January 11, 2022

What Two Words Would You want used to Describe You?

I made my son cry recently.

My 15-year-old walking example of kindness, happiness, and love.

Now, I’m not bragging, but it wasn’t the first time I’ve made him cry. What is different about this time is that he had committed no transgressions. All he did was complete a class assignment in Spanish and tell us about it. The fault is all mine.

He was tasked with creating Google slides to describe his family using two words in Spanish. Fun school project. Yay!

The adjectives he chose for his dad were atrevido (daring) and gracioso (funny). Yes and yes. For brother: independiente (independent) and impaciente (impatient). Two for two. For the dog: simpatico (friendly) and perezoso (lazy). Accurate.

Then it was my turn. What had he chosen? Loving? Generous? Fun? Hugger? Something even better?

Not even close.

The two words he had chosen to describe me were serio (serious) and responsable (responsible). Serious and responsible? My heart sank. Fifteen years of raising him, playing games, singing to him every single night for 12 years, catching bugs, playing tag, baking cookies, creating memories—and I get serious and responsible?

I was speechless and dismayed and embarrassed and surprised. But, if I’m being honest, not terribly surprised.

As much as it hurt, his words were accurate. As an educator for 17 years, being responsible is something I have taught to students from kindergarten and beyond. Responsibility is important. Apparently, I have made that abundantly clear in my household as well.

Seriousness also has its place. Not everything can be a joke—regardless of how hard my husband tries to make it so.

But, to hear that those are two of the first words my youngest uses to describe me was, well, painful. Did he not remember all of the laughter and play and silliness and love? It was difficult to accept that those were not the memories forefront in his mind when he thinks of his mama. The mother I envisioned I was obviously differed greatly from how my children saw me.

Even worse, when faced with this reality, I also had to admit he was correct. I was serio—too serio. Had been my whole life. Just one of the side effects of being raised by loving, flawed parents who tried but failed in so many ways, of dealing with three divorces, alcoholic loved ones, being overweight and underconfident, always being on high alert, and trying to shield my younger sister from whatever pain I could. These are just some of the experiences that made me serio and responsable.

I tried to express this to him and to explain why I was upset with the words he chose. I did a terrifically terrible job and realized I just didn’t have the words to explain why. Why I was upset that he saw me as serious and responsible. Why these were not the words I wanted my 15-year-old son to identify for me. He thought I was angry with him when the truth was I was angry at myself. That is what I should have told him.

How do you tell a 15-year-old how your upbringing shaped you to a point you are still struggling to remold yourself? Of the circumstances that you had no control over yet deal with to this day? Of all your regrets? Of the choices made that can’t be undone but have had an impact? How do you tell your son that you were serious and responsible because that is the only life you knew for so very long and that you needed your own little world to be as perfect as possible because the world you grew up in was always full of unknown and fear and sadness and trying to fix things hoping that you could create some semblance of normalcy and acceptance?

What I should have said was, “I wish I had not worried so much about having a clean house and instead sat and played with you more often.” Or, “I wish I had left the dirty dishes in the sink more often when you asked me to come outside with you.” Or, “I wish I had let you leave more messes around the house and not worried about how organized everything was.” Or, “I wish I had learned years ago to laugh more and worry less.” But I didn’t. At that moment, I didn’t have the words.

He cried because he thought he upset me. And he had but through no fault of his own. I hugged him and assured him that he had done nothing wrong. That it was all my fault.

And, it was. While there may have been reasons for why I was so serious and responsible, I have had ample opportunity over the ensuing years to make changes. To relax and not take life so—well—seriously.

But, after over four decades on this earth, not so long ago the little world that I had created so responsibly and seriously nearly fell apart. I nearly lost everything. And, less than a year ago, I did lose one of my “everythings.” I lost my dad—my constant, my biggest supporter, my heart. I felt as if I was living in a snow globe and some kid had just picked up my world and given it a good shake.

I’ve learned that sometimes in life, there are instances, events, moments that are so earth-shattering that you simply have no choice but to change. To adjust. To create a new truth. To take a look at how you’ve been living and finally decide that it simply isn’t how you want to spend your one precious life.

To find a new beginning.

Since then, I have made a conscious effort every day, sometimes moment by moment, to choose smiling over frowning, laughing over worrying, loving over being angry. Play over dishes. Hiking over vacuuming. Listening over judging. Hearing over criticizing.

Many moments are still a struggle. I still fail. But, I have not lost sight of my goal.

I wrote the words serio and responsable on a Post-it note that now hangs on my bathroom mirror as a reminder of who I was and who I am still striving to be. I’ve learned it’s never too late. Never too late to write a new story. To change the narrative. To rewrite your character and give her less worry and more laughter and joy. To become the person you want to be remembered as. To become the person who enjoys life just as it is—in all of its chaotic, glorious messiness.

My boys are responsible and for that, I’ll take credit. It will serve them well. While one is a bit too serious, like his mama, he thankfully has a silly, goofy side, like his dad. And the 15-year-old? Well, he is still exactly who he was born to be.

Once in a while, I’ll ask myself what words I want to be remembered by? I consciously work to live a life that demonstrates the values that are important to me as a daughter, sister, mom, wife, friend, neighbor, and stranger. I’ve learned that my narrative is rarely, if ever, the same as that of the people in my life who know me the best. It’s always good to have a competing narrative of your own—like mine, is sometimes flawed at best or flagrantly incorrect, at worst.

What words do you want to be known by? Are you now living in a way that demonstrates those words?

It’s never too late. I’m still working on mine.

And this time, they’ll be what I am, and will always be, working to become.  Not the “who” that I used to be. She served her purpose, but it’s long past time to leave her behind.


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