My Parents Aren’t Superheroes (which makes them even more amazing)

I don’t remember the exact moment I realized my parents weren’t superheroes, that they were fallible. It probably happened right around the same time I realized “I’m not so special, really” and the ever-shocking “plans don’t always work out.”

In some ways, I’m still uncovering my parents’ humanness. I still expect my mom to be a rock star super-provider who can always answer the phone. I still expect my Dad to be the best cook and game-player and puzzle-maker and goofy math whiz and dude in general. Beating him at Scrabble is great for my ego, but genuinely weird for my worldview. Calling home and getting the answering machine still makes me feel strange,  even after four years of living on my own; um, don’t you guys exist purely to serve my needs?

But they don’t. And while decades of effort to serve my needs, or at least make sure my brothers and I don’t starve (slash kill each other) was successful, sort of, it wasn’t perfect. I’m realizing that they were just “winging it,” that my teachers were just “winging it,” that every adult I ever looked up to was pretty clueless (because we’re all pretty clueless).

And honestly? The whole thing just makes them way more impressive.

If a Domestic Goddess can raise a family and keep it relatively together, then whatever, that’s just what Goddesses do. But when a regular, imperfect woman does it, that’s freaking impressive. As I watch my mother run late, lose stuff, overschedule, undersleep, and drown in paperwork, laundry loads and self-doubt, I can’t help be be amazed. Somehow, she (sloppily, beautifully) created four kids that can say “My childhood was happy. My family loves each other. My home is safe.” She created that. She made that happen.

Holy, holy, holy. That’s a pretty amazing feat.

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She didn’t do it alone, of course. The thing about not-Goddesses is that they need help, sometimes more than they can actually get. We are fed this narrative of heroes and saints, of people doing it “all on their own,” but really? That’s bullshit.

The most impressive thing my parents ever taught me was how to work together. To learn the neighbours’ names. To care about your community. It wasn’t “how to do it all, perfectly, always.” It was this:

  • Surround yourself with people who you can ask for help.
  • Ask for help.
  • Respond when people ask you for help.

Those aren’t the lessons of superheroes. Those are the lessons of people who are “doing their best.” People who sometimes have to call in backup. People who link arms with other people “doing their best,” because how else can you raise a kid, really?

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“Wait, you weren’t a superhero. You just loved me enough to pretend you were when I needed one.” Thanks, Dad.

I’ve seen tears well up in my non-Goddess mother’s imperfect eyes–frustration, fear, anger, saddness, joy. I’ve seen tears in my Dad’s eyes, too. Sometimes I was even involved in causing it, and not in a cutesy “I’m so proud of you!” way. That’s the worst.

I have power. They have power. I can hurt them. They can hurt me. We are peopleAnd we won’t be here forever.

As Rachel Held Evens wrote:

“I think you officially grow up the moment you realize you are capable of causing your parents pain. All the rebellion of adolescence, all the slammed doors and temper tantrums and thoughtless words of youth—those are signs that you still think your parents are invincible, that you still imagine yourself as powerless against them.”

Learning I could hurt my parents (and that I shouldn’t, because they’re basically love incarnate) was a big lesson, no doubt. Same goes for learning that when they hurt me they probably didn’t mean to. Sometimes they were doing things “for my own good.” Sometimes they were doing things just because it seemed right at the time.

Either way, they were just “winging it.” And I have to thank them for that, because they prepared me for a pretty weird and wonderful life of clutching hands and following love and pretending to know what I’m doing.

That’s all any of us not-Superheroes can do, really.

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I’m a mess. And that’s okay.

I feel fake.

Not all the time.  But lately, at least on the internet, I feel like I’ve been putting my “best self” forward. And that’s fine, I guess. But it’s not particularly genuine.

I have business cards! I was at an awards show! I wrote some stuff, and people read it!

I’m proud of all those things, I really am. And I’m glad I can share them. But between the collection of #humblebrags, the over-edited status updates, and the filter-on instagram version of my life….

I mean, it looks like I’m the kind of person who puts on pants before noon. Who watches intellectual TED talks, instead of mindlessly binging on Dr. Phil.  Who always, always gets along with her picture-perfect family.

