How to Cope When You’re Always Right

imageI’m always shocked when people disagree with me. It happens often enough that I shouldn’t be surprised but I still find myself taken aback. Who me? You think I’m wrong? Well let me tell you something… And that’s where the trouble starts.

Last night I read a facebook post that rubbed me the wrong way. Something about keeping our country safe from refugees. As I read, the less I saw the words in front of me and the more I thought about my response. With each paragraph my responsibility was confirmed: the world was waiting for me to set the record straight. To compose the perfect comment, so enlightened my friend would have no choice but to concede gratefully how I’d finally opened her eyes. How she had simply been confused but now she could see clearly into the heart of the matter.

I type my comment, edit it until it’s razor-sharp, then sit back and wait. Stan will come home soon and I’m excited to show him how I had out-witted the other author. What a joy, he would think, to be married to such a wise woman.

He pulls a stool up to the computer and starts reading. I realize he isn’t sticking to my script when he starts murmuring to himself; like he’s actually interested in what he’s reading.

“Where are you?” I demand, wanting to know what is prompting him to stop and contemplate. What I really want is for him to get to my paragraph at the bottom. I anticipate him reading it aloud so we can enjoy the clever words together. Then, before any of this happens, he clicks on the mouse and my comment scrolls out of view.

“Hey, did you read what I wrote?”

“Yeah.”

I pause.

“Well?”

After a moment he answers, “I wouldn’t have written that.”

What? Now I have to save the whole world and my husband from their folly? “What do you mean,” I ask defensively.

He explains. I dig in. He counters. I bring up more points to support my case then decide I need to go to bed. My eyes are bloodshot and red-rimmed from lack of sleep. It’s so tiring when other people don’t realize I’m right.

The next morning I get up and check my account. There are no replies to my comment, not even a like. I begin to wonder about the issues Stan raised the night before. I wonder if I should have commented. I wonder if I’m still right. I wonder why I’d forgotten my strategy–the key to coping when everyone else is wrong.

This strategy is based on two very important questions. The first is W.A.I.T. and it’s directed at myself. It stands for Why Are You Talking? It also represents a whole slew of other helpful questions like:
What is motivating my speech? My ego? Self-absorption?
Is there a chance my listener will change his or her mind? Are they even listening?
What would make me change my mind about this? Do I need more time to consider my stance?
Why do I feel so passionate? Is there an underlying issue that is more important than the one at hand?
Have I been asked to speak?
Am I over-tired?

Anne Lamott introduced me to W.A.I.T. and how she uses it with her daughter-in-law. Even though I don’t have a daughter-in-law the opportunities with this one are endless. When the young mom explains how I should train my baby to sleep through the night, I W.A.I.T. When the preacher’s words make my skin crawl, I W.A.I.T. (Well, except for the time I didn’t; I interrupted the sermon mid-sentence but I definitely should have w.a.i.t.ed. At least until the service was over.) W.a.i.t.ing is not about being a wallflower; it’s about being as wise as you are passionate.

The second tier of the strategy is more difficult than the first–I’ve probably only managed it once or twice in my life. It requires focusing on the other person instead of formulating a rebuttal while nodding and pretending to listen. The pivotal question at this stage is: Why do you think that? And when you’ve had just about all you can take, that is your cue to say: Tell me more. See what I mean about not being easy? Next time I visit with my facebook friend I’ll have to plenty to ask. Why do you think Syrian refugees pose a threat to our country? Tell me more about your experience with Islam? What do you think our response should be?

The beautiful thing about this simple yet excruciating tactic is that it’s a trick. I trick myself into paying attention and being curious. Suddenly, conflict is transformed into opportunity. A chance to understand where someone else is coming from, to get closer to the mystery of how they could possibly disagree with me in the first place. And once this occurs all bets are off. Who knows what could happen? My mind might not change, but my perspective will. What was once one-sided becomes multidimensional and more expansive than anything I’d be capable of conceiving on my own.

It’s not easy being right all the time. These tools help me cope but they aren’t for the faint of heart; controversy requires courage when I w.a.i.t. and ask questions. What’s more, it never seems to let up. Just when I’ve dealt with one scenario another conflict startles me again, whether it has to do with the federal election or a dispute with my eight-year-old. Of course it’s all very irritating in the moment, but I know practice is good for me. Especially since the only thing more insufferable than the misled and small-minded opinions of others is my failure to understand them.

