Being Thankful For Good Enough

great book by Veronique Vienne

Anxiety over imperfection. That is the statement that got stuck in my brain at 4:45 am this morning as I was struggling to make myself stay asleep. Despite telling myself that today is the only day this week I can sleep in….I just couldn’t. When you are tormenting yourself about whether you should make mashed potatoes or not for your Thanksgiving Dinner it is hard to sleep. What is going on here? What happened to my priorities?

Sometimes I feel I have been fighting this my entire life. Not sure, but I am guessing I have already written a post about it (so forgive me if this is repetitive). Although at this stage in my life having “things”perfect is not at all important to me (anyone who has witnessed what my hair looks like on any given day of the week can testify to this). And if you glance upwards in my house in almost any room it will confirm to you that perfection is not something I suffer with (and the spiders are very happy about that). But that is my physical world. When it comes to “performance” or maybe it’s behavior, or how I may be affecting other people, well that is a different story.

I am guessing I am not the only one who absolutely needed to get the A on a report card. Back in my high school years that C+ I got in typing really bothered me (I told myself I would never take a job where I needed to type anyway and that helped me deal with it..remember, computers weren’t invented yet). Unfortunately, I couldn’t predict this modern world where I have to type every day of the week. Anyway, as time went on, this feeling of wondering if what I was doing was good enough seemed to get worse as responsibilities grew. The first time I was criticized by the chief dietitian in a medical center where I was doing a practicum almost crushed me. It was just the start of my career in the nutrition field and my first experience working in a research hospital, and even though I was not a dietitian yet, it was a lot of pressure. I thought I was doing my best. Yes, I was very shy back then and spoke very softly. That is what put her over the edge I think. She took me in her office and pretty much yelled at me for not being confident. It was horrible. For heaven’s sake, I was probably 19 years old. Although I left in tears, in the end, like all painful experiences, it was a gift. It took a while to digest it all but she was right. I needed to work on this, and so I did. By the end of the summer practicum when I had to do a presentation in front of a large group (well, about 25 people, to me that was big) I nailed it.

But that did not change that inner voice that seemed to always question if I was doing enough. Enter my first child, Jennifer. I was proud of myself for making it through a long labor the natural way, it is what I went to those birthing classes for and I did it! But could I successfully breast feed my new baby? I will never forget my wonderful Italian grandmother looking at me with doubt. She actually said “are you sure you are going to have enough?” She was assuming the size of your breasts were correlated with how much milk you could make. Thank goodness that is not true, but I panicked anyway. She was wrong. I was a natural.

After two more babies, I was blessed to be able to be a “stay-at-home” mother. I had so much energy and was able to keep up with the house, food, laundry, dirty diapers, doctor’s visits, holidays, playgroups, you name it. So why was I feeling like I was still “not enough”because I was no longer “the dietitian”? I was not making any money anymore and it felt weird. Most mothers I know today would have been thrilled to do what I was able to do. Of course, years later after going back to school and work (at the same time) it dawned on me that those years of staying home with babies was much harder than working full time and going to school. I always joke about the joys of getting to go to the bathroom by yourself, or even getting a lunch break where you can actually finish a sandwich. That does not happen on a regular basis for stay-at-home parents.

So then life went on and with experience came confidence in the job/career world at least. Now I know what I don’t know. It is probably a lot but that is totally ok with me because wherever I am working I have no problem asking for help or guidance. It took years to learn that it is alright that you don’t know everything. We learn so much from those around us, whether it is our patients, our students, our co-workers or in my case, even my children. Not knowing it all is not the problem. It is worrying about making everyone happy. That is my conclusion and that is what woke me up this cozy rainy Sunday morning when I should be sleeping.

So back to the potatoes. Are you planning your holiday dinner and wondering about the same silly things? You want the table to look pretty. You want to be sure everyone has a place to sit (in my case anyway). The bathroom needs to be clean. You need to have everyone’s favorite (so even if just one person wants pecan pie, well you need to make it).But what if you didn’t? Would it really matter?