And that’s simply not true.

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So here’s the reality, friends:

I’m insecure, overzealous, and uncoordinated. I swear, sometimes when I shouldn’t (sorry, mom).  I don’t exercise enough…unless you count running late, I guess. I make jokes that aren’t funny, and I laugh at them. Out loud.

(Yeah. I’m that person.)

I suffer from foot in mouth syndrome, fear of missing out syndrome, there-are-always-clothes-on-my-floor syndrome. I also make up syndromes a lot, apparently.  I’m messy. I play mind games without meaning to, mostly with myself.  Sometimes, I have trouble being happy for people.  I can be a bad listener–or worse, a good listener but  a terrible responder.   I am sensitive to a fault; I use big words when I do not need to; if there is a mirror nearby I will be looking at myself.  I’m kind of awkward. Definitely impulsive.  Occasionally preachy. I don’t know how to hide irritation, even when I should. I cry at commercials, laugh when I’m nervous, and rarely think before I speak.

I’m a mess. And that’s okay.

It’s not that I’m proud of these qualities. Not even a little bit. But I’m not ashamed to recognize them, either.  They mean I’m here, I’m awake, I’m aware, I’m human, and I’m trying to be better.  They mean that even through imperfection–serious, serious imperfection–I can still live, love, and be loved.  We all can. And we can love other people through their not-so-perfect, too.

That’s amazing.

The judgement machine of the online world sometimes makes that difficult, I know. We put a filter on everything. We compare our everyday lives to everyone else’s “greatest hits” (thanks, Facebook).  We blog about the times we win, not the times we lose. We talk about the times we have been wronged, not the times we wronged others. We manufacture our own stories in which we are the heroes.

But we aren’t heroes. We’re People. We make choices. We have personalities. We have bad habits and imperfect histories and honestly, we’re pretty boring most of the time.

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So let’s take solace in the fact that we won’t always be perfect.  The fact that we will annoy people. We will try to be helpful and it won’t work. We will apply for jobs and not get them.  We will suffer failed relationships, send regrettable text messages, and come in last place.

I’ll be a mess. You’ll be a mess. We’ll be a mess. And that’s okay.

Life isn’t about being perfect every time you show up–life is about showing up, period.  And tomorrow is about being a better you than you were today. If we were perfect today, then tomorrow would be pretty boring.

(And right now, by pretending I have it all together, by pretending it’s only smiles and professionalism and good news, my internet-self is probably pretty boring. Hopefully this helps to keep it real.)

Love.

Why I Love People, But Hate “Networking”

I think we have a issue with objectifying people.

Not just sexually. Not just women. Not just in the media. All of those are problems, to be sure, but I think objectification is a problem that goes way beyond all that.

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A couple months ago, I was given a lesson on “networking.”  I learned I was supposed to fish for connections, to groom people into becoming opportunities. I was supposed to be nice to people for the sole purpose of achieving my personal goals. It all seemed really fake and icky.

(Can I use the word icky as an adult? Is that allowed?)

I tried to express this to a friend, who laughed at me because dude, you network all-the-freaking-time.  She was right, of course. I talk to people. I have a LinkedIn account, and I use it. I’m the queen of “let’s do coffee!”  But there was still something weird about how the word “networking” was being used in professional-land.

Isn’t that, like, making friends with an ulterior motive? Can I just get to know people? And maybe some of them will do cool stuff, and then I can learn about that cool stuff and maybe get involved with it, if it makes sense? Is there a word for that?

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Objectification means looking at people in terms of what they can do for you. For a service they can provide. For how they can help you reach your own goals.

So we “network.” We date. We care about people selectively–because they might be useful to us someday, because they fit into our personal narrative.  We greet people with expectations. We ask “who can you be to me?” instead of asking “who are you?”

And when we do that, we miss each other.  We miss each other on a human level, and it sucks.

We’re so busy trying to write our own story that we sometimes straight-up ignore people who might not fit into it, as though their stories don’t matter at all.  We hold onto our agendas so tightly that we forget to hold each other. If someone isn’t a potential employer, or a potential partner, or someone we can get the notes for next class from…why bother with them at all?

There is something very inauthentic about that.

