You really can.

 Originally published as a TinyLetter

One of the most fascinating things about having children is seeing yourself reflected in them. They’re a mirror that magnifies your beauty, your quirks, and your flaws in ways that you can’t deny.

Sometimes this is amusing, like when I was reading Evan a bedtime story and he asked me a question I had to think about before answering. Deep in thought for a moment, I was surprised to see him looking back at me, stroking his chin as if he had a beard, and I realized that he was doing it because I was doing it. I hadn’t even been aware of this, and we both busted out laughing.

Sometimes our little Mini Me’s make us confront our own shortcomings, which is not nearly as charming. Evan is taking his first swim lessons, and this week he reached the point where he wasn’t going to progress until he could put his face in the water and blow out through his nose. Unfortunately, he would grimace and shriek every time his nose touched the surface, jerking his head up immediately and yelling for a towel.

“Just close your mouth and blow out your nose,” I said. “You can do it out in the air, so you can do it underwater.”

“I can’t!” Evan said, all wound up and shaking his head adamantly.

“You really can,” I said.

“I can’t!” he insisted. I saw his face cloud over. “I don’t want to do swim lessons anymore!” For the rest of the lesson, he pouted and whined and refused to put his face in the water.

“Oh my God,” I thought. “I do this, too.”

I can’t figure out how to wean Avery when she is resisting violently and stealing my sleep.

I can’t accomplish my creative goals while the kids are young and needing so much attention.

I can’t meet obstacles with confidence instead of anxiety.

I can’t, I can’t, I can’t. My mood darkens. I feel stuck and helpless.

Often these are vague assumptions I’m carrying around, and when I step back and articulate them, I can see them objectively. While I have compassion for where they’re coming from — frustration and desperation leading to hopelessness — I have to acknowledge that they’re just not true. When I’m able to access my wiser self, I see minor roadblocks instead of dead ends, with multiple pathways around them.

I can experiment with different weaning strategies until something works. Avery is not still going to be nursing when she goes off to college.

I can accomplish my creative goals, even if it takes longer than it would if the kids didn’t need me so often. I can make good use of the short windows of quiet time that I have, even if they’re interrupted (multiple times!).

I can learn to pause and breathe before reacting to challenges so I can think through them rationally. I can learn to believe that I can handle any challenge.

I can, I can, I can.

If I really think about it, there are very few “I can’ts” that are actually true if I really set my mind to overcoming them.

When I feel an “I can’t” coming on, I’m going to picture Evan in that pool, anxious and frustrated by a challenge that he’s actually well equipped to overcome, and calmly and confidently tell both of us, “You really can.”

A recent episode of the Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast, Question Your Limiting Beliefs, delves into this topic. What are your own “I can’ts” — especially the ones that you haven’t articulated yet but are holding you back? 

what’s fueling me

My sister, Gill, and I love sharing music recommendations with each other. We used to make birthday playlists for each other but recently decided that it was silly to save everything up for a whole year instead of sharing the joy year-round. We made a collaborative playlist on Spotify, and it brightens my day to come across a song I know she’d love and add it to the playlist right away, or to hit refresh and hear a new song that she’s added. It’s a fun way to stay connected from afar.
I’m really excited to see these movies: Oceans 8 (Sandra! Mindy! Cate! Badass female heist movie!), Hearts Beat Loud (single dad and teenage daughter form a band), Ibiza (ridiculous fun, like The Hangover with female leads), Crazy Rich Asians (all-Asian cast being glitzy and fabulous), and A Star is Born (Bradley Cooper sings?! and with Lady Gaga?!).

It makes me so happy to look at the subscriber list for this TinyLetter. It means a lot to me that you — people I know and love, and people I haven’t met — invite my words into your inbox. Thank you.

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