In the end, for me anyway, there is lots of joy derived from all of this. For example, my sister-in-law Michelle is making my son’s favorite brownies as well as pumpkin moon pies. If you despise baking because it is so much work (like I do) that kind of tedious work sounds painful. But to her, I know the pay-off is seeing the smile on my son’s face when he sees that plate. Money can’t buy that feeling. When you give, you receive. Making people happy is a wonderful thing. But is there a line there, a limit to how much energy we should invest? Finding the balance between joy and stress? When does making people happy become a problem?

Only you have that answer. This time of year can bring a lot of both, joy and stress. The need for perfection in yourself, be it in your physical world (body, clothes, clean house, etc) certainly makes it harder. Needing to make everyone perfectly happy can also make this time of year hard. Getting the perfect present, making the perfect meal, sending the perfect card. I ask, do you care what gift you get, or what card, or what food is served when you gather with family and friends? Probably not. It is the people that are around us, the love, the laughter that matters. And I can’t wait for that! Mashed potatoes or no mashed potatoes, I bet nobody cares.

This will be the first Thanksgiving without my dad and we will miss him. I am going to make that pecan pie anyway because he is the one who liked it. I wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving and hope you enjoy all that is truly important. The people around you.




Lessons Learned From Being a Pea Pod for a Day

Mrs. Arena 1.jpgI used to be known as “The Popcorn Lady” over 25 years ago. That was when my three children were in elementary school and I had received this authentic giant movie-popcorn making machine as a gift from their dad. It was wonderful! I would bring it to all of the “Fun Fairs” every year and got to know all of the kids. To this day, we still use the machine, although it is a bit worn, a few loose knobs and rust, but when you order the popcorn on line (it comes with a packet of yellow oil and seasoning) it is even better than the movie kind.

Anyway, there is a yearly “Marathon” event at the school I work at part time, a school with over 100 kids with special needs and over 100 staff. The marathon is not only a “run” where staff and children alike take turns running with the baton around a track to eventually make the 26 miles, but also a carnival, fun fair festival kind of day. There are clowns on stilts, a DJ playing music, kids dancing and playing with all types of lawn toys, crafts, sensory booths, healthy snacks, etc. and this year the popcorn booth. Well, besides being the popcorn lady, thanks to a co-worker who is as crazy as I am, I also got to be a pea pod. She got to be a carrot.

It was all fun and good until the popcorn ran out by late morning….luckily it was almost lunch break when the kids all go inside so I had time to run to the grocery store…but not much time. As I ran to my car across the campus, I had a decision to make: take off the pea pod outfit or not? Now mind you, the town where the school is tends to be an upscale kind of town with gorgeous restaurants and fancy shopping, and dressed up kind of people, and I am not talking pea pod clothes. Time was limited. I did what I needed to do. I drove to the store as I was, and as I got out of the car, it started. I realized at that moment how fun this was going to be! I just had no idea how people were going to react. The first reaction was a middle aged woman, nicely dressed in a fancy car next to me. She did not flinch. No smile. Nothing. Not sure I liked that, it felt weird. Maybe I don’t look that funny? But 5 seconds later, as I was walking toward the door, the elderly man who was retrieving the carriages, looked straight at me, smiled and yelled out, “I’m not even going to ask!!” Now that to me felt like a normal response. What would happen inside?

I couldn’t find the popcorn, that is what happened. So I had to walk around the entire store, it was a study in human psychology, and how people react to seeing a giant pea pod walking around the grocery store in the middle of the day. A young mom with a 3 year old in her carriage, looking for a loaf of bread, just looked up and gave a giant smile. Clearly, she didn’t know who the heck I was, but she thought is was funny (because it was!). Her reaction was pretty typical. What was not typical was the reaction from the middle aged woman who worked there, who I asked for help to find the popcorn. Again, she did not flinch. She did not smile. Maybe she was afraid? That was the feeling I got from her, and a few others. I could be crazy. Who knows what I would do? What do crazy giant pea pods do? They could be dangerous. That is how I felt.

By the time I got to the check out, got in line, with two women behind me by now, I felt a need to explain myself (the young cashier and bagger looked a little scared!). “I work at a school! We are having a fair today!” Finally, a few smiles. A sigh of relief from the well dressed women behind me. I got in my car, cranked the air (pea pod outfits are warm) and drove back to the school, thinking “wow”. That was interesting.

