What I did today was kind of an odd experiment that actually worked pretty well. People have been talking around unschooling forums and chats about how it's healing to say yes to your kids. Well, I don't have kids yet, so I decided to spend some time imagining if I did. Basically listening to what *I* wanted to do, and imagining if it was my kid asking me, and trying to find ways to say yes. I didn't realize how much I tell myself no unnecessarily, until now.
Oh, it started because I was drawing something with markers while the movie was on, and wrote something in yellow. I thought about how if a kid asked me to write something in yellow my kneejerk response would be to tell them it wouldn't show up anyway, and it would really be a better response to just write it and let them see that. I had a rule in my head about not writing in yellow, and didn't realize it. Anyway, I thought of all this because when I wrote something in yellow it actually showed up just fine, and I was surprised.
So I was wondering what other stuff I "say no" to myself about without thinking about it. And one of those things is going to the park to swing, because I'm always afraid somebody will think I'm a weirdo. But so what? There's no law saying an adult can't go to the park and swing, and I like to swing. (I shudder to think what Google results that sentence will turn me up in.) So I decided to go to the park, and then to just spend the whole evening saying yes to things I wanted to do. I imagined what I'd say if it was a kid asking me, because somehow it's easier for me to say yes to other people than to myself. Which is what I'm trying to fix, but you know, baby steps and all.
I didn't go to the playground, though. When I got to the end of the road I had the sudden urge to veer left and go to the new ecological park in the next town over, because I hadn't been yet. I'd been waiting until somebody would go with me, but why? That was another rule I'd made without realizing it: don't go anywhere by yourself. Well with all my friends living in other towns and my mom not feeling well much, that adds up to just never going anywhere. Anyway, the park was great. It's just a boardwalk into the woods with signs naming the different plants and birds that live in the area, but it's really serene and pretty, especially since no one else was there. I learned the names of a lot of plants that grow in my yard that we've always just called "those stupid sap trees" (sweetgums) or "those vines with the stickers" (smilax) or "those big green fan things" (saw palmetto).
The few times I did have to tell myself "no" today I tried to come up with a reason that would have satisfied me as a kid. There was a little trail off behind the park path that looked really cool, that I know you're not supposed to go to because I would've had to jump a fence to get there. How would I tell a kid no to that? "We can't" isn't technically true, the fence was low. "We're not supposed to" is kind of a lame answer, but "It could be illegal to go back there, it's hard to tell if that's even part of the park. It could be someone's property" would work.
Next I went to Target, to look for hair henna (they didn't have any, dammit) and browse the toys. I will always love toys, but I still have the old "you're too old for toys" tapes playing in my head. So looking at toys was an important part of breaking the rules in my head and saying yes. I picked up some kids' foaming soap because it was cherry scented and I never find cherry shower gel. I also got a really cool, big velvet poster that has a really intricate design like a mandala with a celtic knot, and I replaced my box of 120 crayons (the old ones are dirty broken and I had donated some to work), and bought a box of Cap'n Crunch. The Cap'n Crunch thing brought up another old rule, because when I looked at the cereal this internal dialogue came up:
"I want the Cap'n Crunch. But I don't like Cap'n Crunch, I can't possibly want it. I probably want... oh what else do I want? None of this other stuff looks good right now... except the Cap'n Crunch. But I don't LIKE it!"
I realized this was pretty stupid and just bought the damn stuff, and you know what? I like it! Duh! I think I didn't like it when I was six or seven and had made some kind of lifelong rule about not buying it. It's funny how any little thing can become a self-imposed rule.
After Target I decided to go to the beach. I've lived 30 minutes from the beach my entire life and have probably only been there 15 or 20 times. My parents always made it a big production with a cooler and a bag of sandwiches and staying all day, so of course they didn't feel like going more than once a year. And of course I always whined and tried to bargain to stay longer, because the beach was this rare thing. Jeez, I'm sure there are people who live in the midwest who get to the beach more than a few hours a year. So that was another rule in my head: the beach has to be a big deal, you have to go in July, you have to swim for hours and take a cooler and blah blah. This was spontaneous, alone and at night, and with regular clothes on. The beach is beautiful and serene and otherworldly at night. Only a few people were there. I waded a little, and built a sandcastle. Didn't stay long because the bathrooms were closed, argh! Oh, and I climbed on the playground a little for good measure, although it was too dark to see well.
I drove home feeling really good, until I passed Blockbuster and had the urge to go in. Then a bunch of thoughts jumped at me: I already watched a movie today, I already spent $15 at Target, I don't know if I have my Blockbuster card with me, we're getting Netflix soon anyway. Of course by the time I thought all this I'd already passed Blockbuster, so I decided to stop at the one closer to home. Well that one was closed. I noticed myself getting into a bad mood that I couldn't explain, because I'd had such a good day and didn't even want to watch a movie THAT badly. Then I realized it wasn't about a movie, it was about why can't I just go to Blockbuster? What's it really gonna hurt just to GO? I could just browse and see if there's anything that looks good, maybe something I haven't heard of. I could make a mental note of what I might want to look up on Netflix. I could just buy a box of Raisinettes!
So I realized I wasn't going to feel really satisfied until I made it up to myself somehow. I decided to go to Movie Gallery, but by this point it was almost 10:00 and they'd be closing... but something inside me needed to at least drive there, just to SEE if it was open. So I did, and when I saw for sure that the sign was off I felt better. I came home and looked up a movie on Hulu, which I only watched part of, but it filled the need to watch something anyway.
All of this was really just three hours of my day, but it opened my eyes to just how many little rules there are in my head... I actually used to be a fairly rulebound person. My parents had almost no rules, but I was terrified of breaking rules and getting in trouble in school. I was the kid who teachers bragged about for being "well-behaved" when really I was just frightened. And while my parents usually said YES to anything at home, when it came to going out and doing stuff, or buying things, they were really quick to say NO. I didn't realize this before. Because I've seen how most people are raised with constant rules, I've thought I had a perfect childhood and shouldn't be allowed to feel bad about any of it. And I do think I was lucky, and I do appreciate how good my parents were to me. But I think getting over a lot of the issues that I have about perfectionism and wanting everyone to like me, is going to require me to acknowledge what wasn't so good, and to get rid of some of the stupid rules in my head. Today helped a lot with that.