The Confession Prepping Demon

The other day I summed up 2017 as “The Year Zoot Learns How Terrible She Is At Adulting”, and it is no joke y’all. None of my errors have been catastrophic, but I’ve screwed made some Adult Sized errors lately and it’s sent me into non-stop shame spirals where I just beat myself up until I’m hiding in a parking lot inhaling donuts before I pick up the kids from school.

You know, because I need to look in the mirror, see the almost 30lbs I’ve gained in the last year and remember, “Oh yeah – I cope with shame by eating! This is the corporeal evidence of my failures.”

Now…the thing is…I do have the voice of Kind Zoot also in my head who tries to temper the negative with some positive. It’s not always enough to prevent a spiral and lately it’s not even enough to keep me above “stable” some days, but the voice is there reminding me of the good I do in the lives of my friends and family to counterbalance the failures.

And it hit me this weekend as I was trying to drown out the self-hate and listen to the voice of Kind Zoot…This is how the Catholic Church broke me.

Everyone talks about Catholics and guilt issues and I definitely have those to spare…but I’ve never really felt like that summarized the scarring in my soul from growing up Catholic. And this weekend it hit me: It’s not the guilt…it’s the focus on failures.

You see…I loved going to Confession as a child because it gave me a clean slate and as soon as I walked away, I was pure again and I could do my best to stay pure indefinitely. Of course, that never worked because – you know – we’re all human. But I always tried to go “X” amount of time without sinning. And the fact that I could barely last a day without telling a white lie or gossiping, always shattered my soul. And since I would have another Confession to attend at some point, I would keep track of all of these sins so I could make sure to get them all absolved in the future.

At some point I learned that you could ask God for forgiveness for your sins in your prayers and it would almost give you a clean slate so I started doing that in middle school. I started praying every night for forgiveness by listing my sins and failures and then try my best to go all day without gossiping or telling white lies or coveting or lusting and DO YOU KNOW HOW HARD THAT IS IN MIDDLE SCHOOL? It’s terrible. So every night I would contemplate my sins and work the next day to do better.

I remember this feeling SO VIVIDLY – the incredible desire to NOT FAIL. I would start “fresh” after I prayed, or after confession, or after Mass (there’s an absolution prayer during Mass) or after a church retreat or event – I always loved that feeling: NOW! Now I start with a clean slate and NOW! Now I will do better. NOW I will live without sin. And then part of my brain would be saved for keeping a tally of my sins since that last absolution.

This even continued into my adult non-Catholic years. When I studied Buddhism for awhile I tried to let go of the wants and needs of my ego and I would tally up the failures. (Which, ironically, is also a failure of ego.) In the late 90s, I found myself answering an alter call at a Baptist church revival where I begged for forgiveness of my serious sins (I had advanced much further than white lies and gossiping) and felt the cleansing power of that forgiveness again…only to still allocate part of my brain for remembering sins thereafter.

In my head I was always tallying my sins for my next Confession. Even if I knew there was no Confession in my future.

Do you know what I never ever did? I never trained myself to tally good. I never focused on the positive I put into the universe. There was no part of my brain set aside for tallying the kindness I spread or the joy or the love. There was no part of my brain keeping track of charitable actions or forgiveness. There was never a voice saying, “Yes…Kim…you gossiped just then, but you also helped your teacher clean erasers. That was nice.”

It was just me keeping track of failures so that I’d have my list for the next Confession.

And this…THIS is the demon I fight every day. The Confession Prepping Demon. I can forget wrongs done to me over the years much easier than I can forget my own failures. I can forgive hurt caused by people in my life much sooner than I can forgive myself. There’s a part of me constantly logging all of my mistakes, as though I can’t let go of them lest I forget how truly sinful I am.

Yesterday. This hit me yesterday. I’m 41-years old and I just realized that the darkest part of my soul, the one that I’m constantly trying to rescue, is the one in perpetual preparation of Confessing her sins.

