The Grouchy Ladybug is a story I read many times to my own children, and to my first graders. Eric Carle's story is about an irascible ladybug who picks a fight with a polite ladybug, but after determining that the other ladybug is not big enough to fight her, she flies off to find someone who is. Every character she meets is bigger than the one before, and every single time, the grouchy little insect declares, "Oh, you're not big enough!" and flies away.
What is it about the word ENOUGH that strikes a chord with me? Depending on how it's used, I feel calm and satisfied, or I feel threatened and anxious. Words are very powerful. I love the phrase in Sara Bareilles' song, "Brave," that says "words can be a weapon or a drug." It depends on how we say them. It depends on how we hear them.
Consider the following: "May you always have enough. Enough time...enough food...enough love." *SIGH* Doesn't that feel reassuring? But whenever I hear that someone doesn't feel like they ARE enough, I feel incredibly sad. "I'm not thin enough, pretty enough, good enough, smart enough..." Those comments do not have a calming effect, and have no place in our self-talk. They make me prickle. Having enough is circumstantial, and may vary moment to moment. Being enough is existential, and should be a constant in our lives. And yet...
Several years ago, I went to counseling. Maybe it was a mid-life crisis; maybe I was a little crazy, but I definitely needed someone to listen to me, and help me sort out my thoughts. After walking up the creaking steps of the old bank building on the corner, I would wait my turn in the little makeshift waiting area, sitting near a small book shelf with a radio softly playing the local country station, so I couldn't hear the end of someone else's session, I suppose. When it was my turn, I would enter the therapist's office, and sit on one side of the couch, making note of where the tissues were, and checking the time. I figured if I talked faster, I'd get more accomplished. I just wanted to fix myself soon, so I could feel better, and get rid of the dark cloud hanging over my head.
We would discuss my marriage, my children, my teaching...blah blah blah. Every week, for months, nothing seemed to change. I didn't feel like myself. I was dissatisfied; I was irritable; I had lost my joie de vivre. And every single week, I would be asked the same question. "Denise, why don't you think you're a good mother?" WHAT? How could she possibly think I thought that? I love my kids. They are my life. How could she think that I thought I wasn't a good mom? I have good kids, so of course, I was a good mother. How dare she? If I were so offended by her question, why did I keep going back? I suppose I thought I deserved to feel ridiculed, I deserved to feel bad. Like a whipped puppy, each week, I would return, seeking reassurance, wondering if I would ever find the answers to the unasked questions in my heart.
Toward the end of each session of her listening to me answer her questions, I could count on her to ask me the same dreaded question: "So, Denise, why don't you think you're a good mother?"
And at the end of each session, I would defend myself, saying, "I AM a good mother." I would go home, angry, wondering why she kept harping on that. I perhaps wasn't the BEST mother, but I was no Joan Crawford/Mommie Dearest. What working mother doesn't doubt her abilities to juggle work and family? Of course, I had my concerns, but I believed I was a good mother.
One afternoon, after endless weeks of being asked this one question, I finally snapped. I'd had it. I sat up a little taller, and I leaned toward my counselor, and with a voice louder than perhaps that little radio in the waiting area could conceal, I spoke my mind.
"I am so sick of your asking that same question every single week. Why do you keep doing that? Every time I come here, I can count on you to ask me that question. It's driving me crazy. I go home so mad every time that you ask that, which has been every single time. You must think I'm a terrible mother to keep asking me that. WHY DO YOU KEEP DOING IT?"
Slowly, she readjusted herself in her chair, and with an earnest look in her eyes, she leaned forward, and said softly, "Denise, I believe you are a wonderful mother. You truly are a good mother. I just don't think you BELIEVE that. Do you? Do YOU believe that you are a good mother?"
I couldn't believe it. Did she seriously just ask me that again? In my frustration, I started to cry. "I AM a good mother. I have wonderful children. I KNOW I am a good mother." A switch flipped just then. My tears were falling, unchecked. "I'm just not good ENOUGH."
Her eyes crinkled as her mouth formed a small smile. As she handed me some tissues, she patted my arm. "Now we're getting somewhere."
It took a few minutes for me to stop sobbing. It was as if a heavy weight were lifted off of my shoulders. When I could speak, I told her, "If I were good enough, my children would always be happy. If I were good enough, life wouldn't be so hard for my kids. If I were good enough, my children wouldn't give in to temptations, and they would never get in trouble. If I were good enough, my children would never doubt themselves, or how much I love them. I can never be good enough." I had finally confessed my sins, and released the pain I had been carrying with me all of that dark, dark time.
As we talked, I came to understand although I allowed my children to make their own decisions, I wasn't really letting them own those choices, and the consequences that naturally followed. I was taking on too much. I needed to let them decide for themselves, and be there for them when they made mistakes. I didn't expect them to be perfect; why was I holding myself to such a high standard? It really was never about me. I had so much to learn about control, and how little I actually have.
It has been years since than painful day. I am still learning. I understand better that I have no control over others, but I can control how I react to situations. I have come to realize that not only am I a good mother and a good person, I am good enough. My breathing slows whenever I say that. It is so comforting to tell myself that, and to finally believe it.
Maybe you don't believe you are enough. You are; I promise. Say it. "I am good enough." Say it again. "I am good enough."
You are good enough, just as you are, without changing a thing. That isn't to say you don't have goals and dreams and hopes for better things ahead. For now, dwell in this moment, and know that everything is going to be all right. There is goodness in this moment for you to find. You are safe. You are okay. You are good enough. Sometimes, just knowing that you are enough is enough.