Maturity: The Older You Are the Less You Knew

Yesterday’s walk down memory lane got me to thinking about how I felt about myself at different points in my life. I can remember standing in the middle of a pine woods in Gainesville Florida, where freshmen could park their cars, and crying my head off because I felt like there was too much knowledge in my head and that all that awesome knowledge was such a burden. It’s a wonder that High School Boyfriend didn’t just leave this overblown ego to ponder her magnificence alone right then and there. Nope, I didn’t know much at all.

Lucky for me the twilight of life is also the most beautiful part, because I’m paying attention.

In my twenties, I kept thinking to myself, every time I hit a milestone (but mostly after each of my flaming love interests exploded into black holes of nothingness), “Ah, I’ve got it figured out NOW, and I’m not going to make THAT mistake again. I’m finally wise.” Nonetheless, every time my hormones kicked in, I wallowed in their glory and glommed on to some poor unsuspecting guy. If only I’d read the fine article in this month’s Psychology Today about people who are in love with being in love! (Not online yet, pooh!)

I went directly from the love of my life to the guy who lived here (Hyde Park, Illinois), who was one of those scary possessive people…I did escape THAT. Then, it was on to the bisexual guy who claimed to be a sex addict. My twenties were active (I have omitted some people for brevity).

At least I figured out that my hormones were not necessarily my friends, and managed to stick with the NEXT one until he left me many years later. I thought I had figured all that love, hormones, relationships, friendships, and people skills stuff out. I was so wise by the time I hit 30.

This beautiful stink bug symbolizes my hormones. Lovely at first, but they leave a smelly mess if you trample them.

Guess what? I wasn’t! Life kept whacking me on top of the head, showing me where I was way off base, and sending me off to learn more. Repeatedly. I learned things like don’t go looking for the exact opposite of your ex as your next relationship. Though, I must say that those two really ARE exact opposites physically and mentally! Yes, sure, don’t repeat the same mistakes and expect different outcomes, as some of my friends are painfully figuring out right now), but don’t over-correct. I also learned that you can remain friends with people you used to be hormonally attracted to and that that can be better than the hormone frenzy.

Then in the next decade or so, I thought I’d figured life out, that giving love to kids was a much better plan. Of course they will love you if you do your best to nurture them, listen to them, be there for them, and let them fly when they need to fly. Nope, that’s not guaranteed either. You might want to check and see if the person you’re mentoring is a sociopath or suffers from borderline tendencies that they aren’t willing to or interested in working on. And again, don’t befriend the same type of person repeatedly and expect different results. I do think I’ve got that down now, and I added on to it not to link your emotional well being to that of someone else, blame yourself for their issues, etc. Hmm, I did apparently learn something…just not everything.

However you get through your metamorphosis, it’s beautiful and unique, like this clouded skipper.

Yeah, so, by the time I got to the age I am now, it became really clear that all those times I thought I had my emotional life all figured out, I hadn’t. I can laugh at it now, even if reading the old journals, just brimming with confidence that I’d got it all figured out, is painful.

Now I have a stable marriage and some stability in other areas, but I no longer have any inclination that I understand how other people (or animals, as I’m learning with horses and dogs) feel, how I feel, or how relationships work. It’s trial and error, with some help from past experiences, at best. At least for me. I no longer think I have awesome understanding of the world, its inhabitants, and how everything works. Instead, I’m in awe of how there’s no way to understand it and am enjoying my daily discoveries.

Relationships are mysterious, but they can be wonderful with mutual trust.

My message to anyone who reads this is to realize right now that you aren’t finished figuring things out, you will continue to make mistakes, but you can also continue to learn from them and face every day with new wisdom. Who cares if you didn’t know what you thought you knew way back when? Maturity is the ability to be just fine with that.

I do have the cutest lawn mowers, fertilizer spreaders, and weed eaters of anyone I know.

Lost Memories?

Wow. I’ve discovered that I’m not alone in having trouble remembering things. That’s another reason I’m glad I have my bullet journal — I can remember what I’m supposed to be doing and am scheduled to do. But, that’s the day-to-day stuff.

Suna in the only long, white wedding dress she ever wore. Sadly, it belonged to her friend Liz (still married to the guy she wed in this dress). This is in Pennsylvania, when I went on a visit to cry about being a bad girlfriend.

Talking to people in my extended circle, I realized that many of us have lost access to our past. One friend said she no longer has memories. Others are having a hard time remembering things when they need to, or remembering whether they told someone something. Lee totally forgot to tell me his car broke down—that’s something you usually remember to share!

This photo reminded me that my dad put wood siding up on our house in Plantation, Florida, just before he left. He was ahead of his time.

