Ruthless Self-Scrutiny: The Girl Who Put Herself Down

On a number of recent occasions, a well-meaning friend has pointed out that I often put myself down. Apparently that bothers her. It bothers me, too, because I try pretty hard to be positive. People who constantly put themselves down are annoying. I don’t want to be that girl.

The thing is, I don’t really think that I am that girl. But I also want to be open to criticism, especially from a well-intentioned friend. Time for RUTHLESS SELF-SCRUTINY.

Do I put myself down too much? I don’t think so, but it’s possible.

Could I be doing it without realizing it? Highly unlikely.

I pride myself on being self-aware. My four older siblings made sure of that. They found comedy in my every move, whether I intended to be funny or not. And they reminded me of my unintentionally hilarious behavior for years afterwards, especially on those rare occasions when I had a boy around.

My mother also contributed to my exceptional level of self-awareness by promptly squelching what she perceived as attention-seeking behavior. Any time I put myself down, I was “fishing for compliments.” Any time I said something positive about myself, I was being conceited. Any big outbursts would get me labelled “Sarah Heartburn” and were regarded as disingenuous or manipulative. There really was no safe way to express feelings about myself.

I learned to watch every word I said. I still tend to think very hard about everything I say about myself, anticipate how it might be perceived. For instance, if I’m feeling fat and ugly, I’m sure as hell not going to say, “I feel fat and ugly,” because STOP FISHING FOR COMPLIMENTS. I will just feel fat and ugly quietly to myself. Never mind that everyone feels fat and ugly sometimes. DON’T SAY THAT OUT LOUD.

So, I’m going to rule out the possibility that I put myself down without realizing it. If I do it, I’m definitely aware that I’m doing it. But if I know it’s annoying, why would I do it?

Here are some situations in which I, knowingly, might say something negative about myself:

  1. For comedy. Self-deprecating humor, in small doses, is funny because it’s highly relatable. You’ve got to laugh at yourself sometimes. People get it and they laugh with you. Read the Mattress Adventures post about how I have no idea how to pick up a man. It’s true. And it’s kind of funny, don’t you think?
  2. For relatability in general. Admitting a weakness, like a lack of self-confidence in a particular area, helps people trust you. They see your vulnerability and feel safe to expose their own. Revealing vulnerability could be perceived as putting myself down, but I’m not going to stop doing it because I want other people to trust that they can be vulnerable with me, too.
  3. Because I actually need to talk about it. (This one only applies when I’m with my very closest friends. I don’t unload this stuff on strangers.) There are things I don’t like about myself. There are things I wish I could change. When I’m with my very close friends, I want to be able to talk about everything. I don’t want to pretend that everything is fine and I feel invincible. Sometimes I feel like a fucked-up mess. Sometimes I want to talk about that. Sometimes I want to hear that I am not a fucked-up mess, but usually I just want to hear someone else say, “Yeah, I feel like that sometimes, too.”

Those all sound like good reasons to me. I’m a big believer in transparency. When we hide the things we don’t like about ourselves and we pretend everything is great, we do ourselves and others a disservice. Insecurity feeds on shame and isolation. We’re so afraid people will find out what’s wrong with us…talking about insecurities discharges that fear and helps us feel connected.

But there’s another reason I talk about insecurities. Take this conversation I had with a guy on Tinder, for example.

During our very first exchange, we played The Question Game. He asked, “What are you most insecure about, specifically?”

I said, “My body.”

He said, “That’s too vague. Be specific.”

I said, “Man, you’re ruthless! Fine…I’m insecure about my weight and my skin.”

He said, “Great. Aren’t you glad we got that out of the way?”

And I was glad. I was relieved. When I eventually met this guy, I felt like I’d already pointed out the ugliest parts of myself, and since he hadn’t objected to them, he wouldn’t reject me based on those factors.

Telling this story now, I realize that I do that even when I’m not directly asked: I point out my shortcomings, the things I’m insecure about, before anyone can judge me for them. It’s like a preemptive strike– a self-inflicted preemptive strike. Under the guise of transparency or humor, I’ll tell you what’s wrong with me before you can point it out. You can’t hurt me; I’ll do it first.

Yikes. When I start to write about touchy-feely stuff like this, I figure things out. Obviously I have to knock that preemptive shit off.

But I’m not giving up my transparency or my ability to laugh at myself.

Owning your flaws for the sake of connection is fine. Pointing them out in a twisted self-defense maneuver is not.

