I don’t handle compliments well. Compliments are my hamartia. Also chronic lateness, mild hypochondria, and the inability to wink. I actually have a lot of hamartias.
But compliments are the big one. If I were a super hero, compliments would be my kryptonite. All a villain would have to do to defeat me is say , “Wow, you’re so pretty.” I’d start hyperventilating and turn beet red and he’d be able to zap me with his death ray.
Because of this, I have spent copious amounts of time rehearsing responses to every conceivable compliment. Sometimes a genuine smile and a “thank you” is enough. Sometimes a “thank you” only causes someone to further expound on your virtues, so you need to flip the compliment back onto them with a “what a kind person you are” or a “right back at ya”. I happen to be saddled with the most caring, generous, loving group of friends and family imaginable, so I have a lot of practice with compliment deflection.
I think it comes down to my struggle with humility. I struggle to acknowledge that I am a human being with assets and defects, like anyone else. Compliments make me feel like a fraud. This dynamic is at its worst when someone compliments my parenting. Especially if the compliment-er is someone I don’t know well. When a well-meaning lady in the grocery store says “You’re doing a great job, Mom”, all I can think about is the six times I lost my temper that morning. When a kind gentleman in a restaurant says, “Your children are so well-behaved”, all I can think about is how one time my three year old licked a stranger in the line at the grocery store. When an admiring fellow mom with fewer kids shakes her head and says, “I don’t know how you do it all”, I want to scream
I don’t! I barely do anything! This is all a show! I haven’t matched my family’s socks in three years! My pants are being held up by a rubber band! I ate the crust of someone else’s sandwich for lunch! I’m a sham!
But I know this isn’t entirely true. The truth is that we all have 24 hours in the day. We all make different choices in how to spend those 24 hours, based on our unique set of needs, goals, and demands. For every admirable thing that I do, there are three other things that I am half-assing in order to be able to do it. And that’s unavoidable. Because what I have finally come to realize, after years of comparing myself to other women, is that we all only have one ass.
That mom who is heading up the PTA? She’s half-assing something else. The one with the absolutely perfect sculpted Lululemon-clad abs? She’s half-assing something too. The one who spends hours making every bite of her child’s organic meals from scratch? You guessed it. Half-assing something. And that’s ok! Their priorities are great, for them. Just because someone else is full-assing something and totally killing it, doesn’t have to reflect negatively on me. And it doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t set goals or be inspired by other moms. We can be inspired by other women without condemning ourselves. It just means that I need to give my ass a break sometimes. It means I need to get better at acknowledging what I do right, and keep my expectations realistic.
I recently went back to school. It felt overwhelming, and I was worried about time management. So naturally, I made a pie chart.
The pie chart is of my figurative ass, which by now I hope you realize is a metaphor for the time I have available in the day.
After this I wrote, in a stream-of-consciousness exercise, a list of all the things I thought I “should” be doing, and how much time each of those things would take. When I added them up, I realized that I would need 35 hours in the day to get them all done. Madness! Why do I do this to myself?
Why do we compare ourselves to others, anyway? Why do we struggle so much to accept our own set of circumstances? Why do we pretend like we don’t ever have to half-ass anything? Like we are some sort of incredible two-assed woman. Nobody has two asses. Maybe Gwenneth Paltrow does, but I doubt it. There’s a joke here about people with two asses having twice as much crap, but I’m not sure that I have the time to tease it out. I have someone else’s sandwich crust to eat.
Go easy on yourselves, Mamas. And keep complimenting each other, even if makes someone hyperventilate.