We all have a clue as to why this is happening. It’s the stress, the mega-stress, the overwhelming worry and anxiety. We all have COVID stress. No one can avoid having world events stress right now, what with wars, storms, earthquakes, and shootings galore. We have overload from black-and-white thinking in politics, organizations, and families. Many of us have big work struggles. Our brains are full. And so are the brains of the people we encounter. I’m getting stressed just writing this.

Here’s a happy memory of me and my friend Robin, who, by the way, is still my friend Robin and has children older than she is in this photo.

Sometimes, you can get your memories back, though, which is why I’m glad I grew up in the age where people took lots and lots of photographs (though nothing like today). Today, for a bit of stress relief, I wandered through my photo album from 1984-1986, which were not my best times (I managed to lose the love of my life and my mom in just a few months), I’ve got to say, but which also had some really good times. I’m so glad I can see both types of memories.

Here’s a place I once lived, in Urbana, Illinois. I doubt it’s still standing. I’m remembering that is my Asbury Jukes jacket that I won at a record store.

Also, when I was young, I wrote a lot of letters. It was in my blood, since my whole family wrote letters to each other. I found a box from when I was in college and grad school lately, and they reminded me of my journals in that some were a bit embarrassing (I sure fell in love HARD in my twenties, repeatedly), but others reminded me of what strong connections I had to my communities, and that brings me back to today, when I’ve learned from some of those infatuations and heartaches and gained some balance.

I never share photos of this guy, but I remember him. It’s the late Bill Crain, my first husband, being coached on good husbanding by my dad, in 1986. He didn’t listen.

I’m glad to be able to dredge some of my memories back up, after all. I hope you enjoy some little glimpses into my box of memories. See if you can come up with some.

My office in October 1984. I wallpapered the walls of this closet/office that I shared with two fellow grad students with my word a day calendar pages. Behind me is an original IBM PC that had two floppy drives and no hard drive. I can’t believe how happy I looked. I was one big mess and had anxiety symptoms 24/7. And migraines.

What Counts as a Journal?

I know, I know, whatever you think is a journal will count as a journal. But Lee and I were talking about our journals. One of us said, “I’m down to just one journal.” Then they (I) realized that nope, there was something else the probably counted as a journal, and hmm, maybe something other than that was also one…I figure this blog is really a journal of my thoughts, just online and not printed, and mostly for me and a couple of friends. I also have my lovely bullet journal that I started in February. It’s still going strong, and covered in cheerful stickers and inspirational notes to myself.

In which I frantically try to cheer myself up.

So, that makes two journals that I update daily. But wait, what’s this other thing? I do believe it’s a horse journal (if it wasn’t one, it should have been). I get given a lot of journals with horses on them, so I figured I might as well use one of them, and started this one the day I got Drew.

As you can see, some days I write a lot, and some days, not so much.

I’m surprised to admit that I have written in this one nearly every day, and never missed more than one day. It’s been really useful for keeping up with the progress of Drew and Apache’s training and health, and I won’t lose important information like what they’ve been eating, when they got their vaccines (I am pro horse vax), and how they do mentally every day. Uncharacteristically for me, I started out using a pink pen. I’m still using it, so the notebook is pretty consistent (one day I left it). Pink is not a Suna color, but I’m trying to embrace my traditionally feminine side, I guess. I even painted my nails.

Ooh, aah.

Lee got to thinking, and he realized he mostly uses his one journal, which is not inexpensive but is consistent and looks good on a shelf. He writes a LOT in his journal, including gratitude, things to do, deep thoughts, and so much more.

A man’s journals should coordinate.

And Lee does something I find it really hard to do, which is re-read his old journals. I get all cringey when I go on and on about my latest favorite person or things I did that I now wish I hadn’t. But it was ME, so what gives? Lee is really enjoying reading a journal from around 2010 and is culling out interesting things he says for a collection. That actually sounds like a fun project.

Lee typed his, punched holes, and filed them, with headers, footers, and all sorts of organizational cues. Hey, I have page numbers!

The person in the family who has the most journals is Kathleen. She lives a journaling lifestyle. I’m in awe! It has to help a lot with organizing thoughts and goals.

I must say that all my various journals are helpful to me, and I’m glad I have a mundane journal of notes and dates, a blog journal of all kinds of other thoughts, and a horse journal. I just never thought I’d end up with so many journals.

Ha, especially since I hate to re-read my old stuff, this seems to be an odd place to end up journal-wise. But, I think I can re-read these, at this stage of my life, where I’ve figured out most my self-destructive tendencies, negative self talk, and insecurities.

