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Apr 2, 2011

Approval


Friends, believe it or not, my cousin Cathy and I are very different.  Or we used to be.  Even when we were kids, Cathy couldn't have cared less what other people thought about her.  I, on the other hand, was always highly sensitive to what others thought of me -- or what I thought they thought -- and I let this influence choices I made for many, many (many) years.

I'm not a regretful person but I do wish I had been more confident earlier on and done what I wanted from an earlier age.  Of course Cathy's choices  have sometimes gotten her in trouble.  She refused to believe that sticking her hand down a mailbox to retrieve a letter was in violation of the law and hence just served four months for mail fraud.  Why she was retrieving the letter is another story.

I bring this up for a couple of reasons.  My mother came for a visit the other day, which, like so many other visits, was preceded by a general de-dragging of the apartment: put away the dress projects, hide the jewelry, etc.  But this time, after the success of Cathy's Broadway outing I decided that it was time to introduce my mother to Cathy.  You may be wondering how my mother could be in the dark about my own cousin, but suspend disbelief for a moment.



Now I had shown my mother Cathy's first outing in her little black dress a long time ago, and she seemed faintly amused, but since then I hadn't mentioned it again and she hadn't asked (which is SO my family).  This time I told her the whole story about how I got the Priscilla tickets and what an exciting night we had.  She seemed to "get it" and asked a few questions like, where did I get the stole?  Now mind you, my mother is over eighty, and this kind of thing is a little beyond her comfort zone.  Of course, she LOVES Michael -- with whom she shares interests in opera and mysteries and crossword puzzles and houseplants and cooking -- so the fact that he was in the photos made the whole thing more legitimate for her.

But I did feel proud of myself for being upfront about the whole thing; I'm too old -- and way too lazy -- to go about cleaning the house every time she comes to visit.  And what am I protecting her from -- or am I protecting myself from her potential disapproval?  Shaming was a big part of my childhood experience.

My latest article in BurdaStyle is about why men don't sew, and one of the reasons I listed was the fear of being stigmatized for pursuing a "feminine" activity -- which home sewing unarguably is in the United States.  And some of the comments attested to this fact.  It just made me feel more strongly than ever the importance of being yourself and not investing your energy in others' approval.  Life isn't short exactly, but it's not long enough to waste years not doing the things you really love because you fear the judgment of others.  I spent decades doing this -- learn from my example!
 

In closing, friends, are there things you'd like to do where the only thing blocking you is fear of how other people might respond?  I've learned that when you're doing something -- anything -- with full authenticity, it's exciting for everybody.  I can count on one finger the number of times Cathy has received a negative response.

The great thing about doing what you love is that it creates a shift: it starts with one thing, and the vitality and sense of affirmation is so great, that you then take on another thing and another and before you know it you are living a life that's truly consistent with who you are.  It's inspiring.  Have you ever tried to hold one of those huge inflatable beach balls under water?  That's the amount of energy it takes to hold yourself back, to keep a part of you down. When you release that, suddenly life is easier and all that energy you had dedicated to self-repression is now free for self-expression -- and joy!

Can you think of one little thing you've been reluctant and/or scared to do for fear others won't approve?  Take a little time this week and do it.  Better than any vitamin pill, it will energize you and get those creative juices flowing.  You'll like yourself better too.

What would you really like to do -- if you had the guts?

78 comments:

  1. This is an awesome post of awesomeness. In some ways, it's much easier not to do the things we may really want to, so I think I'm going to take your advice.

    Thanks for writing this. :)

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  2. Dawn Young CunninghamApril 2, 2011 at 9:01 AM

    This is so true. I'm and Art and Theatre teacher. I need to live what preach to my students. Life IS too short not to do what you want.

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  3. Thank you so much for this wonderful post. Truly, I can relate to the childhood woes that dog us all through adulthood. But you are right about "the shift"... The hardest person to be kind to, sometimes, is yourself, but it is worth the effort to live an adventurous life.

