The Surprise Inside — by Laura
Here are a few of things I try to avoid in life: motivational speakers, joining a group or a club, and the suburbs of a big city. I spent 15 years working for corporations that felt the need to ship me off to a convention every six months to inspire me with the latest corporate happiness guru on the circuit. After five or six of these conventions, the motivational speakers all sounded alike, they were rarely genuine, and to this day if I hear the I-saved-a-starfish story one more time I will run screaming from the auditorium. As for groups, the natural social dynamics often require too much energy for someone who has entrenched herself in life-long friendships with a handful of amazing women. When it comes to the suburbs, I grew up in one, and I couldn’t wait to get out.
So I surprised myself by getting on a train Thursday night and going to the suburbs of New York City to listen to a life coach with a group I had joined called Motherhood Later Than Sooner. It was a bit of an effort even getting there. Because I am new to the city, I caught the local train instead of the express, which would make me late, and I thought about getting off, heading to a quiet, dark little Manhattan bar and enjoying a martini all by myself. But I didn’t. I stayed on the train. I read the “New Yorker,” and I watched the city blocks go by and gradually fold into row after row of English Tudors, Dutch Colonials and eventually split-level ranch homes. The suburbs.
I am a judgmental person – especially when it comes to people. But please keep in mind this is not a bad thing. For me, meeting people is like going out for dim sum. The carts go by with varied offerings and pretty soon I start lumping the small bites in categories: steamed, fried, sweet, salty, bland, spicy. Organized judgment. But when I bite into a dumpling I have never tried before but deemed uninteresting, I am usually surprised by a new flavor or texture. And I feel delighted to be knocked of kilter. That’s how it is with people. I take a bite and I am pleasantly surprised by what I find. And that’s what happened Thursday night.
I sat down at the table with ten women who all had children later in life just like I did, but I prejudged them, thinking I would have little in common with them because they did not look like me, dress like me, or come from my part of the country. But by the end of the night they had me laughing and thinking, and I wanted to hear more of what they had to say about how they were coping with motherhood and how they were feeling about themselves and life in general. I liked them all – all different flavors coming together at the table.
And perhaps what surprised me the most was the life coach. She was one of us. She wasn’t phony, and she did not lecture. No starfish stories or tricky endings. She asked us questions about our life and listened in earnest, just like a best friend would. And she did not give advice, she made suggestions, just like a best friend would. And she offered provocative, original exercises that were meaningful to the woman around that table. The work we were doing wasn’t about her and how successful and smart she was. It was about us and getting us to think for a moment and be in that moment, which is something mothers rarely, rarely do. I rode the train back to Manhattan with her and another MLTS mom, and there was not a second of silence among us. We shared story after story on that empty train.
It was a great night. Unexpected. Full of laughter. And we all made new friends. And just for the record, the suburb had a beautiful downtown that was clean and welcoming – like something from a small town but with the progressive convenience of the city. I liked it. I liked the women. I liked the speaker. And I liked that I was wrong in my judgments. On all three counts.