What would Maya Angelou do?

It’s Saturday morning.  A pile of rocks sits on my chest. Reproduction transforms everything, including weekends. 

Enter Hunger Games. The prize is rest, the challenge consistently showing up for tiny humans with wholehearted love.

I attempt to pick myself up. There’s a birthday party we need to get to. Before 10 am. Dressing myself requires discipline. Clothing two joy-filled, playful humans under four is hiking the grand canyon in a day. Making it to the car is the goal. Things are tenuous. It’s time to push exhaustion to the side. This isn’t about me. It’s about showing up for hope-filled tiny humans. Just keep moving.  

Winning the Oscar for Best Performance by an Exhausted Mother Surviving Life is a real possibility. I lug my legs around, shoulders slumped, brain swirling. I am outstanding. The human I do life with, who co-generated the scenario that’s given rise to the aforementioned tiny humans, is watching me. Quietly. He skips asking whether I’m in need and jumps directly to sticking hands in to support. He pops into the drivers seat, and we’re off. 

I find sunglasses glamorous; I wear them less than the fingers on a single hand yearly. This is a sunglasses kind of morning. 

It’s our first visit to this home. We head towards the park, continue straight and then turn left. Balloons tied to a railing kindly guide us. I’m grateful for his presence, uncertain about how to navigate this party. I like to feel prepared and whole. I feel neither. 

Our hosts are lovely. Warm, genuine, welcoming; the best possible scenario at a moment like this.  Adults cluster as children play nearby.  Sunglasses on, deep breaths, attempt coherent conversation, give our tiny humans room to laugh, to play. There is joy in the air. I must survive. Just keep talking. 

Parents and tinies begin to drift across the ample lush backyard. There’s a kiddie pool set up, food generously provided on the porch. He takes the lead, wanders around with our little ones, who periodically check in with me. During the drifting, an engaging soul strikes up a dialogue. I deeply appreciate her wit. Our connection is a gentle lift. Perhaps I can endure this. Just keep going. 

Our conversation turns to professions; intrigue and curiosity blossom. I start to forget my exhaustion in  the thrill of discovery. I begin to feel grateful that he climbed into the drivers seat and we made it. 

I remain weary; less engaged with our tiny humans than I typically am. He is taking the lead. Each of these merciful humans helps me endure the next moment. 

We delve into the nuances of helping humans find connection through conversations about race. Find connections between our life experiences and areas of professional expertise. There is laughter, rueful moments. My daughters come find me, climb into my arms, but not for long. They disappear, and as we drift towards the porch I can see that he has prepared plates. He is managing their meal. The relief this brings is near unspeakable. I typically dig up the energy necessary to walk my girls through a meal in an unfamiliar place when weary. But utter exhaustion transforms this endeavor into an overwhelming prospect. I lend support, but he clearly takes the lead. 

She introduces me to her spouse, who is animatedly talking with another man. They welcome me into their dialogue. Gratefulness grows. I continue to survive, make it through. 

I do not excel at respecting my boundaries when it comes to rest. I am learning to receive help, to release. It is not true that I must do it all, all of the time. We are a team. I will keep an eye on our tiny humans and be grateful for the conversational connections that are helping me stay present as our children play. This feels strange, but it is OK. Just go with it. 

I notice something. Feel something.

Silent glances. Evaluation. Is my mothering up to snuff? 

Why isn’t she taking care of the children? 

What kind of mother would do that? 

How neglectful. 

It’s unclear how much of this is my own insecurity. Whether my perception is off. 

I am uncertain. 

Yet I feel it. 

Cupcakes are shared, the happy birthday song sung and we return. Sitting in the drivers seat, I feel conflicted. On the one hand, my spirits are lifted - I never imagined that dragging myself out of the house would lead to connecting with humans I probably never would have met, enjoyed talking with, and that we could tag team in this so I could survive the morning. I feel nagging sense that something is off. That I am being judged as a woman, as a mother for choosing conversation over exclusively focusing my attention on mothering.

My choice to rely on connection and conversation to survive, to receive the help and support of the man I trust to navigate it all, is a betrayal of expectations. 