In general, I feel pretty good about who I am. I don’t always feel beautiful or confident or like I have my act together. (Sometimes I do! Sometimes all three at once!) But I’m smart and funny and loving, traits that are way more important and permanent anyway. I don’t think I put myself down too often; I think I’m a vulnerable, open, self-aware human who is honest about her shortcomings and occasionally needs reassurance.

But just in case, I’ll pay attention to how often I speak negatively about myself. And more importantly, why.

January

This is a perfectly ordinary and wonderfully extraordinary Saturday.

This morning, I saw January sunlight slanting across a weathered wooden potting bench. I taught something. I learned something. I got soil under my fingernails.

I spoke with a woman I admire. She reassured me and challenged me at the same time, and I left feeling full of possibility.

And then home: the exuberance of a canine welcome. The soft fur behind their ears, the boundless excitement as I leashed them up for a walk in 75-degree sunshine and under huge shade trees where the cool, early-morning air still lingered.

I tidied up after last night’s festivities, enjoying my home, which really is perfect for me. It’s everything I need and filled with things I love. Things my kids made. Things I made. Books I’ve treasured, photos of loved ones, crazy bargains that still make me feel lucky and shrewd.

The clinking of empty wine bottles as I bagged them up brought my girlfriends to mind and I remembered two of them at the stove the night before. I thought about how good it is to have friends who know their way around your kitchen.

Last night my teenage daughter sat with us for hours, listening and talking, not even cringing while we moms talked as we always do on Girls’ Night: all the stories we can’t wait to tell each other, no detail too personal. One dear friend shared a part of her life we hadn’t heard before, and we cried with her, though her pain is over 20 years old. But mostly we laughed, because that’s what we do. I realized that my daughter is nearly grown enough to be part of my adult circle, and that I’m surprisingly comfortable to have her there.

Tonight there will be more laughter, and kisses from a man who, though still little more than a friend, has the most compelling dimple just left of his lips. And the glory of being forty-two is that I can enjoy the company of this man without worrying about where it will go, what it will mean, or what anyone else might think.

I’m recalling a bit of wisdom I heard this week, the crux of which was, “You do not lack. You don’t need fixing. Everything you need is already within you. You’re not some imperfect version of your future self; you’re a perfect version of yourself at this moment.”

My throat gets thick with gratitude when I realize how true that is.

This is it: I AM Grown Up

every child

Crayon image courtesy of http://www.public-domain-images.com

This is how I remember our house in 1977: green shag carpet, a brick fireplace in the center of the family room wall and padded bench seats built in on either side. I kept my paper and crayons inside one of those benches. I had a little table in front of the bench, and that corner of the room was my artist shop. (I was only five, so I didn’t know that artists have studios.) My mom would place orders for pictures and I would draw them for her.

Once, instead of a piece of paper, she let me draw on a long envelope. Because of the shape of my “canvas,” I drew a parade. I have a fragment of memory of that drawing, pencil horses attached to a circus wagon. In my memory they look just like high-stepping white horses with pretty arched necks. But I know if I were to get my hands on that drawing today, they would probably look more like kidney beans with legs.

I was going to be an artist when I grew up.

Like every kid, I changed my mind about this pretty often. I went through phases: a veterinarian, an actress, a truck driver, a writer. (The truck driver phase was inspired by “BJ & The Bear,” a television show about a truck driver who had a chimpanzee. When I understood that the chimp wasn’t standard issue, I let that one go.) But my earliest aspiration was to be an artist.

Fast forward 37 years and here I am, doing marketing for a specialty contracting firm. It’s not awful, but it’s a far cry from art. Over the last couple decades as a working mother, there’s been little time for creative pursuits. There have been scrapbooking sessions with my girlfriends and the occasional art class or workshop—those have been some of the brightest stops in the march of my days. But the truth is that art—the regular practice of it—has been missing, and I feel the lack in an anxious, pent-up way, like a dog that’s been kenneled too long.

My easel is collecting dust in a corner. My paints are dried up in a drawer in the garage.

This is not acceptable.

Today’s prompt in the writing challenge was to write about loss—and make it the first of a three-part series. I’ve written too much about loss already; I’ve wallowed in loss these last few months. I don’t want to write about loss anymore.

Instead, I’ve chosen to write about things that I plan to find again, losses I can take back. Art is an easy one.

I began this blog as a way to examine some of the questions of midlife, and here’s a good one: now that my kids are grown and my time belongs to me again, what am I going to do with it?

