Breaking Out of Simple

A few weeks ago, my partner decided that he no longer liked the line of Shea Moisture he was using for his hair and found a different line that he felt was more compatible for his hair type and needs. It was still Shea Moisture. My partner is as particular with brands as he is loyal.

I sighed heavily upon hearing his announcement from the dimly lit bathroom. I knew there was no changing his mind once he’d decided something like this and I had just purchased a few bottles of the shampoo in bulk because they come out cheaper that way. I had combined two manufacturer’s coupons, one store coupon and a promotional gift card towards the purchase of three bottles. I ended up getting three bottles for the price of one.

So I decided I would finish the shampoo myself. I have no loyalty to any specific brand. I’d rather not have that kind of financial commitment. I buy whatever is on sale and make it work.

I was standing in the shower thinking how nice this “new” Super Fruit 10-in-1 renewal Shea Moisture shampoo smelled, like flowers and open fields as I lathered and freshly picked berries as I rinsed it out. I took a deep breath in and found my mind going back to a conversation from a few nights ago.

“I’m easy” I told my partner.

“Now, now. Let’s not use THAT word to describe you” he joked with insinuation.

“Oh, you know that I mean. I’m just not particular.”

“Simple,” he responded, “you are simple.”

A single word – simple.

___________________________

It was a not-quite-frigid ozone layer affected winter Wednesday and I had just arrived at the second and final tutoring session of my evening after a full day of work as a school-based SLP. It was days after a much-needed winter break so I wasn’t as tired as I can be on Wednesdays.

Having picked up the case a week before the winter break, we hadn’t yet decided on the set-up for our sessions. I had previously expressed my concern about the background noise from other family members rummaging in the kitchen or fumbling about in the living room if we worked at the table wedged in between the two spaces. He had offered up his daughter’s bedroom as a second option for working space.

“Where would you rather work?” asked the girl’s father, Eric.

“Wherever really,” I respond without hesitation.

He went on to explain that he would be the only family member in the kitchen on this particular afternoon and he could keep the noise to a minimum. He also showed me his daughter’s bedroom, which looked as though the two chestnut colored dressers had a Game of Thrones inspired battle, spilling their insides everywhere in the process. There were clothes and toys scattered on the semi-lofted bed and all throughout the small bedroom floor. I couldn’t even see what kind of flooring made up the bedroom. It was that bad.

“We can clear some space on the bedroom floor if you’re still concerned about noise. Where would you prefer to work?” Eric asked again. I hesitated and he could sense I was going to be vague again, “You tell me” he stated, reiterating that the choice was mine to make.

I turned to the young girl and asked, “Where would you like to work Melissa?” She shouldered past me, still wet from her shower, and jumped onto her messy bed, getting lost in the chaos and covers so that only her eyes and strands of hair were visible. This space is obviously not going to work.

Eric seemed to sense my difficulty making a decision and stated, “You should probably set a boundary.”

“OK” I answered, feeling like a kid getting scolded by an all-knowing parent, “Dining room table it is.” The feeling of shame in my gut had nothing to do with him and everything to do with me. I was the one skirting around making a decision.

At the end of the session, Eric walked me out into the hallway and to the elevator halfway down the hall. We discussed next steps as he counted out the money from his wallet. I was uncomfortable. I am always uncomfortable when it comes to money and providing services. “Do you prefer cash or ch-?”

I interrupted him before he could even finish speaking, “whatever is easier.”

“Well, checks are easier so I will write them out moving forward.” Eric replied calmly.

Damn it. Why did I say that? Cash. I prefer cash.

A few hours later, I texted Eric about the schedule for the upcoming week. I also followed up with a message about how I prefer cash when it is available but can accept checks when there is a crunch. I sat with that second text for a bit, rewording it a few times trying to make it sound as pleasant as possible. I hit send before I lost the nerve and then I began to agonize.

Legitimate panic took over and it felt like acid reflux burning at my chest as I waited for his response. He asked you what you preferred Nia and you’re stating your preference. Why are you freaking out?

Fifteen excruciating minutes pass. I was certain he would respond with aggravation, that I would lose this client over one text message.

He responds.

Sounds good! Thanks!

_____________________

Mami, Chiquita and I head straight towards the back of the local boutique store that we decided to stop in on this Sunday afternoon to find our favorite rack, the clearance rack. Chiquita is carefully searching through the rack trying to find something that might fit her tiny frame. Her short, amber tipped hair is falling over her prescription eyeglasses.

Mami stops searching through the rack and turns to talk to me. Her eyes are glossy before any words leave her pale mauve painted lips.

“Esta semana yo salí tarde del trabajo y decidí comprar algo en vez de cocinar. Papi ya había comido algo,” she started.

“That’s good Mami, I’m proud of you for not putting so much pressure on yourself.” I responded. Chiquita and I were constantly telling her that she unnecessarily stressed herself out cooking every single day. It was too much considering how much energy she exerted in cleaning other people’s homes all day.

“Si…” she paused, choosing her words carefully and actively working not to cry, “Pero yo compre lo mas barato que pude encontrar. Lo que queda al fin del dia. La grasa me cayó muy mal y yo me puse a llorar Nia. No se porque yo siempre compro lo mas barato para mi, porque yo puedo gastar dinero en todo el mundo meno yo.”

Two single tears crawled down my beautiful mother’s face, one from each eye. They stopped at her chin and dropped onto the gray carpet floors in the store.

This is a strange place for her to make this confession, one that we’ve all known to be true for years. I forgive her for this awkward conversation in the back of a brightly lit boutique store on Austin Street in Forest Hills. I know it took a lot of courage for her to say these words, to admit out loud that she has spent her entire life putting everyone else’s needs and wants before her own.

Mami has never been one to have good timing. It used to be a trait I judged her for harshly – I don’t anymore. I empathize more because I’ve learned that I too have terrible timing.

__________________________

This entire week had me thinking. Why do I have such a hard time clearly stating what I want let alone what I deserve? Why do I consistently undercharge for my services? Why do I describe myself, confine myself to being simple?

Mami taught me not to be particular. To be simple. To not need much – or at least not admit to needing much. To give greatly but take little. She never instructed me to be this way. I learned, as all children do, by watching her.

I wish I could say that now that I’ve noticed this trait, this oversimplification of my uniquely complex mind and spirit, that I will stop. That I will walk through my personal and professional relationships exuding confidence, setting boundaries and clearly stating expectations. And I will find the brands that I like and stick to them no matter how much they cost because I work hard and I deserve that.

I probably won’t, at least not overnight and maybe not ever entirely.

It is difficult to unlearn lessons that you have internalized as an intricate part of your makeup. Socialized gender and culture perspectives you have assumed as a part of your identity.

I will take things day by day. Poco a poco, I will try to do better at recognizing my desires and catering to them in reasonable ways. I will allow myself some of the same luxuries I present to the people that I love. I will open myself up to the endless possibilities that lie beyond simple.

3 thoughts on “Breaking Out of Simple

  1. Thanks for sharing this. I love it and can relate, and your snippets of stories brought it together so clearly. I wrote about a similar challenge today, it’s so hard to undue things ingrained in us, but self-awareness is the first step to inspiring change. I believe you can do it!

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