I’m a mom of two young boys, which means our family’s television time typically revolves around all things cars and dinosaurs. My eldest son has been all about Disney’s Cars – 1 and 3 only (2 is not up to par)– all day, every day for as far back as I can remember. Race car red is his favorite color and Lightning McQueen is his hero. He builds tracks, plays with his die cast cars, watches his movie, then repeats that sequence. Most days, that’s totally okay – but, the parents in the household sure would like to mix it up every now and then.
That said, in an effort to save our sanity, my husband and I recently tried to convince him to give a new family-film a shot for our shared television time. We chose Shrek. And, he liked it…loved it, even. So, that’s been our new thing for a week or so now and I’m not even annoyed by the dialogue yet. In fact, I laugh out loud with most of Eddie Murphy’s one liners as Donkey.
One evening, though, the movie mostly served as background noise as I was prepping dinner and using the television as my tried and true babysitter so I could prep and chop in peace. But while I was cooking, I happened to catch an earful of a scene that really spoke to me.
Quickly, for context: Shrek is insecure about being an ogre and being his true self so he keeps people at arm’s length to protect his emotions. Donkey sees a kind heart and pushes him to find adventure and learn to love himself. Okay, end scene.
Now, back to the scene that spoke to me. In a moment where Donkey is trying to get Shrek to open up by asking him one million personal questions, Shrek pushes back and uses a metaphor to better explain himself. He says, “Donkey, ogres are like onions. We have a lot of layers.” He goes on to suggest that you have to peel back all those layers – like you would an onion – to see and understand who he really is.
Those lines really spoke to me that evening. The idea of having to peel back layers to get to the core of one’s true self is something that hit home. Lately, there’s been a lot of down time in our house (as I’m sure is the same with everyone else during these times of quarantine and physical distancing). Activities canceled, routines out the door, and outings super limited. In other words, I’ve had a lot more time to sit with myself, to sit in silence with my thoughts.
More often than not, those thoughts can be uncomfortable. And a lot of times, those thoughts are more like piercing questions – What am I doing with my career? Are the kids getting enough play time from me? Am I giving my husband enough attention? Have I showered and fed myself today? You get the picture – I nag myself.
When you’ve got nothing but time on your hands, those questions can become all-consuming. In my case, I’m juggling work from home and kids at home, and yet I still feel like there’s time to fill. The time I used to spend with friends, or volunteering, or meeting other families at the park….I feel like there’s a void that I’m filling with thoughts instead of activities. And those thoughts tend to weigh me down. But, what if I could sit with them long enough to answer them? What if I could really lean into my feelings and peel back those layers to better understand and accept my true self?
Pre-pandemic, I used to practice yoga religiously at my neighborhood studio. My wise-beyond-her years instructor would end each class asking us to “sit with ourselves in silence” and I never really understood the benefit of that. I would close my eyes and shut off instead, not truly leaning in, but rather, not thinking at all. In hindsight, maybe I should have sat in that silence with a little more intent.
Just like yoga, sitting with your thoughts takes practice. You might never be fully comfortable with what’s rolling around up there, but if you can train yourself to lean in and listen, maybe you can accept more of who you really are, more of who you are really meant to become.
Like Shrek, I need to peel back more layers and get comfortable with myself and this new way of life. I know the state of this pandemic is not forever, but it’s certainly not going away tomorrow, either. I don’t want to look back and remember this time as slow and emotionally draining. I want to look back and know that I used this gift of time to help myself grow more into the person I am meant to be. Because I know the closer I get to be my best self, the happier I can be in all my roles – wife, mother, friend, professional, etc.
Truly, my emotions have been all over the place adjusting to this new normal – which, I’m sure is true for most all of us – but, I don’t want to let my emotions call the shots anymore. The same way I don’t want my three-year-old to call the shots on our evening program choices (but, pick your battles, am I right?) So, I’m taking a cue from Shrek. I’m done questioning myself. I’m taking time to sit with my thoughts and peel back those layers to get more comfortable with me, so when all this physical distancing is said and done, I can re-enter the world with a much stronger sense of self than ever before.