Category Archives: toxic relationships

This is How I Roll: Some Parents Need to Grow Up

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Look, I’m not going to sugar coat this: I’m grossed out by people who think it’s funny to have kids and then bitch about them, or habitually talk about needing booze, or a line, or a joint or a valium or whatever to get through the day.

It’s all over the Internet. Apparently it’s what sells. “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.”- Henry Mencken. I prefer to not engage with the “foolish consistencies [which] are the hobgoblins of little minds.” -Emerson. I guess I will never hit it big. That’s OK, drunk people can’t read very well.

What those people need is a few moments alone and several deep breaths. That’s all. Oh, and likely therapy, which they are probably avoiding.

Ask anyone who knows me or who has interacted with me, and they will tell you, I’ve got a sense of humor, I am resilient, I can roll with punches. But just not this one. Not about parents who get their drink/joint/whatever on to cope with their holes, fears, inadequacy issues, mommy issues, daddy issues, shitty childhoods or whatever that are being activated by triggers that parenthood presents. I’m not talking anxiety, we all have that. I’m talking deep, real, soul-wrenching stuff. Oh, and regarding those who habitually make jokes about it? Grow up.

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So, here’s the deal: I grew up with crap like that happening to me. I can’t tell you how many times I heard, “You drive me to drink” as a kid. It’s sick as hell. Those days, and my decisions to talk about them are prickly. It’s partly my story to tell, in terms of how it affected me, but I can tell you this: if you need a drink, or think it’s funny to crack wise about being a mom or a dad who needs *needs* NEEDS something to “get through your day” I have a proposal for you: get fixed.

No, not with a shrink, that’s later, but tie your tubes, clip the lines, get your act together before you victimize your kids with your so-called, “I was just kidding” banter and jokes and Facebook groups and blog titles, and all that stuff. Because what you do to your kids, in the end, when they’re like me: 45 and wondering where the hell you were all their life, it’s not gonna be so funny then. You will be “Granny needs a drink” then. And that’s even sicker.

This is real. Kids are not saints, they are micro versions of me and you, and they have memories, and they have feelings and they have access to the Internet. If you find yourself turned off by their behavior, I have a suggestion: look around and look in the mirror. They learn from us, peers, teachers, siblings, but mostly from us, their parents, who appear godlike in their eyes. They believe everything we say, they don’t understand sarcasm until they’re about 15, despite our insistence that they get it beforehand. We are their go-to resource, unless we are half in the bag, spending the night at the office, on a little yellow pill, or pulling a toke.

But I’m just joking. Right? Because we all are. We’re all just trying to loosen up, have a little fun, don’t be such a stiff, Mol…

This isn’t our second shot at being in the cool group in high school or being popular with the pretty people. If you (like just about everyone) have some weird torch you’re holding for the glory days of your youth and you’re pinning your hopes on your kid to Make It this time… Wake up and smell the music. It’s pathetic. Get your act together and behave.

Maybe if you’re lucky, when you’re old and decrepit they will just feel sorry for you. Maybe if when they’re in a state where you will need them, when they have to take care of you, they will do the right, honorable and human thing: respect you and help you age and eventually die well. Or maybe they’ll get drunk and make jokes about it. You know, because it’s all in good fun, right?, crapping on the concept of being there for people who need our help. Or maybe they won’t resent the hell out of you for putting yourself first all. the. time. Or maybe they will do their best, numbly go through the motions, but be unable to give back what wasn’t given to them.

As a parent, I’m all for cutting loose and having fun, but not as a brand, not as an identity, and certainly not as a thematic function for who I am. Life’s hard enough sober and single. Marriage adds a whole new dimension. And then kids?! Innocent people who are legitimately needy and completely dependent on us for everything until they aren’t anymore?! Holy cow… I can’t imagine life drunk and with kids. And I certainly can’t imagine it being clever or glib or witty to make jokes about needing a mind-numbing substance to get through the day.

I can’t stand that stuff, it makes my blood boil. I have moments, trust me, of when I wish I could run away, or of when I wish I could be more resilient, more aloof, but no… This is life. When you get it on and make a baby, it’s not only all about you anymore. It’s about doing your best, everyday showing up mentally and physically and doing two very simple things on paper, but hard as hell to practice at times: love them with all your might and protect them. Love and protect. That’s all.

