Updated: Apr 25, 2019
Humans have a powerful tool, unfortunately many of us don't even know it exists or understand how to use it. It is our very own, internal GPS. Perhaps your inner GPS was turned on when you were a child, but as you grew older, you learned to turn it off, no longer trusting your own intuition. Perhaps you know it is there, but fear keeps you away from its' guidance. Sometimes it takes having to deal with the unexpected or experiencing severe stress and dissatisfaction to kickstart the on button.
Your inner GPS guidance system can guide you to any destination, as long as you are willing to stay quiet long enough to listen to your inner voice, feelings, and emotions. Taking the time to listen to your internal guidance will actually help you get to where you want to be much faster-rather than ignoring it.
It was an evening in July 2010, the summer I slowed down long enough to listen, when I was hit with a daunting question: When and how did I become That Person? That Person who seems to be losing her keys all the time. That Person who is always running late. That Person who needs to lose twenty pounds. That Person still struggling for financial security in her 40s. That Person who thought she had it all together but is breaking down in front of her children and worried she needs Xanax or help that no one can give her.
The day I saw myself as That Person began with plans for a fun Mommy and Daughter day with seven-year-old, Jennifer. We would start by spending the afternoon at a birthday pool party for a boy in her class. Not only did I dread wearing a bathing suit, the one I owned no longer fit. I began trying on summer outfits. Even my “large on me” summer wardrobe from last year would not zipper, button, or snap over my newly found pounds. I had now crossed over into the world of That Person whose only choice for hiding her fat and breathing at the same time is to wear a muumuu. Great start to a Mommy and Daughter day. Like most women, I enjoy immersing myself in the refreshing water of a swimming pool. But like most women, I also feel the public eye viewing and judging when I’m not loving my body. So I did what many of us do: I stayed out of the clear, cool pool water and sat on the sidelines to sweat.
After watching my daughter swim while I chatted with other sideline Moms, next on the agenda were dinner and a drive-in movie. The closest drive-in was about an hour away in New York state. We had returned from the party at 6 p.m., so we had plenty of time to make the movie at 8:55 pm. Plenty of time unless you are That Person who could not organize herself to get dressed in the morning, let alone get dinner made, her daughter bathed, the dogs fed, and the car packed for the ride to the movie.
At least dinner was a success. Even That Person could handle the stress of preparing fried chicken cutlets, store-bought mashed potatoes, and a frozen vegetable. However, I forgot that I didn’t have money in my wallet to cover the movie. Going from a stable salary to unemployment had been, to say the least, a reality check. Okay, no cash, so I could use the debit card. No debit card. My husband had it with him. Surely I had cash somewhere. I checked another purse. No luck. Okay, kid’s piggy bank. Ouch! I had already taken twelve dollars from her the other day. Only change clinked in the piggy bank. I started counting. Sixteen dollars in quarters. Whew, the movie was a go! I could stop at a change machine along the way to trade the quarters for bills.
Next up was getting the dogs ready to go with us. Two pugs; I think that says enough. I packed snacks and drinks, since obviously there was no money for the snack stand. As I rushed to prepare for our movie adventure, my daughter came to me with a pair of my summer pajamas. She was already in hers.
“Here, Mommy. I brought you these pajamas to wear to the drive-in,” she said with a big smile.
They were pretty, flowered lightweight pajama pants with a spaghetti strap top. I no longer fit into them. I now wore extra-large T-shirts and sweat pants to bed. Yes, I was That Person. The look on my face must have reflected the way I was feeling about myself. My daughter looked at me with hurt in her eyes.
“Mommy,” she said, “I thought you would be happy and surprised. I found your pajamas that almost match mine. I wanted us to be twins.”
My heart sank. I now was That Person who didn’t even acknowledge my daughter’s thoughtfulness and love. Instead, I had been annoyed.
Finally, we were ready to go, 7:30 p.m., right on schedule. We headed out to the car: me, my daughter, and our two pugs, along with blankets, folding chairs, snacks, drinks, and water for the dogs. I opened my purse to get the car keys and guess what? The keys were not in my purse. They must be on the kitchen counter. I ran inside to get them. No, not on the kitchen counter. Must be in the bedroom. No, not in the bedroom. Checked my purse again. Emptied the purse. Still, no keys. I was That Person who forgets where she put her keys and ends up being late.
I was now officially losing it. I was crying, screaming and having conversations with myself. My daughter was consoling me. What was wrong with this picture? I had graduated to That Person who loses it in front of her kids. This was not good. This was not me.
