Every once in a while, when I’m writing, working, parenting, or life living, I wonder whether I’d act or do the same were I being filmed. Sometimes, this works out well for me. I’ll engage more completely in the moment, I’ll act with more patience and kindness, and I’ll remember to stand up straight and suck in my stomach.
Most of the time though, I realize how toxic other people’s judgement is to living a life true to myself.
Years ago, before deciding to move from Denver to DC, I spent countless nights staring at my ceiling, thinking about whether I should move or not, calculating how many hours of sleep I’d get were I to fall asleep “now,” and then “now,” and then “in the next hour.” Staring at the ceiling in my darkened bedroom, I worried about what my boss would think if I were to say no to the move, and I worried about what my friends and family would think about me saying yes.
In younger and dumber years, I took dares from the older, cooler kids because I wanted them to like me. I jumped off of a six-foot wall and ended up sleeping on a board on the floor for months while dealing with physical therapy because I wanted to prove that I was likable.
A couple of years later, I was mean to a girl at summer camp because my friend crush was mean to her. I still think about that little girl. Not my friend crush, but the one that I was mean to. We found out from a camp counselor that she had a hole in her heart. While I felt badly about it then, I feel utterly horrible about it now. I think about her often, and what I did still brings me shame and heartache. I wish I could apologize. It’s been 35 years and I can’t remember her name but I so wish that I could tell her how sorry I am. So so sorry to have not embraced her the way that she should have been embraced.
So sorry to have not embraced her in the way that I want others to embrace my son. To embrace me.
Sometimes, growing up, I valued other kids’ opinions of me more than I valued my own.
That still makes me sad. I mean it’s one thing to be a skanky 80’s girl on your own terms – which I often was – but another to be one for peer acceptance.
Today, I am in my 40’s. I don’t have friends who play Quarters or dare me to jump off of a too-tall wall. The friends that I do have now are mostly mom-friends or ones who understand that I am. And being mom friends is amazing and life saving but also it means not chatting until 3am unless you’re at a blog conference together or something. God, I miss chatting until the wee hours of the night.
Today, my biggest dream is to change how the world feels about autism and special needs. And to do that, I have to mostly not care what most people think. I can’t worry about what my son’s school thinks of me when I tell them that, while I understand why they let Tucker scoot another kid over to have “his” spot on the carpet, that doing so is not doing him a favor. Even though I know that it’s the least disruptive of decisions.
I can’t worry about what the moms at the bus stop think when my five-year-old doesn’t wander the neighborhood alone, or about what they think when he says something that they can’t understand.
I can’t worry about what you think when I drone on and on about how important it is to create a world that embraces empathy and wonder for EVERYBODY.
I can’t worry about whether you think I’m too old to be the mother of a five-year-old.
I can’t worry about whether you agree with my parenting style, or whether you think it’s shameful that my little boy just this week graduated from diapers to pull-ups for slumber. That he’s not really talking much at school. That I worry about him in ways that I know in my heart that you’d tell me not to.
I can’t worry about what you think.
And, you shouldn’t care about what I think, either.
I know it’s hard to not care what people think. It’s still hard for me, too.
Years ago, my dad said something to me. I can no longer remember the conversation we were having, but he interrupted me to say “Fuck what other people think.” (and yes, he used the “f” word)
Back then, my dad told me that in order to live a life true to myself and my dreams, that I had to take whatever notions I had of what other people think, and throw them in the trash. First, I may not even be correct in my assumptions of what goes on in other people’s minds and second, and bigger (biggest) is that it doesn’t matter.
My dad telling me to not give a flying fuck about what other people think is the best advice he’s ever given me.
Of course, he’s given me other advice as well. Some of it, I’ve listened to and put into practice. Other pieces? Not so much. Years ago, he gave me an article on procrastination that I never got around to reading, and, considering that it wasn’t until tonight that I tried to find five hula hoops in November for a Luau party at my son’s school tomorrow morning, I may not yet have mastered this particular skill.
Not procrastinating is still really great advice though. I mean, it probably feels really really great to have due dates met before they’re well, due, ya know? While it didn’t work out for me, I recommend trying.
But really, I think the whole “Don’t give a crap about what other people think of you” is waaaay more valuable than not procrastinating. It’s been working for me, anyway. Mostly.
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