Therapy is cheap compared to how our glibness affects our children.

I’m dealing with my own set of challenges: I’m the PB&J in my family sandwich. My parents are getting reeeeally old and my kids are almost all teenagers. I will need every ounce of presence and sanity to navigate these waters. I could do the easy thing, do what my parents did: get drunk and avoid my responsibilities, but that’s not who I am.

If I’ve pissed you off, it’s okay. We aren’t right for each other. Just being real.

Thank you.

Go With Your Gut or What Happens When You Don’t

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Go with your gut. Your first reaction. Your first instinct. Your first impression. Go with it with everything: a car, a ride with a friend, a woo-woo person you saw, a job interview, a job you want, a book you started, a song you heard, something you tasted, something someone said, a first date. Go with it. Don’t second-guess your reaction and for goodness’ sake, don’t make exceptions (this is really for me).


What does this mean? For starters: everyone’s gut reaction is their own. Yours doesn’t have to agree with mine, but if it does, then that’s more reason to heed. To me (probably because I haven’t learned enough yet), it doesn’t mean you must act on it; it just means you retain it, keep it in the hip pocket, or like a tip sheet for future use, for those moments when you will inevitably (due to human nature) go against it. 


We all do this — we all go against it. They wouldn’t be called “first impressions” if there were no second ones and third ones… Maya Angelou has a famous phrase, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them.” Lots of people think this phrase can be meant as a warning system, and I’m sure that’s its main intention. 


On the opposite side of the same coin though, is that it’s also an “it’s OK” system too. If your first candid impression of someone is as lovely and tender and sweet, then go with that — even if they show you something different later — because you know it is there.  I wouldn’t be married to the man I am if I ignored his tenderness the first time I ever met him (that said, he has never shown me another side). So if your nice person is snarly, it’s probably because something’s wrong. Then, listen to your gut to help root out the problem. 

Going against the gut instinct is not a sin or a character flaw or a symptom of stupidity (even though it feels like it sometimes); it is that instead we rationalize, we go with our hearts or sense a familiarity / redolence from a previous and precious pattern that we used to know; we used to exist under. Sometimes these familiarities manifest themselves like a hangover. “Hair of the dog” might take away the symptoms but it sure doesn’t stop your drinking problem. 


Spock never had to really rationalize.



Going against our gut, and going for the familiar can create problems and waste so much time: I would have never dated as much as I had and I would have never learned the lessons I learned if I had always gone with my gut (I would have saved myself a lot of heartache and woe, but hey, I’m not Spock). This is part of life. We buy the wrong car; we talk to the crazed person we saw scream at traffic; we take the job and it doesn’t work out; we gloss over the tone when we heard someone say something … we overcompensate, we rationalize. 



Wouldn’t it be nice if life or people came with red flags?: 


This is so funny and true. 

Maybe they do. Maybe they do come with red flags and we just y’know, ignore them. But y’know, when you do go against your gut, you will learn through trial and error and trial and error and trial and error until you don’t anymore. You will experience so many “face palm” moments that you might create an impression in your forehead. 


That’s OK. Don’t judge yourself, but DO know that it won’t stop — these face palms, the “not again” moments until you stop. Until you see the light at the moment you’re really meant to. That when all the data is lined up, and you’ve learned all you need to know — about the book, or the song,  or the person you saw screaming at traffic or the job interview you had — that your Gut Instinct will be there, waiting and saying, “Welcome back, normal-thinking self, that person we spent so much time in therapy trying to find, we missed you.”  


But even though we’ve learned that last “not this time”-time, sometimes we repeat behaviors, actions, relationships again in different iterations. We Rationalize Again: one person’s drama is just slightly different until it really isn’t anymore and then, it’s your fault. You fell asleep at the wheel and the fork in the road takes you closer to hell or back to clarity and you’re about to crash. You need to wake up, rub your eyes, slap yourself in the face, turn up the music, open the window, ANYTHING!, course correct and Don’t Repeat. And it’s until those “don’t repeat” moments manifest that we will repeat. 

