We made that up

How are you doing? Are you exhausted? Like deep in your soul, exhausted?

I have some thoughts.

We made up that you have to text someone back.

We made up that you’re supposed to be positive all the time.

We made up that you’re supposed to eat three meals a day.

We made up that you need your own home.

We made up that people are better if they have lots of friends.

We made up shoes.

We made up that you keep your parents’ last name–and not even across the whole world.

We made up school and debt and school debt.

We made up that you should part your hair down the side. Then we made up that you should part your hair down the middle, and that if you part your hair down the side, you’re not with the times.

We made up that you should strive for career success. We thought we made up what success even means, but nobody seems to agree or be happy when they get there.

We made up that you’re boring if you don’t like going out.

We made up that you’re supposed to play it cool when you finally meet someone you have a crush on.

We made up that feeling sexual interest in others means you love your life person any less.

We made up that sexuality has to be strictly organized in an arbitrary way, and oh my goodness are we taking a long time to unmake that up.

We made up that you’re supposed to have a life person.

We made up that you’re supposed to work 40 hours a week.

We made up “boss.”

We made up multi-level marketing and product parties. We also made up corporations and weirdly pyramidy looking corporate pay structures. Either way, a lot of us are struggling.

We made up that kids need to excel in academics.

We made up that it’s vitally important that you show up not a moment late to your daily shift.

We made up that you should tough it out when you’re feeling like you’re breaking down.

We made up that you’re supposed to save hand-holding for your sexual partner.

We made up that girls wear makeup and boys don’t.

We made up the words for girls and boys and we made up how important those words were.

We made up that women are better parents and care-takers.

We made up that men are tougher and stronger and more apt to lead.

We made up that when you order the big ass Denver omelet, you should say “we’re going to volleyball tonight,” instead of “god I love food.” I did this yesterday, and I didn’t even play.

We made up that buttons on your shirt means you respect the people you’re talking to. Or a long strap of silk and polyester choked around your neck.

We made up that robes or bare feet are weird.

We made up that natural hair on your face or your armpits or your privates is anything besides “there.”

We made up the word “privates” so that genitals could be saved for shamey conversations and for powerful men to control in private.

We made up that you’re supposed to respond graciously when old men talk to you in a way that makes you feel yucky.

We made up that it’s somehow on you when you are hurt by people.

We made up that when you’ve been hurt, you have to forgive.

We made up that forgiveness looks like reconciliation.

We made up that family is for life.

We made up so many damn things about the word “family.”

We made up that it’s okay for people to bully, manipulate, abuse, and take advantage of you, as long as they’re related by blood. We refuse to admit we made that up, but we did and we’re shockingly loyal to it.

We made up that you owe anyone an explanation.

We made up that extroverted is better. And then we learned from some really thoughtful psychologists that that’s not true, so we make all sorts of posts about how awesome introverted is. But we still lowkey judge introverts.

We made up that it’s weird to sleep in a tent in your backyard.

We made up that sleepovers are only for kids.

We made up that kids have to grow up and leave kid stuff behind.

We made up stuffed animals, and this was a good invention that provides so much comfort, and then somewhere between the ages of “7” and “you’re not a child anymore,” we tell people they no longer need comfort.

We made up that you have to be good at dancing to feel confident doing it, and we enforce it by laughing and making fun and sharing videos online.

We made up that everyone gets roads but not everyone gets medicine.

We made up that you should go to college.

We made up that you need to have a clear life and career plan.

We made up that you will be happier if more people think you’re really awesome.

We made up that people think you’re really awesome if they pay attention to you online.

We made up that it’s childish to try to get attention.

We made up that saying things to the people in your life like “Hey I just need some attention right now!” is needy or obnoxious.

We made up that needy is obnoxious.

We made up that crying in front of people isn’t a thing to do.

We made up that you shouldn’t live in the woods.

We made up relationships.

We made up workplace structures.

We made up work.

We made up money.

We made up goals.

We made up purpose.

So if some of what we have made up isn’t quite working for you, that’s understandable. There’s a lot of it. It would be weird if you matched it all, and honestly the world would be pretty boring.

Which bits don’t work for you? And what will you make up for yourself instead?

Sending love and courage to be weirdly, honestly, colorfully you.

PS – We made up that dirt is dirty and that sand is messy and that messy isn’t the best thing in the world. But Junko knows better. I learn a lot from her.

~

How about you and I help each other stay off track? I’ll send you sparks of weirdness. <3

Attention-seeking

What if half our problem is that we’re not asking for attention?

Junko is a handful, but she’s not complicated. She is a 2-year-old very-puppy who has no qualms about putting her foot down (literally–like on top of us) when she needs . . . . . or even just “wants” attention. (Is there really a difference?)

On the other hand, I’m super cool, but I’m complicated as hell. My deepest wish in life is for people to give me the exact sort of soothing care I want, at the exact moments I need it, without my having to say anything. That would be best, right? If people could just predict what I need?

