This morning I had a talk with my kiddos on the drive to their Friday tutorial program. See, I had some things to say to my son and I figured it was a message that my girls could benefit from as well. It all spurred from a concern Tanner brought to my attention last night. He was preparing to go to Stockade, which is like a Christian boy scout program. My husband and I chose this program for him because we wanted him to be around boys whose families share the same spiritual beliefs as we do. We figured that these boys, many of whom are also homeschooled, would be good friends to our son and the group would equip him with good, wholesome skills that would be beneficial in his young life. Imagine my concern last night when my kid told me he didn’t want to go to Stockade because he’s being bullied there. What? But wait. Most likely, it’s not that bad. Hang with me.
It’s humbling to admit how easy it is to brush off the things our kids say as not really fact. “It’s not that bad”
I always want my kiddos to feel like they can come talk to me about anything. I want them to trust that I will listen and work with them to find a solution, no matter what the problem is. But I have to say that, when he told me he was being bullied, I already didn’t think that the situation was what he was reporting it to be. And, trust me, it isn’t easy to confess that. It’s humbling to admit how easy it is to brush off the things our kids say as not really fact. Why do we do that? I think, in this case, knowing Tanner and knowing the other boy he’s talking about, it was easy for me to come to my own conclusion without knowing all the facts. It’s way easy to tell someone “It’s not that bad” without knowing all the details. But let me back up further and give you some context.
It’s never that easy.
See, there’s this woman I follow on Instagram. She’s a mom, like me. A photographer, like me. She homeschools her kids, like me. She’s a Christian, like me. We have so many things in common so of course we struck up a conversation over the last year and periodically direct messaged each other over Instagram. But then something weird happened. She didn’t respond to my last two messages. And of course I made it about me – because that’s what we do, as humans. When something is going great and then all of a sudden something changes without a glaringly obvious reason, we figure it must’ve been something we did or said. Don’t we all do that?? (Please say yes so I don’t feel alone in my crazy.) So I assumed I somehow made her angry and she didn’t like me anymore. Even though I had alllllll the evidence to the contrary (duh, we only chat over instagram, all our messages are there in black and white, there was nothing offensive exchanged, she just didn’t respond to my last messages, why does that have to mean that I did something wrong???). I should’ve just told myself “It’s not that bad” but, of course, it’s never that easy.
I assume the worst but I shouldn’t. It’s rarely ever as bad as I think.
That’s actually one of the biggest things I’ve had to realize about myself in my marriage to Brandon. It’s the concept of intent. If Brandon and I are having a conversation and he says something that I don’t really like hearing, I have a decision to make. Did he have good intentions? Or bad intentions. He actually started saying to me a few years ago, in response to different situations, “My intentions aren’t bad!” He was just trying to protect himself, poor guy, because I do it All. The. Time. It’s just a personality ridiculosity that I have (and, yes, ridiculosity is a word in my world). I assume the worst but I shouldn’t. It’s rarely ever as bad as I think.
Something egregious had happened without my knowledge.
So, back to the Instagram friend. We ran into each other at a photography conference earlier this week. I knew what she looked like – because Instagram – so when I saw her and her facial expression never changed and she didn’t acknowledge my existence, my hypothesis that I had done something to anger her was instantly proven to me. I was mystified and started to actually feel righteously indignant because I truly had done nothing wrong. I saw her a couple more times throughout the day, each time with the same result, and I just resigned myself that something egregious had happened without my knowledge. I was just going to have to suck up the disappointment of losing a friend before I even really had one. So imagine my surprise when, at the very end of the day, she comes up to me, calling my name out enthusiastically and hugging me. What??? Yup.
There was nothing ever wrong. IT’S NOT THAT BAD.
Turns out, guys, that there was nothing ever wrong. Not between us, anyway. Since the fall, she had been struggling with three of her kids having the same exact health diagnosis, a diagnosis that was making life extremely difficult for all of them, and heaviness was just consuming her. This whole controversy between us? Yeah. I made it all up in my own head. None of the blame that I assigned myself for our lack of communication was actually true. It was all a giant piece of fiction. WHY DO WE DO THIS??(Because I know it’s not just me.) Yesterday, I got a direct message from her.