I experienced yet another rationalizing relationship. I went against my gut.  I saw all the flags. I saw all the body language, all the inconsistencies, heard all the weird stories both community-based and this-person-based. I ignored. I compartmentalized and rationalized myself into oblivion. I set boundaries I thought this person could respect. I was clear. But in the end, it went wrong. The boundaries were eventually a mockery because this person has no boundaries; everything is everyone else’s right? If it’s on the Internet then it’s all up for grabs, out in the open. The relationship was never sane because you can’t have a unsane myopic, self-absorbed person with a sane, open-minded and continually-seeking self-awareness person. The see-saw isn’t balanced and the see-saw always sways toward the unsane (I know it’s “insane”) person because that person is flailing its arms and throwing molotov cocktails and putting rocks in pockets and distracting and flagrantly violating recently agreed-upon boundaries, victimizing and overcompensating and needing and crying or not crying, and calling and drawing you away from what you know is Real. And this was an ADULT. Ohmygawsh, are you tired yet? (I know, most people would be like: “Dude. Seriously? You put up with that shit?”)

But it took me a third time (that IS the charm, they say) to finally see the light. And it was so bright and clear and clean; and the biggest irony of all?: 

This person was actually the beacon. The light of this person’s self-created convenient truth was so bright you could land planes by it. This person was all “check out how freakin’ nuts I can be and watch me warp truths and like, invoke other people and not own any of my responsibility in any of this because I’m like, all like going rogue and like WILD and FREE, baby and it feels  gooooood…” 

I have to be honest: I saw that light, but I wore the same dark shades I wear on the water when I row. I put on hats… the same racing hats I wear when I row that have a black liner under the bill to absorb the light and reflection off the water. I did all I could to look Joe Cool and totally together when my insides were screaming, “OMIGAWD! Leave! Get out of here! Do NOT do this AGAIN! Are you NUTS?! Boundaries Shmoundaries! There’s poop all over them! Again! Someone, call her husband!” I over-performed and did anything I could to keep everything stable and keep the light under cover because I knew that when I saw that light again, it meant I won the “schmuck” award.  My kids even said so. Ouch.  That bright, flickering light (no matter how creepy) showed me everything that was always there and so much more and this time: I was ready to see it. And that’s growth and that’s OK. Sometimes we have to take two steps forward and one step back a few times before we can ever go at our pace. But I should stop here ‘lest I risk narcissistic bathos. 

I’m not trying to sound glib or like Stuart Smalley (all self-help is OK until it enables the continued practice of errors that are so rooted in our subconscious that staying asleep to them is simply selfish: at one time or another people, we have to grow up, definitely including me); because positive self-affirmations can have real and lasting benefits when they are actually believed. Because if we believe, as Stuart says, that we are “good enough and of value and people like” us then we don’t act needy and do reckless things trying to curry favor with people who work reeeeally hard to keep their acts together.  Trying to be mellow and kind, and running damage control when the molotov cocktails are flying is hard. People start to look at you like you’ve gone bye-bye too. And that’s when ya gotta pull the chute cord. If you don’t Get It by yourself, you’ll Get It by peer pressure. 


So then the trick is after we finally Get It, to not beat ourselves up too much for not Getting It in the first place. It’s OK if you stumble and ignore your Gut.  There’s a phrase “against our better nature” that comes to mind. I personally dislike the use of “better” because it is judgmental; it implies that we should know “better.” Sometimes, as in matters of the heart, we simply Don’t Know Better. Until we do.


Just don’t beat yourself up while you’re learning — and more importantly: don’t let whatever you’re learning about beat you up either; don’t ignore the flags, apparently they are always waving.    


And then when we do figure it out… Hot diggity, Woo-hoo and Allelujia, it’s a good thing and Lesson is Learned. You have FINALLY Gone With Your Gut. Now it’s time to Repeat! The wisdom from the lesson … NOT the lesson. 


thank you. 



perfect mother? no. not even close.

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Yesterday in yoga, I got a gift. I didn’t ask for it; it came to me. The preceding evening, I posted on my facebook walls (GrassOil and my personal wall) that day’s events:

“So it has been a long day. Thing 3 bumped his head hard enough today in P.E. to warrant an ambulance ride to Inova Peds Unit, which I will happily leave all my money when I die, for multiple tests, including CT scan, xray and EKG. He was released around 1pm with a favorable & cautious prognosis: no sign of concussion, but no stunts either. An hour ago, I was hugging him, gratefully, and he said, in his dry way, “Mom, it’s late. You need to go now. Turn out my light and close my door.” I guess he’s better already.

