Category Archives: Personal Growth

I Wear the Words of Others (Self Love and Self Loathing)

I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror.

Someone younger than me has said that she is old. And I will get no younger. The lines drawn on my face by my smiles and grins and the silly faces that I make? They’ll grow only deeper. I love them because they are a part of me, but I understand them through the context of that hatred that others express for similar things. Conflict.

Someone more toned than I has said that she is flabby. I hesitate to mention that the loose skin on my belly is backed with fat, because I know that there will be others who will wear my words just as I wear the words of others.

Teeth yellowed with coffee that keeps me awake enough to smile. Slight overbite, one tooth out of line along the bottom. A big birthmark on my leg, toenails that often show the unwashable remnants of the garden dirt and grass stains from gardening barefoot, as well as the black that remains from when my middle child broke my toe last year. Chicken thighs white where my shorts keep them covered. Legs that I hid for years under jeans before motherhood in the summer heat made me simply not care to hide myself anymore.

I see the skin that changes as I get older and I see myself growing into the body that my mother and my grandmother bemoaned when they and I were younger. The skin that older women spoke of when I was just nineteen and they wanted to travel back in time.

There’s almost an obligation to hate oneself in order to fit in. To recognize the elements of beauty that we see in others, but to obstinately refuse to mention anything but the downsides of ourselves. To only see our own flaws even if we focus mostly on the positives of those around us. There is an obligation that we feel to point out our own flaws when other people point out their flaws. Like a vicious cycle of self deprecation that we all jump on board with in the hopes of making others feel less alone with the self dislike that we all feel so lonely with.

The body that I live in is but one thing. It is a vehicle that carries me about a life that I live that I can fill with beautiful things. My non-manicured feet dig into the garden dirt as I plant living food that grows and that my children eat with joy and wonderment in the summer sun. My fingers tap out words that others have found comfort in. My face cracks open in a smile that tells my children exactly how much delight I find in their silly wonderfulness. And the core of me catches them up in fierce and happy hugs when they launch themselves into my arms.

We’re told at various points in time that we are beautiful, and then we’re told that we’re not and it’s this thing that becomes like a huge elephant in the room. Am I beautiful today? Am I worthwhile? Am I perfect? Do I need to suck on bleach-lined rubber in the hopes that my teeth will be whiter? Should I have my breasts cut open and pushed up? The fat sucked from my abdomen? Should I spend two hours in the gym instead of with my family? Do my toenails make me look fat?

There’s more to me than beauty and the question of if I’m beautiful or not. Beauty is an idea that others give and take away with the words they dress you up in before they strip you bare.

I’m trying to put fewer words out there so that my daughter will have fewer words to wear and so that she’ll be comfortable just standing there in her skin, naked of the self loathing of others. I want her to wear all the happy things that make her joyful.

I’m not so worried about my sons, men seem to be allowed to be defined by things other than the skin and clothes that they live in, or the extra weight they carry. I hope my sons will define themselves with many happy things.. My daughter, though? My wishes for her run deeper. I want her to have the things that I am trying to find for myself.

Your body, little one, is this strong and wonderful thing. It carries you places that you are curious about. It an expression of the things that you think and feel. It is the feet that hit the ground as you run, the hands that climb you up on rocks that make you taller. It is what carries your curious little mind under things and over things. It is the hands that let you explore everything that makes you wonder.

It is beautiful, yes. Because of the energy that you fill it up with. Not because of the picture that it paints in this fleeting moment of time.

Go ahead. Dress up. Work out. Dance in a club. Paint your face with bright colors. Wear shoes for no other reason than fun. Enjoy what you are on the outside. But don’t let it be all that you are. And don’t let the words that others give you to wear cast off the words that form who you are inside. Focus your life on your foundation and on the beams and rafters that make you withstand a hurricane or earthquake-strong. Then splash it with color that makes you happy, and plant your garden beautiful and brilliant rather than perfect.

Own yourself. And choose the words that you wear carefully. You wouldn’t take kindly to someone egging your house. Don’t take kindly to someone egging you.

A Garden of Analogies

I’m not growing vegetables in my garden, I’m growing analogies.

I’m growing the understanding that it’s okay to be imperfect, you can be beautiful anyway because you’re alive and thriving.

I’m growing the understanding that all living things need care to thrive, but that living things are strong and resilient and can survive even the most difficult of things and go on to thrive again.

I’m growing the acceptance of failure. When a seed you plant fails to sprout you try again. When a seedling fails to grow you try again. When a plant fails to thrive you try again. When a plant is happy in one location and unhappy in another you solve the problem by figuring out the difference and you learn more about the plant.

I’m growing the understanding that even a stunted plant can give fruit.

I’m learning how to look at something that cannot speak to me, and see what is wrong because the things we see speak to us even if there are no words.

I’m learning how to watch. To understand when things can become stronger without being helped and when things need help in order to not fall under an assault of poor conditions.

I’m learning that things can survive catastrophe. Things can live through floods, through trees falling on them. Things can survive being dug up if they are lovingly re-planted.

I’m learning about resilience and the desire to survive and thrive.

I’m learning that even plants give priority to their young. A stunted plant in the most adverse conditions will give everything that it has to bear fruit. Even a single fruit. And even if it means that the plant itself will not grow much more.

I’m learning that it’s okay to start things without fully understanding them. And that you learn as you go.