I’m going to make art, damnit. I’m going to set up a little corner artist shop like I had when I was five, with art supplies at the ready, and I’m going to default to my easel or my journal instead of my television at night. I’m going to draw and paint and collage and whatever else I can get my hands on.

I believe that the beauty of art is as much in the practice and meditation of creating it as it is in the finished product—in my case, probably more so. I think it’s important to flex your creative muscle whether you produce something “good” or not. So I’ll post about my process and how I’m taking back my inner artist. I’ll even show you my crappy circus ponies or whatever else I churn out.

I would love to hear from any of you who have managed to maintain a regular artistic practice. How do you incorporate art into your daily life?

 

Yoga Realizations: Abundance & Scarcity

Yoga. I never bothered to try it, because I assumed that a large, inflexible, uncoordinated woman with poor balance would not be able to do yoga.

About a month ago, I finally gave it a shot. All my girlfriends were doing it, and I just wanted to be cool. Peer pressure caused me to experiment with yoga.

I was correct. I can’t do it. And I love it so much, I wish I had tried it years ago.

I didn’t realize that yoga is magic. When you require your body to attempt what it really cannot do for a good solid hour, until you’re sweaty and exhausted, your brain apparently winds up in some kind of crazy super-freedom state that allows you to think beautiful new thoughts.

(Aside: I suppose this must be what certain drugs do for you, too….except if you do a whole bunch of drugs you wind up looking like shit, but if you do a whole bunch of yoga, you wind up looking awesome.)

I can tell you that I must look ridiculous in my yoga practice, which is okay because I can’t see myself. I’m sure I never look like a warrior or a tree or a crow, but at the end of class, I’ll be damned if I don’t think like a yogi.

This is good news, because my thoughts are kind of shaky these days. I’m still off-kilter from my recent breakup, and I spend a lot of time either sad, angry, or in a state of rigid avoidance. But for some reason, when I’m physically exhausted and instructed to clear my mind and focus on my breath, amazing thoughts radiate through my consciousness.

I know I sound dramatic, but here’s what happened in my brain at the end of a recent yoga class.

We’re sitting cross-legged (sukhasana! I’m learning!) and the instructor quietly suggests, “Extend your spine, take a deep breath and thank your body for all the hard work you put in today.”

Thanks, body. You did great!

“On your next exhale, round down over your feet and extend your fingers towards the front of your mat. It’s important to recognize how hard your body works and to appreciate all that it’s capable of. Hold that pose for five breaths.”

Hey, feet. Thanks for the hard work.

My feet are okay. They’re not weird-looking or anything and they never give me any trouble. I love my feet.

You know, I actually love my whole body. Hear that? I love you, Body. I have an abundance of love!

….I have an abundance of love.

….I’m not afraid of being alone because I have an abundance of love.

I really thought those things, all in a row, like popcorn popping in my brain. I was probably a little oxygen-deprived in that moment, because sitting cross-legged and bending forward like that causes the bulk of my belly to be crushed up into my lung-space, but whatever. It was worth it for that brilliant realization: I HAVE AN ABUNDANCE OF LOVE.

The class progressed into the meditative portion, where you’re supposed to lie flat, clear your mind, and concentrate on your breath. So of course, that’s when my brain goes nuts.

This “abundance of love” notion rolled right into a burst of clarity regarding my recently-ended relationship. While our relationship was good in many ways, it was always marred by possessiveness and jealousy. I’ve never had that particular problem before, and I didn’t get it. I didn’t understand why those problems kept surfacing, when I didn’t feel like I was doing anything to trigger them. I didn’t understand why we were constantly fighting over nothing.

And right there in yoga class, it came to me. Abundance versus Scarcity.

I have learned about abundance before, but I have always heard it applied to material things. An abundance mentality says that there is plenty for everyone. We can afford to be generous because there is enough to go around.

Scarcity is the opposite of abundance. People who live in scarcity feel that there is never enough, and so they are constantly fighting for their share.

I never applied the notion of Scarcity and Abundance to human relationships before, but BAM!—yoga clarity!—I suddenly saw how it works.

I come from a big, loving family. I was raised with the certainty that I am loved. I have a great circle of friends. I have kids who love me. I recognize that I am extraordinarily fortunate to feel an abundance of love.

I’ve never been one to feel jealous or suspicious; I’m very trusting. I’ve also never cheated on anyone; I don’t see the point—just love who you’re going to love. I have this crazy theory that almost all hurt feelings between friends are the result of misunderstandings, because I truly believe that people who love me would not intentionally hurt me. That’s what my life experience has taught me.