The gift in yoga came from my teacher, who is also a fb friend and a physical, touchable friend offline, on the actual planet we share (I can’t go there: “IRL / in real life” – to me, this is all real life).  She openly asked me how I was doing because she had read my status about Thing 3. Her knowing eyes bore through my façade of panache and I said, “OK, now.” She explained to the other yoginis (this class is awesome, populated with all manner of women in all walks of life) my status and then paused, with a knowing and loving glance at me to close with, “Molly is the mother of three boys. It’s a busy job.”

The women collectively, “ohhhh’d” at my experience, lovingly and without the fruitlessly competitive and dismissive, “been there done that” patronizing tone. They all visually hugged me and graced me with gentle smiles.  With a small smile, I hugged them back and said, “Yes, I am a mom of three boys. I’m a lucky girl,” and I meant every syllable of it.

RANT: Being a word freak, I hate that “been there done that” and “it’s all good” response that people make automatically toward other peoples’ circumstances. It’s so dismissive and isolating. I want to say and believe that people mean no harm, but I have also say, that most people mean absolutely nothing when they say it. In fact, they’re saying, “I don’t care. Don’t tell me your problems because they’re not my problem.”  In my personally invested mind I say, “No, actually, you haven’t ‘been there or done that’ because you’re not me. Your child is not my child. You are not in my shoes and it’s not ‘all good.’ The fear or sadness I felt then, even though things are OK now, have stripped a layer from my confidence; have stolen minutes from the restful sleep I will have in years to come. That my son had to experience a CT-scan which apparently can create conditions where 1:1,200 children can develop some form of cancer is not really… ‘been there done that’ for you unless you’re me and he’s yours. Granted the sun and TV can do the same thing, but that’s part of a regular existence.  And that ‘it’s all good’ because he didn’t have a concussion is really not ‘all good.’ The kid was terrified of this gigantic machine, so don’t go dismissing me with your been there done that it’s all good  garbage. It’s not that simple for me. I’m clearly still too close to this incident to be totally rational about “it’s all good.” May I never be too far from it. RANT OVER.

The gift was that my yoga teacher Saw Me. She gets me. She Knows What It’s Like.

That same day, I met with my therapist and she heard me recount this yoga experience and what happened with Thing 3.  She wrote down something.  I hate it when she does that. This post is the closest I’m likely going to come to a public indictment of my mother for her parenting style (which was very unique): she was a mix of Augusten Burrough’s mother in Running with Scissors; “All in the Family’s” Edith Bunker and “Roseanne”‘s Roseanne.  My mother (who is still with us) suffered from some pretty heavy mental disorders (which were unknown about in the 1960s and 1970s) and her own mother’s parenting style. While those disorders and her history do not absolve her of her special brand of caregiving because many of her flaws were avoidable, they help me recognize that her particular style of childrearing was not because of anything I did (this is something that I’ve only recently begun to accept).  As a result, my style of mothering has been to sorta ‘wing it’ in reverse from what she did. While I made it and am here, there are parts of my person that are woefully undernurtured and as such, I am attuned to feel exquisitely inadequate, perfectionistic, insecure, snarky and defensive about any error, real or imaginary, I manifest.  To fight those urges requires vigilance.  What’s even more ironic is that I am both at times gullible and distrustful, go figure.

So, when someone Gets Me or Gets You, regardless of your maternal status, it’s no small gift. They Get Us because they Too Have Lived.  They know how hard we’ve worked to Just. Get. By.

I asked my therapist what she wrote down. She gladly told me: “She fears turning into her mother.”  And that’s why she earns the big bucks. That concept is nothing new: I’m sure many women reading this very word right now are guilty of desperately hoping they are not like their mothers. I feel I’ve cornered the market on that sentiment, but I know in some ways I am very very similar to my mother. It’s the anger; anger from neglect as a child.

this is my mom and me in 2008

Then, what my therapist said to me was this: “You Are Not Your Mother.” I’ve suspected that but it doesn’t mean I’ve quit trying. Running a “how not to turn into your mother” crusade has an ugly underbelly: it’s all-out war against myself and my femininity. I am the only daughter in my family, and thus I am the most similar to my mother in my family.  For me to win this war, I became my anti-mother: tough, hard, self-neglectful, realistic, honest and true, stable, openly self-critical and vigilant.  Y’know what? It has been exhausting! My mother embraces her softness, almost exploits it at times and I’ve wrestled with it: I’ve considered softness, femininity to be a waste of time. This is wrong. So I had to reframe it.

