Different Drummers

Photo: jbrownell

So over at All Frayed Edges and Shades of Red, Beanie has a great post about her youngest daughter, "The Bug." Now The Bug might take her time tackling developmental milestones, but when she feels ready, well, watch out! She knocks 'em out of the park.

And reading this very sweet post was a great reminder to me that every kid is different, and they have their own timetables and talents and interests. And that this is a good thing, not a bad thing. To try to force a child to be more like the "other" kids is sort of like nagging an apple tree to be more like a rosebush. It won't work. And what good would it do to have all these roses all over the place and no apples? Apples are awesome! And what about apple pie? You can't make apple pie with roses, damn it!

(Wait. This analogy somehow went all to hell. Sigh. Important Legal disclaimer: Cranky Fitness is not suggesting you bake your kids into a flaky crust with a bunch of cinnamon and butter and sugar. It's illegal and unethical and your children probably don't taste very good anyway no matter how much sugar you sprinkle on them).

So the whole notion that we're not all the same and that this is a good thing: gosh, what an original thought! This "duh" moment brought to you by Crabby McSlacker, rediscovering the obvious.

Oh yeah, and then MizFit came along and reminded me again yesterday with a post about being "unapologetically ourselves." Which drove the same message home again: there's no point in being all sad and sorry for the rose bush you're not, when you could be celebrating the awesome apple tree you actually are instead!

And yet, since this message about being yourself and celebrating what's unique about you appears in hundreds of poems, songs, motivational posters, and even commercials selling diet soft drinks and overpriced blue jeans, why the heck is it so incredibly hard to live our lives as though it's true?

Well, I'm guessing part of it has to do with being human, social animals who come genetically pre-wired to want to please others in order to get along. Which is not a bad thing! If our ancestors really, totally did not give a crap what other people thought about them, they'd probably have been way more selfish and mean and probably smelly too, and they would have gotten themselves kicked out their caves and fed to the bears. We who are around now probably mostly descended from the socially aware cave-people who were conversant with group norms and knew how to get along.

Yet many of us, particularly women, may notice that this human tendency to want to fit in can lead to counter-productive behavior. Instead of encouraging ourselves and each other to be who we are, we all scramble to be the same person: slim and pretty and successful and happily married and not too shy or too loud or too big or too sarcastic or too lazy or too frantic or frivolous or serious or lazy or frumpy or spacey or demanding or too... anything! But, sad to say, particularly not too ugly or too fat.

So we beat ourselves up for not being "enough" and compare ourselves to people who are totally different from us, and then we sometimes even gang up on others who act too "weird" or "don't take care of themselves" or otherwise fail to meet our arbitrary standards for what's acceptable. We know this is bullsh*t, right? But we live in a society that encourages it, and it's hard to fight it all the time and so sometimes we don't fight it at all.

And this post was originally going to be an incredibly grouchy rant, inspired by, of all things, the Huffington Post. (Yes, tiny little "CrankFi" was going to take on big ol' HuffPo!) If you don't frequent it, HuffPo is a liberal blogging behemoth with a lot of great contributors (like the awesome Charlotte from The Great Fitness Experiment). And all kinds of empowered women hang out there. Yet which posts are almost always among the most popular? The catty ones critiquing how female celebrities look, or the fawning ones wondering how we can all dress just like Michele Obama. These are not just the most popular in "entertainment" or "style," these are the most popular on the whole frigging site. It drives me nuts every time I go there! (Now watch, today out of spite it will be all serious and scholarly, but go there often enough and you will see what I mean). And I suppose I can't really blame HuffPo for telling me the truth about what supposedly well-educated, politically aware people actually care about... but I can certainly find it depressing.

And then I was going to complain about how many of our insecurities about not "measuring up" are created and exploited by people trying to sell us products. But we all know that already, right? And it doesn't seem to help.

Oh, and then I was going to go into a whole thing about the health and fitness world, and how it's always assumed we all have the same goals, interests, priorities, metabolisms, nutritional needs, pain tolerance, financial resources, obstacles, motivation, and time. When that's totally not true. And how I'm as just as dumb as any other health writer in sometimes mindlessly passing on this attitude that we should all aspire to one way of being healthy, when it's really clear there is no "one" way.

But then I got to thinking about a whole different thing. Bear with me here...

Once there was a little girl kitty who got adopted into a household that already had another boy cat. The boy cat cat was smart and charismatic and knew how to charm the humans by fetching toys and following the humans around and generally being adorable. He was also kind of a bully and would play rough with the girl cat. She liked the humans just fine, but spent a fair amount of time during her first few years hiding under the furniture. Her humans thought she was very sweet, and felt a bit sorry for her, but feared that she did not have much personality.

Then one day, the other cat was gone. (Long, bizarre story there; perhaps another post for another time). And guess what? The little girl cat came out from under the furniture and turned out to have a lovely, sweet, quirky, personality. She was playful and charming and cuddly and wonderful. She'd no doubt been this way all along, but between her shyness, her aggressive big brother, and her clueless humans, her personality had been hidden from the world.

But not squelched.

How was she able to flourish and come into her own after those formative years spent hiding? Well, perhaps because unlike a human, she did not sit there muttering to herself: "why am I not more like my brother? Why can't I be charming and charismatic and aggressive enough to make an impression? " No, Maile ("The Moo") just was who she was, and when she was finally able to crawl out from under the armoire in the bedroom (her favorite hiding spot) without getting chased and bitten, her world finally recognized her for the complex, unique, sweet, loving, silly, cat she was. She was the best cat any human could ever want.

And sometimes I think we should be more like cats and stop worrying about what the other humans are doing. And we should try to create a world where everyone can crawl out from under the furniture and take their place in the world for whomever they are.

So as is probably becoming clear by my use of the past tense, we lost Maile last week and it's been such a sad thing that I couldn't quite bring myself to blog about it. (And I know it doesn't compare to other blogger's recent tragic losses). But I'd like to at least think that I can be grown up enough to take some lessons from the wonderful 18 years we spent with Maile, and try to be smart like a cat and not dumb like a human when it comes to accepting myself for who I am.

And the next time I have the choice between subtly chasing someone back under the furniture, or encouraging them to come out and take their place in the world? I hope I choose the latter. I hope we all do.

Thank you Maile, for all those wonderful years.

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