Do you re-read journals? Can you even FIND your old stuff? Maybe I’ll share about some old stuff I recently found…

Minor Miracles

One of the things I’m most grateful for is that little miracles keep popping up in life, and they keep me moving forward with a good attitude. Yesterday was filled with these wondrous occurrences.

After this, we even had a few drops of rain (and it rained a LOT to the north of us).

The first one was so many people reading the blog the last couple of days. I guess tagging a post “death” brings in readers, but really, the hits were a testimony to how much my friends care about each other. Thanks to all who said such kind things about Stephanie, Terry, Beth, and Alston.

Next came an answer to my prayers (more like a response to my internal curses). The County finally, at last, por fin, made a stab at fixing the road that runs by the Hermits’ Rest. Thanks, Precinct 2, for doing this before we lost another tire or shock absorber to your potholes that were becoming dangerous craters.

Heading toward Sara’s house.

They put down some black stuff, and at least for the moment (i.e., until it rains again in a month or two), you can drive the speed limit! No more weaving and trying to judge which set of holes was less bad for your car. No more coming to a complete stop before daring to go up the hill to the cemetery. Wow.

Heading toward the cemetery. You can see they didn’t bother to cover the parts of the road without potholes, but that’s okay.

It felt bizarre going down the hill last night and not getting that feeling that you’re on a carnival ride. We feel so fancy now.

This part was solid pothole!

Maybe the people across the street complained. Since they are Cameron natives and from a Good Milam County Family, their complaints would be listened to. Gee, I hope all the cement trucks and heavy equipment for building our pool doesn’t mess up the roads again (or the trucks full of corn, cotton, or whatever).

Alfred hair.

And to me, this was an actual miracle: Alfred actually came up and asked to have me pull some of his tons of excess hair off yesterday. He even came back for more when I got tired of it. It now looks like it snowed in many parts of our property, but Alfred seems much happier. Good dog.

I’m a good boy

And this felt like a minor miracle, too, like a gift from my friend Terry. One of our friends found some pictures of us having parties at a conference we all attended. There were pictures of us having a movie night as well as us laughing so hard while reading a book about baby platypuses that we lost the ability to speak.

Paulette, Barbara, and Terry during our laugh fest. It’s been wonderful sharing fun memories of our dear friend. Photo by Elisabeth Lewin.

I’ve missed these positive memories about my supportive group of friends from back then, the majority of whom are still my friends now. It’s a miracle to have such lasting connections.

Movie night at the “Technology Room” at an LLLI conference, laughing with my friends Jo and Dave. Our lives have changed a lot, but we keep in touch. Photo by Elisabeth Lewin.

And finally, Lee and I went on a nice ride out in the country last night, to enjoy the daily miracle of a Texas sunset after a day that wasn’t too hot or humid (I barely sweated when I rode Apache around 5 pm). With all this open space, I enjoy either a lovely sunrise or a pretty sunset nearly every day, even when the air isn’t full of dust or smoke from fires and such. Or rain from hurricanes, which we won’t have, but our friends to the east are having way too much of.

At the end of our road.

Think about what miracles surround you, whether from people or Nature (yes, people are part of Nature; I realize that). These things help you get through illnesses, deaths, work stress, and more. Don’t forget to share your miracles with others! It helps to hear them!

The Past Is a Blast

The past is a blast of what, you ask? It’s more like a punch to the gut sometimes and it sure makes it hard to slog through to the future, if you aren’t careful. I’ve been trying to let go of things, but it’s sometimes more successful than other times.

These are my first glasses. I’m 27. They are back in fashion.

Today I canceled a lot of domain names and blogs I’m no longer using. Our event venue at the church in Cameron never happened, as we pivoted to other projects and started Hearts Homes and Hands. So, that website is gone (though I saved all its stuff). Maybe someday we can start again. I also canceled a bunch of domain names having to do with our former Hermit Haus Redevelopment company (it’s where I primarily blogged before this one, and it has so many stories and photos I treasure, like when Mandi interviewed us all). We had been careful to get domains that resembled the right ones, in case people typed in the wrong thing. I guess I saved myself a thousand bucks or so, but it felt like admitting we failed (even though we didn’t fail, we just moved on when real estate went on its complicated recent course). It still sorta hurt.

Me in 2017. I had a strange hair-do.

And, as part of moving things out of the Bobcat Lair, Lee brought home the rest of my photo albums, and wanted me to open the boxes and put them somewhere. I’d been avoiding opening those boxes, since they are full of memories of happy and sad times (naturally). I just didn’t want to see my first husband, who died not long ago of cancer. And I didn’t want to remind myself of how amazing my older son was as a baby and how much I enjoyed being his mother. But, the good thing was that I found some really cute photos of my younger son with his grandfather in Ireland. My heart was warmed, so I asked Lee to scan them, and I sent them to him.