We’re all overcompensating for something…

My war meant that I’m totally interested in health, exercise, laundry, cooking, playing with my kids and sorta neglecting mySelf.  I don’t do the aforementioned with the intention that it pleases me, I do so in the spirit of service to my family because it was so lacking in the world where I grew up. It doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the efforts; my motivations are skewed.  When I exercise, it’s to stay fit for my family because my mother never did.  When I run myself ragged running errands it’s because my mother didn’t.  When I show up somewhere 15 minutes early to pick-up my kids, it’s because my mother didn’t and sometimes she didn’t even show. Or when she did, she was altered.  When I am self-reliant it’s because my mother wasn’t.  The good news is that I’m finally am OK with what I’ve become despite it all.  And since beginning therapy, I’ve learned to loosen up a bit on myself and allow myself to be OK with just being OK.  I’m reading a book, The Emotionally Absent Mother: A Guide to Self-Healing and Getting the Love You Missed by Jasmin Lee Cori, which has been very helpful.

In keeping with the inadequacy theme, I posted someone else’s blog on my fb wall last night, “9 Quick Tips for Keeping Your Home Feeling Serene and Organized.” It wasn’t fiction.  A friend from high school, a great gal whose two younger children are close in age to mine commented, “I need to work on #9” (making your bed). She and I went back and forth for a couple rounds because I sense we both share the same space of trying to figure this stuff out: that a mess in the house means the kids are having fun (really? that’s ok?); that dishes on the table mean the family has been fed (doesn’t it also mean lazy?); that an unmade bed means someone had somewhere safe to sleep (not that they’re getting back in it real soon?); that a dining room table covered with homework means minds are being challenged (not irresponsible from not cleaning up?)… OK whatever you say. (My inner anti-my-mother mother is cringing.) I’ve got to prepare for the cleaning ladies


I grew up with a fair amount of chaos — our house was forever disheveled but for entirely different reasons than those cited above.  My mother seldom cleaned the house, our cleaning lady, Betty Sortino, did.  She was awesome.  She had tobaccoffee breath, jiggled her leg to rock me to sleep on my bed, shared her Hershey’s bars with me, read me bedtime stories and taught me lyrics to “I Shot the Sheriff.”  So, the optimistic proposal of a messy home being a happy home leaves me twisting my neck like a confused labrador retriever unless Hershey bar wrappers and Clapton are part of the picture.

Like me, my friend is a Stay At Home Mother (SAHM), which is a misnomer if I ever heard one. I am not a stay at home mother. We are a collective runerrands keeptheenginerunning dashinforasecond todropsomething offgoingtothemarket thekidsforgottheirhomework canicallyouback inanhour gottatakethekidstochess tennissoccerbasketballguitar orthodontistfillthetank dogneedsshots sodothecats gethimtotutoringgottagotothedoctor –oh yeah, what about lunch and a potty break for me?– mother.

On the FB thread, my friend said someone she knows suggested that we SAHMs treat our SAHM-ness as a job: that we shower, dress as though for work, do our hair and apply make-up and all the rest, so that we will see our domestic experiences as … Oh God, what is this the frigging 1950s?! Someone finish this sentence! I am stumped! Can this be true – a female recommended this?! I guess we’re supposed to do even more to somehow bring more vapid value in what we’re doing to look good when we’re doing it even though we may be miserable or lost or battling the feeling that what we’re doing is not good enough.  Hey, ladies, if you’re gonna go to war with yourself, don’tcha wanna look great?! So the take-away is to lie: to look like we’ve been at the office all day even though we’re not bringing in any extra money because clearly staying in our yoga pants with crazy hair in a ponytail is unacceptable. People can get fired for that.  My friend, like me, also tries to get her exercise in so any attempt at that means the hair and make-up has to wait and exercise for me happens when I make it because I’m not totally organized (in that way, I’m a carbon copy of my mom). 

