I have a thing for words. I want them all around me all the time. I write on everything that I can find, napkins, receipts, paper any and everywhere. My handbag is a catch all for paper, pens and yarn. Journals are stored under my bed in my closets, on bookshelves. They are literally wherever I am or have been. Words of all kinds inspire me in different ways constantly. They float in my head while I sleep and piece themselves neatly together as I wake. This literary sickness is so bad in fact, that I tape the messages from fortune cookies to my walls for encouragement. They keep me going when I'm feeling less than high. It's my tactic to keeping me looking up with a smile. I actually have a thesaurus and dictionary in my desk along with a copy of the constitution. I don't know why, I'm dorky like that.
In saying this, two years ago I decided to put up chalkboard contact paper in my apartment so that my son and I could communicate with each other when we don't really feel like talking in the moment. We have three in total. Usually, if he's done well in school I say something like, "I'm so proud of you!" or "Way to go making the team! You're a ROCK STAR." He never sees it right away, but when he does, he's happy for the message. However, I was recently feeling just a little off. It happens every now and again when I'm not paying attention. So, one day I wrote a message for myself. LOVE YOURSELF FIRST JAS. I stuck it to my checkbook and put it in my bag, but it got lost in the shuffle. The hot pink Post-it was crumpled at the bottom of my bag and it made me feel low when I found it. I wasn't ready to read it. I cried, because I was overwhelmed with emotions about something, anything. When the feeling came back again, I wrote it on another Post-it (this time Electric blue) and stuck it to my monitor at work. I would glance at it off and on, day in and day out. It haunted me for about a week. When I thought of nothing in particular, I thought "Love yourself first". Finally, I came home and wrote it on one of our chalkboards. I spend a lot of time in the kitchen. So, every time I passed the door or turned around there was the message staring me right in my face. One day, I stood still and watched every single letter. I stared at the heart and imagined the one in my body. I felt it without touch and it literally reverberated under my shirt with ache. Just because it's been a long road and I sometimes question myself. The message was easy and difficult at the same time. It just wouldn't click. I didn't feel it's power yet.
I realized something after a good night's sleep. I went through my regular motions the next morning and finally went into the kitchen to make my son's lunch for school. There was the message right where I'd left it. <3 Y O U R S E L F 1ST...I made lunch in thought. The message was like a battery in me that day. It was self charging and never depleting. It was my constant reminder. Just for me...or so I thought.
In the swirl of all my emotions, I completely forgot that my son would think that the message was for him. He read it daily just like me and I didn't know it. What I was doing for myself, I was doing for him as well without a clue. Later on that very same day he came in the kitchen while I was making dinner and he hugged me from behind and rested his head on my shoulder. We are almost the same height now. I could feel his sadness. "Like a transfer of energy" as someone close to me likes to say. It made my eyes water a little. I hate to think about my child less than happy. I asked him what was wrong. He wouldn't say. He just needed to hug me. However, a mother knows. We know the difference between a hug out of gratitude and a hug out of despair. He said, "That new message makes me feel sad mom." I asked him why and he responded, "Well, outside of you and dad, I don't think anyone loves me." Boy, was that a blow. I turned to him and put my arms around his thin body. I tried my best to cover him completely. "Listen, it's not anyone's job to love you. It's your job to love yourself. Your parents love you and God loves you. Always turn to that when you need comfort. But, think of every additional person outside of that trio that loves you is an added bonus. Think about all of the people that you are overlooking. I count five uncles and four aunts, four grandparents, over ten first cousins, the second and third cousins are endless. Now let's count your friends. I need my hands and fingers though." He smiled as we pulled apart. I did too. I told him to call out his friends. The ones that he liked seeing at school. He did. The new friends that he met at sleep away camp and the ones that he made during summer camp. he started getting excited. I mentioned that it didn't include his local homeboys that live right here in the neighborhood. The ones that he's known since they were all in diapers. He laughed out loud and the tears were gone. I told him that it didn't include the adults that love him and it didn't include all of his friends that he knew through my friends, that reside in New Jersey. "You are thirteen and the list seems to be endless. Do you feel a little better?" I asked. He nodded his head. I said, "Sometimes you will feel alone and down, but that doesn't mean that no one loves you. Least of all just two whole people in this whole wide world. You are loved and you will love. However, your main job is to love yourself first." I got a "thanks mom" and another smile and a hug.
When he left me alone in the kitchen, I realized that I had just explained the simple riddle to myself. The riddle that wasn't a riddle at all. The motivation started with me. It actually did. By motivating my son, I then motivated myself and that came from a place of love. I truly believed everything that I told him to be true. I started thinking about all the people in my life who care for me deeply starting with the basics, then with the extras and somehow I felt more calm and secure.
**This post was actually written in November.
E N J O Y,