It’s odd to me that I like to save objects that remind me of the past, like gifts people gave me and little souveniers, but I have a hard time looking at photographs, because they put me right back into other times, some of them pretty rough, like when my mom died and I was only 26.

Poor mom wasn’t really cut out for the stresses of life.

But, at least I’ll never be able to forget the good things, like Pumpkin, my dog sister from the 1980s, who brings Vlassic to mind so easily. And by the way, his nose is looking way better.

Well, hmm. The past is just there, and just little neurons firing away in my mind. I know it’s best to focus on the present! So, here’s how the shawl I recently made came out after being blocked. You can really see the pattern now!

I’m proud of that!

Controversial? I Stopped Shaving My Legs

What. The. Heck. Have I no shame? Can’t I just keep stuff to myself? Why yes, I have shame, but not about this. And yes, I keep things to myself! Not this, anymore.

Undercover legs. I have sun allergies.

I started thinking about growing up with the modern feminist movement. One reason I love jeans so much is that girls weren’t allowed to wear pants at my elementary school! The minute that changed in sixth grade, I refused to wear dresses for a LONG time. Can you imagine?

Eighth grade chorus photo. Who is wearing pants? Me.

One reason I liked pants is that teen girls HAD to shave their legs (white girls; black girls didn’t back then). I had pretty darned hairy legs, so I spent more time than I liked with the shaving. Yuck. But I had to do it. The one Orthodox Jewish girl whose parents didn’t let her got whispered about. Poor kid.

16th birthday. Big pants! Low waist! Pigtails (not fashionable, just weird me).

I aged into college and tried my best to be one of the cool radicals. But, “real” feminists and fans of being “real” women read The Joy of Sex and didn’t shave themselves. Check out that book’s illustrations some time. Teen Suna did.

I just could not stand my hairy legs. I felt feminist guilt, but I just was too brainwashed by my culture to go against the norms. It still baffles me why that was so. It’s not like I was conventional in other ways.

Fast forward. Rather than becoming more accepting of natural body hair, the US went way overboard the other way. Women got Brazilians, which appeared to be making little stripes on their privates. Then they started going hairless, except on their heads. Not for me. I thought that all looked painful, itchy, and expensive. It did make a nice tattoo canvas (another trend I prefer to observe rather than participate in).

Now trendy men shave all over, too. I keep thinking how prickly day-old arm stubble must be for the Property Brothers’ partners. Day old beards, though, that’s still trendy. Um, enjoy trendy celebs.

Then I began to notice young women bucking the trend. I sure admired that. The partners of both my sons, who are gender fluid, don’t shave, far as I know.

And as I thought about how femininity has never been my favorite mode, and how no one looks at blue-haired old ladies anyway, I gave myself permission to stop with the shaving and rashes and all that.

My legs.

As they grew out, I realized they are a lot less hairy than they used to be. I’m okay with them. The first time I went outside with leg hair, I felt the breeze on my legs. How strange! I’d not felt that since age 11!

I’ve been swimming in the hot tub and pool here, and no one seems to have noticed. There are even a few other people in covered bathing attire, even men. And there are the deep tanners. But, I enjoyed hot tubbing with a Muslim woman, because I’d always wondered if they got to enjoy pools. Yes! All covered up and happy.

Mr. Sparrow is not offended.

So, hooray for my legs and freedom of choice. It’s making me feel happier.

What Did I Want to Do When I Grew Up?

Hello from the road to South Carolina. I love road trips. You can sure think a lot. You can also knit a lot. I’ve actually arrived at the end of the pattern I’m making, but because I’m using different yarn and needles, I’m going to repeat the lace pattern.

Best picture I could get in the car. You can get the idea.

I have plenty of yarn left. I enjoy knitting without disturbances. It lets me think of new techniques to try, modifications to make, and things I want to try next. I was wondering if I could crochet a border off live knitting stitches (not bound off). I think I’ve seen socks done that way, with crocheted cuffs.

I can’t wait to block it.

I could knit for my job, if I’d taken that choice when it came to me. I love the science of designing patterns, love teaching it (so much, oh so much), like to go to conferences, and all that. And I do technical writing, which helps a lot. I’d have to have figured out a niche and done a lot of marketing, like so many of my knitting friends did so well. Knitting blogs got a lot of folks started, and I loved doing that, too.

So much comfort.

