Thanksgiving: on gratitude and perfectionism

Perfectionism is a happiness trap. It blocks happiness because it prevents us from accepting things as they are.

I can’t be happy because I’m not good enough yet. Once I’m better at everything I’ll let myself be happy. Until then I don’t deserve to be.

This is such a dangerous lie. We can’t be grateful for our lives if we don’t believe we should be happy. If we don’t accept ourselves, we can’t accept our reality either. We will be like drops of water trying to strain against the river’s flow–always frustrated.

A huge part of gratitude is acceptance: I accept my life, all that is good and bad, all that is challenging and beautiful, and I am grateful for it. I receive it and give thanks. I am comfortable in my own skin.

Yes, Mum, I tried to eat a Christmas decoration I found under the bookshelf. Don’t I look lovely?

My friend Monique reminded me of all this. I was fussing a bit about my lack of Thanksgiving plans, as my husband and daughter are on a special father-daughter trip out of town. I told her I’d probably just come home from church and put on my pjs, make a dinner the kids actually like (butter chicken, rice and naan bread), have homemade pumpkin pie and watch a bedtime movie together. I worried it maybe wasn’t good enough. Not the big family dinner of the movies…and then she reminded me of what Thanksgiving is all about: gratitude.

Maybe you should just be grateful you don’t have to cook a huge meal the kids don’t really like. Maybe you can be grateful for getting to just have a relaxing holiday instead of doing tons of work.

And it’s true…it was fine. We had a busy day on Saturday with ballet, then having friends for pizza and a movie. Then Sunday was packed with Mass, socializing over lunch, First Communion and Confirmation classes until mid afternoon. By then I was ready for down-time and so were the kids. So the worry was for nothing. I’m grateful for how the day went.

So my Thanksgiving take-home is this: let go a little of your ideas about how things should be in the perfect world. Embrace your imperfect life. Accept your imperfect self. Be grateful for all the people who love you anyway. Love them back. Focus on the good. Don’t wait to be happy. Happiness is accepting your now.

Eternal Song

Have you stopped to listen to the evening birdsong?

The same song since you were a child…

this eternal song, performed over and over

against the mellow backdrop of the light blue sky.

The clouds are smudged with charcoal

but their edges glow.

Does it capture you? Hold your gaze up and out

to the peaceful grandeur of the reclining day?

Are you torn away from the endless hunt

down the dark halls of your brain

where you relentlessly seek childhood secrets

and broken pieces of yourself?

Deep in this maze of self-analysis

the batteries of your flashlight may run out.

There’s only so much you can understand

alone.

Look to the source of light and beauty.

Listen to that bird who trills again and again:

“Life’s good, very very good. Life’s good, very very good.”

Remember you are only a tiny piece

of creation and a recipient

of this gorgeous gift that is life.

Put anxious internal wanderings

and the pursuit of your own perfection

in their place.

Live and love your now.

Bittersweet Because

Little darling

how my heart is bursting

with the beauteous warmth of you,

your cuddly down-softness

snuggling in my arms,

fluffy dark hair caressing my cheek as I cradle you.

And yet in all this glory

a bittersweet strain of music

tugs at my heart,

because you are so much like her,

your big sister who was born asleep,

eyes closed forever,

motionless,

and here you are

—thank God!—

alive.

I want to cry grateful tears of sorrow

when you squeak and grumble like a little bear

because your sister was so silent.

And when I smell the milky scent on your neck

because your sister never tasted milk.

I was left bursting but alone…

my arms like edges of an empty cradle

with only myself to rock.

I get choked up by your little hands

which look exactly like hers–

long slim fingers and grandma’s double jointed thumbs.

They’re curled up in tiny fists above your head

in the abandon of sleep,

yet warm and ever ready to grasp my finger

instead is still, pale, and cold.

In this bittersweet place

I love you both

and want to give you everything:

all the affection and tenderness

I wished to give her

but also want to give you for yourself.

I drink deeply both of sorrow and of joy.

How life and death are woven together

–intertwined–

in this strange tapestry where all the shadows

make the colours brighter.

What is painful

and what is precious

have become inseparable

and love runs through it all.

Why obligers need a deep interior life…and why it’s so hard for them to take time for it. 

You may have read some of my past posts about happiness author Gretchen Rubin’s theories about the four tendencies people have with regard to habit formation and meeting inner and outer expectations. As a quick review, the four types are: 

  1. Upholders (meet inner and outer expectations)
  2. Questioners (meet inner but question outer expectations)
  3. Obligers (meet outer but resist inner expectations)
  4. Rebels (resist both inner and outer expectations)

I’m an obliger, so I’m writing from my personal experience. Obligers have a keen sense of others needs, and tend to focus primarily on them. It always feels more virtuous to be doing something for someone else rather than ourselves. We have a hard time doing stuff that’s “just for me.”  


Obligers need to reflect to make good decisions about their priorities and needs, but struggle to take that time. Often they push themselves to remain in busy activities for others instead…even when that inner voice is screaming, “No!” Instead of stalling for time so they can calmly quietly decide what to, they try to silence that inner voice of resistance and force a guilt-induced “Yes, of course!” This can lead to them getting burned out and resentful–punishing those they love most with grumpiness–a bad pattern!