 

Footnote: I posed for the photo above and when my daughter saw it she said, “That’s perfect Mom. You always look like that.”

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A Prayer: Things I’d forgotten

Two public health nurses come visit us on Thursday. Stan is folding laundry on the couch and Belén and Susanna are perched beside him. I’m nursing in the armchair, tucked in with pillows and swaddle blankets. Our living room is messy with books and burp clothes, but not squalid. The nurses settle in and begin by asking a few screening questions. How are you feeling physically? Fine. Is Baby latching well? Perfect. Do you have family support? Check. Are you aware of the baby blues? Yep.

I’m answering all the questions just like they want me to. Which doesn’t feel quite right.

“I know I sound normal, and it is all going well, but still, this is really something,” I start to explain.  I want them to know even though we look good on paper, we’re in survival mode. These first few days have been nothing less than epic in my little world and I wonder if they should dock some points off my file for good measure.

Later, years later, I know I will wonder what exactly made this first week so momentous. Besides the obvious, a new family member, I want to remember the all-consuming details. Details I’ve forgotten before. When I make my mental list while nursing, or drifting off to sleep, each one seems to come with a prayer. The prayers are short and of the Anne Lamott variety–Thanks, Help, Wow–but they come like a cool breeze on a humid summer day; some are even pin-pricks* of light from the world beyond my nursery. Read on if you’ve forgotten too, or want to pray along with me.

Things I’d Forgotten

Baby shoulder skin and fleshy upper arms that will one day be biceps… Most of us remain topless the first week so we are ready to snuggle Vivia at a moment’s notice. She inhales all our scents, learning who is who, and we get to feel her skin as she curls into our chests–the Cadillac of all baby-holds. These moments inspire the Wow-God-I-can’t-believe-I-get-to-do-this-again prayers. And another, Wow, for all the things that need to go right to make a healthy human.

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Voracious hunger… I keep my eyes out for easy calories like nuts and avocados, downing un-whipped whipping cream and anything else fatty. Normally, food prep and eating is a pleasure but now it’s a hurdle just to satiate my appetite. After hunting through cupboards for my next snack I open an appeal letter from the Canadian Food Grains Bank. Describing the situation in South Sudan one aid worker writes:

They were on the run, searching for a place to hide, trying to think of somewhere near, running, desperate for a safe haven, carrying only what could fit in their hands, a bag or two, a child on one arm, and some clothing.

While honey and butter melt on my hot toast, I imagine the scene and think about mothers fleeing with their newborn children.They are voracious, like me, but without stocked pantries. Without organic nuts in fancy packages. Without whipping cream. Carrying only what could fit in their hands. God help them.

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Voracious hunger… I’m not the only one with an appetite around here. Interestingly, when Susanna is holding her sister, Vivian is never hungry.

Me: It looks like she’s rooting around for something, why don’t you pass her over?

Susanna: Oh, don’t worry, Mom. She’s not hungry. (As in, I’m not planning to give her up any time soon.)

Vivi: Slurp. Suck. Sharp inhale. Head slam against chest. Another slurp.

So far, Susanna has sustained only one minor injury for her Nope-not-hungry-with-me philosophy. A hickey. (This point doesn’t come with a prayer, unless laughter counts. Unfortunately, Vivia doesn’t seem to have a sense of humour yet.)

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Cousins Josie and Charlotte with the Reed girls

Stan’s voice… Even though he jokes that the name Vivian means “accident of God” in Cree, I know by the sound of his voice and the lullabies he sings, Vivi is carving a place for herself just like Susie and Belén did. And while his prayer of I-can’t-believe-we-get-to-do-this-again, might be prefaced by a “help” instead of a “wow”, his tender tones towards his newborn daughter are an answer to prayer in themselves. Thanks God for surprises and the grace to accept them. Give us more grace, for ourselves and each other; we’ll be needing a surplus in the coming days.

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Labour is only half-over when the baby is born…The uterine contractions last for at least three days and although the delivery was un-medicated I need drugs, and more deep breathing, to get me through them. When the cramps lessen my milk comes in; taut is the word that comes to mind. For relief I know I need to nurse, but every time Vivi latches on a lightening bolt of pain shocks my whole body. Motherhood is a big kick in the pants, I think, and this is just the beginning. But still, I have my baby. When I pick her up to try nursing again I wonder about women who lose their babies. Women with swollen, aching bodies but no child to hold or feed. Whether they choose their path of sorrow, or their babies are taken from them, God help them.