Or I could do it the Junko way and say “I want a hug right now please and thank you.

When little kids “act out,” we like to call it “attention-seeking.” When 20-, 30-, 40-year old little kids have an outburst or stop showing up for work or start saying sad things all the time, we also sometimes call it “attention-seeking.”

And my goodness, what if we all could seek attention? Not just the ones who are honest about their needs.

What if your little kid doing whatever they know how to do to get your attention is actually asking for exactly what they most need, just in the only way they know how today?

And what if your friend or co-worker is literally just reaching out in the dark to see if someone still cares enough about them to pay attention and care for a minute?

Sure we could all be a little more like Junko and say things directly instead of throwing tantrums, giving the silent treatment, hinting for days, or all the other indirect ways we ask for attention.

But could we maybe appreciate “attention-seeking” for being one of the healthier self-interventions that someone’s able to do in a lonely moment? And provide each other some loving, caring attention instead of labeling each other needy or dramatic or annoying?

What if instead of saying they’re “attention-seeking,” we would say “they have unfulfilled needs”?

Because I bet if we’re all being honest, we need some attention, too.

What if you were allowed to ask for attention? Would it maybe help?

~

Do you need words and encouragement and hope sometimes? I’d love to write for you:

From 1 to 92

and so I’m offering this simple phrase
to kids from one to ninety-two

The Christmas Song

One of my earliest vivid memories, marked by the musty smell of old books in the college library: Two fellow professors stopped my dad and struck up a conversation. They held their briefcases and said big sentences to each other and I knew that the world would be okay. The grown ups were in charge.

I can’t remember, on the other hand, when exactly I began to realize that’s not true. First, they’re not really in charge. Second, they’re not really grown ups anyway. I think I see this more and more every year.

I wonder what would happen if all the people who think they’re in charge remembered every day just how not grown up they are and not grown up everyone else is.

The term “grown up” is misleading, and I a little bit vote we retire it.

~

Have you ever slowed down enough to carry on a conversation with a little kid? It’s funny, they’re shockingly alive.

Jack was my oldest tiger, Sebastian was my biggest tiger, and Dakota was my favorite tiger. It’s not that my world quite revolved around them and all their stuffed siblings, it was more like they were my family, like I retreated to them for love after a day of facing my other family. There was Basil (pronounced like the pesto, because who doesn’t like basil pesto?) the beanie gorilla, and Peter Rabbit the sleepy rabbit, and India, the beanie baby bengal given to me by my best friends’ little sister I had a transient crush on, and more. (Notice the tiger theme, because tigers are awesome.)

At its peak, I think my stuffed family consisted of 50 or so. And while I remember a few of their names, it’s challenging because their names morphed every few weeks (kids clearly don’t automatically think identities must be set in stone). The whole lot of us would gather for a feast, prepare for a battle, or hunker down for a stormy night. I loved my stuffed animals.

“You’re getting older now, Peter. You’re becoming a man. It’s time for you to stop playing with stuffed animals.”

It felt like getting punched in the gut. I hadn’t thought yet of questioning my dad’s alwaysrightness, but I knew this one felt impossible. My face felt a little numb and dizzy and I cried tears of growing-responsibility and I loosened my grasp on wonder a little more.

My dad softened a little and let me keep the tigers only. The rest had to go. Adulthood is inevitable.

~

Each time a need goes unmet, we’re called by society to bury it deeper. This is called growing up.

We’re encouraged to get in line. Follow the guidance the other “adults” made up. Not rock the boat. Do our budget and then die someday.

Rarely are we encouraged to get back on all fours and imagine again that we’re a tiger living under a waterfall in the jungle. Or even just to laugh or cry or dream like a child.

~

I’m not saying don’t budget, don’t work hard, don’t do important grown up things. If nobody did grown up stuff we wouldn’t have doctors and farmers and plumbers.

But the doctors and farmers and plumbers and politicians and pastors and CEO’s aren’t as certain as we think they are. Somewhere under numerous coats of grown-up paint, they’ve still got their sensitive childhood-colored skin.

And while we grown ups have to make grown up decisions and face a grown up world and take grown up responsibility, we could make the world a safer place by remembering and reminding each other that deep down, we’re all just doing our childlike best.

It’s okay to retreat back into your pillow fort once in a while. The world isn’t as grown up as you think it is.

~

The world is not as okay as we believed it was when we were 5. The grown ups aren’t really in charge. And the ones in charge today won’t be tomorrow.

But maybe while we fight an ongoing fight to protect each other from angry or selfish grown ups with their guns and their rules and their money and their hierarchies, we also make the world a little safer by coming back to our childlike selves and each childlike other. Making the same safe space for each other now that we felt decades ago, where we get to retreat for a minute and let everything be “okay” for now.

None of us can carry the grown up world without childlike rest.