The rest of the afternoon was so much fun, I had help at my popcorn booth from a few of the awesome teens that go to the school. We chatted the entire time, they bagged the popcorn, and gave it out to their friends. I got to run one lap, and when the day ended, I felt so happy for so many reasons.

I then had to run to a doctor’s appointment for my dad. It was not good news. To make a long story short, that day made me reflect on so many things, and it took awhile to sort them out (not that I have yet), but I still wanted to share some lessons I learned that day.

  1. It is not always easy to TRULY be yourself. Even when you think you don’t care what people think, you probably do. It kind of bothered me when people were looking at me as if I might be crazy. I felt uncomfortable that someone might actually be afraid of me. I had to explain myself so they wouldn’t be. For me, walking into that store with that outfit on was not hard at all. I love costumes and I really don’t care what people think, but I guess I do care about how people feel.
  2. It feels to me that some people need to portray a certain “image”. Perfectly matched clothes, certain kind of car, whatever. It applies to bodies and body image also. In my life I have seen women especially keep talking about the same body part over and over, that they have been unhappy with for decades. Is this about portraying a certain “image” that we think is acceptable to society, or what? Arms are going to get saggy, necks are going to get wrinkly, tummies are going to protrude a bit, hair will turn gray or fall out, yet, we waste years focusing on these things. When you feel good, can eat and drink, can walk and talk, why do these things matter?
  3. When it comes to letting loose and experiencing joy, and all life has to offer, everyone is different. Not everyone feels comfortable tossing caution to the wind, having fun, getting messy, looking wrinkled, walking barefoot, dancing like a lunatic. Being one who prefers to do all of the above, I feel sad for people who can’t, but then again, we are all different. What brings you joy and contentment is what matters. For some that means sitting in a chair under the shade and watching all those crazy people toss off their shoes, dance to the music, wear funky costumes and be themselves. There is no wrong or right. Pea pod outfits aren’t for everyone.
  4. Working on a team is a gift. Wherever you work, whatever you do, if it is with others, you learn so much. Watching people of all ages get up before school opens to set up tents, water coolers, lawn toys, booths, paint their faces, dress up, cook, start running dozens of laps to be sure the kids complete a marathon, well, it was great. Making sure to capture every moment by running around the entire event with your camera assured that we would have memories forever (Thank you Laurel K!!).Every single person was selfless, it was all about the kids. It was a hot day, people were sweating, hair styles were limp, it was not easy. But you could see the absolute joy on the faces of everyone when that final lap was done. It struck me that what these disheveled sweaty people had given themselves (the gift you get when you give to others) was such a contrast from the people I saw that day in the grocery store…..who may have thought they had it all, but have no idea what they are missing. But maybe they do, they just dress nicer……which brings me to….
  5. You never know what someone is going through just by looking at them. I realized I was kind of judging people by their reaction to me and my pea pod outfit. Maybe they didn’t find it as funny as I did. Maybe they dress like that all the time, and it was nothing new. Maybe matching your shoes to your pocketbook makes you really happy. I admit, I am happy when all my nails are the same length…it doesn’t happen often. Meaningless for sure.The reality is people struggle with all kinds of things, some silly (or that you or I find silly, but they may not), and some serious. More times than you can imagine, I am in the middle of a visit with a parent and child, and eventually find out there are gigantic stressful situations the family is living through. Not one, but two autistic siblings at home, a brother incarcerated, a father with agoraphobia, and on and on. At first, it seems like just another family who needs some nutrition counseling, but then it turns out eating healthy is kind of last on the list. Yes, someone might be going through something and nothing can make them smile. You just never know.

I learned one more thing that day that is pretty funny. After all these years of ordering that popcorn, I apparently never looked at the label(what kind of dietitian am I! you might ask….one that hates reading labels). So when one of the teachers asked if it was healthy, I decided to look. Well, what a surprise! No trans fat, lots of fiber and actually pretty healthy if you ask me : )

Happy Memorial Day, thank you to my father, a former Marine, and all who served us. I hope you get to go barefoot, laugh, dance, or just sit and watch. But please remember to wear whatever makes you happy. If I had green shoes to match the pea pod you know I would have worn them.