We are all wanderers on this earth. Our hearts are full of wonder, and our souls are deep with dreams.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Wishlists for the Fiercely Independent

At Christmastime my family, like many families, exchange wishlists.  There was a time when my wishlist took up several pages, but over the years my wishlists have diminished considerably to just a few items.  This has happened due to various internal and external shifts in living and priorities.  I am no longer in accumulative mode, collection mode, nor redecorating mode.  But the reality is that the things that I really wish for are things no one in my family can give me.  They are things like a better paying job, a newer car and a wad of cash to pay off my credit card.  So I stand up tall and accept the fact that I am a grown up and proceed to tackle these challenges on my own.  Only it seems that every effort made stalls, or the door I thought would open doesn't and is instead slammed in my face.  I look frantically around for open windows, another door, anything to get moving again.  They say failures are like stepping stones, but I feel like I'm treading water with no stone in sight. 

My partner and I had a discussion in which it was observed that I don't ask for help.  I am fiercely independent and don't ask unless I am extraordinarily desperate.  Even then, it is really hard for me.  He asked me if I had fallen and injured myself and could not get up, would I not ask for help then?  I recounted the story of the time I was in labor with my daughter.  We were rushing to the hospital because she was birthing fast, I could feel her crowning in the car, and I could no longer sit but had to partially stand on the floorboard, bracing myself on the door handle.  When we pulled up to the Emergency Room entrance, I opened the car door and stepped out of the car only to find myself crumpled to the curb. My legs would not hold me.  Did I call for help? No I did not.  I grasped the car door and attempted to pull myself up on to the car seat.  Others tried to help, of course, and brought a wheelchair (Hello? I cannot sit! Oh well. I stood on the footrests and braced myself up on the armrests).  It seems to be a very primal response in me that does not ask for help but instead relies on every bit of internal strength and resource for my survival, alone.  Mike laughed and said I was ridiculous.  I know this.  I understand this, but I cannot make myself do that which is essentially unnatural for me.

Not my daughter's cake, but looks very much like it

I deeply appreciate help when it is given.  I have two children with birthdays in December and one falls in January.  Between Thanksgiving and the end of January was always a particularly busy time for me, a mother of four with a perfectionist streak a mile wide.  I enjoyed creating fabulous home birthday parties for my children with themed decorations that I often made myself, a custom birthday cake also self-created, and themed activities.  One particular year, my daughter requested a "Unicorn in Candy Land" theme.  WTF? But I actually found party goods that featured a unicorn with a gingerbread house behind it -- SCORE! I made a cake shaped like a horse head, white frosting with purple mane, and a pointed ice cream cone for the horn.  I baked huge gingerbread man cookies and the party activity was decorating them.  We had already made a gingerbread house for the centerpiece of the table, which I placed on an old Candyland game board.  I made pink bubbly jello using club soda and served it in plastic champagne glasses.  My daughter was recovering from the flu and could not energetically enjoy this birthday party, but it went as well as it could have.

Not my son's cake, but you get the idea.

A week later, we hosted my son's Lego-themed birthday party sleepover, complete with my custom Lego brick cake and Lego-themed games and contests.  Meanwhile, my daughter had passed her flu to her other brother, not the birthday boy, and in addition to the two birthday party preparations, I had been sick child caretaking throughout the month, so far.  The morning after the sleepover, as I made pancakes for the guests I noticed birthday boy camping out on the living room sofa with sick brother and he  looked quite pale.  Uh oh.  After cleaning up the vomit and saying goodbye to the last of the party guests, thus started yet another week of sick child caretaking.  That, and decorating the house for Christmas, going Christmas shopping, and all the usual pre-holiday rush.  On Christmas Day, my daughter had a flu relapse and spent the day mostly sleeping, even as we dragged ourselves to Gramma's to visit.  We were supposed to drive to New Jersey to visit the in-laws a few days after Christmas, but the night before we were to leave I began to feel a tightness in my chest.  By the next morning, I was in such pain that I could not pack my clothes for the trip.  I had managed to drag the suitcase out of the closet before I collapsed on the bed.  Steve took one look at me and said, "I'm taking you to the ER." I wouldn't have asked to go.  After whooshing me through X-ray to make sure I wasn't experiencing a pulmonary embolism, I was diagnosed with pleurisy.  Nice.