So if you’re someoe who falls into this, resist the temptation to say “yes” right away…make some good easy lines to use:

“Let me just check my calendar and get back to you.”
“Sounds interesting. I’ll talk about it with my spouse and let you know.”
“Thank you for the invite. I’d love to come but I’ll just have to see what my week is looking like before I commit.”

And then pray about it. Consult your calendar. Consult your gut…and listen to it! That quiet time in which to make decisions is essential. Helping your inner life to flourish can bring such strength. Taking things to prayerful refection can help you discern which things are really the most important and necessary, and also which are actually your responsibility. This is key because obligers can struggle with boundaries and often feel responsible for the perceived needs of others, even other adults. 

My Dad told me the other day something very simple but which stuck me like lightning:

“Other people’s stuff is not your responsibility.”  Really!??! Wow!!

How freeing this is! It is such a beautiful thing to just focus on the task at hand–to totally concentrate on what you’re doing, whether it’s grating carrots, writing or folding the laundry. For there is something really beautiful about just doing one thing and not thinking about anything else. Airplane mode! Just cruising without all the beeps and bells intruding from the internet. 

Alternatively, can you imagine if God was the way we are, getting so distracted by every possible thing going on all around the world? He would be completely insane because he knows everything. And yet somehow, living in the eternal present, aware of past, present and future, He is still able to simply exist. He is able to live fully and totally present in each moment. 

What a gift it is when we have a little taste of this! But to find it we have to be intentional, and block out all the noise and distractions around us,  to focus on what really matters. We need to have the humility to acknowledge that all we really need to do is take care of our tiny corner of the world. If we don’t, no one else will. And actually no one should. 

To need to be rescued is ultimately disempowering. 

Remember this. Give people the fishing rod, not the fish. Otherwise you imply they couldn’t have done it themselves, which is actually depressing. We all want to be able to take care of ourselves. And with the grace of God, and perhaps a little help (but not rescuing!) from friends, we can. 

So, Obligers, it’s so awesome that you are sensitive to the needs of others, but pack up your super-hero capes and martyr badges and stop being so afraid to say no. The world will not fall apart if you set a few much needed boundaries and focus on taking care of your own needs and duties, your own personal mission, before deciding how much you can help others with theirs. Perhaps in what the women from the podcast Project Love call  this “brave act of self-love” you will give others the freedom to do the same, and more people can find the peace that comes from simply doing what they need to do, without getting tangled in guilty knots when they can’t do everything else! 😉

PS This rare sighting of the ‘creatura materna’ without countless offspring was captured by my friend Rachel Lalonde on an awesome 4 hour moms only coffee date and walk! Also… I highly recommend the podcast on boundaries mentioned above! So awesome…especially for women who tend to feel the need to always put others first, even to the point of neglecting themselves:

 The art of saying No and setting healthy boundaries

Confidence Comes From a Place of Quiet


We live in a society filled with experts. There are specialists who are eager and willing to tell you how to do just about everything. Want to clean out your closet? Feed your kids well? Wear the right colour for your hair? Thrive in the workplace? There are likely dozens of e-courses, books and podcasts to teach you how. Let’s just hope they all agree…lest the conflicting “experts” cause more confusion and give you even less clarity. 

While the abundance of information is potentially enriching, I wonder what it does to our confidence to feel we need to consult an expert or extensively research every decision. Who are we, after all, to decide for ourselves? And are we actually doing anything right??

This kind of insecurity can rob us of peace. It’s impossible to follow everyone’s advice, in the same way it’s impossible to wash your hair with every kind of shampoo that claims to be best. It would make you crazy to try. So we have to calmly make choices and stand by them.  Nobody else knows how to be you. Remember this, and don’t go against your gut because something is currently trendy or thought to be essential. These things change all the time anyway. 

But to shut out these clamouring voices, we need to seek a place of quiet. To turn off all our many devices and remember what it’s like to hang out with ourselves. With no add breaks. No interruptions. Just our own thoughts, and if we listen carefully enough, that still, small voice that guides our heart. The company of the one true Expert, the One who made us and knows every fibre of our being…who knows what challenges, graces, and gifts we need to be truly happy. In this place, we can remember who we are and what’s really important. 


So as the busy fall season approaches with all its potential activities, try to ask yourself quietly: “Which of these will actually contribute to the well-being of my family?” “What do we actually feel called to do?” “Which of these would maybe look good on a resumé, but lead us to being overbooked, overstressed, and short on time to enjoy being together with those we love?” 

If you ask such things quietly, peacefully, and in an attitude of listening, chances are your heart will guide you. And acting from a place of quiet, you’ll have the confidence to stand by your decisions, despite the storm of “expert” opinions ever swirling around you. In that inner quiet, you’ll find the freedom to be you. 

