Envy and Ugly PantsRachel Jones
*I wrote this post way back in September, dug it up and edited it this week. Pretend it is the first week of school.*
My pants didn’t fit. I bought them eight years ago, before my second pregnancy expanded my hips and then years of running shrunk them. Eight years of salty Djibouti laundry washes and hanging in the blistering sun to dry, stains and faded knees. They are not exactly stylish anymore and only stay on when I cinch the roped belt tight. But I stubbornly keep wearing them.
I wore these oh-so-lovely pants with a shirt also purchased eight years ago, also with a belted waist (yeah, I know, double belts? hello dork-mom). Blue and white paisley. I keep it, because it is super thin but not see-through-when-soaked-with-sweat-thin. Ugly but practical.
I wore this stunning outfit on my daughter’s first day of school. I had taken a shower (this is a step up from the lazy summer months), but between getting dressed and getting her backpack ready, I had broken into a sweat that made the paisley shirt stick to my back. I had put on makeup, but by the time we walked the two blocks from our parking spot to the school, it melted off.
Thankfully we were late and missed the director’s welcome speech that is the same every year and that is almost impossible to hear and during which all the parents stand in a scrum of bodies. I swear I could see steam rising, and I absolutely swear I could smell it. My daughter and I greeted friends from last year and found her teacher.
And there she was.
Every school has one.
While you throw greasy, sweaty post-run hair into a ponytail, she shows up with freshly styled tresses that are not stuck to the back of her neck. You wipe beads of sweat from your nose and peel your shirt off your stomach, and she appears to walk inside an air-conditioned bubble. Your makeup is in frightening streaks and hers is immaculate, like a movie star who wakes up in the morning looking better than the average woman looks at her best.
While you clutch your pants to keep them from slithering to your ankles, she wears a slim, trendy skirt over slim, cellulite-free legs. While you trip over rocks and stomp over garbage piles, she glides, unwavering, on high heels. While you refuse to wear white (hello yellow armpits), she seems to only wear white, and it always looks truly white, no spilled coffee, no red pen marks, no Djibouti-turned-gray shades of used-to-be white.
You know the woman I’m talking about. The one whose only flaw is that her well-dressed, wealthy husband’s chin sort of melts into his neck, deeper and deeper as he ages. The woman that makes you feel less than. The one that makes you discontent. The one with whom, in your own mind, you will never measure up. She has it all and no matter what you do, you never will.
This woman’s son is in my daughter’s class. Again.
This means I will see her on a regular basis for the rest of the year. Again.
This means it is time to battle the green monster of envy.
This means it is time to crush the concept of scarcity, the ‘mythical they.’
Time for some good old Brené Brown. Scarcity there is not enough beauty in the world and so if she is beautiful, I am not. There is a limited amount of good parents in the world and so if she is a good parent, I am not. There can only be so many fit people in the world, so if she is a real’ runner, I am not. There is only enough room on the shelf for a certain number of well-written, well-sold books, so if she writes a bestseller, my book sucks. Only so many people can learn a foreign language fluently and so since she speaks it so well, I am stupid. You name it, if you want it but someone else has it, you will never get it or deserve it.
Scarcity is the nasty game of comparison, and it is all about pride, selfishness, and ego. Basically, it is all about me.
Walking into the first day of school and being worried about how I measure up. Walking into a bookstore worried about how my book measures up. Reading other blogs or articles worried about how mine measure up. Listening to runners list off times and races worried about how mine measure up.
Living under the lie of scarcity doesn’t make room for loving people. If I am worried about how I compare to the other moms at school (or even about keeping my pants on), how good will I be at ensuring my daughter steps into her first day of third grade with confidence? If I am so consumed with how my writing compares, I am paralyzed to write with vulnerability and encourage the things in my own heart. If I spend conversations about running thinking about my own times, how well am I listening?
Scarcity removes my ability to fully engage, to serve, to listen, to respond appropriately. It removes my ability to love well, and it turns my thoughts ever toward self.
And here’s the thing. That mom? She doesn’t have it all. And me? I will never have it all anyway. Ever. Neither will you.
Get over it.
I don’t know the secret things in that mom’s heart or life. I don’t know if she is lonely or if her mother has cancer or if her son is rebellious or if her marriage is on the rocks. All I know is that she comes to school looking like a model out of a magazine page. I don’t know if she has an incredible sense of humor or if she spends her days visiting Tuberculosis patients or if she is a deeply spiritual person. I don’t know if we could be friends. I’m too focused on myself to step into risk and find out.
When I walk into school intimidated, on the defensive, ready to compare, I am the one who loses out on a chance to widen my world, to reach out past my own loneliness and insecurities, to test my courage and to trust God to be the holder of my identity, not my pants.
So here’s what I decided to do this year. I’m going to say hello to that mom. I’m going to think of a reason to talk to her. I’m going to discover the unique gifts that she has to offer the world, beyond mere window-dressing. Maybe we’ll become friends. Maybe not.
Maybe she’ll let me borrow her skirt.