But the other voice is there. The one that tallies the good. I tried to listen to her a little bit yesterday…and I even encouraged her to maybe talk about some good from my Childhood. I often jokingly tell the horrible stories of joining clubs centered around hating specific girls in our class, and about how I ditched my Dad at a movie theater one time because I was embarrassed, and about how I used to hide behind the bushes at recess to make out with my boyfriend in 7th grade…I have permanently engraved those stories into the solid folds of my long-term memory.

But wasn’t I also sometimes kind? And helpful? I tried to get the Kind Zoot voice to reflect on my childhood and teen years and it was hard. Every time I thought of something good, I remembered ulterior motives, selfish motivations or sought after rewards tainting the memories of good. I have evidently chronicled every moment in my past – even the good ones – by also logging how they were sinful. I used to go to church with my maternal Grandmother and I thought about how much she must have enjoyed that, but then I reminded myself that I started doing it because she went to the later service where that boy I had a crush on would sometimes show up.

I can’t seem to let myself remember the nice without also remembering the thing I would have called a sin when I was Chronicling my actions for Confession. I mean, I lusted after that boy, so that totally counterbalanced the good I was doing attending Mass with my Grandmother, right?

Thank you Catholicism, for teaching me how to remember all of my sins and to never allow myself pure moments of self love not tainted in reminders of sins.

Today, that changes.

Today I’m going to burn new habits into the recesses of my brain. It’s not going to be easy because there’s a lot of instinctive behavior I’m fighting against, but I am no longer of the belief that I need to confess my sins to a higher power, why am I still logging them? Why am I letting the moments of kindness and charity fade in my memories while I crystalize the failures for eternity?

I think I’m going to start today by physically writing down the good things I do. I mean, even the mundane stuff like…so far today I’ve made my kids lunches and I’ve walked the dog. THESE ARE GOOD THINGS. I don’t deserve a ticker tape parade or anything, but they are actions that deserve attention and focus more so than the screw-up with my taxes or the credit cards or the missed deadline or incorrect print order. I can do nothing to fix the mistakes from my past but I can try to let go of them and celebrate the good that I do instead.

Today, I stop prepping for Confession and start chronically the beauty I create with love and kindness.

Lessons In Decluttering

We are finalizing the details of HOPEFULLY buying a house (location is PERFECT, it just hasn’t been updated in 60 years so there’s lots of repairs needed) and I find that discussing decluttering and downsizing is one of my favorite topics. We’ve learned a lot in the 3’ish years to get us to the point where we’re trying to buy a 1500 sq ft house after selling a 4100 sq ft home. The most important takeaway so far is that there are TWO reactions to decluttering. One negative, and one positive, and how you (and the people who share your home) fall on the spectrums of those two reactions will determine your success from day 01.

Positive Reaction

Let’s say you’ve gotten rid of a bunch of clothes. Or maybe books. Or maybe you cleaned out that cupboard. And now? NOW YOU HAVE SPACE. There is space where there wasn’t space before and whenever you see it or think about it you are overcome by a feeling of calm. Suddenly – the absence of clutter in that one location, and the addition of empty space – you feel peace. You feel like you can breathe again.

Negative Reaction

Let’s think about that same space in your closet. Or that empty book shelf. Now, think about how your friend wants to read that book you gave away…You could have given it to her if you still had it! Or maybe you finally lost the weight you had been struggling to lose for a few years and you have a wedding coming up and Why did you give away that one dress? That dress would have been perfect! And now you can’t stop thinking about that one book or that dress and you are MAD. You are feeling regret and frustration. YOU HAD THE STUFF. And now your friend has to deal with buying that book or you have to buy a dress. WHY DID YOU GET RID OF THAT STUFF?

Weighing The Two Reactions

We are all going to experience both if we take a big step to declutter. Now, the trick is, you have to weigh the two against each other. I still, after 3 years of decluttering, feel the peace and the calm of the freedom and the space WAY MORE than I feel the negative reaction to not having that thing I needed that one time. That negative reaction in my mind…that regret and frustration…it fades quickly because it is nothing compared to the peaceful feeling of not feeling burdened by ALL OF THAT CRAP.

