I'll be the first to admit that I am a guy who needs his beauty sleep, and sometimes not even a solid eight hours is enough (not that I ever GET a solid eight hours, mind you, but whatever.) Sometimes that first look in the mirror is downright scary . . . droopy eyelids, marks on my face from the sheets and pillows, skin completely pale, and a general haze around the eyes and mouth that makes me look like a zombie. After a glass of water, a bowl of oatmeal, and some vigorous stretching I usually look a bit better, working toward hitting my "peak of looking good" at around 6pm or so. On the good days, this is all okay; I'm not 21 any more, and I really don't do everything I can to be healthy. But I like myself and am comfortable in my own skin.
But on the bad days I hate what I see. I see sun spots creeping up on the top of Mt. Baldy; I see spots and stains on slightly crooked teeth; I see flab where there once was muscle (as an aside, my first wife once told me that I had a washboard stomach - it just had three weeks of laundry piled up on top of it. I don't like her.) Sometimes feelings like that can send me to even darker places, places where I replay past regrets and mistakes, where I scorn my own actions and feelings as being inadequate for a man of my age and experience. Now, I never stay there long, and I truly do love my life and appreciate the blessings that I have. I also love the journey that I have taken to get to where I am, and I respect the choices I made and the mistakes I learned from. So really, it's all good.
But this morning I began to wonder if other people - my friends, my coworkers, other parents, whomever - feel the same things every once in a while. There's no need to raise your hand, I already know that the answer is yes. Sometimes, when we look superficially or even way down deep in the darker places, we simply don't like what we see. I am no psychologist, but I do sometimes wonder what it is that makes us pine for what we don't have and criticize our own decisions and circumstances, instead of being comfortable in our own skins and psyches. Perhaps we were severely criticized or shamed when we were children. Perhaps we received negative feedback about our appearance or our behavior that was so severe that we have never been able to truly move past it. Perhaps we lack the self-confidence to be truly okay with who, what, and where we are. Perhaps we lack love, respect, or dignity - either from others, or most importantly, from ourselves. Maybe we don't believe that we deserve anything more than we have, that we somehow are unworthy of being loved and accepted for who we are.
I hate that so many people go through these thoughts and feelings. But as adults, we at least have the gift of being cognizant of it. We may not be equipped to overcome them, but we know that there are resources available to help us find a healthier balance and come to terms with ourselves. We can rationalize and categorize our feelings, and we can look to our past to figure out why things are the way they are. The perspective of time and the gift of awareness can help us heal.
But on the way to work, I was hit with a sobering thought. Most kids do not have the same gifts. My kids do not have the same gifts.
I do not want my kids to have mornings, now or in the future, in which they look in the mirror and don't like what they see staring back at them. Now in reality that is a potential outcome over which I have little control; I cannot make someone like themselves, I cannot make someone respect themselves, and I cannot make someone come to peace with their mistakes and flaws. But I can love and like them, and show them the power of loving and liking. I can respect them, their decision making process, and their decisions, and I can show them the power of unconditional respect. I can be at peace with their mistakes, and show them that mistakes are natural and should be springboards for learning and not a ball and chain to be carried around for years. I can love their quirks and celebrate their differences and uniqueness, rather than assuming that they have flaws. And I can show them that they have value to me and are worthy of dignity, respect, and love.
If I can do that with my children - if we all can do it with our children - then maybe some day, many years from now, when they wake up and look at the mirror they will like what they see, respect the changes and experiences that have lead them there, and recognize that practicing the "love of self" may be the most critical love to have. But for us to do that, we need to start by loving and accepting ourselves first, both for our own peace of mind and for the example it will set for our children.
Who's with me?