That dream ended as abruptly as my work in La Leche League did. I didn’t have the self confidence and hadn’t healed enough to figure out a way to get through the hard part and start again, which I now can do. I no longer just disappear when I’m unfairly treated and no longer believe what other people say. Woo!

What Else Did I Want to Do?

But, who knows, I have a lot of years left! There’s another alternate route I could have taken, like the road less traveled. Yes, it’s exactly like two roads diverging in a woods, because I didn’t choose the one leading into a forest.

I do love those plants!

In college, I concentrated hard on classes leading to an interdisciplinary degree in linguistics. I loved studying all the different areas, and was strongly tempted by neurolinguistics. Brains fascinated me. (Still do; notice what I read about now.)

But, I had to get those darned prerequisites out of the way. I did most of them in the wonderful honors program, but I got burned by an awful teacher in Biology who gave exams that were ten essay questions where if you missed any part of the answer, the whole thing was wrong. That ended up ruining my boyfriend and his best friend’s GPAs. I was like, “You ain’t messing with my summa cum laude, asshole,” and got the only A in the class. I gave him one scathing evaluation.

Crimson clover to cleanse your palate from that guy.

That preamble was intended to explain why I took my second biology class as a normal class, with a grad student TA instead of a mean full professor. The class mostly covered genetics and biochemistry. I ate it up like ice cream. Figuring out chromosomes and proteins and all that was like figuring out puzzles. It was so fun.

I always wanted to know how plants worked. This is a beautiful invasive vetch in Georgia.

I stayed after and asked the teacher questions. This guy was studying bees for his doctoral research, so I asked a lot about insect genetics. All I now remember is that he always wore incredibly wrinkled shirts, apparently because his girlfriend didn’t have an iron. There was much good-natured kidding, and he rewarded us with wearing an ironed shirt to the final exam.

Like this wild azalea hiding in a prissy trimmed hedge, I was nature girl stuck in academia.

Because I answered all the extra credit questions right, I didn’t need to pass the final, but I did it for fun. Then came the fateful question. The TA took me aside and begged me to switch majors. Biology needed me! I said I’d think about it. With my love of trees and springs and swamps, I imagined becoming a wildlife biologist and working with a State agency.

But, by that time I was already accepted to grad school in linguistics with a full fellowship. I had to take that path. Plus I was following my boyfriend. Hint to young people: your vocational choice should be determined by your brain, not hormones. I’ve been stuck working with language a lot longer than I had my boyfriend (a great human, don’t get me wrong).

The Good Part

But, all was not lost. I came to the Hermits’ Rest and got to hang out with Sara, the genetics PhD. And I met Dorothy, who’s not only a blog/podcast sponsor, but also got me into the Texas Master Naturalist program! I now get to do biology every day if I want to, I get to study the natural world, and if I can’t BE a wildlife biologist, at least I get to hang out with them! And I do work with a State agency.

Like this fine plantain, I’m choosing to find beauty wherever I am and grow where I’m planted.

It took me a while, but I did get to be what I wanted to be when I grew up. It just took patience.

So, have you attained your goals? Does your vocation match your avocation?

No, You’re Not Responsible for the Happiness of Others

Here is a post where I lecture myself and remind myself of how one of my personality features bites me in the butt, repeatedly, for the same dang thing. It’s bugging me so much that I’ve started writing my own passive aggressive memes about it. I put a picture of Fiona enjoying Johnson grass under the words “You are responsible for your own happiness.” I felt good.

May be an image of animal, outdoors and text that says 'You are & responsible for your own happiness 0'
Fiona knows this!

And, by the way, I am still occasionally annoyed beyond belief when people post thinly disguised “messages” to folks who are in their disfavor via memes. On the other hand, some of Kathleen’s do make me laugh, so I’m not saying y’all should never do it. Perhaps I just don’t like the ones aimed at me. Wow, that makes me sound like a jerk. Newsflash: I AM a jerk, at least in the eyes of some people. Hey, it reminds me of another meme I wrote years ago: No one is universally beloved unless they are boring as hell.

Where I’m going here is that I keep re-learning is that it’s not my job to “make” anyone else happy. In fact, when I try to do so, it usually blows up in my face in a spectacular manner. And I’m the one who gets hurt. That’s why I wrote a meme to remind myself. It said: “Reminder time: You’re not responsible for the happiness of others.”

I’ve probably mentioned this before, since I’ve been blogging so long, but indulge me as I repeat that one of my “features” is that I find sad people, see their good points, and want to help them become happier. This started in my twenties, where I tried to help a paranoid grad school friend realize that people weren’t always talking about him behind his back and the professors didn’t hate him just because one didn’t say hello in the hall. I knew I couldn’t “fix” him, but wanted to make things easier on him. Of course, he hurt me badly in the end. And I didn’t really help. I heard from him a few years ago, and he was still thinking everyone was out to get him. I didn’t contact him again.