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  4. Woohoo!! (standing O with high fist-pumps)

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  5. If you build it, they will come....
    It's a totally better idea if people don't approve, it means they haven't thought of it.
    Love your work, and Cathys'.

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  6. I love you more each day. Can't post yet as this touched me in many ways. Will go compose myself and get back with some thoughts...and (((Mom))) (((Peter))) (((Cathy)))

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  7. Peter, this is such a fantastic post and has gotten me to thinking of ways in which I hold myself back! thank you!

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  8. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this amazing post. Sometimes we all need to be reminded that being ourselves is an easier, and more fulfilling way of living. We have so many challenges in life, (as I am painfully aware of right now) and tackling them head-on, without worrying about the approval of others allows us to emerge in tack, and stronger for the experience.

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  9. oh yes. and also, cathy plays guitar?? how have we not heard more about this? ;)

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  10. Great commentary. One of my biggest regrets is not learning to sew until I was in my 40's. The things I could have learned from my grandmothers and mom......

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  11. Peter I love this post.
    I've done some big things, moved continents, changed jobs etc...
    It's the small daily routine that I have a difficult time being "me."
    This summer I move to Bucharest and I'm looking forward to having my clean slate.

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  12. Great blog today. The remaking of ourselves to suit our parents seems to be a recurring theme in life. My mom is no longer here, but we went through that too. And she was a great mom. Just had some hangups. Congrats for having the conversation with her.

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  13. You've launched me into a drawn out discussion with myself. What do I really want to do? All the stuff I'm already doing. I want to improve my gardening skills but that's not exactly a daring activity. Plus I want to start running again. Not sure I have the courage to wake up an hour earlier, though. There must be more in my deep, dark psyche.

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  14. Peter and Cathy, you two are so inspirational for so many people, it's hard to believe that you wasted a single moment worrying about other peoples' judgement!
    I have the opposite problem. No filter between brain and mouth coupled with a complete and total lack concern about what anyone else thinks leads to some uncomfortable situations. It's so bad with me that I've oftentimes wondered if I have a touch of Asperger's or something.
    I have no idea who said this, but one of my favorite quotes is "what you think of me is your problem."

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  15. Love, love, love this post.

    This is one of those big huge life lessons, and you wrote it so well.

    So much life energy is wasted trying not to disturb others, trying to follow a supposedly safer path; but the truth is that we stand a better chance at success when we follow our own hearts.

    About shame: Are you familiar with the work of Brene Brown? She is a researcher who specializes in shame. (Google her name-- she's got plenty of stuff online, mostly for women, but much of it applies to men, too.) One thing she says is that if you feel self-conscious about something, it is probably an extremely common situation in society.

    I do think we sometimes have to protect ourselves against the "shamers" in our lives. But I also think you're right, that we spend way too much time worrying about negative reactions and allowing them to limit our joy of self-expression.

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  16. i only found your blog the other week and already its one of my favorites!

    thank you for such an inspirational post! you have a lot of courage to do what you do :) i want to start using clutch bags on nights out (im a boy), it sounds silly but i have been holding myself back from that. im going to do it this weekend, thanks to you :) x

    http://www.houseofslater.com

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  17. So true. I love your beach ball analogy. I'd also like to point out that most of the time when you come out with whatever you thought was a deep dark secret, you realize most people knew already and didn't care enough to mention it. If you act furtive, it makes it hard for others to talk about whatever.
    Good for you! Glad Mom reacted fine. And don't clean up the house for anyone..

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  18. Suffice to say I am doing it. Did you know I used to be scared to travel to NYC by myself? No longer.
    I am barreling ahead. Wonderful post, Peter.

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  19. When I read your line, "Shaming was a big part of my childhood experience" I started to tear up. I never really thought much about how adults wrestle with things that make them uncomfortable and then take it out on children; it is heartbreaking.

    Have you read "Fun Home" by Alison Bechdel? A graphic novel about a childhood spent trying to act more girly and hoping to get her father to act more manly, while both were in denial about their sexuality. I've shared it with several people who really appreciated it.