~

And I want to just say, those childlike rests are very much more possible for some of us than for others. I’m a white male whose family has lived in America for generations. I have no kids to pay for, and a salary that allows me to disappear to the mountains on occasion. I can afford Disney+ and a TV to watch it on. Whether or not I “should,” I can habitually buy artisan cheeses that cost $24.99 per pound.

And I have neighbors that can’t. And many neighbors can’t because of decades and centuries where our world went along with the “grown ups” who insisted they’d figured out how to make the world better. But better for who?

So as we make ourselves spaces to soothe our inner child, let’s also make safe spaces for our neighbors who don’t have what we have.

I had scores of stuffed animals. Somewhere in my city there is a kid clinging to an old tattered one. And after thousands of years and trillions of dollars, the grown ups haven’t yet figured out how to fix this difference. So maybe sometimes when we retreat to our pillow forts, we can invite a friend who doesn’t have a retreat.

~

tl;dr “grown up” is a lie or at least an unhelpful term, nobody has it all figured out, it’s okay to admit you’re still a child, and remember to share <3

~

Can I join you on your fight against growing all the way up?

I’m free now

When I was a kid, I did have happy times. In fact a lot of my childhood memories feel happy. Even some of the stuff that, as an independent-minded adult, I now look back at as creepy or dysfunctional.

I wish people understood that just because someone has some happiness, or feels like things are also good, or has some of what they need (like food or clothes), or smiles sometimes–that doesn’t mean that their situation is okay.

All the dysfunction finally bubbled over. And now, as an adult, a pretty strong person, who has been on my own for years–the effects of my dysfunctional childhood leave me struggling some every day.

Even while I was finding some happiness as a teenager–listening to Ne-Yo and Fergie, watching Modern Family in my closet where my parents couldn’t know, playing out mental fantasies where I actually had friends I got to hang out and spend time with–even when finding my own happiness, I was simultaneously drowning in stress and fear and anger and hopelessness. And all the happiness volume in the world doesn’t somehow balance out toxicity.

It’s good to remind myself that I’ve come a long way.

Now, day to day stresses get to me. I feel frustrated when I can’t slow down and breathe or think, like when my phone rings fifty times in a day. It makes my heart beat harder. Or when I see yucky things on the news. Or can’t see friends face-to-face for the duration of a pandemic. Or keep having to take breaks from running with leg and back pain.

But.

And here’s where I want to sit today:

Now, I come home to someone who loves me. Someone who will hold my hands when things feel too big. Someone who lets me have feelings and needs and wants and dreams, and who encourages me to chase them all, even if they’re not her own. Someone who wants to hear me speak from my heart. Someone who deeply values me. And when I walk in the door from a long workday, I have a furry buddy who tells me, with all the whines and jumps and wags and licks, that I am so good and so important. And now I do have those beautiful, wonderful, amazing, fun friends in my life to hang out with that I wished I was allowed to have as a teenager. And now I have all these things in my life and about myself that don’t have a good-or-bad, wise-or-foolish, acceptable-or-unacceptable label to them. Now, I don’t feel like the most important people in my life are ashamed of me for watching my shows or staying up late with my friends or not-still-wanting-to-be-a-preacher-when-I-grow-up, and I never really have anyone raise their voice at me anymore (except, of course, the occasional experience in the any service industry). And nobody snaps at me when I’ve played the same piano piece too many times in a row. And nobody hits me anymore.

The people who don’t love me–I don’t have to be with them. I don’t have to take the phone calls, play the games, suffer through the holidays, bite my tongue at the cruel conversations.

Now, I’m free.

It’s easy to forget how free I am, because nobody graduates from all stress and hurt and struggle, and those things will probably always feel big. It’s easy to forget just how dark things were. Just how NOT free I have been.

Now, life–no matter how lifey it gets, is better. Now, I live with LOVE.

I am thankful for freedom.

I am proud of the courage to step out of toxicity, out into freedom. Proud when I see that courage in myself and proud when I see it in others.

And I am thankful for the life that freedom brings, that courage brings. It’s not too perfect, too fancy. It just has kindness and peace and boundaries and love.

That’s better.

Despite the day-to-day struggles that are a fact of life–has your life gotten better? Have you found some more freedom? Chosen more love? Grown? It’s easy to forget how far we’ve come. And it helps to remember it. Feels hopeful.

What about you?

~

P.S. I know navigating unhealthy family situations is a hard, scary, and misunderstood thing in our world. So much pressure. So many expectations. If it’s something you’re struggling with, I’m happy to listen. And if not me–there is someone else in your life, ready to talk, who has had to step out into freedom. Say your stuff, no matter how messy. Find your freedom and love. Rooting for you!

Sidewalk

Nobody actually says–or at least nobody actually gets to say–that just because you’re a “grown up” now, you have to stick to the sidewalk.

Hop up on the wall, if it’s calling your name, and teeter your way along in the sky above the sidewalk for a while.

Or abandon the sidewalk entirely and crunch through the leaves as you venture into the woods.

You are still human. There is still wonder. You are still free, child.

George Bernard Shaw - grow old because stop playing