How often do we tell a story of all the ways our material life is lacking — whether it be the size of our home, the shape of our body, or the messes created by our children? How often do we tell a story that dwells on the negative circumstances of our lives and all the ways we have been wronged? How many times have we told all of these stories and more when we could have just as easily been washed over with confidence, gratitude and optimism by simply turning our minds to blessings instead of our challenges?
Speaking for myself, I know I’ve already spent far too much of my life’s energy focusing on the negative, and I want to spend as much of the rest of my life telling a different story. A story of gratitude, a story of optimism, a story that focuses on all the beauty, joy and love surrounding me every day. And I know it’s possible because of the examples of the people in each one of these stories. I want to be that kind of person. That kind of mother. Because when we are, not only does it become possible to enjoy and grow from the experience of motherhood much more than we would otherwise, but we will teach our children how to tell stories of their own.
QUESTION: What kind of stories do you tell? Are they stories that help you or hurt you?
CHALLENGE: If they are stories that hurt you, tell a different story!