    As I mentioned here before, my son loves dress-up, and I let him wear his princess dresses, tutus, etc. to daycare and he's already gotten laughs from other Moms. I call them on it and point out that they are trying to pass on their hang-ups to the little ones!

    Bravo Peter. You are a great man and I hope my son turns out like you :)
    Vicki

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  20. What an inspiring and wonderful post! Cathy (and her cousin) are both too fantastic to hide from the world.

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  21. I think it takes the better part of a lifetime to become authentic. You are so right about the liberating effects of living as your true self. Today I'm going to reflect on what little thing I'm not doing yet that can yield big benefits--for everybody!

    Thank you for such a thought provoking and beautiful post :-)

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  22. Dear Peter!

    Your post today is fantastic! I feel happy for you and Cathy, that you have decided to open your lives to your mom. Give her some time and she, like we all, will not resist to Cathy! :)

    I could never hold long to do things I wanted and I am happy for that!

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  23. I took me a few years to get out of a not-so-great marriage because of shame. I had to learn to not let others' (i.e., my parents') ideas ruin me. I read something about god not wanting me to be unhappy, and that helped a lot.

    I'm glad you mother seems to have taken the "news" well.

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  24. I appreciate today's post. It spoke to me on several levels. I am glad you talked with your mom. I understand about families who don't talk about certain things, AND the shaming. I tried hard to break those patterns with my own children, but sometimes I forget that I have to break the pattern with myself! Again, thanks for the food-for-thought post.

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  25. Peter, what a wonderful post! Sometimes family sure does get in the way of your life's gifts doesn't it. I know what you mean, because I too grew up with a parent that said, you could never do "That." It didn't matter what "That" was, they just knew you couldn't do it!
    I really wanted to raise both of my daughters with a free spirt and as parents we would be there to support what ever they wanted.
    Sometimes I see my two daughters and they are alter egos of another part of me. My oldest, just graduated with a fashion design degree Check out her blog on my blog roll "Fashion Forestry," I have been sewing since I was 15 and really wanted to do what she is doing, but was told I could never do THAT. MY youngest will now embark at the same art college to major in illustration. Her blog is" Feather", and I too would have loved to do illustration. I'm glad they are able to explore their gifts without being told, "You can't do that!"
    Cathy is the best, and I hope she is always out there wearing fine outfits and enjoying life. I raise a glass to Cathy and Peter :)

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  26. Peter -
    Unlurking to say thanks for the great post. It really spoke to me as I finally took a step towards doing what I really want to do..unfortunately, it took my health taking a beating to get there, but I'm finally quitting my toxic day job and starting my own business..It is scary and unknown, but I can't wait!!

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  27. Great post, Peter. The beach ball analogy is one of the best I've heard in a very long time. You are inspirational on so many levels. And doesn't it feel good to know you won't have to hurry around and de-drag (love that) next time your mom stops by? Though I do wonder where exactly you've been putting all that stuff in a NYC apartment. ;-)

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  28. I think you and Cathy are both a delight!

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  29. Excellent post dear Peter. We all need to be authentic for ourselves and others!

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  30. Dear.Peter,

    What a sensitive and open post and one I think everyone can take from. I admire your courage to love yourself as you are. It's so easy to admonish each other , but to step out and do it as an individual takes enormous risk;and I think you can double it when your Mom happens to be over 70 although,nothing's new under the sun ,and if she is like my mother who we call "Mame Dear", it would be met with "Do,you think you invented that?" However, in life we all want at least one thing . To be accepted and loved (okay,that's two ). Your Mom raised a perfectly lovely and talented person (in both of you) so you're loved ,hurrah Mom!
    Truly,it is so nice to read your posts and getting to know you because you're so easy to like .

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  31. It seems that sometimes we hold on to a fake persona for fear of being judged and rejected, and when we face our fears we discover how much they mattered to us only!