HOWEVER – I’m not sure Donnie feels the same way. He still has the most stuff to go through in storage because he can’t quite embrace the peace the space brings as he knows the regret will hang so heavy in his heart. He’s been able to weigh in favor of “decluttering” most of the time as he was excited about lessening the burden of the home we would own. But when it comes to specific items, and realizing they’re gone? He does experience regret much more than I do, so the majority of the final stage of “decluttering” will be on his shoulders as he’s had the harder time letting go of things.

This is a very important balance to understand if you have a person you’re sharing a home with. Because we all know how regret works, it eats at you and burdens your soul. We don’t want to push anyone into the “regret” zone simply because our feeling of peace in decluttering is so strong. You have to find a balance. Luckily, Donnie also feels incredible peace with the lack of clutter, so he often leans more to that side and even understands the appeal of things like “tiny houses” – if he didn’t experience any of the positive benefit of decluttering, we’d have bigger problems.

Consider The Generations After You

This is also something to think about when deciding what to keep of your children’s, or for your children. Because everything you store for them “when they have kids” becomes a burden for them in adulthood. Now, maybe it won’t be too big of a burden, BUT THAT IS UP TO YOU. When we sold my Dad’s house I left with two boxes of stuff from my childhood – AND THAT WAS PLENTY. Especially since he was gone, I’m not sure I would have let myself get rid of things. I’m very VERY happy he got rid of things for me over the years so that I did not have to deal with the burden.

We have to really consider how “value” translates over generations. This little dress is special to me because I remember Nikki wearing it. But will it be special to her? No. Probably not.

UNLESS – there are pictures of her in it. Then she might want to do the mother/daughter photo thing and that is a fun little homage to an article of clothing. So I keep clothes I have photos of my kids in. Of course, it also works for sibling photos too:

A friend of mine joked one time that he and his wife were going through boxes of their son’s stuff, “To help their future daughter-in-law.” Oh, man. Do I get that. Because it is hard as a kid to have a burden of stuff from your childhood you might not even remember, but that you don’t want to get rid of because your parents saved it for you. But it’s really hard to be the spouse of that person because all you have is the clutter and NO SENTIMENTALITY. I kept a lot of stuff of Dads for no real reason and – luckily – Donnie knew he only had to be patient and I would eventually see there was no purpose and would get rid of it. He trusts my purging skills to win out in the end. He wishes I wasn’t so good a purging most days.

But often he had to gently remind me the stuff was still in the garage. And when it came time to finally move out? He was patient with me as I went through the inner turmoil and he was sitting there thinking, “OH MY GOD, JUST GET RID OF IT, WOMAN.”

So, yeah. For the future spouses of your children – don’t keep stuff that your child won’t also appreciate. Are there photos of them with the item? Did they use it to a point where they actually have memories of it? Be aware that you are putting that burden on them with everything you keep. I still have weird dishes of Dads I’m not sure why I’m keeping. I don’t even remember him having them! But they are weirdly sentimental because they were mysterious. And they go on the walls so I can justify they won’t take up space anywhere!

Just don’t lose sight of the cycle of burden you could be starting, or perpetuating. You have memories with the dishes that belonged to your grandmother because you ate Christmas at her house ON THOSE DISHES every year. But will your daughter have the same affection for those dishes? Probably not if you never used them with her. But she will feel obligated to keep them because they were special to you. Do you see what happens in that moment? She is burdened by your sentimentality. And then her daughter won’t even have that and she’ll probably ditch the dishes.

It’s something we’re trying to do – consider future generations – when deciding what is important to us. We don’t want to burden them. And hopefully we won’t, now. If we successfully move into this home we will have to do one final purge and then it will be time to enforce the rule: NOTHING COMES IN UNLESS SOMETHING GOES OUT. And nothing comes in unless we can really justify it by NEED or WANT. We aren’t giving up consumerism, we’re not that brave. We still like stuff. New stuff especially. But we’re trying to weigh that.