I said to my friend, “I don’t garden, clean, fold laundry, drive all over and workout in pleated khakis and pearls and a double-breasted jacket or workout in Anne Taylor” so, um, her friend’s well-intentioned (and completely unrealistic) advice made me feel even more inadequate. I can’t imagine a bigger waste of emotional energy, time and effort than to dress for success when you’re just gonna go to the grocery store (although living in Fairfax County, I must admit I’ve seen it).  Maybe I’m wrong. 

  

I added that there are those of us who like to be with kids and are super domestic and eagerly play “tea party” or “army men” under the dining room table with the kiddos. As much as I love those -moments- I’ll be honest: I never aspired to engage in them. Does that make me a bad mother? I don’t know.  I’m a big believer in a child’s need to develop “independent play” as well as group play and by golly, if I’m gonna be playing, it better involve dice, cards and tokens and cash not tea cups, teddy bears or army men and sandboxes. 

A couple years ago I clipped a Daily OM meditation for the day called “Tending the Hearth.”  It quells my nerves and helps me remember that what I’m doing –even if the house is a mess and the clothes are clean but not always put away– is of value. It puts the brakes on my inner argument that I’m inadequate for the five minutes after I read it until something breaks or crashes and snaps me back to first-responder reality. 

A joke my friend once told me: “I was a great parent before I had children.” 

Motherhood, parenthood, whateverhood is tough, regardless of your circumstances. Granted, I’m not a mother in Africa suffering from famine or disease, but stress is stress is stress. I’m not diminishing my stress if I honor the stress of my sisters in Africa. Even though I like my first-world existence, I’m not so sure an African mother would want my problems. Wayne Dyer once said, “you can never make anyone richer by making yourself poorer.” I dig that; that’s why I haven’t given everything away. 

When you are a parent, your unrivaled unbridled love for your brood can only be equalled by the same degree of protection of your sanity and your precious wisftul recollections of the life you had Before Children. Nothing makes a mother or father crave the life they had Before Children than the screaming fights and unrelenting repetitive verbal waterboarding of an insistent 11-year-old child feigning illness and fever who wants to stay home from school because a test is on that day’s docket.Nothing will make you second guess your decision to not put whiskey in your morning coffee sooner.

So am I a perfect mother? Hell no. But I’m trying to be less-than perfect. I’m figuring out that I’m doing OK and that book I mentioned above is telling me where I’m screwing up because I see where I’m repeating patterns I learned and observed.  I’ve also learned to appreciate the parts of my mom that are good because if I don’t figure out some good things about her, I’m sorta screwing myself because I am 50% her…. I’ve become better about liking pink but I’m not a girly-girl and that’s totally OK. 


No one’s asking for advice, so I’ll tell you what works for me: tend the sadness and sorrow from your childhood, allow it because it can’t get better unless you honor it; don’t dwell, but don’t bury it. But if you’re a parent, stay aware.  Read books, blogs (here’s a blog, sorta sad, but it’s clinical about unattentive parents) and learn.  Your kids will forgive you if you ask and honor on your commitment to them to make it up to them.  They won’t however, ever trust you if you lie to them about it. Remember: their big brains have a ton of bandwidth and they’ve got memories like little elephants.  Do the best you can and be the best you can be. Put aside your fears of your inadequacies and remember you can learn a lot from your kids if you let yourself hear them.


Kids didn’t ask to be born into our baggage, our inner wrestlings and inner battles. They didn’t say to God (or whatever you believe in), “Hey, gimme that really awesome person down there. Yeah, the one in the Porsche.  She looks like she’s had no troubles or sadness. Oh, a person without disappointment, sadness or troubles doesn’t exist? Oh. Well, how about that one? She looks soft.” So by virtue of that, we must do our utter best by our children.  We must put down the phone, step away from the computer, be patient, be clear, be honest, express our needs, put down the drink, slow down the car, get out of bed, smile when we speak to them and be that person they know we can be.  Be that person they need us to be.  

this is my mom, me and my gramma in 1969.

If your person wasn’t there for you to begin with, become the person You’ve Been Waiting For. 

Thank you.