    Or sometimes on the contrary we are excited about doing the things we really like and expect some sort of appreciation and approval and discover again those things first and last matter to us only and the rest turn back to their lives the next minute!

    Best regards to your mom and Cathy! About them I have a personal theory: did you actually finish the skirt you started for your mother? How much have you been sewing for Cathy though? Get the idea? I'd raise an eyebrow if I were your mom!:)

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  32. Peter,
    Thank you. Always to the heart of the matter with wit and joy -- no matter the subject, sewn or unsewn. That's why I read you every day.
    Pam

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  33. Great Post Peter. You are very intuitive (and wise)
    Terry

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  34. I love your posts and check your blog every day. Usually I don´t comment, but today I want to let you know that this post is very very special as you touched everyone´s hearts.
    You are a very talented man!
    Xoxo fm Brazil, Carina

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  35. Incredible post and thank you! I think I've always hesitated to fully be myself - and posts like this keep me trying. I've dreamed of opening a store, and as of yesterday, I opened a pop-up for the month of April. Now I'm working on selling my products 100% without. hesitating or wondering what people think of it

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  36. I really like this post :) It's a great feeling to be yourself without fear! I realized that most people don't notice me, and if they don't like what I'm doing so what?

    I took up skateboarding a few years ago and really enjoy it, even though my biggest tricks are staying on the board and turning. Sadly my health got worse so I had to stop. I bought some new wheels and hope to get out again this spring.

    What I'd love to do is start swing dancing. There's a large and intimidating dance community in Seattle, but it's so much fun! Again, however, my health dictates that aspect of my life. Blah.

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  37. Peter: You are fantastic! And I did something scary just last week - I walked down a runway (like at an audition - only I wasn't auditioning, I was there with a production crew, long story) in front of a whole bunch of people who were watching and (I'm sure) judging. It was so bizarre to walk like a sexy model at 5'3" and at the age of 40. Mind you, it was liberating.

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  38. Melody, what you describe, no filter between brain and mouth is completely typical of ADHD. It can continue into adulthood. Adult ADHD is often not recognized by doctors, as is ADHD in girls. Just a thought.

    Peter, Cathy, bravo and brava wonderful post!

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  39. Life is hard enough without having to hold a beach ball underwater as well!
    Glad you've told your Mum - she probably already knew, or had an inkling, 80 year olds are far more worldly than we give them credit for!

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  40. Your post reminded me of a few songs from Venice (the band) "A weight has been lifted" there is a line in the song "When I woke up this morning my world had been shifted. Yeah a piece of my soul has returned that had drifted"
    and later today your blog still fresh in my mind this song came on and I thought of your blog message. "Welcome to the rest of your life
    Picture perfect time to arrive now baby". I've only been reading your blog for a few weeks. I love it.-Shannon

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  41. This is a wonderful post. Yes, life is much better when we live our lives the way we want to without thinking of what others think us and without secretes and lies. Lovely (from the inside out) blog.

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  42. Sing it! Good for you and for Cathy, and for your mom. Thank you for an inspirational post.

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  43. "I've learned that when you're doing something -- anything -- with full authenticity, it's exciting for everybody. "

    Bravo. Just so. I was thinking of writing a post along these lines soon. It's slanted a little more towards wearing aggressively vintage styles out in public, but I couldn't agree more with you about how it changes how you feel about the world. And it's so true that people respond well to authenticity. We're all surrounded by artifice so much of the time, anything truly authentic stands out as something both different and admirable.

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  44. Your best post ever Peter ... and not a laugh to be had!
    You are a wonderful inspiration.More strength to you.

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  45. A wonderful and very inspiring post. Has certainly got me thinking.

    I love your blog!

