What Our Friends See in Us

Mr. Bailey told me recently he admires me for my resilience. By “told me,” I mean one day when I was feeling particularly low I prodded him to tell me what he liked best about me. Anyway, that’s when he said the thing about me being resilient.

Modern Mary considers the future, reflects on the compliments of the past. Amazing painting, “The Future” by Felicia Olin. http://www.feliciaolin.com

It delighted me, as I was feeling not so resilient at the moment. So maybe it was a Jedi-mind trick that he executed quite well.

In any case, it wasn’t the first time I had heard that particular trait called out.

My teenage years consisted of much intense falling in love. In my mind, though, I was not boy crazy. In fact, I despised my classmates who were always talking about some boy or lusting after some dude who they were too shy to speak to or who would not give them the time of day.

Instead, (shameful admission forthcoming…) I chose to be that outgoing, annoying girl who perennially had a loser or scumbag boyfriend who she kept breaking up with and getting back together. Ad infinitum.

Sometime in this morass of teenage girl angst, I found myself bottomed out in the aftermath of yet another lame-o boyfriend break up. I was whining to my best friend, when she said nearly the same thing.

“Mary, you’re nothing if not resilient,” was what she said. (Yes, we did speak like that then.

I may be modern, but I still have a thing for Walt Whitman.

We were major literature lovers who just as often quoted Whitman as we did The Cure.)

The comment, back then, stopped me in my tracks. I had not considered my passionate falls into love and writhing agony I felt after each break up as being resilient. To me, it felt confusing and weak.

Modern Mary considers the idea of “resiliency”. Another amazing painting by Felicia Olin, http://www.feliciaolin.com

As life turns out, resilience has turned out to be a pretty good trait to possess. At my (ahem) tender age, I’ve dealt with a good helping of suffering, betrayal, isolation, depression, grief, change and challenge; humbling humiliation and heart-stopping, hope-busting loss. This last go around had me walking underneath Eeyore’s black rain cloud for the better part of two years. It made the teenage years look like an episode of The Facts of Life. I never thought I would emerge with a place for hope to rest in my soul again.

As it turns out, resiliency as a defining characteristic/flaw is not easily dashed.

But I’ve realized another part of resiliency’s tenacity lies in the precious people you have around you to point it out to you. In that regard, I’ve been ridiculously blessed by a host of amazing friends/sisters/life guides (and, of course, Mr. Bailey, who must deal with all of my crazy crap my wonderful friends are spared).

Thank you for being a reason to find resilience again, for quietly, patiently marking the path back. Thank you for gathering up the broken pieces I had discarded, for believing when I didn’t, for crying with me, for whispered prayers, generous pours, and, mostly, for forgiving me my general lunacy.

Birdhouse in Your Soul by Felicia Olin

I hold so much gratitude to you for helping me repair this birdhouse in my soul.


The Big Bad Lie or Why I Love What Not To Wear

In this life there are many ways to put you last. It’s especially easy when you are working, when you’re a wife and, the topper, when you are a mom.

I remember the days when I prayed, “Please, God. Give me the dream where I am Nurse Hathaway. Please.”

I remember fondly those days when my agenda, my priorities were the only ones on the docket. The days when those dreams, pursuits and innocuous delusions were superseded only by my own laziness; when I chose staying home, eating ice cream and watching ER over going to the gym. What lovely decisions those were, choosing between me or me. Sigh.

These days, the choices are much more complex. Log off from work an hour early to help Mr. Bailey write a cover letter for a job he’s applying for or slog through another hour just to try to get ahead for tomorrow? Continue to ignore World War III over the Barbie’s in Secondo’s room while I start dinner or hang laundry?

Most times, the choices don’t even involve what I would like to do.

Like most moms I know, we feel this is an OK way to live. Right now, our lives are supposed to revolve around our kids, our family, building a solid career, right?

That’s where one of my favorite televisions shows comes in. I’ve been watching What Not

Clinton and Stacy look judge-y here, but they’re really kind folk focused on busting the Big Bad Lie.
Photograph by Brian Doben, TLC Image, 6/4/07

to Wear pretty religiously since it first came on the air. If you’ve never seen it: the show’s premise is this. Family and friends (not frenemies, because these women really do deserve it and need the help) nominate a horrible dresser who has most times deluded herself into believing her shabby, worn, decades-old clothing is visible to no one but her, to win a surprise $5,000 shopping spree in New York City. She gets to shop, to have her makeup professionally done and her hair expertly cut and colored. All her old clothing gets tossed. And what she buys has to be what stylists Stacy London and Clinton Kelly advise her to purchase, according to their rules. In short, for a whole week, the nominee or “contributor,” as Stacy and Clinton refer to them, are utterly forced to focus on themselves.

I first started watching it to get fashion tips. (And it totally affected my style, by the way, thanks Stacy and Clinton!) Then I watched it to feel better about myself – these women were in most cases quite hopeless and/or homely.

What more could Mrs. Bailey say?

Then I watched it just for the hairstyling.

After awhile (yes, it took Mrs. Bailey that long) I noticed a trend.

Each contributor would sheepishly come onto the show with her crappy clothes in hand. At first, she would be embarrassed, then confused, then, in some cases, full of bravado. But ultimately, each one would break down. Genuine tears and confessions ensue.

They admit, in one way or another, in one episode after another, they do not feel themselves worthy of the time, effort, energy – investment – in themselves. They are being martyrs, sure, but most are unaware of that. In some cases, it seems obvious someone once told them they were not pretty, and they have believed the lie ever since.

In some cases, the contributors used to take pride in themselves, but a blow from life struck them way off course and they haven’t been able to recover. There are abusive husbands and boyfriends or years of caring for ailing loved ones. Week after week, there are the women – formally educated and urban, smart, sassy and rural – who have believed the lie that they were not worth it.

Photos of their families usually reveal well-kept adorable children. Profiles reveal careers on the rise. Video montages feature breast cancer survivors, first responders, successful actresses. There are many, many women who have given up, not on some societal standard of feminine beauty (that’s another blog entry) but on themselves.

Now I’ve realized this trend, it enrages me.

I turn to Prima (who’s also watched for longer than I would care to admit) and Secondo in the moments after those tearful revelations and practically yell at them, “GIRLS! DO NOT

Modern Mary admonishes: “Ladies, tell each other, ‘you are worth it!'”

give in to the thought that you are not worth it!” or “GIRLS! DO NOT let anyone ever tell you you are not worthy!” or “GIRLS! You are always worth it!”

They look at their nutso mother in those moments as I turn back to the television screen muttering angrily and believe I am truly crazy.

I am. It’s a notion that makes me crazy. And I hope that somewhere, deep inside their hearts and heads they see what I see and they take what I say to heart.

As women/mothers/wives/sisters/friends/executives/freelancers/employees we are worth our own attention, our own time.

It’s a lesson that must be first believed to be lived.