EXAMPLE: We don’t have a full set of dishes and sometimes I consider ditching the ones we have and starting over with a new full set. But why? Why can’t I just buy some to replace the missing pieces? Because there’s a weird pressure to have 8 matching place settings? WHY? It doesn’t make sense. So when it comes time? I’ll just buy a few more plates. That’s it. And they won’t match and that will be part of our charm. Instead of burdening some thrift store with my incomplete set of dishes just so I can fulfill some weird burden society has imposed on me.

Anyway – these are lessons we’ve learned in the last 3 years and things we consider every step of the way. Do you have anything useful to share?

The Swing of an Afternoon

Wesley often greets me at after-school care by running down the hall and jumping into my arms with a giant smile on his face. IT IS THE BEST. I love it so much. Then, 99% of the time, he and his sister start fighting (they do NOT get along) and we are in FULL anger-meltdown mode by the time we make the 5-mile drive home. It’s a thing that makes me CRAZY and I try to handle it in different ways so that these sibling-induced anger fits don’t ruin our evening. I’m never consistently successful.

So, yesterday was one of those days.

On the way home the kids had to tell me that they had their screens taken away because of a fight they had in the morning. This fight evidently stemmed from Nikki telling Wes he sucked. Wes was already cranky at remembering he couldn’t watch screens when he got home, but then remembering his sister had been a jerk that morning and he went full-on “THIS IS THE WORST DAY!” mode. Now he was just angrily saying how much he hates his life. Remember…this is just a few minutes after the warm hug and smile. JUST A FEW MINUTES TO SWING IN THE OPPOSITE DIRECTION.

I calmly pointed out that I was having a bad day too, but I was SOOO grateful at how he hugged me when I picked him up because it improved my mood 100%. He didn’t care.

We got home and he didn’t want to get out of the car because the day sucked and he hates his life. I let him stew and went inside and sat by the window to watch him. Eventually he came in and went to his room. I sat on the couch in the living room and listened to him bang something repeatedly against the door. Over and over. I was pretty sure it was one of his giant nerf weapons that are not as soft as you think they should be. I calmly reminded him that this was an apartment and we needed to make sure we didn’t damage walls or doors. He banged harder and louder. I asked him AGAIN to stop. I told him I understood he was angry but he needed to find another way to process that. HE BANGED HARDER. At this point I’m now angry too because I can tell he’s about to bust a hole in something so I go into his room and rip the nerf weapon out of his hand.

THIS IS WHEN ALL HELL BREAKS LOOSE.

He starts screaming just to scream, and then screaming at me to leave. I mean – SCREAMING. This resets me and I think back to the source of all of this. There’s always something else behind the anger. There’s anxiety or shame or jealousy. Or a combination of the three. And while I couldn’t find the exact source I could see evidence of it all – Nikki telling him he sucked, him feeling like he sucks compared to her, him getting in trouble and feeling ashamed, etc. So I took a deep breath and tried to hug him while he was screaming at me. “GO AWAY! GO AWAY!”

And here is the moment where I’m really torn because I want him to know I’ll never leave him, but I also have taught him to take time to calm down if he needs it. So I hugged him and kissed him and said, “I’m leaving you alone because I think you want to calm down but I want you to know I love you and I’d rather sit here and hug you.”

“GO AWAY! GO AWAY!”

But, those last screams? A tad softer. Just a tad.

Those are the moments where you see a break-through and you take a deep breath and muster up the patience because it’s working, you just have to let it happen.