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  46. This is so well-written and so true. I think the younger we are, the harder it is to be true to oneself and age and wisdom grant us a power we wouldn't (in many cases) have even been able to exercise wisely in our younger years. I teach middle school, and I see kids day in and day out pretend to be something for the sake of other people. It is normal adolescent behavior. I did it; I bet most of us did it. Any time we couldn't do it; the crappiness of being young often paid us back for it in not so nice ways. But people grow and people change...and people learn to say "f*ck it" and do what is true to their heart, their conscience, and their life. With every passing year (I'm 38), I give less and less attention to other people's negatives. I think there was a time in my life when if someone had asked if I'd have made something (even if I had had the skill then), I would have been embarrassed. Now, I take it as the highest compliment because I know I did something unique and in many cases something they can't. I did something my brain and my talent allowed me to do. It doesn't take either to go to the mall and buy the same cookie-cutter stuff everyone else is wearing. It might take money to buy those things, but you can't buy ability, talent, or style. If you have ability, talent, and style, you are rich in ways others can never be. If you love yourself, others will see your confidence and follow. If your mom seems to get along better with your significant other than with you, you're pretty normal. (I don't get it, but I swear it seems true for many...)

    Keep up the awesome blogging, Peter!

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  47. Thanks for writing this. My brother died recently and one thing I always admired about him was that he wrote and made music that he loved and generally lived an unconventional life authentic to himself. Thinking about how he lived, I swore that I would try harder not to be the "good girl" who always worries what others will think. And yet, at his funeral I met people who knew sides of him that he had kept rather out of view to his family--it made me infinitely sad that I missed forever sides of him that he might have felt he couldn't share with me because I might disapprove.

    So this is another good reminder to let it all hang out--or at least try.

    Maybe I need an alter-ego to kick me out of my comfort zone!

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  48. Sigrid, I am very sorry for the loss of your brother.

    I really don't know who my authentic self is, I keep who I am hidden from myself as well as others.

    However, I think you probably have a few more cousins besides Cathy that we might get the priviledge of meeting in the near future. I love your blog, it is one of the very few that I check out everyday.

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  49. Peter,

    Wonderful post. Your authenticity shines!

    Kristin

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  50. Thank you for all the wonderful comments, guys. You're the best!

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  51. Peter, thank you. Great post. The beach ball analogy is so exactly right.

    I've been out for years but still have to keep making that decision - at what point do I make sure the mother of the new kid in my sunday school class knows I have a female partner? Does she need to know, or is that ust my internalised homophobia? Does anyone still have 1970s as bra-burning and moustaches? Do I have to be out to every tradesman and bed salesperson I encounter (the answer to that, is yes, by the way; you need both people to buy a bed, and the tradie has a key to your house).

    In any situation the effort of self filtering is just like the beach ball - constant pressure till it bursts.

    Love your posts like this, Peter. I'm glad Michael is a legitimising influence on your mum. Does he know?

    ps Debbie - when one straightens up the house, or NYC apartment, the stuff goes in the closet.


    I think the best thing about being middle aged is deciding life is too short to live by the imaginary standards of other people.

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  52. And a quote from my Grandma:
    There's nothing that happens on Days of Our Lives that hasn't happened in [insert name of her small NZ home town].

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  53. oops - Does anyone still have 1970s as bra-burning and moustaches?
    was meant to be
    Does anyone still have internalised homophobia or is that as 1970s as bra-burning and moustaches?

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  54. I love this post.
    So inspirational.
    All I can say is, "Thank you."

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  55. In our family, it was religious orthodoxy, and I was (and still am, sometimes) strongly disapproved of by family members because (gasp!) I want to do my own thinking. I can't and don't just accept what I'm told from the altar-- despite the credentials, the priests/preachers are just as human as I am.

    My beach ball is not calling it like I see it with some of the family. They're not going to change, and I still love them even if I can't talk to them.

    I love the new outfit for Cathy, the fabric is really working well with the pattern. It would be fun to make something draped for Cathy-- something like the outfit Bette Davis wears to the orchestra in Now, Voyager.

