Kitchen Cupboard Wisdom

When I was in high school, I had the good fortune to connect with Susan: a wise, funny, assertive, accomplished, and fashionable woman, who also happened to be the school guidance counselor (BTW, the fashionable part was important because, in the little town where I grew up, the concept of personal-expression-through-wardrobe was........ well....... not a concept). Our friendship has lasted throughout the years, and has become a treasure in my life. I have read that children, and especially teenagers, need close relationships with adults who are not family members. Although I'm not sure I knew I needed that at the time, I now see how very much my friendship with Susan enriched my life, my understanding of self, and especially my imagination about who and what I could become. She was Possibility itself, in all the ways she was different than most of the people we ran into at CMHS, and in the way she encouraged us to be true to ourselves, to be assertive, and to imagine possibilities other than those that were immediately before us.

For many years, 18 to be exact, I moved around the country with a handout Susan had distributed during my sophomore year in high school. In my northern Indiana dorm room, it went up on the outside of my wardrobe. When I graduated to shared apartments in Lake Charles, NYC, and East Lansing, it found its way onto bedroom bulletin boards; then, finally, when I was a Big Girl and had my own house and my own kitchen, it went up on my refrigerator. By the time we moved to South of the River last fall, it was tattered, splattered, and torn around the edges, but of course it was going with me. It was one of the last things I packed, and I made a mental note of which box it was in, so that I could be sure to put it up on our new frig as soon as we moved in.

Well, you know how those mental notes when you're moving go? Yeah. Completely forgot which box it was in. A week went by, a month, a few more months. I was starting to get kind of antsy about not having this piece of paper in my living space. We had been together so long, this handout and me. My house just didn't feel like home without it. One day, I was just about to start going through all the boxes I hadn't been through yet, but I decided to run out and check the mail first.

Yes, you guessed it: in the mail was an envelope from Susan with a new copy of the handout (and incidentally, I haven't thought about those unpacked boxes since). It looked pristine compared to the tattered old thing I'd been moving from place to place. And wouldn't you know it but our new frig is not magnetic (um...... somebody forgot to include moms in the refrigerator design focus group), so it hangs on my kitchen cupboard with some of the kids' art, and my little map of the Holy Land, which I keep handy for reference during newscasts. I walk by it many times every day, and often stop to remind myself of one or more of the wise maxims on the list. I share it with you now, this kitchen cupboard wisdom:


1. Self-esteem can change with age and experience.

2. Learning to be assertive is good for you.

3. Taking risks leads to a more exciting life and more personal growth.

4. Learn the skills needed to build intimate friendships.

5. Communication is often hard work.

6. If you don't like who you are, you can change.

7. Facing your fears makes you a stronger person.

8. A person usually has more options than she initially sees.

9. Look at your mistakes as a learning experiences.

10. You will survive criticism and failure.

11. Setting short- and long-term goals gives direction to your life.

12. People create much of their own stress; learn skills to cope.

13. Attitude is everything in life.

14. Life is not fair.... pain is inevitable.

15. Live in the present.

16. Change takes time.

17. Learn to tell the difference between what you can change and what you cannot change.

At different times in my life, different points have been especially important for me. I have always thought #6 is very exciting (I can change! I can change!). Whenever I'm getting on a plane, #7 runs through my mind. Right now, #14 is getting a lot of play:

Them: "But, Mooooooooooooommmmmmmmmm. It's noooooooooooooot faaaaaaaaaaaaiiiiiiiiiiiiirrrrrrrrrrrrr."
Me: "Life is not fair..... pain is inevitable."

On Monday, #8 really hit home as I was feeling completely overwhelmed and boxed in by all the things I *had* to do that day. Guess what: I had more options than I initially saw.

I am grateful to have Susan in my life. This list is just one of the many reasons why. Pass it on.

And to learn more about Susan and her life's work, visit her website.


Gretchen H. said...

I have something similar from Clery. I'm in the process of getting things scanned in so I can have them electronically . . . I should post it on facebook when I get it done. Like your paper, I've had it for 20 years and it comes along with me.

ljchicago said...

You are amazing. I can't even begin to understand the different countries and factions in the Holy Land.

When did you live in East Lansing?

#17 has been useful to me in recent years as the idea is from the serenity prayer, which is in Al-Anon literature .