The sunrise after a night’s work…When I make it through the night, after hours of changing and burping and feeding, I feel as if I’ve gotten a little bit closer. Although to what, I’m not sure. The sky lightens and like a weary traveler I arrive on the doorstep of another day. We did it! I want to say. We did one more night! Thank you, God.

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-Tricia

PS. All the nicest pictures in this post were taken by my sister-in-law, Amber.

PPS. Thank you, friends, for your well-wishes and response to Vivia’s birth.

*More pin-pricks: this read-aloud novel, enjoyed by all 4 of us, and this blog post.

 

 

 

 

 

Prosciutto and a Writing tip

It’s nice to get out sometimes, isn’t it?

Yesterday Belén, Susanna and I went to the city and after a quick doctor’s appointment, the day stretched before us with opportunity. We went to an art gallery, wandered around a bookstore ’til our eyes got sore, and talked about going to Chuck E Cheese’s. Susanna kept on calling it Checkered Cheese’s, insisting she didn’t want to go because she didn’t like “checkered cheese” anyway. (The girls had never been there and I thought I somehow owed it to them.) I, of course, was happy to skip out and we ended up substituting a little Italian deli for ol’ Chuck E.

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deli packages

When we walked in the doorway, a man with slicked-back hair and a mouthful of rolled rrrr’s welcomed us in. Sausages hung from the ceiling and the rotund lady behind the counter patiently answered all my cheesy questions, cutting slivers of gouda, fresh goat cheese and aged parmesan. When I asked about the prosciutto she held it up like a trophy then lowered it to the table where she cut it so thinly, I thought the strips might evaporate. She laid down each piece of sliced meat with a slow flourish, seeming so appropriate and natural I wondered why I’d never seen interpretive dance with cured pork before.

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More deli packages (isn’t brown paper SO photogenic?) and some of Stan’s homemade wine (in a recycled bottle).

While she packaged my goods in brown paper the owner of the store made his rounds between customers: slapping them on the back, making suggestions on what kind of cheese to pair with mortadella, and escorting them out the door. When it was our turn at the till, he slipped two chocolate bars to Belén and Susanna and we all left feeling like we’d hit a jackpot.
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Back at home, while eating our meal straight out of the brown wrappers (adding a little olive oil and butter to the spread) I asked my family a favour:

“Remember how Laura Ingalls had to be Mary’s eyes for her after she went blind and Laura described everything so perfectly, Mary felt like she was seeing? Well, I want you all to be Laura and I’ll be Mary. Only instead of being blind, I’m celiac (which I am). Now, tell me everything you can about how that bread tastes.”

Belén tore a piece off one of the artisan loaves and started talking, “This one is as light as a cloud–on the inside; on the outside it’s like soggy cheerios.”

She closed her eyes, reached for the second loaf, and chewed it slowly before deciding on her words. “This crust is about as hard as a rotten log…”

She gets points for understanding simile, I’d say.

***

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Belén, writing in her new diary. It took us NINE stores to finally find one with a lock and key–apparently an absolute must for eight-year-olds.

While searching for just the right diary for Belén, I am tempted by all the beautiful journals available. I finger the leather covers and and funky closures. Some are embossed with whimsical birds, others are filled with heavy paper that seems to promise meaningful and substantial prose. I almost pick one out for myself… but then I don’t. Here’s why:

Most of what I write is incomprehensible. I am consistently amazed by how much garble I cough up when trying to capture a poignant moment or a simple story. And so, if I had a pretty book I might try to fill it with pretty writing–which would be a very time-consuming and painful affair. Instead, I write down bits of conversations and scraps of sentences in an old notebook so I can catch the words before they’re gone, without the pressure of matching the quality of the journal. The tired clichés and overused imagery slide onto the paper right beside the stuff that isn’t so bad; the stuff that makes me sit back and smile. Then, on some clear day when I feel up to the task, I can pick my way through the verbal debris and pull out the parts worth saving. Fine, expensive journals are nice ideas; I just don’t think I could get mine out on them.

If you’ve come this far looking for the writing tip, thank you so much. Unfortunately, that was it; that’s all I got. You should probably leave my blog now and check out Anne Lamott or Natalie Goldberg, my two favourite authors on writing. I am currently re-reading Bird by Bird and it is just as inspiring, funny, comforting, pathetic, and hopeful as ever.

Does anyone else have other great titles on writing to share? Or recipes with goat cheese?

-T