Doesn’t it all make sense now??? Ugh. I’m embarrassed at myself. The world doesn’t revolve around you, Liz. “It’s not that bad.” I need that tattooed somewhere.
Maybe mom’s right.
So…back to Tanner and this buddy that he claims is bullying him. This morning in the car, I asked him to consider that maybe, just maybe this friend’s intentions aren’t bad. I asked him to think about all their interactions up to this point. They were in the same 4th grade class before we made the decision to homeschool and their relationship almost entirely consisted of jokes and put-downs and insults designed to make each other laugh because #fourthgradehumor. I asked him to tell me what this other boy said to him to make him feel bullied and, when I heard it, I said, “Isn’t that the way you and (friend) have always talked to one another?” He acknowledged this with a sheepish expression and I could see the connections being made in his brain…maybe mom’s right and it’s not that bad.
Let it go
This story won’t be finished for awhile. Tanner won’t see (friend) for at least another week so he won’t get to have the conversation that I encouraged him to have anytime soon. However, I wanted to put this out there in case there are others who need to hear (read) this. I posted this to my Instastory yesterday because it really resonated.
It sounds harsh but, if you think about it, it’s really true. Have you ever had a moment that was SO embarrassing you couldn’t quit replaying it in your head? Or a time that you put your foot in your mouth (me, like allll the time) and the shame made you never want to associate with other humans again? Been there…(so many times). The things we can’t personally let go of, the stuff that’s burned in our brains for days and months and maybe even years (if so, here’s a hug and let it go because I promise you, “it’s not that bad”) is only that bad to us. Other people think about it for a minute or maybe at most five, but then life goes on and they are consumed again with themselves. Nobody cares as much as you do about what happens to you (outside of your inner circle) – and not in a bad way! It’s just how we’re wired as humans. We care most about #1. So the things you’ve been holding onto? The hurts that weigh you down and cause mental turmoil? Let it go. OR reach out – with good intentions – to the other person and talk it out. I bet you can be feeling better by the end of the day.
Life is what we make it.
Here’s why all of this is important. Life is too short, friends, to make mountains out of mole hills. I had this lovely family reach out to me about taking photos. Okay, so I’m not really a family photographer, by choice. It just doesn’t light me up the way the motherhood journey does so, 8 times out of 10, when contacted about family photos, I’ll refer the client on to another photographer (unless you are a current or past client – those I will do and looooove doing it ❤️). But I do make exceptions and this family was one. See, the father of the family was recently diagnosed with a rare, aggressive cancer. His treatment starts soon and the extended family was going to be in town for the holiday. They really wanted photos done to capture the time with him right now and I was the first photographer this woman thought of. Whoa. That’s heavy and a privilege like no other. When clients reach out to me to document Right Now (especially when 2 weeks from now might potentially look very different), it is a PRIVILEGE and an HONOR. These photos don’t look like my usual photos. This family wanted the setting to be their home because they felt the most comfortable there but we all acknowledged that the photos wouldn’t be light and airy. The lighting wasn’t ideal, the wood paneling contributed to orangey photos, the weather was kind of gray and yucky…all these things combined to make conditions not exactly right for the style that I typically aspire to. But for this family (and for me on that day), none of those things mattered. All that mattered was documenting time with their father and grandfather. And the responsibility and privilege of that was not lost on me. To protect their privacy, I won’t share much – but we all should remember that life is what we make it. If we want to create fiction in our own heads over things that haven’t actually happened, that’s on us. If we want to hold grudges or assume bad intentions, that comes from a personal place that probably could use some reanalysis – but I promise you. Most likely, it’s not that bad ❤️
Liz Viernes Photography is based in Silver Spring, Maryland, and specializes in maternity, fresh 48, posed and lifestyle newborns and first year milestone portraits.