I’m learning that the presence of weeds does not always interfere with the growth of a plant, and that sometimes it helps the plant in unexpected ways.  And that weeds are only bad if they compete with the plant.

I’m learning that plants will find a way to climb. And that if they can’t find a way to climb they will try to put out roots where they touch the ground.

I’m learning that you don’t have to be perfect.  Nothing has to be perfect. Nothing has to be easy. Life isn’t about easy. Life is about survival and finding ways to thrive.

Growing up deaf outside of the Deaf culture I learned a lot of negative things about myself. I learned that if you’re broken in some way you’re “disabled” and that life becomes about trying to live around that disability and trying to be “normal”. Or that you can eschew what you grew up with and choose another culture that seems so reactionary from the outside. My garden is teaching me that isn’t true. It’s about growing explosively in every direction that is still an option. It’s about existing to the point where that tiny thing about you is so overwhelmed by the rest of your existence that it barely even exists as a point of interest.  Yeah. Sure. I can’t grow watermelons. I’m a cucumber plant. Yeah. Sure. I can’t hear. Hearing doesn’t define my life. I’m all these other things.  I’m not the normal collection of attributes. I’m the collection of attributes that I am. And those attributes don’t revolve around this one tiny little thing that I can’t do.  Plants have taught me that you’re not defined by the things that are missing. You’re defined by how you grow. And if something is missing you grow differently but you grow. And grow. And grow.  Did I die when I lost my hearing? No. So that means I’m not the type of plant that dies easy. I’m the type of plant that grows around the missing thing. Great. Moving on.

Having a garden is teaching me about growth. You grow when you have the opportunity otherwise the opportunity passes and winter comes and you die. Which sounds like a horribly depressing understanding. But it’s not. It’s carpe diem. Grow while you have the chance. Grow with everything you’ve got. Grow. After the winter your children will grow without you. But this is all you’ve got. If you spend your life planning for the “next time” you lose all your chances. Grow. Now.

Having a garden is teaching me about the beauty of growing to form. Cucumbers look different from tomatoes which look different from greenbeans and which are different from lettuce. A plant that is beautiful to eat is beautiful when it has gone to seed. There are many different types of beauty. And a plant is beautiful when it is happy and healthy and in an environment where it can thrive. A pumpkin does not envy a carrot and a carrot does not envy a cucumber. The beauty of a daisy doesn’t steal from the beauty of a rose or the beauty of the flowers of a potato plant. I’m no more beautiful than you and you are no more beautiful than me.

Having a garden is teaching me about preference and the security of different choices. My daughter loves cucumbers. My son loves tomatoes. My daughter will not be as happy with a tomato, and my son will not be as happy with a cucumber. My partner would not be as happy with someone else as he is with me, just as I would not be as happy with someone else as I am with him. He sees in me all of the things that he loves just as I see in him all of the things that I love. I do not need to be insecure of this love just because I do not prefer myself over all the other alternatives. He prefers me just as I prefer him. And just as my children prefer the different fruits from different vines.

Having a garden now when my children are small teaches me different things than having it when they are grown. I learn to let go of the notion of perfection when my child pulls up a plant and holds it up to me like trophy. Instead I learn what there is to learn. I didn’t know that the plant had such shallow roots. No wonder it wilts in the heat, it cannot reach any deeper water. It will be happier with mulch. I didn’t know it smelled that way when its leaves were crushed, now I know how to identify it from the weeds. It helps me learn what weeds can co-exist happily, and what weeds kill plants.  When I can’t water the plants one day I learn which plants do better with less water and which plants truly  need water every day. 

I never had the opportunity to go to college, having dropped out of high school when the school system did not provide me with any accommodations for my deafness. It is tempting to say “I cannot do this because I have not been taught how to do it.” Oh but the best way to learn is through doing. I do not need to learn before I do. I can learn as I do. I can learn by doing. I can learn by being imperfect and flawed and by trying and reading and researching. I can leap in and learn.

And my children learn all of these lessons alongside me.

I don’t grow a garden for the vegetables. I grow it for the things that I learn about life.

This is why, when a tree falls on my garden I’m only momentarily upset. It is why the upset passes and is overtaken with fascination. It’s not often that you get to learn what happens when a tree falls on resilient things.

It’s one of the reasons why I wasn’t too pleased when the yard care people kept running over my plants at the beginning of the summer. Metaphors. The people in charge of helping the plants destroying them through a lack of knowledge and an unwillingness to care. The case worker in high school whose job it was to make sure accommodations were in place for my hearing loss so that I could succeed, but who instead told me that I was taking myself too seriously when I talked about my concerns that my falling grades would impact my ability to go to college.

My garden has confirmed for me that I do not like people who have a job that they refuse to do because they are just there for the paycheck.

That, too, teaches me a beautiful valuable thing. I will not simply “do my job at a minimum” when it comes to raising my children. I will not follow the poor examples given to me across my life. This is my job. I am not going to do it to the bare minimum. I’m going to be like the teachers that I saw who were deeply invested. I’m going to be like the guidance counselor that truly cared.

I garden because it lovingly rearranges the things inside my head that make me sad and depressed and confused and anxious and upset and angry. I garden because it reaffirms the positive and the beautiful and the strong.

If I wanted vegetables there’s a store just a mile away that sells more than I could ever grow. And it would take far less time to walk there. But I’d learn a lot less, too.