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  56. I just love your blog, Peter, for posts like this and for the comments people leave- insightful, thoughtful comments. I was struck by your asking yourself why you would be trying to protect your mother or yourself. I'm still trying to gather my thoughts on this and I am in no way eloquent, but wanted to say that I have often felt that desire to protect my parents from anything I think might hurt, worry, or disappoint them. And now I am a mother myself and my feelings are even more complicated. I am sure that your mother loves you very much and wants you to be safe and happy, and even if she doesn't relate to something you are doing, she is glad that you are happy. It is hardest to be brave with those people we care about most.
    What have I prevented myself from doing out of fear? A very good question to think about.

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  57. Peter,
    For so many of us, the path to our authentic self was hindered by circumstances of birth, upbringing and environment. To arrive there in spite of the obstacles is something to be very proud of. While I have sometimes envied those who got to their happy place easily and with tons of support from their family and friends, that envy always passes. But my admiration for those whose journey is all blood, sweat and tears just continues to grow.
    Congratulations on the triumph of allowing your mom to get to know Cathy. She will love her, I am sure!
    xoxo, Anita

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  58. I'd like to give this post a high five. Thank you.

    You and Michael are now officially friends in my head.

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  59. This post made me want to cry, but in a good way :-)

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  60. Things are changing, I am having my grandson over to teach him how to sew. He is all for it!! My granddaughter on the other hand may never take an interest in real sewing. Who would have thought?!

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  61. What a beautiful post. I am glad you can now share your full self with your mother. I can't think of anything I don't do or hide from others because if they don't like my sewing or my knitting or my thrifting ... they can get stuffed!!

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  62. Beach ball analogy--best analogy ever! That one will stay with me a long time. Thanks Peter.

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  63. Just adding my voice to the crowd going "awesome post, you rock"!

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  64. I love this post, thanks for writing it.

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  65. The internal scream for outward approval can be pretty deafening. Good for you!

    It was just as much a no-no for an educated girl to sew back in the '80s. Took me a long time to realise I could hang both the Oxford degree AND the sewing qualification on the same wall (metaphorically - that's not my kind of decor...). ;)

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  66. Yay for you! Having spent my entire adult life doing a last anxious spot checks whenever my highly religious and emotionally unstable mom comes to visit (mostly involves hiding my library books!), I understand how hard it is to reach the turning point. It's been baby steps in my case. After a while the ridiculous moments just start to mount up: you see yourself from outside yourself, stashing a box of herb tea because you know the word "Yogi" in the brand name will outrage parental sensibilities. I'm inspired by your courage!

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  67. Wow, Peter, thanks for writing this post, it was really moving. Who'd have thought it takes so much work to become the person you already are?

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  68. Peter, I'm so glad I found your blog! Congratulations on being brave and talking to your mother. By the way, you inspired my sweetie to get back into sewing. He's blogging about it, including a link back to you, at www.partlangroup.com. Thanks for inspiring sewing happiness in our home!

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  69. Wonderful! I rejoice in your pride and openness! (seems like all your readers are)

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  70. Peter,

    This is your finest contribution.

    Testosterone

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  71. The first comment said it all. This IS an awesome post of awesomeness.

    I'm new here, and newish to sewing, so I have a lot to learn and this looks like a great place to learn it! I'll be following your blogginess from here on in :)

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  72. i hope Cathy was singing Moon River in that picture!

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  73. Thank you for a wonderful post. It swelled my heart with hope. My 10yr old son loves to knit and sew and dance and many other activities thought of as feminine, but hides it for fear of ridicule. He knows that his father and I are incredibly proud of him and, at home, often chats away for hours about projects he wants to make and what he considers to be 'in' (because obviously we as his parents are far to old to know such things). But he clams up in the outside world. When we go to the fabric market, he makes me promise that if we see any of his friends or his friends mothers, that I will tell them that I'm dragging him along.

    But, and this is where I need to give you a HUGE thank you. I have introduced him to your blog and his confidence has grown no end. He has told his friends that he has sewn own clothes and he has joined a local knitting club for children. He's really starting to come out of his shell.

    He thinks you are just the coolest, and he is fascinated by Cathy. Thank you again.

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