I go back to the living room and he immediately stops screaming. I just sit and wait and it doesn’t take long and he comes out and he says, “I’m sorry. I’m just really sad Nikki told me I sucked.”
“I know, Wes. But she apologized so can we try to forget about it?”
“But you always tell me you can’t forget words easily when I say mean stuff.”
He’s listening! He’s really listening!
“That’s right, Wes. But haven’t you said mean stuff you’d wish we could forget? Do you remember how sorry you were when you said the awful thing? Don’t you think your sister feels that way now? So can we shake it off a bit?”
“Maybe.”
“Listen, I’m having a rough day too. You know what I like to do when I just can’t shake stress off? I like to color. Coloring calms me down. Want to color with me?”

So we did. He got his notepad out and I got my coloring book out and we centered ourselves around our pens and markers. We ended up having a really nice evening together. We colored, he rubbed my feet for money (He gives THE BEST foot rubs), and we watched Sing.

Some days I honestly worry that he’s never going to mature emotionally to the point of having successful relationships as an adult. But then other days I see how much progress he has made, how far we’ve come from the days where he tried to hurt me both physically and with his words. And yes – I can’t easily forget those days – but days like yesterday are like medicinal salves over old wounds. Those days, those swings, they are too much sometimes…I’ll be honest. But when the pendulum stops and we settle into the healing process I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. We are making our way through it, together.

Just. Don’t.

Every weekend – it seems – there’s a different school in my area having prom. This means my Facebook feed is filled with beautiful photos of kids dressed their best for a night of magic. And without fail – every weekend – I see random comments snarking on wardrobe choices. Thankfully, these were all friends-of-friends, but STILL. These were all adults disparaging the outfits of teenagers.

“What a lovely photo. And all of the girls in this photo are dressed classy unlike others I’ve seen.

Oh really? You’ve seen pictures of teenage girls dressed for prom and you actually allowed yourself to assign a level of “class” to them based on their dress? REALLY? What – exactly – is a non-classy dress? I’m dying to know what a teenager has to be wearing for her most special night to make you think, Uggg. So classless.

“Who is the girl in the white?” “That’s so-in-so’s girlfriend, she’s from a different school I don’t know her.” “Uggg. I just can’t believe the parents don’t mind their daughters wearing those midriff-baring dresses. It’s so slutty.”

Good for you, lady. Good for you for seeing a photo of a lovely girl in a dress that shows LESS SKIN THAN HER BATHING SUIT and you commenting on her characters negatively because of that. I’m super-proud of your boldness and your willingness to stand up for purity everywhere…I hope that message gets back to the parents.

“Is there no dress code for Proms anymore? I can’t believe how many two piece dresses with slits to the thighs I’ve seen! It’s so sad!”

Yes. That’s what’s sad. Not the unfair and unrealistic beauty standards our media places on our girls…Not the double standards we raise our girls with defining “slutty” verses “studly” with their male counterparts…and DEFINITELY not strange women feeling like they are doing the right thing by criticizing the appearances of young women. Nope. None of those things are sad. Only the lack of a dresscode at prom.

Listen, I get it. I’ve seen girls wearing shorts that are basically underwear and my instinctive thought is often: Oh, NO! That’s not appropriate! But that’s our reaction based on these bizarre and unrealistic definitions of class and beauty that media and society have defined for us. SQUASH THOSE INSTINCTS. Don’t add power to those perceptions by actually TYPING THEM OUT ON FACEBOOK. Instead, think about what the world would be like if we would quit judging young girls based on the clothes they wear. If we would quick shaming girls for their wardrobe choices. Instead, what if we taught girls the value of loving the body they were given and the thrill of dressing it in a way that makes them happy. Do you know how often I like what I’m wearing? ALMOST NEVER. If a young girl leaves the house feeling good about herself and loving her body? She is 100 steps ahead of me…no matter what she is wearing.

We need to be examples and we can’t let these comments be heard or read by the girls who know us. We must celebrate self-love and worry about a girl more if she seems sad than if she’s underdressed. And let’s watch it with the double-standards. We need to guide our girls to love themselves as a full package and as a real human body and we can’t do that if they hear or see us snarky on “classy” levels in their peers. Let’s just refrain from critiquing any clothing a young woman wears unless she comes to us and says: Tell me the truth, what do you think?