Happiness Haiku

A listener of happiness author Gretchen Rubin’s  podcast recommended the practice of writing a daily haiku to promote mindfulness…noting the little beauties of each day. What a great idea, in a simple form: 3 lines of verse with 5 syllables, 7 syllables, 5 syllables. It’s quite fun, actually, and worth a try! Here are a few I wrote this morning:

Haiku 1

Morning light floods in

kitchen aflame with brightness

blue sky day begins

Haiku 2

Ring of Queen Anne’s Lace

bursting in my picture frame–

silent fireworks dance

Haiku 3

Sun warms my bare toes…

toddler drags me down the stairs 

delighted to play!

Homeschool Highlights #1: Getting in the habit.

I am always meaning to write more about homeschooling, and yet I never do. Perhaps this is because I am so busy homeschooling, but still, as homeschooling is one of my passions, I’d like this to change. I’ve been reading Gretchen Rubin’s book “Better than Before” about habit formation, and thinking  a lot about habits…why they are so hard for me to form and how I can change for the better. Rubin says that the first important step to improving our habits is growing in self-knowledge…knowing how we like to work, what we find fun, what we find hard, whether we are morning people or night owls, whether we like to work a little at a time or only under a deadline, etc. She explains that understanding how we respond to expectations (internal or external) helps us know how to tailor our efforts at forming new habits.

As I mentioned in a previous post, she divides people into 4 main categories: Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, and Rebel. After taking her quiz, it seems I’m an Obliger…although one with a streak of Rebel as well…anyway, according to Rubin, Obligers need external accountability to help them follow through with obligations and meet expectations. They are relational and do well with feedback and response to their actions or work. So while the Rebel part of me hates restrictions like deadlines and detailed rules, the Obliger part of me thrives on interaction and encouragement, which help me follow through with plans, even ones I make for myself, like writing more about a particular topic.

Since I have found it hard  (at the end of each busy day) to establish the habit of writing down what the kids do each day in my homeschool journal, I thought it might be more fun to write a weekly homeschool update on my blog instead. This won’t be a perfect “How to Homeschool Fabulously” post, but simply some fun highlights so you can share in our learning journey and maybe get an idea or two to try for yourself. Also you are most welcome to share your ideas or suggestions with me! 🙂 As my favourite Australian blogger puts it, “Comments are like Christmas!” So hopefully now that I’ve told you this (external accountability) and made a weekly plan (scheduling is key says Rubin) I will be more likely to do it than if left in the fuzzy world of “I’d like to sometime…”

Here is one highlight:

Last month we worked on goal setting and planning. We all made a concrete daily goal (like do x amount of math, practice reading a new picture book aloud to Mum, do Language Arts program online, etc) and got to put a sticker on our daily spot when we finished. This really worked for my daughter in grade one, who got so motivated she would read more than one book aloud and get extra stickers. She loved the autonomy of choosing her own book and putting her own sticker on her chart. For her, the more independence the better.

She used the sticker chart system to make a calendar to count down the days until the dentist, because she knew she had a great prize waiting after her appointment. Usually the kids can choose a small gift at the bookstore after dental appointments, but as she had to go back for a filling only two weeks after her checkup, I offered her one bigger prize instead of the two little ones, if she could wait. She agreed choose a magnetic drawing board and waited with eager patience for the dentist appointment. She had her major filling done calmly, eyes fixed firmly on the prize. Being called his favourite and best patient of the day by the dentist was a great added bonus!

$10 Mood Magic

What if for $10 a month you could change your mood…at any point in time…to be more upbeat, nostalgic, joyful, comtemplative…or whatever strikes your fancy? Well, as what happiness expert Gretchen Rubin calls an “underbuyer”–someone who hates to spend money–this is pretty appealing. There’s no way I’d spend $10 a day to boost my mood, but 33c a day…I can handle that..even with my Scottish stinginess.

So what’s this magic I’m referring to? Music! Recently my husband told me that iTunes has a special feature where you can listen to any albums, any time, for any number of times, for $10 a month. You just sign up for an apple music membership, go to the iTunes store music section, and click browse. Then voilá, whatever music appeals to you that moment is yours…and I don’t mean just the 30 second soundbites, but the whole album, uninterrupted.

So I’ve been having fun indulging in highschool nostalgia like the Ally McBeal soundtrack (yup, despire my current memory-lacking mommy brain I still know all the words), college day X-files tunes, and a university favourite, the uplifting Christian singer Chris Rice, as well as classics like the greatest hits of Fleetwood Mac and eclectic things like medieval music for a feast. It’s really fun to see how the kids respond to all this new-to-them music. The way they dance, make up adventures stories and act them out to the music, and generally get down and groovy. When it’s my 15 month old bopping his head, its hilarious!

Wanna check it out? The first three months are free. And while this might seem like an ad, I’m not being paid for this endorsement…I just love it, and honestly, I could only “sell”–in the sense of promote– what I love. My husband loves this gift, which he got for the kids on his birthday (this highly impressed them), because it takes up no room. No piles of CD’s falling over and getting chewed on by the baby!

Apple Music Membership

One other cool feature…it’s so handy for homeschool music appreciation because we can listen to anything, anytime, without having to sift through tons of YouTube videos with ads. Whether it’s music for a First Nations unit study or fun bible songs to sing along with, or that “real castle music” from the middle ages, iTunes has you covered! Let the dancing begin…