Not everyone has had that life experience. I suppose if you were raised in an environment that was abusive or unstable, or if you suffered through abandonment or infidelity, you might feel emotional scarcity. You might feel like you need to fight for affection, guard it and keep it to yourself. Once you have someone’s affection, you might feel like you could lose it at any moment, and easily become suspicious or jealous.

Suddenly all those fights, all that jealousy and possessiveness made sense. Why I felt so smothered, and why I felt like I could never do, or be, enough. We’re talking about opposite worldviews here. No wonder we couldn’t get along.

That just took me 900 words to explain, but during yoga, it flashed into my brain on one big exhale, like I breathed all the clarity in and all the confusion out.

Peace in… fear out.

Abundance in…scarcity out.

I’m telling you– you gotta try yoga.

Goodbye, Swoony McLovestruck

Seventeen months ago I posted about the absurdities of internet dating. Ironically, that very same night, I went on an internet date with a guy who knocked my socks off, triggered a series of lovestruck posts, and started me thinking that maybe, just maybe, I could step off the dating merry-go-round for good.

Alas, dear readers; that is not how the story ends. Oh, it ended. Just not like that.

My big romance is well and truly over. So, I’ve taken the usual steps: crying, ranting to my girlfriends, buying shoes, drinking, eating, buying more shoes…and all of that helped.   I’ve taken healthier steps, too, like painting and taking long walks. I even tried yoga for the first time. (Wow, yoga! More on that later.)

Mostly, I’ve done a lot of thinking. It was hard for me to let this relationship end, because I wanted so badly for it to work. This is the first time in my adult life that I really threw my whole heart into a romantic relationship, because this is the first time that I felt like I’d found someone who was worth that kind of risk. I fell hard, and I think in the process, I forgot something very important.

I went through a lot of crappy internet dates to learn this important lesson, and one sweet romance almost blew it right out of my head.  A year later, when things were starting to unwind with my beloved, the lesson came back to me.

Here’s the short version: I can’t control what another person wants, and I can’t become what another person wants. Instead, I need to decide what I want. I need to be who I want to be, and find someone I want to be with.

When I was younger, and I first started dating, I worried all the time about whether guys would like me. Was I pretty enough? Thin enough? Sexy enough? Wholesome enough? Should I be more open? Or more mysterious? I’d be out on a date, gripped with insecurity, always worried about whether I was what my date wanted.

Then I got a little older. The beauty of getting older is beginning to accept yourself.  I’m not perfect, but I’m perfectly acceptable. I started to see what a waste of time it was to try to be what someone else wanted. When I look at myself now, there are things I want to improve and things I struggle to accept, but the bottom line is this: it is what it is, and really, it’s just fine.

Instead of trying to be what someone else wants, I need to decide what I want for myself.

That outlook greatly improved my dating life. I began to go out more, because I stopped ruling myself out.  In my early days of dating online, I’d look at someone and think, “I’m not his type”—even, sometimes, when he approached me first! I started enjoying my dates more, because instead of trying to prove myself, I focused on each person I met. I’m sure that made me a lot more fun to be around, too.

Eventually, this strategy led me to my boyfriend ex-boyfriend. (Ouch.)  For the first year, it seemed pretty close to perfect. When problems cropped up, I thought, well, all relationships have problems; this is worth working for.

So I tried hard to not cause the problems. I tried to be more tactful; I tried to be more communicative; I tried to be more available; I tried to be more feminine; I tried to be less independent; I tried to be less stubborn; I tried to be more open; I tried to guard my words; I tried not to upset him. I found myself apologizing for things I never knew were wrong. I found myself trying to change things about myself that I’d always been proud of.  I tried and tried and then I remembered:

I can’t become what another person wants. I can’t change what he wants.  I can only decide what I want.

The fights continued, but instead of trying to prove that I was a good girlfriend, I began to try to evaluate our relationship. Am I being reasonable? Is he being reasonable? Are we really compatible? Are we really loving each other?

Is this what I want?

It sounds selfish; I know. “Meg, really? It’s all about what YOU want?”

Well, yes. Because I can’t control what he wants. And I can’t be what I’m not.

Sure, I can work to improve myself, and I can work at being better in a relationship. “What I Want” includes standards for me, too: I want to be reasonable, gracious, forgiving, open and kind. I know that I fall short of those attributes sometimes, and I know when I’m not at my best. But I trust my own judgment. I know when I’m trying my hardest to be the person that I should be. I want to be in a relationship that allows me to be that person.

And I wasn’t.

