[Remember a while back I mentioned there would be some posts with a lighter tone? A slightly irreverent bent? A more casual approach? Well, instead of prefacing each one that way, I’ve decided on a name for them. But that is for another post. For now, here’s another sample of the name-yet-to-be-revealed posts.]
I grew up in the 70’s listening to the LP of Free To Be You and Me. I loved every track on the record. Ok- full disclosure- nearly every track. ‘Girl Land’, I have to admit, creeped me out. Still does to this day. Interestingly, every woman with whom I attended Wellesley also loved that record. It could be a coincidence. It could be that every little girl in America listened to it. Or it could be something more statistically significant about the environs of childhood and our proclivity to choose an all women’s college. But I digress. Back to FTBY&M. My most favorite track was the story of Atalanta. I think I need to write about that. Yet another post. But the one I’m finally meandering my way to mentioning was the one about the babies called ‘boy meets girl’. You know, just after they are born and the stereotypes of what boys/girls men/women like and are like. Then there is the great diaper reveal and things are not what they seemed. The babies and their true identities are exposed for all to see.
This morning I am feeling exposed.
Because the thing about life lessons is that they sneak up on you and pounce with no warning. Could they stand at a polite distance, shift their feet, fiddle with their keys, discreetly clear their throats? Yes, but I guess then we wouldn’t pay as much attention. Or, rather, our attention wouldn’t be fully grabbed and forcibly focused in quite the same way. And they never arrive clearly labeled. What’s up with that? No blinking neon saying ‘Now you need to learn forgiveness’. Or gratitude. Or self-reliance. Or whatever skill, characteristic or trait the Universe thinks it is time for you to figure out.
Mine arrived yesterday via a middle school exercise titled ‘Revealing Your True Colors’ (cue Ms. Lauper). It was the copy of a photocopy of a mimeograph originally copyrighted in 1990. That, my friends, is a full decade before the current crop of middle-schoolers was even born. The language is simple, straightforward. The process is slightly repetitive, all the better to actually catch a middle school personality in a rare moment of clarity. No matter. It still kicked me in the teeth.
Here’s the gist. There were four steps to the process, but our story ends after step two.* Apparently, you get the point a little faster as an adult. Or maybe slower, since clearly I didn’t figure this out in middle school when, apparently, I should have.
Step One. Visualize Yourself. Put the following colors in order of preference: orange, green, blue, gold. Easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy. Blue, green, gold, orange. (for the record, the words you then learn that are associated with each one: blue = harmonious, green = curious, gold = responsible, orange = adventurous. Yes, yes, you can see that orange is appropriately the last on my list. By the end it was revealed that my True Color order was blue, gold, green, orange…)
Step Two: Read About Yourself. Really? What is a 4”x6” piece of paper with words in font size 18 actually going to reveal to me that I don’t already know? The top third of the page says “I am warm, compassionate, communicative, feeling. I want to find ways to make my life count”. Yup, yup. That’s me alright. No surprises. Then there is a section beginning “at school” followed by “with friends and family”. Yes, yes, ouch, and yes. All true. All things I know to be self-evident. We are now down to the final third of the page. Given the large print, there is only room for 3 lines. That’s okay, because you don’t need a lot of space to land a direct hit. The nice part? “I am extremely imaginative” the true part? “I respond to encouragement rather than to competition” (thus my hate/love relationship with playing games of any sort). And now, the fatal blow. “I react with great sensitivity to discord or rejection”. I can hear your silence. I can see you rolling your eyes. I can watch the thought bubble pop up above your head. Some who know me are saying ‘DUH’. Others are saying ‘well, it might take her a moment, but she comes around and sees the value’. Both are true. But the word that actually caught me in this was great. I knew I was sensitive. But greatly sensitive? Beyond regularly sensitive? Huh. Hadn’t thought about it that way.
Eleanor has a greatly sensitive nose. She smells things those of us who are mere mortals cannot begin to detect. It is, in many ways, the primary way she interprets the world. This is the girl who will pick up a new shirt, put it to her nose, inhale, and say ‘Oh! A shirt from Target!’. Really. Truly. Accurate 100% of the time.
Cole has a greatly sensitive response to emotional undercurrents. His behavior is a barometer of family stress. When he was little time-outs were a disaster. There was too much happening for him emotionally. Time-outs amped everything out to the stratosphere instead of providing a space to calm down. We had to abandon the technique- it did the opposite of its intended purpose.
I, apparently, am greatly sensitive. And with just a slight bit of introspection, I can tell you that I am especially greatly sensitive to words. Give me the smaller piece of cake? No big deal. Spend one less hour with me than someone else? It happens. But words are the way that I interpret the world. Want to butter me up? Send a card with a great quote. Want to have me swoon with joy? Give me a book. Want to win my heart forever? Write me love poetry. Words are my language.
And this is all well and good until, well, it isn’t. Our strengths are our challenges. Our powers are our liabilities. And when I hear the words of others, I listen to them with great exquisiteness. The problem is, they most likely didn’t intend it.
When we lived in Boulder, Cole was a toddler obsessed with big, yellow construction equipment. We would pack up and walk downtown to a city block that was being newly constructed from the ground up. There were cranes and dump trucks and excavators and backhoes. Or was it backhoes and excavators? Because, really, I mixed them up on a regular basis. I was interested in them for Cole’s sake, but I didn’t catalog the differences and store them in my brain because they weren’t meaningful to me. But Cole knew the difference. Because to him, it mattered. Greatly.
All of this to say I am overly sensitive to words. I am hearing a difference between chestnut, hazel, chocolate-colored, coffee-colored, cocoa-colored, nut-brown, brunette, sepia, mahogany, umber, and burnt sienna that may or may not be intended. Sometimes brown is simply brown. And now that I see it, I need to ask. I may not like the answer (because I am greatly sensitive to discord), but I need to initiate the conversation to find out. But first, I need to issue an apology. If I have incorrectly heard or misinterpreted your words, or found exactness when the intent was the gist, I am sorry. I am truly, completely, greatly sorry. I will practice listening for gestalt. I will try. Let me know how I’m doing. Will you keep me posted?
* If your primary color is Green, and the curiosity is killing you, send me a message and I’ll send along the True Colors in its entirety. To all the other Blues out there. Word. I know your pain. To the Golds. We are simpatico. To the Oranges. Dude. We live on different planets. But I’d love to vacation there sometime.