Not by me, but true.

Moving forward, many (okay, most) of my “love affairs” I now see as me trying to help someone sad feel better. Coincidentally, many had some pretty severe mental illnesses they were living with (a LOT of borderline personality disorder). I’d help with their self esteem and get them to a better place by being kind and listening a lot, but I couldn’t “cure” them, just show that they are worth caring for just as they are. Once that message sunk in, they’d move on to someone more well suited to them. And I’d be sad. I do hope the new relationships went well. And hey, I did eventually see my destructive pattern and STOP IT. Lee’s the last sad person I rescued, lol. I was also sad, though, so this time it was mutual, and we are sticking together through thick and thin.

It wasn’t just people I “fell in love” with. I also would come across younger folks and want to help them get a good start in life. Some of those actually worked out very well, and I have some great friends living wonderful, independent lives. But, I was still drawn toward people whose issues were really not something I could do anything about. I couldn’t “make” them happy by providing them with a safe home, sharing experiences with them, giving them tools for their hobbies, or anything. Mostly I now have a lot of baking and art supplies to show for that.

Ooh, this meme hits close to home.

At least two of these people I tried to help and even brought into my home ended up lecturing me for being kind to them just to make me look good. I took that to heart. Maybe a lot of it was MY problem, not theirs. Ugh. All this self-evaluation is not fun or pretty. But I hope I learned the lesson that each of us is responsible for our own happiness, and while giving people a chance is good, they need to find their own way.

I need to keep writing myself some memes, though, because it has dawned on me that I’ve been trying to make life better to some other folks, STILL. I spend so much mental effort trying to figure out ways to make their lives easier and more pleasant. I want the people in my home and work life to feel like they’re contributing to society, cared for, and not alone. That’s probably okay. I still can’t “make” anyone feel less depressed, less unfulfilled, or satisfied with where their life has ended up. It’s not my job.

A meme about walking your own path.

I say all that to try to reinforce it in my head. I’m NOT a failure if people I care about are not handling things well. I can’t rescue anyone, including myself! So, right now I’m working to get a better balance between caring for others and protecting myself from hurt. I know I’m not alone in this, but it’s damned hard. I’m not doing a good job of it a lot of the time. I’m wired to be an annoying rescuer, and I’m sure it came from growing up with a powerless, mentally ill mother, or whatever.

All’s not lost, though. I’ve been learning a lot in working with my team in Austin, and my boss has come up with this helpful way of looking at the mentor-mentee relationship. And that’s that the mentor can only give 50% of the effort in improving situations. The other person ALSO has to give their own 50%. Expecting someone to fix everything for you never works; you have to put in the effort. Thanks, boss, you super-stoic.

Sara and Ace are the perfect example. Each of them has to be doing their part for their horse-rider relationship to grow.

Forgive me if I’ve ever tried to help you and it made you upset or angry. I’m doing it because I also need help, ya know? Eventually I’ll figure out a balance between being part of a supportive community for those who could use some help and supporting my own self. Maybe even I’ll do better at asking for help. Those are some big dreams.

Until then, I’ll look for memes.

PS: On the podcast, I added that I may not have been clear here. I’m not saying you can’t support, love, and cherish people who are struggling, nor that you shouldn’t. I was trying to just make it clear that you can’t force people to not feel the way they feel. Did that help?

Information, Not Advice in This Cancel Culture

Today’s topic is something I’ve been mulling over for a long time, and I think I finally have come up with a way to present my thoughts coherently. I think it explains why I have close to zero tolerance for bullying in volunteer organizations and presents an alternative way to make valid points and open people’s minds to new and different ideas.

When I was a new mother, my lawyer and one of my mentors, Roberta Bishop Johnson, encouraged me to attend meetings of the mother-to-mother breastfeeding support group, La Leche League (and if talking about breastfeeding gets you all giggly, you can try to remember you’re a mammal and make an effort to be mature). I didn’t know any other new mothers, since I was older than most of my friends and the first to reproduce.

That’s right. We’re mammals.

So, I bravely went into the home of a stranger and sat down on the couch next to a woman who seemed nice. And I listened. At these meetings, only one of the people was speaking for the organization, an accredited La Leche League Leader. But, when people asked questions, all the other mothers were very welcome to chime in and share their experiences with their own babies. One thing that got repeated often in these meetings was to please share information, not give advice. Not even the Leader told women what they should do. The mothers were considered smart enough to make their own decisions based on their experiences and to use the experiences of others to help them. That led to the second thing I heard a lot, which was to take what works for you and leave the rest.

