One Question To Ask When the Going Gets Tough

On my first day of kindergarten, my mom gave me some advice.

She told me what her mother told her on the first day of school: when you walk through the doors, don’t worry about making friends. Just focus on finding the girl who looks even more upset about all this than you do. Go over to her and say hello. Smile. Then, you’ll have a friend.

My five-year-old-self was incredulous. Could it be that simple? With a little prompting, I gave it a shot. I walked up to a weeping girl and said, “Hi, I’m Caroline. What’s your name?”

With that, I made my first school friend. It was a serendipitous choice, since she was (is) an excellent visual artist. Back then, I could barely cut in a straight line — OK, that’s still true! — so she’d help me with arts and crafts. She didn’t like to write, so I’d help her with compositions. We saw each other through.

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What Do I Have to Offer? A Story of Wine, Wonder, & Worth

As she spoke, the rest of the women in the circle grew still.

We were gathered to celebrate a friend expecting her first child, and together we’d shared stories and blessings for her journey. We’d laughed, cried, and laughed some more, but now we were quiet.

Hello to a friend’s sweet baby. (2012)

We were listening to a young woman who shared that she and her husband wouldn’t be having children. Her story moved us all. But she didn’t just focus on herself; she encouraged the mother-to-be, offering help and support.

Afterward, I made sure to say hello to her and tell her how much I appreciated what she’d said. (Out of about twenty women, only a trio of us weren’t mothers, so I felt a sense of solidarity.)

“Oh,” she said, with a downward glance, “I wouldn’t have said so much if I hadn’t been drinking the wine.” Translation: I just bared my heart to this group, and now I’m feeling pretty darn insecure about it. It’s cover-up time.

“But what you said was real,” I told her. “It meant something to me and to everyone else, because it came from your heart.”

“Oh, well …” she trailed off. By then, other women had joined our conversation. They were nodding; they’d felt the power of her sharing.

She didn’t believe us. “Thanks, but … ” she said. Her ‘mask’ slipped again as she said, “Really, though. If I’m not a mother, what do I have to offer here?”

At that point, another women pulled me aside, and the conversation ended. It was probably for the best; if we hadn’t been interrupted, I might have said, “Are you kidding?!”

What I think the woman meant was, Since I’m not a mom, what do I have to offer this circle of mothers? And her tone of voice implied that the answer was, Nothing. Nothing at all. 

Despite the evidence, she didn’t believe that her contribution was valued. Her feelings of insufficiency ran deep. To understand them, I had to search my own heart.

***

At home together, 2013

Her words have haunted me, and I’m starting to understand why. It was easy for me to recognize that this lovely woman wasn’t seeing herself clearly. But then, how many times have I been discouraged, dismissing my contribution? How many times have I thought to myself …

If I’m not a full-time caregiver anymore, does my work still have meaning?

If I don’t get this job, win this person’s approval, or pass this test, am I a failure?

How many times have I conflated my value as a human being with what I accomplish?

Furthermore, how many times have I seen others make judgments about the value of individuals with autism and special needs? How many times have I come up against the implicit question: If this person doesn’t have so-called ‘normal’ abilities and aptitudes, what can they possibly contribute?

And I cannot begin to change the world until I do the work of eradicating these lies from my own heart.

***

I have just one request to make of you: go through your day believing that you are a beloved child. If you start slipping, ask yourself: Do I question the worth of a newborn baby (or even a puppy or kitten), just because that being doesn’t ‘contribute’ in a measurable way?

Sure, my husband and I joke about our kitten, Bootsie, not ‘pulling her weight’ in our household. But we laugh about it precisely because it’s so ridiculous. Bootsie contributes to our home and happiness every day, just by being herself.

What if we walked around with the same assurance? What if we trusted that, no matter what we did or didn’t accomplish today, we would still be worthy of love? How freeing would that be? And, paradoxically, how much more would we be empowered to … well … give?

This is what I wish I could have said to that wonderful woman I met at the party. But maybe I wasn’t meant to give her my words. Maybe I was meant to give her the look of honest, unfettered disbelief I felt on my face.

Maybe incredulity was the best answer after all.

***

Fed up with an ‘impossible’ sibling? Tired of a family situation that may never change?

Pick up I Was a Stranger to Beauty (ThinkPiece Publishing).

*If you don’t have a Kindle, don’t worry! You can use Amazon’s (free) Kindle Cloud Reader.

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