Last Friday, my father-in-law took us to lunch at Chick-fil-A.
This is a place that we are very familiar with, as a family.
I have one sister that has spent the night in the parking lot on opening day - more than once - in order to receive 52 free-meal coupons - one a week for a year.
She also won free Chick-fil-A for a year in a Golden Ticket giveaway.
Unfortunately, by this time, she lived in Honduras (and couldn't be at the La Habra Chick-fil-A very often). So she gave her ticket to another one of my sisters.
We all went to claim it as a family, by breaking into a 6-person flash mob, complete with choreographed dance to "I've got a golden ticket" from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. (It was actually a yellow receipt, but whatever.) It was a dramatic - if entirely embarrassing - entrance, as she slapped that yellow receipt down on the counter at the end of "and with a golden ticket, it's a golden daaaaaayyyyyy!"
She didn't get a free Chick-fil-A meal once a week for a year.
No, she got it every DAY for a year. (Incidentally, she also took up running that year.)
She may have missed half a dozen days of 2012, due to being out of town or whatever, but she took that gift and ran with it. She often "bought lunch" for us or for friends, instead of eating it herself every day (and publishing the next Super Size Me); so for the year of 2012, we were often at Chick-fil-A. People that worked there then still know our names (and the fact that I want honey with my chicken sandwiches).
All that to say, we know this place.
It is our Chick-fil-A.
My 4-year-old has grown up running in circles around the island that holds the sauces and straws. His brother is finally old enough to join him, and Friday while we were eating, he kept begging to get down, and to let his brother out of his high chair so they could chase each other. Once they had eaten, we let them; and they gleefully chased each other around past the tables and chairs, through the lines of customers, and back to us - over and over.
They had made it around, giggling, three or four times before she stopped them.
She told my son to stop running. I didn't hear the conversation, but his face fell. Literally. Chin-to-chest. He was hanging his head, wanting no one to see the depth of his... Disappointment? Embarrassment? God forbid, shame??
He had gotten in trouble.
This is something he seems to fear immensely. When it is his morning "movie time", and the tension in whatever TV show he is watching builds up around something that is likely to get the character(s) in trouble...? He runs out of the room and says "I changed my mind - I don't want to watch this anymore!" It may be that the mom has asked the kid in the show not to mess up her careful stack of papers while she's out, and he sees the toy car moving straight towards it. Or maybe someone lies, and he can see they're going to be "found out".
He's done. He's out. Turn it off.
Recently, I've been trying to talk him through it:
"Are you nervous because you think he's going to get in trouble?"
"Yes - turn it off!"
"Why don't we wait and watch and see what happens?"
I'll sit down with him then, reassuring him with my hand on his leg that i'm here, and it will all be okay. (And it always is.) But he has this deep internal sense of "what could get someone in trouble", and he avoids it at all costs.
What is that?
(Because it certainly doesn't translate over into "listening to mommy" - even consequences he hates don't seem to faze him most of the time. A couple of weeks ago, he confessed to me "I'm a good listener at school - just not at home." Ah, the truth is out. I guess he's not scared of me; and I'm not sure if that's good or bad, sometimes.)
But I do know this: I refuse to shame him.
I carried the weight of so much shame throughout my young life, and went into adulthood believing there was something defective about me; that this was the reason i just couldn't get it right. I became quite the perfectionist, just to avoid the shame of being called out.
But, as we all know, hiding things just makes the shame root itself deeper.
I have spent much time the past few years unearthing that sense of shame, the motive behind so many behaviors in my life. I always think I've had "out with it", and then it resurfaces over and over again.
Last weekend, I was journaling through this quote: “You have no responsibility to live up to what other people think you ought to accomplish. I have no responsibility to be like they expect me to be. It’s their mistake, not my failing.” (Richard P. Feynman) as a prompt from The Story Unfolding's Artful Blogging workshop.
I started with noticing people-pleasing tendencies in my soul and in my writing. I have made so many strides forward in this, it's hard to believe i still feel it so deeply.
But starting this new blog space has brought it to the forefront again.
I'm afraid of hurting or scaring people, but mostly? I'm afraid of getting in trouble.
Of being judged and discounted and held at arm's length. I'm afraid if i write about my doubt or my new faith that doesn't-quite-fit-in-the-old-boxes, that i will be seen as wrong or even shunned.
Being accepted to seminary has brought some of this up, too, as i have this fear that they will play this "big brother" kind of role; that I will be called in to the [principal's] office. my inner second grader fears this enough to stop whatever it is i'm wanting to do.
(In this case: begin a new blog - a whole new space for me to express myself.)
I quit to avoid shame.
I stop and capitulate to others and what they think, or at least keep my thoughts to myself. I have seen this tendency come up over and over again in my life; and more recently, in my writing. Fear has a way of creeping in, and i find ways to order my life that make it impossible to be judged or shamed.
I was afraid that was exactly what Joey was doing as his head hung there: both grieving a loss of a favorite activity, and feeling the shame of "getting in trouble". So I made sure to hold him close, talk quietly in his ear about how great he was; about how - sure - sometimes people make rules that we don't even know we're breaking, and it feels bad when they tell us.
But it doesn't make him any less awesome.
I love that he likes to run and chase his brother, and feels (felt) so comfortable in that setting that it was homey for him. He could just be himself.
So my words to him were: "There was nothing wrong with you, or even what you were doing, buddy - they just made a new rule, and it surprised you. You keep being you, because you are awesome."
What if i could talk myself through my fear-of-getting-in-trouble- and shame-moments like this? What if i could believe the truth that i am not defective? That there is a deep good in expressing myself, however that looks, and no matter how other people judge it?
i would be going places.
Because, here's the thing: even in writing this piece, i had to do battle with the voices.
Don't write 'Chick-fil-A', they said; just say 'local fast food restaurant'. People have allthefeels about Chick-fil-A, and you will be judged, or, alternatively, congratulated for your choice to eat there.
Or the fact that you have eaten there so frequently? People are going to think you are a horrible parent and human.
And are you really writing about your kids running around a restaurant as a good thing? Do you know how many directions that could backfire?
And about how he doesn't listen at home? Can you hear all the judgment coming from those parents who know how to do this thing? You should probably find that elusive "How to be a good mom" manual before you try to start writing about this.
And - oh man - you swore you'd never be one of those people who go on and on about the awesome things you said in this or that conversation with your kids (or anyone).
And what if someone reads that piece about how you experienced shame when you were young and feel called out? You know it had nothing to do with them, but they don't.
And what if someone googles the flash mob video that is unfortunately posted somewhere on the internet?? That would be a disasterpiece.
And on and on...
And this was such a mild post, compared to many i have written or wanted to write.
So many fears and voices popping their heads in, saying "If you say/do this, you're going to get in trouble/be judged/experience shame."
But i just can't live that way anymore.
So i take a cue from my own parenting and tell myself: You be you. No matter what.
And that silences the voices long enough for me to realize I am free.
How about you? Do you hear voices? Do you still feel 7 years old when you think about "getting in trouble"? What truth are you telling yourself these days?