I love a good mantra, but never identified it as such until I watched Cars 3. The scene on the beach with Lightening McQueen repeating his mantra, “I am speed” was my ah-ha! moment. Every year, instead of a resolution I pick a word to focus on. I also need a concrete way to keep it at the forefront of my day so that I don’t lose the intention. The year we picked the word “Play,” my daughters and I painted wooden letters and gorilla glued them to a prominent wall in our house so that we would see them several times each day. The year we chose “Kindness,” I changed my passwords to an iteration of the word so that I remembered daily the importance of practicing it.
This year we chose a word, but another idea kept rattling around in my head. See, I had read Year of Yes, by Shonda Rhimes in the Fall. I loved the whole book, but one line in particular stuck with me – “Take up as much space as you need to take up.”
Take up as much space as you need
This sentence didn’t immediately make me think of myself. I thought of my second daughter. My loud, loyal, loving second daughter, who wakes up dancing at 6 a.m., and is still singing at the top of her lungs at 9 p.m. The beautiful girl who people insist is so much like me, but drives me crazy with her constant energy, talking, hugging, laughing, scolding, crying, jumping, and questioning. An amazingly intelligent daughter who can’t figure out how to talk in a “library voice” to save her life.
And I thought of my oldest daughter. My bookworm introvert with a wicked sense of humor and a sensitive heart. My talented dancer with amazing technique but a lack of confidence. The girl who is stunningly beautiful and hesitant around strangers, but a complete goofball when she is comfortable. Who, at age 11, still asks me to tuck her in at night after texting puppy pictures to her girlfriends.
Because I am prone to introspection, after a few months of thinking of the kids, I finally let my mind roll around to myself. I realized that I hold back parts of myself, and inadvertently teach my kids to hold back for fear of disappointing people. I try to not be too much or take up too much space in the world. There are obviously some deep-seated issues I need to resolve around this (hello, therapy!). So, I started to repeat this mantra whenever I noticed myself shushing the kids unnecessarily, or holding back from being the person I felt compelled to be.
Mantra on Repeat
It was easier to let go more with the kids. While I was cooking dinner my kids started a dance party in the kitchen. Instead of banishing them, I set boundaries about how far away from the stove and knives they had to be. I silently repeated “Take up as much space as you need.” And when the wave of anxiety passed, I loved watching them dance to the same song blasted on repeat for 15 minutes.
When my eldest daughter broke down in tears of frustration about her difficult math homework, my first inclination was to shelter her from hurt. I wanted to stop her tears so that her pain did not hurt my own heart. Instead, I silently repeated, “Take up as much space as you need” as I held her. Once her tears stopped, we found a meditation app on her phone. I encouraged her to take five minutes to center herself whenever she was spiraling, out of anger, frustration, or sadness.
I am repeating this mantra whenever I start feeling anxiety about choosing myself in life. Everything from pointing out a price mistake at Sprouts when there’s a long line of shoppers waiting to checkout behind me, to interrupting a presentation at work to ask a clarifying question. I chose me when the kids begged me to stay home from a one-hour bodywork class. I knew I needed to go to make myself stronger so that I could be a better mother. Besides, they were left in their father’s capable hands, which is good for him too.
I realized that throughout the day, I constantly second-guess my own needs in order to accommodate other people. But people are not asking to be accommodated, and they gladly move aside slightly so that I can stretch my arms. So now, I choose to claim my space in the world. I choose to take up as much space as I need.