Learning to take a compliment

Compliments are hard to manage for a well-adjusted woman, and even at my most confident I’ve never known what to do with them. However, right now, right in the midst of heartbreak and transition, if you give me a compliment I will poke a million holes in it. I will deflect like a boss. Make no mistake — I want the compliment, I just don’t know how to handle it when it arrives.

Example 1:

Them: “You look so beautiful in your photos!”
Me: “The photographer was amazing, and the lighting would have made a block of cheese look like a supermodel. We sure timed that right!”

Example 2: 
Them: “You have a real gift for writing, Danna.”
Me (via text to a friend): “How do I tell the difference between a pity, we-feel-sorry-for-you like, and a real like?”

When I’m wallowing there is not a compliment that I’ll believe, and there is not a nice thing you can say that I will trust entirely. 

(“Let’s face it,” sad me will say to myself, “if I were actually beautiful enough, then this probably wouldn’t be happening. If I were actually talented and funny and smart enough then I probably could have prevented my world from turning upside down.)  

But there is, thank Christ, a time limit on being pathetic. I can enjoy the food and music (sour jujubes and Adelle mostly), but I can’t move in and unpack. 

The antidote to being down in the dumps awash in self-pity, is, unsurprisingly, administered by women.

the gift of company

During my 42 years on this planet I’ve come to realize a universal truth  — the longer you live, the busier you become. I’ve heard life doesn’t even slow in retirement. Life, like skipping rope, just gets harder as you get older. And time for leisure becomes more scarce.

My own calendar is filled with work commitments, family commitments and other obligations, both in-person and virtual. There is never enough food in the fridge, the laundry is never done, and no matter how many times I walk the damn dog those big sad eyes will always be staring at me, begging for just one more trip around the ‘hood. I know I should go to bed earlier, but instead of sleeping I use the ever-shrinking time after the kids go to bed to tidy up, or to answer a couple of emails to get a head start on the next day.

There are always extra things to do. There is never extra time.

This is what life is like for all the women I know, but that hasn’t stopped them from showing up.

Despite the pressure put on these remarkable women to do everything and to be everything to everyone around them, they show up. These women are running businesses and raising families, but they pick up the phone and actually call. They give an hour, sometimes more, and fill up the silence that would otherwise eat me alive. 

They arrive, and they give, and holy shit, what a compliment. 

If I am enough for these women, then I am plenty. And even though you might not be able to hear it, or accept it, you, my friend, are pretty spectacular, too. 

The labels we give ourselves

I have been called a lot of things, and those labels have changed over time. I have always been “daughter,” “granddaughter,” and “sister,” and one of my fondest labels is “friend.” Don’t get me started on the labels that were placed on me in high school, though thankfully I didn’t hang my identity on “band geek.” 

I was “journalist” for many years, which was a label I loved and have yet to remove completely; and of course, I have been “mom” for the past 11 years, which is label that has threaded itself into my DNA. 

For 14 years I was “wife”. It was a label I wore nearly as proudly as “mother.”

But today I am an ex. The prefix is one I actively resisted. This is not a label I longed for, in fact, it is one I actively dodged for more than two years.  

I had no interest in being single, separated, divorced. And yet here I am — two of those things, and probably months away from being the third. 

Today, I am somebody’s “ex”, whereas moments ago I was the same person’s partner. Ex is a label I’ve used a hundred times to refer to other people and their former partners, but when attached to me it feels wrong. I wanted to brush it off like a cobweb that I walked through on my way to take out the garbage; I wanted to cut it off carefully so as not to tear the fabric of my favourite shirt.

In pirate adventures, an x marks the spot where an amazing treasure is hidden, but put an e in front of that x and all you’ve got is a person with baggage and several sad stories to tell. Now that’s me: Teller of sad stories; carrier of baggage.

I’d much prefer being treasure. 

Today, I am an ex, and instead of being “parent”, I am (legally-speaking) a co-parent, which is another label that will no doubt give me a rash. As I get used to wearing these scratchy tags, I busy myself by unpacking in my new home, setting up my new space, and ensuring my children have two of everything so they never feel like guests, or have to live out of suitcases. 

And when I look up from my busyness, I realize that it is now dark outside and so quiet in this house. I’m spending my first nights alone. I miss the taken-for-granted moments. I miss the every-day silliness at the dinner table, and the serious talks before bed. I have heard from other moms — other exes and co-parents — that I will come to appreciate these quiet moments. That when I wash these labels enough they’ll become soft and comfortable. That when I watch my children thrive, I will relax, and I will be grateful for those tags.

But I’m not there yet. In the quiet moments, these first ones, the labels chafe and are unbearable.

Yes, children are resilient creatures, and I take comfort in this. But when it comes to the resiliency of this mother, this co-parent, and this ex, we will just have to wait and see.