Recently, I was at the gym. Mayberry is an active community with a lot of retirees, so on weekdays I see a lot of them on the treadmills with a few moms like me sprinkled in. At 44, I’m no spring chicken, of course, but I’ve been a runner for a number of years so I fit right in at the Mayberry equivalent of Average Joe’s Gym.
With about a half mile to go to finish my run, an attractive African-American woman hopped on the treadmill next to mine. I have seen her once or twice before, but I’ve never spoken to her and know exactly nothing about her other than what she looks like and that she comes to the gym.
I was feeling frumpy and fat and tired that day, and my thoughts quickly turned to … I wish my arms looked like that … WOW, she has some great shoulders … Oh, to look that good in compression tights … and so on.
But then I stopped myself.
Why was I comparing myself to her? It certainly wasn’t making me feel any better – just the opposite. I was obsessing over all the little things I don’t like about my body, some of which I can’t change, and some of which I could (if it was a priority to me, which obviously it isn’t). I couldn’t just be thankful that I’m healthy and able to run for miles and miles.
I catch myself in the comparison trap at other times, as well. When I see other preschoolers without the tell-tale edge of the pullup peeking out of their shorts, I resent that I can’t take Nathan anywhere and everywhere in regular underwear. I wish Sarah Kate could run and play softball as well as I think she would have been able to without cerebral palsy – that is, as well or better than her peers. I want to be the mom with the typical child for awhile.
The comparison isn’t limited to my children’s peers, either. Right now, I’m not just comparing Sarah Kate to other children, but to the child she was last summer before the big growth spurt and surgery took away what little athletic ability she had.
But it’s not just comparing up that’s a problem. Comparing down is an issue, too.
I feel guilty when I take Sarah Kate to physical therapy and see kids who will likely never do what she can do. I feel uncomfortable when I see teens or adults with Down syndrome whose expressions tell me they aren’t as engaged with the world as Nathan. I didn’t feel that our family deserved the wonderful gift we’ve been given, because I know there are other children whose health issues are more involved, or whose families have fewer resources than we do.
Comparison steals my joy, over and over again.
It doesn’t matter if I’m comparing up or comparing down – what I’m doing is not only unhealthy (who needs that stress?) but just plain wrong. Not only should I be grateful for what I have, rather than wishing for more, but I should focus on being grateful for generous gifts (or just our good fortune) rather than worry about whether they’re deserved.
I struggle with accepting gifts (and compliments, for that matter). I’m always worried I’m not appropriately humble or grateful so I either downplay it (so it doesn’t seem rote or fake) or I go overboard (and then I’m sure I’m being perceived as fake). I don’t know why I’m weird like that.
But when I do those things – compare up, compare down, downplay a gift or compliment, insist I don’t deserve it, or go overboard with showing my gratitude, I’m making things about me that shouldn’t be.
- Nathan isn’t fully potty trained, but he’s So. Much. Fun. to be around and gives the best hugs in the world.
- Sarah Kate struggles with mobility, but she is smart and funny and has a lovely singing voice.
- All those other kids in the therapy office have challenges, but they have wonderful unique qualities just like my kids do – I just don’t know what they are.
- And finally, the generous gift from Magic Moments is just that – not a reward that was earned, but a gift freely given.
Like all of us, I’m a work in progress. In the main, I’m happy with my life and circumstances and if asked, I don’t think I could come up with a single thing that I need to make it better. Are there things I’d like to have? Of course! But do I need them? No. I have all I need, save one thing that only I can provide: a conscious decision not to let in-the-moment comparisons steal my joy.