“Oh. Well. Of course you have plenty of time to do that…you don’t have children.” Now, I hope when you read that statement, the voice in your head acquired a completely dismissive tone, like the tone used when the phrase was tossed out to me the other day.
How’d it land with you? Did it reach out and whack you with a punch – straight to the heart or gut? Or did it bounce off, hitting your Teflon-self and land back in the dirt, to be kicked around harmlessly like a little hacky-sack? Remember hacky-sacks – popular in college in the 80’s – when we circled up and tossed a little cloth ball from one foot to another, the goal to not be the one to drop the ball, and perhaps get some fancy foot-work in to impress? But I digress.
This was not the first time this phrase has been trotted out in my presence, by a person who has children. This time, I had been out for a stroll on the bike path near my house and chanced upon a long-time friend, also out walking his dog; we exchanged greetings. We stopped to chat. Our households have not connected for a while so we exchanged lists of activities.
Him: Job-related stories; the girl in soccer; the boy now driving – just got his license; a family trip to Colorado.
My response to his list: “Wow.” “Cool – she’s such an athlete.” “Can’t believe he’s that grown-up!” (Admittedly, taking mental note to be extra careful while running in the streets.) “ Awesome – sounds like a great trip!”
Me: Working from home; a couple of short bike rides; training for a 50K run; got lettuce planted in the garden!
His response to my list: “Oh. Well. Of course you have plenty of time to do that…you don’t have children.” And then he proceeded to hammer it home: since they had kids, they absolutely did not have time to garden.
Yeah….you saw that coming didn’t you.
I ended the conversation at the point.
I scanned my body as I walked away, checking in with how that phrase had landed, probing to see if it had settled anywhere in my body. And I realized, by golly, I had managed to activate my “I-Will-Not-Take-It-Personally” Teflon shield just in time! And those little words had landed, there at my feet, with a little “plonk”. A hacky-sack I am now kicking around this blog space.
Trust me when I say it has been a long time coming – this ability to effectively raise a protective shield – it has taken me a long, long, long time to learn. In the past, that phrase would have plunged into my heart like a poison dart, wounding me to the core. I would have felt completely diminished by it. My list of activities would have dwindled from a bright, shining gold star to a nothing-pile-of-dust because, clearly, as I would have interpreted that phrase to imply, my accomplishments would only have meaning and would only be truly remarkable if I had been able to achieve them WHILE raising children – like a true superhero woman/mother.
And, what would have made words like those feel even worse was the fact that I wasn’t even given the chance to prove I could do it all – have kids, run marathons, plant gardens, run a business from home – I am childless by circumstance, not by choice. Infertility, miscarriage, divorce – a special trifecta cooked up by the gods of fate.
As I walked away, taking a deep breath of the clear spring air that evening, I thanked my lucky stars for the wise, wise words of Don Miguel Ruiz, author of The Four Agreements.
The First Agreement: Be Impeccable With Your Word.
The Second Agreement: Don’t Take Anything Personally.
The Third Agreement: Don’t Make Assumptions.
The Fourth Agreement: Always Do Your Best.
It was useful to me at that moment to remember what Ruiz has to say about the Second Agreement.
“Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream.”
“If someone gives you an opinion, don’t take it personally, because the truth is, this person is dealing with his or her own feelings, beliefs, and opinions. That person tried to send poison to you and if you take it personally, then you take that poison and it becomes yours.”
“You take it personally because you agree with whatever was said. As soon as you agree, the poison goes through you, and you are trapped in… hell.”
“When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be victim of needless suffering.”
Wow. Let it sink in for a minute. What a liberating realization. I don’t have to take the phrase, “Oh. Well. Of course you have plenty of time to do that…you don’t have children” personally anymore.
By not taking it personally, I am able to allow the phrase to simply be part of another’s world view, which granted, from my perspective, feels parsimonious in its praise, parsimonious in its definition of achievement, but none-the-less, it is his/her/their world view, and does not have to be more than that for me.
By not taking it personally, I refused to accept the poison dart. Instead, I joyfully, recounted for myself, my achievements in the past two weeks: the focused attention I’ve applied to my business; the 25 mile training run for an upcoming 50K; a Sunday morning spent in bed, with My Guy, drinking coffee and reading books; a 30 mile bike ride on a sunny Tuesday afternoon; a huge salad harvested from my garden.
I felt good. I felt free. And I still do.
What’s more, I’m looking forward to sharing greens harvested from my garden with our running friends this coming Thursday (Fat Thigh Thursday). Many of the folks in the group – not all – but many – are childfree, either by choice, or by circumstance, but they know without a doubt, that when I bring out the enormous plate of salad greens, it will represent an accomplishment. And they will cheer. Because they know, in order for a garden to have been planted, another activity we value immensely was given up – a bike ride shortened, a long run was put on hold, or paperwork was neglected while we made time to dig and play in the dirt.
It is all good: Soccer moms; teenagers getting their license; veggie gardens; bike rides.
Who is to say one holds more weight than another? I won’t be taking your answer personally.
You may live from your world view; I will live happily from mine.