So it’s over.

It hurts; I wish I could breeze through this on the confidence that I’m doing the right thing, but it’s not that easy. The right thing hurts too, sometimes.

And the question now is… what do I want next?

Wide-Open Writing

riverI love writing this blog. I haven’t posted anything in several months, but it’s never far from my mind.

I feel that my responsibility as a blogger is to give my reader some kind of takeaway: a laugh, a different point of view, a helpful insight…something of value. So, as I consider topics to write about, I’m always looking for that takeaway—what is the punchline? What is the lesson? What is different or interesting about this post that makes it worth reading?

Unfortunately, these last few months have been so overwhelming that I haven’t been able to boil the chaos in my head down to anything useful. I’ve been swept along in the current of my life– new job, new home, new relationship status/living arrangement, newly empty nest—and it’s been tough to stay afloat.

When I used the expression, “swept along in the current,” what I actually envisioned was more like falling off my raft on a whitewater rafting excursion: me, totally unfit for whitewater rafting in the first place, bobbing and flailing in a churning, twisting river with rocks all around. Periodically my head breaks the surface and I suck in a big gasping breath and then bam, back under I go. I’m not trying to swim in any particular direction; I’m not even trying to avoid the rocks. I’m just trying to remember which way is up and when I have the opportunity, breathe.

Over these last few months, my creativity feels dead. No writing, no painting…any creative effort I begin seems forced and frustrating.

Today I am feeling particularly overwhelmed. I googled for a lifesaver and found this gem from Pema Chodron:

Take the whole teatime just to drink your tea. I started doing this in airports. Instead of reading, I sit there and look at everything, and appreciate it. Even if you don’t feel appreciation, just look. Feel what you feel; take an interest and be curious. Write less; don’t try to capture it all on paper. Sometimes writing, instead of being a fresh take, is like trying to catch something and nail it down. This capturing blinds us, and there’s no fresh outlook, no wide-open eyes, no curiosity.

Maybe that’s why I’ve been struggling to find something blog-worthy to write—I’m trying so hard to capture something and boil it down that I have no fresh take, no wide-open eyes, no curiosity. No wonder I can’t find anything new to say.

A long time ago I learned a lesson about creating for the sake of creating, without fear of failure or pressure to achieve an expected result.  It was one of the most memorable days of my life. (You can read that post here.) Even so, the lesson seems to have gotten buried and writing this post has reminded me of it.

For writing, for painting, for whatever your creative process– and that includes the life you are creating for yourself–you don’t need to know how it will turn out. You don’t need to fear that it won’t be right.

The nature of creating is venturing into the unknown. True creativity is making something NEW, bringing something into existence that didn’t exist before.  If you’re in a true creative state, you’re not traveling an established path. So how can you possibly know you’re right?  More importantly, how can you be wrong?

See, I spend a LOT of time worrying about screwing things up. Can’t write this blog post; it might turn out stupid. Can’t paint a painting because I don’t have any ideas, or for that matter, painting skills. On a bigger scale, I have life decisions staring me in the face and I’m paralyzed that I will choose the wrong path.

So I started writing today not to achieve a tidy result, but just to feel what I feel, to look around me with wide-open eyes, and to practice creativity for its own sake.  As often happens when I start writing, a shape starts to form and I figure out what I’m writing about after I start writing it. In other words, I found my takeaway. It’s mostly for me, but I know there are others in my shoes who might find this helpful, too.

We create our lives. You are the first to walk your path, and I am the first to walk mine. Therefore, there is no established way: no right way and no wrong way. So we have nothing to be afraid of.  We can’t know how it will turn out, but we don’t need to fear that it will turn out wrong. It’s ours to create, and the process of creating is where the joy lives.

Thanks again to every one of you who encourages me to keep writing. You can’t possibly know how much that means to me.

Philadelphia Flourishing

So, it’s been two weeks since I left my daughter in Philadelphia.  I’m doing alright. She’s doing alright. I miss her. It was harder than I thought, letting her go.

I listened to Pema Chodron talk once about getting through emotional difficulty. She advised that if you feel like you’re going to get swallowed up in grief, or loneliness, or fear—try to step back and imagine you’re watching a movie of your life. There are sad parts and happy parts, funny parts, romantic parts…all in the course of the movie.  You feel sad in the sad parts of a movie, but you don’t lose yourself; you don’t come undone with sadness.

This is a helpful tool for me. In the movie of my life, this is the part where Maddy and I are separate for a while. It’s the part where I resume my own life, now that the hands-on, daily parenting part is over.  I know there are more happy parts coming. I feel sad, but I won’t come undone.

