Little Me & Mama Bear

The other day I woke with a heavy feeling in my chest and sick dread in my belly. 

That email. 

It was sitting in my inbox, emanating doom. I’d seen it ping into my phone the night before when I’d checked the weather. At least I’d had the good sense to NOT open it right before bedtime. 

But now it was waiting for me. I knew it contained more unpleasant news in the ongoing unfurling of a situation I’ll diplomatically call THE CLUSTERFUCK where immigration law and tax law intersect and then attempt to steal my soul, my joy, and all my money. I was certain that the email was going to mean more paperwork, more trips down to the registry office (where I have already cried so many times I’m mortified to show my face), and many more dollars. 

I didn’t want to open that email. I just wanted to curl up in a ball and sleep for about two months. 

Stop being such a fraidy-cat! I said to myself. Be a damn grownup! I hissed at myself. 

But this just made me want to add a cupcake to my curling-up-in-the-blankets situation. 

So I grabbed a pen and started scribbling, doing the loose stream-of-conscious journaling that’s inspired by Julia Cameron’s practice of morning pages but is sort of its lazy bohemian sister. I know from experience that no matter what, when I take a few minutes to pour everything that’s on my mind onto the page in the morning, I feel clearer all day long. So I dove right into my own dread. Why was this such a big deal? Why was I so scared? 

And I quickly realized that the part of me who was SO DREADING even opening the email, let alone dealing with what was inside it, was not 41-year-old perfectly capable adult me. It was a Little Me in there. 

She was maybe seven or eight, and she was terrified by this whole thing. She just wanted to go back to bed and hide under the covers and never come out not for maybe ten years. And when I realized that {I THE ADULT} wasn’t being a wuss, but {I THE TINY CHILD WHO STILL LIVES IN ME} was terrified, it moved me into compassion. I wrapped my arms around my little inside self right there in my journal. 

Oh sweetheart, I said. You’re so scared, hunh? She nodded, with big eyes. Little baby girl, I said, You do NOT have to handle this. This is not your circus, not your monkeys. In fact, honey, you can go back to bed right now and curl up under the covers with your blankie. All you have to do is go dream some beautiful dreamy dreams for us. The grownups have got this.

In my imagination, she crawled right back into bed and curled up with her blankie, content and reassured. I snuggled her tight the way I snuggle my own kids at night. 

I took a breath. I wrote, Sweet dreams, little love. 

And then my grownup self got out of bed, got down to business, and opened that damn email like an epic effing badass. 

I was able to accomplish this feat of heroism because in addition to little selves, I have multiple big selves in me, as do you. There are a lot of us in here. 

I have a wise crone inside me, and a dreamy poet self, and an angry bitch, and a kind and gentle maternal self, and a brave hero who can call the insurance company, and many others. That morning I needed the fierce warrior, who knows twelve kinds of martial arts and would commit a felony without blinking if anyone tried to hurt her babies. She’s not afraid of a stupid email. I also called on the no-nonsense entrepreneur in me who hasn’t had a boss in a decade, who rolled her eyes and said, “Well this isn’t fun but goodness knows I’ve done harder things than THIS before; let’s just take care of this!” I even appreciated the peaceful mystic in me who stopped by to remind me, “This too shall pass; the truth is that these are such privileged lovely problems to have. If I were an immigrant somewhere else, I might be worried about keeping my babies, and instead I am worried about paperwork and money. I am awed and grateful, and I don’t take it for granted.” 

Together, these parts of me had GOT this situation. HANDLED. They just opened that email.

But before they could go to work, I needed the mother in me to comfort and reassure the little girl in me, because as long as she was screaming a silent tantrum of terror in my chest, none of those merrily competent parts of me could do their job. 

We often try to skip this step, and just plough forward with all those sticky emotions untended. Then we’re angry at ourselves for being so emotional or too sensitive or making a big deal out of nothing. But usually what’s going on is just that there’s just a small young part of us who needs to be comforted and taken care of. Usually a seven-year-old has no business at all trying to handle the situation at hand and really needs the grownups to take over. 

This is why one of the best things you can do for yourself is to grow a fiercely maternal presence inside yourself. Some of us were lucky enough to have wonderful role models for this maternal presence. I myself have a mother who showed me beautifully what true mothering looks like: one of the most profoundly tender yet fierce activities in the world. But not everyone gets the mothering they need from their actual mother, and in fact even the best mother can’t give a child every single thing that they need. So it’s our job as part of growing up to give ourselves all the additional mothering we need. You do this simply by showing gentleness and compassion for the littlest, scared-est parts of yourself. When you step into that role of comforter, you are actually practicing being the big loving protector. You’re growing her inside yourself each time you treat yourself with tenderness.

That means that each time you say to yourself, Oh sweetheart, that’s not a kind thing to say to yourself, you get a little bit stronger. Each time you can be gently amused at your own screw-ups, you get a little bit braver. Each time you can look at yourself with amused delight, even when you’re being ridiculous, you get a little bit steadier. Each time you can give your own scared self a big hug, you get more badass. 

It’s counterintuitive, isn’t it? But a little bit of tenderness toward your own sweet self can often be the exact thing you need to show up as your fiercest, bravest self. 

So go ahead and give yourself that tenderness today. You’ve got this, Mama. 

much love,

Anna

​​P.S. Also? It turned out that the email contained– shockingly– good news. It was all going to be easier than anyone had predicted! hurrah! Amazing! This is where my husband would like to inform you that this is often the case in spite of my Big Feelings about immigration paperwork but also, oh, most things.

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