And while we’re at it…let’s not snark on people’s appearance at all. Let’s not make comments about whether someone should be wearing a white triathlon suit, let’s not comment on someone’s weight gain, let’s not discuss someone’s fashion choices. Let’s make appearance something we NEVER DISCUSS because even though the person you’re discussing may never know, the person you’re saying it to will. I am scared to wear a bikini because I’ve heard too many women make derogatory comments about overweight women in bikinis. So your words might not have made it to the person you were mocking, but they made it to me, and now I can’t try on a bikini without hearing your voice in my head.

All of your words have power…but especially words discussing another’s appearance. Those words have terrible ripple effects. Women are raised with unrealistic expectations. We live in a society where half of my Facebook feed is ads for anti-wrinkle cream and now the wrinkles I never noticed yell at me every day and say: YOU ARE OLD. Your comment about how anyone who wore “THIS ITEM FROM THE 90s” should call you about wrinkle cream makes me embarrassed now whenever I smile in a picture.

Comments on beauty and fashion and appearance echo in the ears of the insecure for years after they’ve been spoken.

Keep them to yourself.

On Greetings

I like seeing people I know out in the wild. This is a 100% change in my persona in the last decade. Before Dad died, and I was mildly agoraphobic and strongly crippled with social anxieties; so I would run in the opposite direction if I recognized someone at Target. I remember seeing a parent of a classmate of E’s somewhere once, and I literally left the store without getting what I needed because it was too small to hide in and I needed to get out before she saw me.

But now? Now I tend to enthusiastically greet someone when I see them in unexpected places. A friend of mine walked into a restaurant I was eating at to pick up her carry-out order and I ran up and hugged her before she left. I ran into an old friend at Target 2 weeks ago and I literally said, “I was feeling really crappy because my allergies are killing me and I’m grumpy and then I saw you and I love life again!”

However, I’m a little enthusiastic, most of the times.

It’s a whole different kind of awkwardness, I’ll admit. And some people freeze a little and my manic/hyper enthusiasm, but it doesn’t faze me because I know how weird I come across sometimes. The thing is, I just find this is such a better form of awkward than running and hiding. Kinda like how I’m constantly determined to use people’s names when I see them. No matter how little I know you, I try my best to use your name when I see you as it helps me relax a little. Sometimes I’ll dodge down an aisle in Target to check Facebook to make sure I’ve got your name right, and many times I should do that as I get names wrong, but for the most part? I’m a name-user. I find it helps me feel comfortable socially.

Well…all of this is to say that I received the KINDEST message on Facebook recently. You see, a friend of mine runs in the part of town I run in. I don’t know if he’s training for a 100-miler right now, but he has in the past and with as often as I see him out on my runs, he’s gotta be training for something big. Anyway…every time I see him I enthusiastically greet him by name and last week he sent me this message, “Kim, every time we pass each other running, you are always smiling. Your smiling is contagious to others. Thanks.”

I MEAN!

It made my year. I already try not to feel awkward about how hyper I get when I see people I know in public, but that message really helped remind me on that great see-saw of social awkwardness, this is the better side to lean on…the overly-enthusiastic-greeting side. The runs-away-and-hides side was no less awkward, to be honest. But at least this side can have a positive ripple effect whereas nothing positive comes from me running away and hiding.

So I’ll keep excitedly approaching friends out in the wild. I’ll manically ramble on about something completely bizarre. Like that time I ran into a classroom parent from one of my kid’s classes at an art collective and proceeded to lament about how I wish I hadn’t worn the shirt that showed my boob sweat so clearly and that I should pack that shirt away in the summer time. YES. I AM THAT WEIRDO. But I’ll keep doing it because I truly believe that, in the big picture of life, the awkwardness that stems from these encounters pales in comparison to the joy I can potentially spread by simply being happy to see a friend.