My pre-existing insecurities attached to being a woman, wife, and mother while building a career simmer.

Saturday bleeds into Sunday. He attends an event, I wash and braid the girls’ hair, take them for an afternoon walk with a friend, navigate naps, bedtime, meals and the running conversation that comes with staying connected to humans under four overflowing with questions, curiosity.

Monday dawns. I am as exhausted as I was the Friday evening before.. I walk towards the building to pick our tinies up, and notice an odd look from a human walking through the lot. 

No, no. It’s me. It’s in my head. 

Not two days later, I say hello to another human, one who attended the party. We typically have passing conversation. No response. 

I am officially triggered. 

It’s not in my head. Something about how I showed up and behaved at that party that didn’t line up with the expectations set for me. 

I feel hurt, judged, and gossiped about, and begin to spiral. 

Why is it that whenever a man does something for their children they’re a hero, while when a woman does something for her children it’s irrelevant?

Do they even understand how devastatingly exhausted I am, and that those conversations helped me survive?

Why doesn’t it feel like anyone is judging the men I was talking with?

Underneath it all, I feel sixteen. 

Left out. out. Lonely, unseen, forgotten and unwanted. 

I need to confide in you. I’m terrified daily. The path of building a business centered in connection is unfamiliar to me. I find my way through uncharted territory each moment. I feel vulnerable, naked. I don’t know what’s coming next. I continue because I believe in shared humanity.  I believe that connection and belonging aren’t luxuries - they’re human necessities. When my client shares that they’re having conversations about race within in their organization in ways that are boosting connection, productivity, and communication, I know feeling terrified isn’t a reason to give up. I choose to find a way. 

My raw vulnerability means this hits hard. The work of creating connection and belonging through conversations about race requires that I do the work I’m guiding clients through. 

I do my best to look  within, hold myself accountable to walking the journey I teach

Still, it hurts to feel gossiped about. To feel judged. I am in a full tail-spin. I confide in two humans I trust, share  my frustrations. I vent, and I feel a dark power, an energy that  that says I’m justified in judging them in all the ways they’re judging me. I do not like how I feel. But I do not want to feel helpless.

And then, one of the humans I trust asks, “What would Maya Angelou do?” 

The room stills. I still. I begin to release the darkness. I breathe deep. I think about about the conversation with Oprah on Super Soul Sunday, the one where where Dr. Angelou weeps for the truth of knowing she is loved by God. It is a blossoming of her soul. Tears of vulnerable acceptance of her relevance, her value, the truth of her passionate essence that exists outside of the context of what any human, anywhere, says, does or thinks. 

I think Maya Angelou would look this experience in it’s eye. She would recognize what the people around her were choosing. She would choose her own character. She would proceed with love, respect her boundaries, and the boundaries of those around her. And then she was continue to live her life. She’d travel, sing, write, speak, act, perform, create art and poetry. She would continue becoming.

I think Maya Angelou would run towards connection with honesty and truth. 

She would forgive. She wouldn’t feed off of the negative energy of rejection. 

She would choose to live. 

I know now that fretting about being excluded distracts me from the practice of showing up to life as myself. My choice is clear. 

Nearly a week later, I notice another human studiously avoid my gaze. 

It still hurts, but now I remember that my importance isn’t contingent on what anyone thinks about me. 

I can refuse to attempt to carve out my belonging by pushing exclusion on the humans around me. I can remember that I am capable of doing any and everything that is done to me. So I can choose to stand on the outside, and still love myself and others because I believe in treating other people in the way I desire to be treated. I can respect the boundary that’s being communicated, while carving out healthy boundaries of my own. 

That one question, What would Maya Angelou do?, shifts my focus from the impossible task of controlling what people think about me, towards deciding what I want to think about myself. 

Exactly where I am, I can show up as precisely who I am - exhausted and simply trying to take my next step - without judging myself or anyone else along the way. 

It may never change. This group may never be interested in discovering who I am. The loss of the opportunity to connect is real. 

Yet each time I see them, I retain the gift of thinking: 

What would Maya Angelou do?

And I am thankful that we went to the party on Saturday morning. 

How do you feel? I'd love it if you left a comment below. I’m listening.