“Let Things Happen” Will Never Be My Life Philosophy
I quietly opened the door and saw her crumpled on the bed. It was late afternoon and the shade was drawn. The room had a dark mustard hue. (It was the mid-70’s after all.)
There was just enough light that I could see her tear-stained face.
I slowly pulled the door shut.
Mom was asleep.
I knew I would have to get the snack.
For myself and my younger sister.
When I was older, I would understand that my mom was bipolar, suffered from depression, and food addiction. Nervous breakdowns. Suicidal thoughts. Abandonment issues.
But that day I only knew my mom was sad. And that she couldn’t help herself, much less me and my sister.
Dad was at work.
It was up to me to take care of me and my sister.
I was 4.
Dad’s arm was puffy.
He never complained as he pulled up the flesh-colored fabric.
His sleeve for his swollen arm.
I’d never known the vibrant outdoorsman. The boatsman. The water skier. The young man who got an “A” at Stanford in his rifle class. The man who enjoyed the beach and the sunshine.
Before my second birthday, he was diagnosed with melanoma.
His lymph nodes were removed from his left arm. (Needlessly as it turns out. The cancer had not spread.)
He was the most wonderful dad that any child could ever wish for, but we lived with the constant fear that he might die.
And if the weather was warmer than 80, he was in pain from the swelling.
It’s a unique way to be raised. To constantly worry about your father being in pain.
And, much worse, living with the ever-present fear that your beloved dad might die.
I could hear her crying again.
It seemed to be happening every night now.
I was a snarky 10-year old. Shy and reserved but no-nonsense.
I wasn’t a particularly nurturing chick even as a kid.
But I always had a soft spot for the underdog.
My sister might have annoyed me relentlessly, but she was a good kid.
Even at 10, I understood that something was truly wrong.
A little 8-year-old who had all the toys she could want, plenty of food and a nice house, and two parents who loved her…
Well, that little girl shouldn’t be so sad every night.
She shouldn’t cry before falling asleep.
So I slipped out of bed, making sure Mom and Dad didn’t hear me.
I entered her room, alighted by the night light. She couldn’t sleep in the dark.
I grabbed some of my sister’s stuffed animals and made up silly stories.
I entertained her till she fell asleep.
It wasn’t her fault she was so sad and couldn’t go to bed.
It wasn’t a big deal to come in for a few minutes each night to help her.
I had such a blessed childhood in so many ways!
We lived on the best street in the world (as far as I’m concerned), had everything that we needed, and had parents that loved us.
That puts me ahead of so many people out there in the world.
Nonetheless, don’t we all contemplate nature vs. nurture?
I’ll never know how much my mom’s mental illness, my dad’s poor health, and my sister’s anxiety made me me.
Or if I was always destined to be so independent. And scrappy.
I didn’t wait for people to do things for me.
I did them for myself.
And often I stepped in for those who needed help.
From a very young age, I had an instinct to look out for the people who were truly struggling.
Which leads me to my point.
I was reflecting on the notion of letting things come to me. Rather than going after things, trying so hard.
We’ve all seen the stories and memes:
I stopped looking for X and found ME instead.
Stop chasing. Let things and people come to you.
I stopped looking for love and finally met the man of my dreams.
I think this approach of letting go and seeing what happens can be successful for some people.
But when I step back and look at my life, that philosophy is total bollocks.
My biggest rewards, my proudest accomplishments, my greatest joys…they came from my hard work.
When I was just 9 years old, I was the only girl on an all-boys soccer team. I beat out the other boys to be the first girl goalie in Tallahassee.
I didn’t let things happen! I made ’em happen!
I worked hard when other kids partied or blew off school. I had several scholarships to FSU, which were due to my studying.
I did so well at FSU and on the GMAT (again, more studying) that I was accepted into the University of Texas’s MPA program.
To put that in perspective, the UT accounting program is #1 in the country. It’s like being accepted into Harvard for law school.
I got in because I had the credentials and courage to apply.
I graduated and got a job at one of the top accounting firms in the US.
I got that job on my own. Not through the UT recruiting process.
In fact, I’d been rejected by PriceWaterhouse and Arthur Andersen when I attempted to apply for out-of-state jobs via the recruiters at UT.
Guess which two top accounting firms I eventually worked for.
Yep. PriceWaterhouse and Arthur Andersen.
