Thursday, March 22, 2012

locus - the art of becoming an "innie"

(This was my belly)

 When I was about 12 months pregnant (just kidding, but it felt like it) with my first child, I joked about the turkey timer of my bellybutton popping out from its usual "innie" status to becoming an "outie".  I thought it was a lovely visual analogy for my sense of focus: deeply inward during early and mid-pregnancy, moving slowly outward as it became time to prepare for birth and mothering a child.

My sense of happiness is linked inextricably to motherhood in many, many ways - both my own, and my own mother's.  As a young girl, I was steeped in my mom's favorite sayings, like these beauties:
  • if you smile enough, you'll feel happier
  • things will always look better in the morning
I watched her own struggle to apply this approach to her own life.  I saw where it bolstered her, and where it sometimes failed her and left her with nothing but her inherent strength to keep her upright.  Oh yeah, that one too:
  • keep your chin up
I also watched her struggle with the overwhelming melodrama of dealing with an almost-out-of-control early teenager.  Trying to teach me how to control my own responses to the difficulties a complicated family life and financial hardship was handing me, trying to show me the beauties that were still there.  I didn't pick that up well at all, not for quite a long time.  I put everything I was - or thought I was - into friends or boys, many of them fleeting, some of them even borderline abusive.  Then, at some point, one of mom's sayings clicked for me:
  • we make our own happiness
Being angry wasn't getting me anywhere, and there wasn't a single person I had met in my limited years who had been capable of "making me happy".  What a shocking revelation, because isn't "you make me happy"  a key part of all teenage romance stories?  (for that matter, 60% of adult romance stories too, with the remainder composed of, "change because you love me").  I eventually started to pull my sense of self away from the equally-struggling people I had entrusted with it, and remembered that I had a usable brain, a sense of humor, and a sense of ambition of my own.  I found myself gravitating
(This is NOT my belly)
toward friends who already knew or who were discovering the same things.  Somewhere further down the road I read a page in a psychology book detailing the concept of "locus of control":  your locus can either be internal (meaning the person believes that they control their life) or external (meaning they believe that their environment, some higher power, or other people control their decisions and their life).  It was around that time that I had also come to a slow and painstaking conclusion that organized religion didn't make sense to me at all, and the idea that the heartwrenching sense of being at loose ends throughout adolescence could end with me holding the reins of my own life ... nothing before or since has been so empowering.

Of course, in my early days with my husband, I probably still would have said that he made me happy.  Looking back now at our 19 years together (we're one of the weird and lucky couples who met at the end of high school and still like each other), I can say that isn't correct.  I feel good about who I am in his eyes.  His support has helped me to realize and develop my own strengths.   He says things that tickle our shared humor and I enjoy a laugh with him.  When he remembers details about my likes and needs I feel treasured.  When we had difficulty getting pregnant, I was consoled by sharing the stress and pain.  When we were successful and had our daughters, my joy was multiplied by seeing the same in his eyes.  Does he make me happy?  No.  I am happy that I am with him.  But he doesn't MAKE me anything, which has been an absolute key element of our relative success to date.

The very definition of "outie"
So often now I find myself gazing at the petulant face of a peevish 5 year old (yes, there was a birthday party at our house last week) who is screeching, "you do NOT make me happy" at her sister.  I wrack my brain to find a way to share those insights on her level.  I find myself saying, "we make our own happiness...".  I come up short, of course, every time.  She's simply developmentally not ready to be an "innie" yet.

locus:  a center or source, as of activities or power


  1. This is wonderful. I love how you've made an abstract topic so visceral. Your belly photo is just breathtaking.

  2. I'm consistently struck by why this blog was such a good idea ... for many reasons, but the one that strikes me currently is the amazing thoughts we get to share with one another (and anyone else who cares to "listen"). Your observations are so profound and striking, D (I LOVE the "innie" / "outie" and the "internal" / "external" locus of control connections!). I can hear you when you write, and that connection gives me goosebumps, and makes me miss you less and more at the same time.