No matter what picture I chose, someone will find something wrong with it. She should lift her shirt from the top! Why is she white? Is her positioning right? Image by @nslebedinskaya via Twenty20

By getting to know all these different mothers with all their different babies it became very obvious that the best answer for one of us would not work at all for another one, and that was OK! We had lots of areas where we differed. There was cloth versus plastic diapers. There was jarred baby food versus “whole foods” only. There was the “family bed” versus having a crib for babies. There were vaccinators and non-vaccinators. Some mothers weaned promptly at one year (or earlier), while others kept a-goin’ until the child didn’t want to anymore.

The thing is, those of us who learned the LLL philosophy (which is a list of ways to be a good parent) mostly got the point that there’s more than one right way to parent AND that for some folks, ways other than ours make more sense to them. If a mother asked for help, we gave it and helped her work out a solution that made HER happy, not us.

I eventually became a Leader and learned a lot from the women I was friends with then. It was a lot of fun and such a great way to give to my community. But, when they started begging Leaders to become administrators (there was quite a hierarchy back then), my Leader, Sharon, took me aside and warned me that things weren’t always so warm and fuzzy at the State, National, and International levels. Oh, how I wish I’d listened to Sharon.

But, no, I like leading things, and because I’d made a little website for our group (before there were images on the world wide web) my mentor, Roberta, begged me to help them get on the fledgling Internet, so I went to a conference in Chicago, met the Executive Director, and suddenly I was the webmaster and co-owner of the first email list for Leaders, where we got to meet fellow mothers from all over.

Time marched on, and I had a lot of fun and met most of the people who read my blog. But, it turned out Sharon had a point. Once I started going to meetings and conferences outside my little bubble, and once I started reading the email lists, I began to see how La Leche League got its reputation as a bunch of breastfeeding…shall we say…”tyrants” (because I prefer not to use pejorative word word other people used). You could tell that there were members who we called “More League Than League” who looked down on you if your choices happened to come on the less radical attachment parenting side of things. Woe unto the parent who used a stroller and not a sling to carry babies (even outside conferences, where strollers were hazardous). You get the drift, I’m sure.

A lot of the time I spent as an administrator, web person, and eventually as a director in the organization was trying to keep portraying La Leche League (LLL) as an organization open to all who were interested in breastfeeding and parenting, not just a few people of a certain demographic (that would be white, Catholic, home birthing, stay-at-home mothers). It was never true that this group was even a majority, but it’s the reputation that came out. And the reputation that we told people to do this and that, and such. This all got to be quite exhausting, especially when we were wanting to help mothers succeed by their own standards and meet them where they were, not make them into other people!

There were, indeed, people in the organization with agendas that were at best peripheral to the core purpose of supporting breastfeeding in the communities where we lived. The diapers, the slings, the boycotts, the sleeping arrangements…subtly pressuring people to make certain choices or they weren’t “cool” led to a lot of sadness. I always thought either they should come out and say they’re an organization for a small group of people with certain beliefs and principles, rather than claiming to be for everyone, but alienating people whose cultures and ways of life preferred to do things differently.

Indeed, as the years went by, it came to pass that things got weirder and weirder at the higher levels, and we came under a lot of pressure, no I’ll say bullying, to only organize in certain ways, and only meet in certain ways, and…after a couple of years of trying to keep my team going through all this, I ended up being asked to leave. If your job, whether paid or volunteer, isn’t fulfilling and rewarding, it’s time to find a new job. And when my closest friends started in on me…it was time to go.

I did keep what I learned, though. I’ve always found it much easier to change someone’s mind or teach them something new by offering a wide range of information and suggestions and trusting them to figure out what works best for them. I’m so grateful for that lesson. There was and still is so much good in LLL. Honestly, this is a loving critique.

Now, today, a whole lot of years have passed, but it makes me chuckle a bit to learn that there are still factions battling it out to be the “right” kind of organization. The causes have shifted from Nestle boycotts and “Ferberizing” to trying to cancel members who aren’t deemed sufficiently on board with chestfeeding and racial/cultural issues.

All of that just isn’t the helpful kind of support parents, members, administrators, and former members need. And confronting, bullying, canceling, and lobbying against people you have a problem with has never, as far as I can see, solved the underlying issue, which is education. You know, perhaps we WANT to listen, but just being called names and treated like we aren’t even worth engaging in dialog with won’t help us learn a darn thing.