I decided to empty the bag that my daughter brought with her to the pool party. There, at the bottom of the bag, were the keys! It was now 8 p.m. We could still make it by 9 p.m. and miss only the coming attractions.
We piled into the car. I had a great idea. Although I already knew where I was going, I decided to use my GPS to see if there was a faster way to the theater. Sure enough, the wonderful navigational system found a new route. I decided to trust the system, since I could no longer trust myself, and we ventured forward.
As I followed my device’s directions, I realized I was going in the opposite direction. Although hesitant, I figured that the system must know a more efficient way. As we drove along roads with no names on a scenic tour through Northern New Jersey for more than an hour, I ended up lost.
“It’s late,” I told Jennifer. “I don’t think we’re going to make it to the movies. I’m so very sorry. I really made a mess of this night!”
A sweet, calm voice of reason from the back seat said to me, “It’s okay, Mommy. It doesn’t matter what we do. I just want to spend time with you. As long as we’re together, everything is okay. I’m just having fun because I’m with you.”
The tears welled in my eyes. How could I be That Person who forgets what is truly important? She was right. I was the one not enjoying myself because I had forgotten how to be. I had lost sight of what was important.
I concluded that I had driven this far, so, late or not, we were going forward. We reached the drive-in at 9:30 p.m. Oops, I had forgotten to stop to cash in my change. I would have to use a credit card and cross my fingers that it worked. As I pulled up to the cashier, I read the sign posted in capital letters: WE DO NOT ACCEPT CREDIT CARDS!
“I am so sorry,” I said to the woman in the cashier’s booth. “I have no cash and was hoping to use a credit card, but I see you don’t accept them. I have enough change with me to pay for the tickets, if you just bear with me for a moment.” I began to dig in my purse for the quarters.
“There’s an ATM machine down the road at the local supermarket. You can get cash there,” the cashier replied.
“Thank you, but I don’t have a debit card with me, and I’ve already missed more than a half hour of the first movie.” I started counting out the quarters and handed them to her one dollar at a time.
Soon another car was behind me. The cashier gave me a look. She then gave my daughter and my two pugs a similar look. Suddenly she handed me the quarters I had given her. She also handed me two tickets for the show and two dog treats for the pugs. She looked me in the eye and said, “Go and enjoy the show.”
I hesitated and looked at her, bewildered.
“But I haven’t paid for the tickets. Please, I do have the money. Let me finish paying you.”
Having someone give and be kind to me did not feel comfortable.
The woman smiled and repeated herself, “Go enjoy the show. Use your money to treat your daughter and yourself to a snack at the snack bar.”
Once again, my eyes filled with tears. This stranger gave me much more than free entry to a movie. She gave me love, hope, and good will when I so truly needed it. After closing my school and ending the years of bureaucratic bullying I had endured, here was this woman, passing along a kindness. In might have been small in her mind, but to me it was huge. Without knowing it, she had restored my faith and put things back in perspective for me.
One simple act of kindness and understanding was all it took.
With tears in my eyes and a smile on my face, I thanked her and drove into the lot. I parked the car, tuned in the radio and got us all situated. Jennifer and I built a cozy haven out of blankets and pillows on top of the car roof. It was a warm, clear night, and the sky was filled with the light of stars sparkling in the distance. We gazed at the sky, snuggled, laughed and enjoyed the second movie as the dogs curled up on our laps. My daughter was wise beyond her seven years. It was late. I didn’t think my daughter would last until the show ended at 1 a.m., but she surprised me and stayed awake for the entire movie.
We left the drive-in at 1:05 am. Daughter and dogs quickly fell asleep in the back seat. I turned off my navigator. I could once again trust myself to get to where I was going. I drove back the way I knew and was home in less than an hour.
In the end, it was one of the best nights of my life. Somehow, throughout the years, I had lost myself. I had allowed myself to become disconnected to the important things in life and had turned into someone I didn’t recognize or like. But I am forever grateful for the loving words of my daughter and the random act of kindness from a stranger that helped to put things back in perspective. I was grateful that I recognized the blessings in a challenging day. I knew that the power to change was within.
It was July, less than a month since I had officially closed the alternative high school that I had worked so hard to create. I knew it was time to move on, to rid myself of the internal garbage that was polluting my soul. The school had needed to fall away. It would be replaced with something better, but not until I got better. I knew I needed to follow the guidance that was coming to me through visions, thoughts, and feelings. I needed to give in to what I had been fighting. I was not and would not be That Person.