Edition #81: Out With the Old Ways

Plus, what's a nursing home combined with a childcare center, small-batch jewelry, and a surprise dance party

Hello Dear Readers,

I was wondering why I didn’t receive my own email after sending it out yesterday morning, and it looks like it never went out! So please enjoy this surprise Friday afternoon treat at your leisure. I hope you get to lie in the sun (with sunscreen!) this weekend. Cheers.

A Note From the Editor

A few months ago, my therapist asked me a simple question, “How did you get praised as a child and what did you get praised for?” I can’t remember what I said or why she asked me this, but the question struck me for the absurdly difficult time I had answering it. I was a spirited child, unafraid to talk to strangers, to share my opinions, or to cop an attitude when I felt emboldened. I was also one of seven children, so memories of specific, one-on-one interactions with my parents are few and far between. My recollections of growing up are bursting with life —siblings, friends, neighborhood kids, pets, noise. It was utter chaos, but the welcome kind. The sort of chaos that never makes you feel lonely.

Though it wasn’t easy to get individualized attention from either parent with a family as big as ours, my mom and I have always shared a particularly close bond. I was a baby when my family packed up and moved from New York to Florida, so I was the only child who was utterly dependant on her as she adjusted to a new home, in a new state, away from her own close-knit family. She often jokes that I was our family doll, just young enough to be doted on by all. I was constantly being dressed up or shown off by my older sisters and taken along as my mother’s side-kick on her little suburban adventures—to Sunday mass and Golden Corral, to garage sales and Saturday morning Pop Warner games.

Our dynamic for most of my recent life, especially for the past ten years, has been this: me, her college-aged daughter, then her adult daughter, fluctuating between various states of crisis—a bout of clinical depression followed by years of deeply engrained self-deprecation, always shared with my mom. She was my best sounding board, the person who loved me so ruthlessly that no matter what terrible thing I said about myself, I knew I wouldn’t be judged. Often, she was the sole witness to my harshest rants—I’m fat, aren’t I? Am I ever going to meet someone I actually like? What’s wrong with me? I don’t feel normal. Am I ever going to be successful? Happy? Do you think it’s all going to work out? In turn, she would reassure me that I was beautiful, smart, the most driven person she knew, and that of course things would work out. But before those assurances came a line I grew all too familiar with, an echo I’ve heard throughout my life: “You’re too hard on yourself, you know.” Some version of this interaction became our call-and-response, the backbone of our intimacy. We had become a caricature of maternal dependency; an adult child needing assurance from her mother but unable to seek it in a healthy way.

My mom came to New York for a visit this past week. We had a lovely time; she met a few of my best friends for the first time, we ate Italian food and Chinese food and watched a whole season of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’. And yet, every time there was a conversational lull I felt the words bubbling in the back of my throat, itching my tongue: Do I look fat? Am I being lazy? Do my clothes suck? I didn’t let the words escape my lips because even as I thought them, I realized they weren’t true. I didn’t need to put myself down to get validation from my mother. Her sitting next to me on the couch, rubbing my back, was all the validation I needed. Still, it was strange to notice the impulse, and even more strange to notice that this was the first time in nearly thirty years where I ever slowed down enough to realize the impulse. To consider what I wanted to say and why I wanted to say it rather than mindlessly hurling insults at myself that were doing serious, quiet damage to my psyche.

After my mom left, I went through my memory box, the one small space I designate for mementos, and I was in awe by the number of encouraging, feel better cards from my mother. They were always kind, always hand-written, and always ensuring me that this was a phase. That I was beautiful and smart and driven, that life would get better, that it might even be grand. The cards spanned years, from 2015 when I lived in Hawaii to 2016 in Scottsdale to 2018, 2019, 2020, all in New York. I laid them all out on my bedroom floor and let the truth sink in. There was the hard proof of my newfound theory— that for so long, our relationship revolved around me hating myself. Me in crisis mode. Me needing to be put back together, needing her reassurance to survive. Me, me, me.

When I think now of what my therapist asked me, of how I got praised as a child, I remember the theatrical fits I used to throw every so often. Flinging my small body onto the floor, screaming, crying. stomping up the stairs and proclaiming that I hated everyone in my family (I wasn’t a total terror, but I wasn’t always easy. And growing up wasn’t, either). What I can see now, both in my childhood tantrums and in my adult behavior, is a person who wanted reassurance but didn’t know how to ask for it or was too proud to ask for it. The only way I knew how to get the thing I needed was by acting or, or later, by berating myself until I believed all those terrible things I said.

It feels exciting to think of what my and my mom’s relationship might morph into in the coming years as I’ve worked to move past my old, unhealthy ways of coping and towards a place of peace. What might we discover about one another? What stories might she share when I’m not so focused on myself, on her picking up my pieces? What new memories will we create together, free of the weight neither one of us knew was holding us in place?

Cheers, my dears. I’d love to hear about how you were praised as a child, or about what sort of dynamics you have with your parental figures and how they’ve changed over time.

Leave a comment

Three Pieces of Content Worth Consuming

  1. What’s a Nursing Home Combined with a Childcare Center? A Hopeful Model for the Future of Aging. I'm always amazed by Singapore's agility, its ability to think up and execute innovative solutions the solve the nation's problems—imagine living in a country where problems are seen as opportunities for innovation instead of just ways to make money! As Singapore's population ages, the country is putting money and resources (read: a $2.1 billion government-funded program!) behind supporting the older population and enriching their lives. This nursing home combined with a childcare facility is just one of the cool ideas they’re testing out, intended to encourage intergenerational relationships.

    “She is determined to create an environment that encompasses the full “circle of life,” as she puts it, with children at its center. “They remind us of the purpose of life and of the importance of play and simplicity,” she says.”

  2. Just One Thing: Be Mind Full of Good. My sister sent me this article initially and I haven’t stopped telling people about it since. A simple, illuminating argument about how our brains are evolutionarily hard-wired for stress and anxiety as a defense mechanism for escaping danger. As such, the “good” emotions don’t come as naturally, we must actively cultivate them and make it a practice to feel them regularly. After reading, we both realized we’ve spent most of our time and energy mitigating “negative” emotions vs. actively cultivating those better feeling ones.

  3. Suddenly It’s Bare Season. What happens when you combine a warming planet, a dirty city, and an emboldened group of fashion-forward, confident people? The summer of bras as tops. I loved this article for its imagery and for its truth—every time I take a stroll these days, I can count as many bras as I do shirts, and I love it. It’s about time women had the option to go practically topless, as men so often do in the summer. For more bras-as-shirts content, check out one of my favorite Instagram accounts.

Perhaps You Should…
Buy Some Small-Batch Jewelry

I met Darren, the (fabulously accessorized) man behind SHEEKS, at a dinner party recently. I noticed him first for his perfect outfit first, and second for his treasure trove of bold, expertly styled accessories. I was tempted to buy every single ring and bracelet he was wearing right then, but luckily for me (and you!) many of them are for sale. I'm eyeing a few of his pieces to add to my jewelry repertoire, namely this and this.

**Bonus Content** (Stand Here for Dance Party)

If you can watch the first chunk of this improv stunt/social experiment without smiling, then you probably need a nap. This warmed my heart.

A Quote From A Book You Should Read:

“Once upon a time, there was nothing to do with thoughts except remember them”

-Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer

This newsletter is best served with a side of conversation, so drop your opinions, reflections, and thoughts in the comments below and let’s get to talking.

Leave a comment

Or, share the most thought-provoking piece from today’s edition with someone you love, then call them up to discuss, debate, and percolate. As a wise woman once said, “Great minds discuss ideas.”