Someday I might write about these very personal stories, but I am still weighing discretion. I fear these stories would cause embarrassment to people I care about.
I will merely say that my road to becoming a parent was winding, tragic, and the opposite of easy!
I would not be a parent had I not fought tooth and nail to be one.
For some inane reason, I tried the opposite approach when my son was bullied at his school. Rather than being my typical go-getting, problem-solving self, I tried to be chill, believing the school would handle it.
I should have been WAY more involved.
Believing the school would protect my son, that the parents would take responsibility for their children who hurt my son, and in human goodness and fairness…well, that resulted in my son suffering injuries and trauma.
I try not to have too much guilt about what transpired my son’s sixth-grade year, but part of me regrets my decision to be so passive.
When I got divorced my self-esteem was in the toilet.
I immediately went into therapy.
I worked HARD on myself. To overcome my insecurities.
I didn’t hope they would magically resolve. Or that some guy would sweep in and fix me.
Hell, I’ve even had to fight to be able to have an orgasm.
What comes easily for 99.9% of the population took a ton of effort on my part.
That’s one helluva story. But I’m still deciding if it’s wise to share it.
I will merely say that it’s the scariest, most mortifying and humiliating work I’ve ever had to undergo.
I’m still trying to figure out how to navigate dating.
No matter what I’ve done, it’s been a disappointment.
Being more aggressive, less aggressive. It hasn’t really made much of a difference.
In fact, as I wrote here, pulling back has only led to even fewer dates.
I will add that there have been times I stopped looking for love, taking breaks from dating.
I didn’t stumble upon some great relationship.
And I didn’t discover myself.
I already know who I am, thank you very much!
I think dating and love are more complicated. Some folks find love online. Others at the coffee shop. And still others through friends or work or even arranged marriages.
I suppose my point is that everyone is different.
By all means, if you want to step back, chill out, let go…do so!
But if I’d taken that approach over the course of my life, I wouldn’t be a mother.
I wouldn’t have gotten to live in Houston, London, or Austin. I wouldn’t have experienced total independence as a single chick in Charlotte.
I wouldn’t have taken my amazing bucket list trip last summer.
I wouldn’t have had the courage to end my marriage.
My sexuality would still be behind an unhealthy impenetrable wall.
I’m not advocating being so driven that you can’t step back to enjoy the small things.
Or being so self-reliant that you are incapable of trusting others.
I stop to smell the roses! (That is one advantage of living with someone who is bi-polar: adaptability!)
I’ve been complimented on how present I am. I pride myself on being a good friend, capable of being in the moment, and appreciating life’s small joys.
I’m not distrustful of others per se, but acknowledge that it doesn’t come naturally to me to rely on others.
Honestly, my divorce and the fall-out from my son’s bullying have taken a big emotional toll on me.
I’ve HAD to seek out help from therapists, friends, and family.
It’s a lesson in faith, humility, and grace.
One of the women in the “When Your Relationship Ends” workshop I met a few years ago was one of the most guarded humans I’ve ever met.
She was so distrustful of men that she wasn’t even willing to ask for help with a light bulb that needed to be replaced in her house.
She couldn’t reach it and refused to ask anyone to help her.
I couldn’t imagine being SO distrustful of men that I couldn’t ask for help with a light bulb!
I didn’t see her as self-reliant, I saw her as fearful and emotionally closed off.
I remember feeling so much sadness for her!
I knew I didn’t want to be that hardened that I couldn’t trust anyone with a simple task.
Even though I was hurt from my marriage and divorce, I knew I was still capable of vulnerability and trust.
I don’t think I will ever embrace the life philosophy of “just let things happen.”
Sure, I like my down time, I seek guidance from my friends, and I know that sometimes you have to step away from things.
I’m wise enough to know that there are limits to determination and hard work.
Sometimes you have to accept defeat. Look for the silver linings, the lessons from loss.
But the truth is my gumption, my self-reliance, and my proactive approach to life have allowed me to achieve and to thrive in many areas of life.
Until her 40’s, Bonnie’s worst nightmare included writing and sharing personal stories publicly. At her friends’ suggestion, she bemusedly started Bonnie’s Mixed Tape on Medium in 2017. She remains shocked that anyone reads her stories and that P.S. I Love You, the Writing Cooperative, and the Ascent have published her work.
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