I can only suggest that people with strong feelings to convey consider this information I’m sharing, just as one option. By listening to the viewpoints of others, seeing where they are coming from, finding areas of commonality, and sharing our experiences as if they are all worthy of respect, I’m pretty sure some of the newer versions of the people I left behind in 2006 might be more successful at attaining their goals. I think they want more people to be welcome and included in LLL. I think that is a worthy goal that may not require tearing down others to achieve.

Breastfeeding is a great thing, and I applaud everyone who wants to do it, in whatever way works for their culture, religious practice, or social group. Sometimes having lived as long as I and some of my long-time LLL friends have, you learn that a little bit of listening and respect go a long way. We don’t all have to do things the exact same way, and we all will learn from our mistakes and new experiences.

Please, let’s be gentle with each other. I’m simply not going to let myself be put down for being who I am, and I don’t think any of you, my friends, should, either. And I do NOT want to put down others who have perfectly legitimate complaints, issues, or ideas! We should all have a chance to grow and learn, even us old white fogies.

Book Report: The Nature of Oaks

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Admission: I only gave this book 4 stars because I wanted it to be longer. I dwell on every word Doug Tallamy writes, so I selfishly want more of them. The Nature of Oaks: The Rich Ecology of Our Most Essential Native Trees is his latest book, and it was only published two days ago. I snatched it out of the packaging and started reading it immediately! I’m really glad Tallamy mentioned this when I heard him speak in February, so I knew to pre-order.

Now, not only is Doug (I’ll call him Doug, because I consider him a friend, though I’ve never really talked to him) my favorite current naturalist writer, but oaks are my favorite trees. How much better can it get?

Oak trees and I go way back. One of my mom’s favorite stories about toddler Suna is that she used to go outside and find me talking to the trees in my yard. I thought there was someone in there, you see. I spent my childhood in something like a paradise for plant lovers, a small cement-block house on two lots, covered with large live oaks, along with a few other lovely native Florida trees. I was, however, not at all fond of pine trees (ironic, since my grandfather worked for a company that planted pines for paper-making). I liked oaks. They always had something going on, with all that Spanish moss dripping off them, possums and squirrels running around, and of course an endless parade of songbirds.

My most recent visit to some of my favorite trees, at the park I played in a child (as did Tom).

I loved those trees like family members, as I followed my dad around helping him landscape the yard and make lovely flower beds around the oaks, all mulched with their leaves. Little did I know he was doing the exact right thing by planting the dogwoods, redbuds, azaleas, and such under the larger trees to mimic a natural understory. Most important, the leaf mulch supported all sorts of wonderful insects that contributed to the ecology of my little world. Thanks, Doug, for confirming my dad’s innate wisdom!

The oaks and I continued our love affair, and I continued to visit ones I particularly cared about as long as I lived in Gainesville, and I still check to see if certain trees are still there (most are, 50+ years lager). And when I moved to Illinois and then to Texas, I learned about more and more types of oaks, which shed their leaves in the fall like normal trees (not like live oaks, who shed in the spring). My favorite tree in my first yard in Texas was a bur oak we planted, of course with an understory of Texas mountain laurel and native plants. It’s a gorgeous specimen now.

All this background is to explain why I was so happy this book was written. It turns out, I was right, there was “someone” in my oaks! They support more moths and other insects than any other type of tree. They teem with life! I enjoyed learning a lot about the various caterpillars and moths Doug finds in his Pennsylvania trees (he also talks about other areas, too, though).

An oak out in nature in Florida

He also satisfied my curiosity as to what the heck oak galls are, what they’re made of, and who lives there. Well, little larvae live in there, but the galls are somehow inspired to grow from actual oak material by the wasp who lays her eggs on the leaf buds. All sorts of insects want to eat the larvae, but galls protect them well. Then, when they leave, they make a nice hole, which then can be used by certain ants as little homes. I never knew that!

So, there’s just one example of the kinds of things you learn about amazing oak trees in this book. It’s enough to make you want to run out and plant some. That’s exactly what Doug wants you to do. Like to many trees, their numbers have diminished. We need them to store carbon, to support life, and to clean the atmosphere. You’ll find fun information on starting oak trees from acorns, as well as comprehensive lists of the best oak varieties for different parts of the US (by size, too).

You’ll also be sure to enjoy the color photos of trees, insects, and all the denizens of the oak world. I guess Doug’s now famous enough that he gets to have color photographs in all his books. We win!

This little book is a treasure, and I’m so glad it confirmed my bias toward the gentle old trees I’ve loved my whole life. I plan to take the book off its shelf and hug it occasionally. It’s my friend, I guess.

Want to read more by Doug Tallamy? I have a review of his previous wonderful and inspirational book, Nature’s Best Hope that you might enjoy.