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what I will no longer do
“I am trying not to make fun of myself anymore,” I tell my husband in the quiet of our bedroom after the kids are asleep, the wind is howling unusually loud, making itself felt as a force against the house. I’m nursing a slight nick on my finger from my first time using a mandolin to cut potatoes for a recipe I’m trying that involves getting kids to eat vegetables by putting cheese and eggs around them.
If you have met me before, I’ve probably made a joke about my lack of culinary skill. I’ve probably said something like, “oh, I’m hopeless, I can’t cook anything, thank goodness I married my person because he makes it all.”
Here is the bit that is true: thank goodness I married my person.
Because he is the person who says I shouldn’t say things like this anymore.
A while back I had coffee with a friend and we were talking about cooking, and once again I said something about my own inexperience, my lack of expertise, with the same smile I’ve used for years. She laughed brightly, the conversation moved on. But I couldn’t quite laugh the same way I always have. Something shifted; something was knocked loose.
I believed for almost my whole life in self-deprecation. I have believed it is the way to tone down the adjectives that have pursued me faithfully: intense, earnest, taking things seriously. That I am a smarty-pants or trying too hard (always said in high school in the looks and smiles and assumptions I would not have the answers to homework problems). I’ve tried to get out from under these by choosing all the things I cannot do and offering them up as the easy way in: I can’t draw, I can’t cook, I can’t…
I am thirty-one and I have only just realized the things I say about myself hurt my own feelings. And should I be a person who hurts my feelings? Should I say things I’d never dream of saying to another human being, to me, just because the voice I use is in my head and no one else can hear me?
Outside my window three days ago I heard two wrens singing in the hedge. I looked out the dusty panes and there they were, bright-eyed and dark brown, a strip of white over their eyes. The way they sang, it was like tuning in to another world, one full of brightness in a song repeated over and over just because it can be. Birds practice their songs, imitate each other; they sing in the deep purple of the almost-morning and in the watches of the sunset. They sing out and one to another, they don’t criticize the song.
I’m learning to cook. I’m learning to play the guitar in hesitant chords and sore fingers. I’m learning to read outside my typical fiction genres and to enjoy taking my time with philosophy. All of this is not perfected and none of this is finished.
But I won’t make fun of myself for it.
Could we make this promise, maybe for a year or a moment or the rest of our lives: we won’t make fun of ourselves for the things we don’t yet do well. We won’t sigh with self-deprecation when we make that joke that makes everyone laugh at the silly things we did or said or thought: whether we know how to slice an onion or looked it up on YouTube. Whether we’ve read every one of Jane Austen’s novels or none. We won’t tell stories where we put ourselves down for the sake of appearing more easy to let in.
We deserve more belonging than that.