The part in Philadelphia was really hard. I watched it like a movie. The harder it got, the more movie-like it became.

It was a movie starring me, Maddy and Benjamin Franklin. Really.

Before the movie, I imagined the part where I had to say goodbye to Maddy. I imagined all the wise, inspiring, helpful things I would say. When it came time, standing in her dorm room, I couldn’t say anything at all. I just stood there, crying in her hair, and finally managed to choke out, “Please be careful.”

Then I sat on a curb outside the building, waiting for the crying to stop long enough for me to call a cab. Only I didn’t have to call one, because this is a movie, remember? And in movies the cab just drives up and you wave at it and it stops. So that’s what happened.   “7th and Pine,” I mumbled to the cab driver, because my tourist map labeled that corner “Antique Row.” I had four hours to kill between leaving Maddy and catching my flight back to Orange County.

You may know me as a dramatic sort of person, and I admit that I’m all for exaggeration if it gets me a laugh or makes my point. But I say this with no trace of hyperbole: if you had asked me, that day as I wandered through the city, what it feels like to choke on your own heart, I could not have replied because of the lump in my throat. But I would have known the answer.

The antique shops weren’t open yet but the buildings were beautiful, and the windows were full of antiques so old they blew my West Coast mind.

I found a community garden, a cheerful pocket of green between the buildings, and snapped a picture of this plant because of its stunning purple pods.

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There is a character in an Ann Tyler book who wonders, as she prepares for the funeral of a loved one, whether it is possible to experience grief so severe that you stop observing yourself in it.  I reminded myself of that character, hurting but watching myself in my movie, walking alone with tears running down my face in such a picturesque place. I felt ridiculous and cliché. I laughed at myself, then realized that laughing must make me look even crazier.

I walked another block or two, taking in the lovely old architecture all around me, thinking how fortunate I was to have such an amazing setting to walk off my heartache.  I turned a corner and saw this building:

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It’s the Pennsylvania Hospital, the oldest hospital in America, founded by Ben Franklin in 1755.  It’s still a functioning hospital, though this original structure contains offices now. I wandered through the park-like grounds til I got close enough to the building to read this sign. Read the words; I love them:

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“Well Mr. Franklin,” I thought to myself, “I am certainly miserable. I could use some relief.”

There’s no way he could have known, when he wrote that inscription 258 years ago, that the city was going to crowd up around his amazing building, and a heartbroken mother was going to stumble through it and find herself in this restful place.

As I sat there, thinking about that inscription, thinking about the brilliance of Ben Franklin and his reach through the centuries, I found myself comforted by the phrase, “Philadelphia Flourishing.” It’s a beautiful phrase, just the sound of it. I’m a hoarder of words and phrases. All day long I’d been drowning  in weepy words like “bereft” and “alone” and “empty nest” but then here was this lifesaver: a definitive, triumphant, bold-stroke of a word–flourishing.

The phrase hung around all morning as I continued to explore. The city surrounded me with fascinating historic distractions: Independence Hall, The Liberty Bell, Betsy Ross’ house. History is like wilderness, the way it can make you feel small and your problems seem insignificant.

The people reached out to me, too. I ducked into a used book store where the clerk took one look at my face and said, “Can I help you? I mean really…you look like you need…something?”   Touched by her kindness, I burst into tears again, and choked out, “I’m just having a hard day.”

Then I stopped at Lore’s Chocolates where I met two sweet, senior ladies working there. “Oh, you’re from California? Did you enjoy your time in Philly?” they asked.

More tears. Yes, I said, but I left my youngest child this morning at Drexel…

”Oh honey,” one of them sympathized. “That’s going to hurt a while. I remember when I sent my son to school, and he wasn’t nearly so far away. I cried for a week.”   They gave me extra samples. Chocolate and sympathy is a good combination.

I visited Ben Franklin’s grave on my way back to the hotel. It was definitely underwhelming, which may be appropriate given Franklin’s earthy, democratic nature, or inappropriate, given his monumental genius and contribution to society.  (And his supernatural ability to speak to sad, modern-day moms.) Then I hoofed it back to my hotel at Penn’s Landing, where I had just enough time for a beer before catching the shuttle to the airport.

*       *        *

Woman waits alone in an airport terminal, holding a magazine but not reading it, looking back towards the city with tears in her eyes. Then she closes her eyes, shakes her head, and laughs at herself.

Roll closing credits.