I urged my family to head up to New Jersey without me. After all, the family was expecting them and I could use the time alone to recover.  I didn't realize how much this illness incapacitated me until after they left.  I could barely breathe, nor walk, much less make food to eat.  I sat on the sofa and cried pitifully.  The doorbell rang.  I shuffled my way to the door and found a friend standing there.  He hugged me and I literally melted into his arms.  He said his wife would bring me dinner.  Then he prayed for me, out loud.  My neighbor brought me yogurt and bananas, to combat the negative effects of the strong antibiotics, and checked in on me every day.  Another friend brought dinner and stayed to chat later in the week.  My in-laws sent video of the kids enjoying their Christmas visit up north.  I was enormously grateful to my friends who helped me through that week, however everything they did was done without my asking, and to me that makes their generosity and kindness all the sweeter.

But how did they know I needed help?  Steve told them.  He asked on my behalf because he knew I wouldn't.  I get that this is probably a life lesson for me, that I must learn to ask for help when it is needed.  But part of my problem is not knowing when it is needed.  I often overestimate my own ability to handle things by myself and therefore don't even know when to ask. Yet, when I look back on the times when I have very desperately needed help, not just wanted help or thought I needed it but literally needed it, help came.  And suddenly I feel like The Grinch Who Stole Christmas when he heard the song arising from Whoville on Christmas morning.

"And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled 'till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”
What if wishes come without wishlists or expressions of need?  What if they come because you simply need them?  But! my rational, contrary mind objects, What about those who are injured and alone and they die because no help comes?  Clearly this need wish thing isn't foolproof.  Yet having confidence in my own ability to handle adversity and, if I fall short, believing that help will arrive, is not such a bad thing at all.  Plus, it doesn't require that I act contrary to my nature or berate myself for not asking for help.  It has worked so far and I have no reason to believe otherwise and much evidence to believe it usually will. 


  1. Anonymous11:03 PM

    Boy did this song ring out to the choir...

    I, too, always had this, "I can do this! I am Ray hear me roar! I am not weak, therefore do not require..." blah blah blah, thing but for very different reasons than you describe. That is until one day I was on the brink of eviction, my utilities were turned off, I was between jobs, pulling my hair out, having anxiety attacks and my friend said to me, "Honey, could you please not deny me the same joy of giving that you get when YOU help someone you love?"

    That's when I learned about Connection. Real, honest to Goddess connection and how powerful and beautiful it really is. By letting go just a little, I learned that I didn't need to prove that I was a prideful idiot, but that I can make sure my needs are met so I can return or pass the blessing to others. "Independent" does not have to mean "alone."

    May you have many, many beautiful connections this holiday and the upcoming year, my sassy, strong, amazing friend! Once again, a great post!

  2. I too, more often than I would like to admit, do not ask for help when I need it. mostly because I don't realize i'm in over my head until I am.
    I have been accused of jumping off cliffs before assessing what I'm jumping into.
    I take on too much, throw m whole heart into it and weep when I fail to get the results I was expecting. and though, now I am older and (presumably) wiser. I have 3 wonderful children and I have learned how to delegate and stand back and let them do. (v.hard to do but rewarding when it works!) you have minions, use them! they feel useful and accomplished, you feel (a little) less harried and harassed. and the mess is worth the lessons they learn and the memories they will have.

  3. Where's the like button on my blog comments when I need it? Ray, the "connection" metaphor is an awesome one and I will remember it. I am more open these days to help arriving. I don't reject it when it's offered, although I will admit to looking carefully for any attached strings first. And Momma Bear, my minions are all or mostly grown and not so much my minions anymore. And my life is not nearly as hectic as it once was. But that one December taught me a huge lesson in overextending myself which I have never repeated. :)

  4. Anonymous11:46 PM

    What a great story. That fierce independence is a noble trait and I admire it. You're right, it's tough to know when to ask for help. You don't want to cry wolf, or at least that's what you're thinking in your mind, so as a result, you go the extreme and end up *never* asking for help. It's great that you have a partner who just *knew*! Thanks for sharing!

  5. That seems to be part of the problem, winsenling, that it becomes obvious to those around me sooner than it does to me.

    Realizing this morning that I posted this the day before the Newtown, CT school massacre, I now cringe at that last paragraph where I said: "What about those who are injured and alone and they die because no help comes? Clearly this need wish thing isn't foolproof." And after thinking about it some more, I came to the conclusion that help was there with those children and teachers, but it wasn't enough to save them. We're fragile creatures and often, even with help, it's not enough.

    Now, I truly hope those who need help traversing the dark path of grief will find it there, next to them, even without asking. We need each other.

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