So here I am. Trying desperately, desperately to approach all people as people.  Not opportunities. Not props in some story that I think I have control over.

Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s hella hard.  But I think it will be worth it.

On Fear, Love, and Bombs in Boston.

“A bomb just went off at the Boston Marathon, guys.”

My boss shared the news as he passed through the office. To be honest, I thought it was just another gnarly music term.  A strange band name.  A performance that…bombed?  Or was “the bomb”?  Or something else that I’m just not hip enough to get?

I work in the music industry, see.  I didn’t think there was a show going down in Boston, but figured that someone bringing up a new band was a lot more likely than an actual bomb going off at the Boston Marathon.

I was wrong.

It didn’t take long to figure out what happened. I streamed the live coverage as my mind combed through the usual comforts: Pay attention to the helpers.  Thank goodness this isn’t government-sponsored violence.  Look at those service men and women helping to clear the streets.  I’m glad stuff like this is rare enough to demand such outrage.  #PrayforBoston is trending on twitter.  The love outweighs the hate.  The extreme response shows how safe we normally are.

And, most selfishly (but genuinely): Glad I don’t know anyone in Boston. 

Optimistic, yes, but none of this was particularly comforting at the time.  Although my immediate reaction was overwhelming uncertainty (“How do I emotionally respond to this?”), a quick Google search of Washington DC brought it closer to home.  Sirens and SWAT teams were screaming down the streets, or so Twitter hyperbolically reported.  Pennsylvania Avenue was shut down. I had my first run in with the term “Heightened Terror Alert.”  It was business as usual in my office, but the word “Terror” tends to evoke…well, the feeling of terror.  There was “standard procedure” going on a few blocks away. In the wake of a bombing, “standard procedure” in the capital can look a little frightening.

DC in general has been a little frightening, at least for me.  The threats from North Korea successfully increased my heart rate on more than one occasion last month. I walked past a policeman carrying a massive gun today, and sped up in spite of myself.  I’m still getting used to the intensity of security guards on the way into museums.  The obvious necessity and fragility of a defense presence makes my stomach turn—especially when it’s not always enough to keep people safe.

Perhaps my background is a bit too docile to keep up with the high-security scene.  I watch action movies and kick-ass Terantino flicks like it’s my job, but the reality is that I’ve never even touched a glitter bomb.  I’ve never so much as shot a paintball gun.  I jump at the word “BOO!”, you guys. If we watch a horror movie together, I will clutch onto you like a leech.  And violence—real violence—is disturbing foreign territory to me.  (I’m very lucky for this, I know.)

It’s surprising that, spooked little horse that I am, I responded to the Boston Marathon Bombings with so much resolve.  But I did.  A lot of us did.  We said a prayer, called our mothers, and kept on going.

At dinner last night, a friend shared how scared she was coming home from work.  The bombing brutality was tumbling through her brain, and the enclosed and busy Metro was cause for concern.  Fair enough, I figured.  But that wasn’t what I said. Instead, like an overzealous talk-show host, I found myself telling her “I feel you, but…we can’t let the terror to get the best of us.  Because if it does, then “they” win. And “they” can’t win. People who want to hurt other people can’t win.  Fear can’t win.”

I’m sure I was much less articulate, but that was the sentiment.  My friends, despite our usual political and ideological differences, nodded in rare approval. She agreed, too. You can’t psychologically torture a whole country, can you?  Let’s not make it so easy.

Events like the Boston Marathon bombings will undoubtedly disrupt our ideas of humanity, life, security, and business-as-usual.  The intense response here in DC reminded me that while this country (and its cities) are magnificent, even they are vulnerable–because everything and everyone is vulnerable, no matter what.

My raised-by-Disney heart fears the “bad guys” and cheers for “good guys.”  It always will. But my adult heart, ridden with reality-checks, is beating in time with the rest of the so-called “normal people.”  The scared but proud people—people with good sides, and with not-so-good sides, but with families and fates and feeling hearts.  Folks who are mostly not okay with people hurting other people.

The fact that this is my definition of “normal” gives me hope. The fact that this bombing does not seem “normal” gives me hope.

We are fragile, mortal, reactive, aware, sensitive—but we should not be afraid.