Posts in Category: Clean Up

Decisions, Decisions, or Embracing your Inner Toddler

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When you’re feeling indecisive, instead of agonizing, or making your best guess, what if you choose arbitrarily to see what happens?  If there’s no right answer, there’s no wrong answer.  If there’s no wrong answer, there’s no way to fail.  If there’s no way to fail, there’s no fear of failure.

No right, No wrong, No way to fail.Okay, say you have a decision in front of you.  It can be a big one like which job to take, or a small one like what’s for dinner, doesn’t matter.  You’re not sure what to do.  It could go either way.  What if, instead of trying to choose the RIGHT thing, when it’s really not that clear what the right thing is, you see it as “need more input” and just choose SOMETHING.  Maybe the easy thing.  Maybe the hard thing.  Maybe the thing that you don’t usually choose.  Maybe the comforting thing.  Just something.  You have 2 ounces of energy to spend on the decision making process, ready, go.  Okay, have you chosen?  Great.  If you’d agonized over the decision instead, how much energy would you have spent?  10 ounces?  a pound?  6 tons?  (You knew the energy in your life was measured as a weight, right?)  Is this decision worth that much energy?  Would the wrong decision cause permanent damage?  Is it really permanent, or is it something you can heal from or apologize and make amends and move on?  Is this a safe place to fail?  To be uncomfortable?

Now we’ve created a split scenario.  In one, you’ve spent 10 pounds of energy making a decision with the intention of it being right; in the other, you’ve spent 2 ounces with the intention of gathering information.  Now it’s time to act on your decision.  You start to see that it’s not working out quite the way you’d imagined.  When the intention is to get it right, and it’s going wrong, there’s pressure for it to be right, there’s energy to correct whatever’s going wrong or save face, there’s probably some beating yourself up for choosing the wrong thing, and maybe a side of anxiety around the next time you need to make a decision or do the thing again.  When the intention is information gathering, then you can calmly observe the failure, see that maybe it’s not a failure after all, or maybe it is and you can laugh about it.  You understand what’s going on better because now you’ve lived it, and when the time comes to make a decision again, it’s a bit easier because you remember what happened last time.  When your intention is information gathering, you might feel a little younger, a little more like a kid, a little less in control.  You might need to admit that you have more to learn, and that might feel uncomfortable.  Or it might feel freeing, like a weight has been lifted.  You’re experimenting in this moment, living in this moment, gathering your set of life data, getting better prepared for next time.  You’re admitting that you weren’t prepared this time, and that’s not a bad thing, it’s just a fact, an observation.  And geez, maybe the decision was just what to eat for dinner.

When the intention shifts from making the best choice you can to gathering information, it’s so much easier to laugh at your mistakes, forgive yourself (well, there’s nothing to forgive in the first place) and move on.  You’re learning by experience and developing your intuition.  Instead of expecting yourself to know it all already and rely on your rational brain to figure it all out, you’re approaching life like a kid again with an air of curiosity and joy of discovery.  It means there might be mistakes, and there might be grand ones, but you’re not beating yourself up over them, and life moves on.  You can apologize if necessary, make amends if necessary, and try again if necessary.

Where did we get this idea that it wasn’t safe to make mistakes in the first place?  Why do we expect such high standards of ourselves?  At some point it really was a matter of life and death that we get it right.  Is it still?  In every situation?  At some point, it was society keeping us on the straight and narrow.  But now don’t we keep telling our kids that it’s okay to make mistakes?  That it’s about the journey?  Yet it’s so hard for them, and it’s so hard for us.  We’ve gotten stuck in this place of working so hard to do right and thinking we need to know or figure out everything, that it’s blocking our ability to be present in the moment, laugh at our mistakes, and save our energy for the important stuff.

 

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Big Rock Must Do Chore Lists

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How we make space for the important stuff and ditch the rest.

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In our family of 5, we have ongoing lists of things that need to be done, and important things that keep slipping through the cracks.  If I want a sense of calm and peace in the way we go about our days, I need to prioritize where I put my energy and how I plan my time.  I do want calm and peace.  I want my time to be valued and respected.  And I want to respect my kids’ autonomy along the way.  I’ve been trying to balance it all and this is what I’ve come up with so far:

We have the Must Do things that we’re committed to on a routine basis, the spontaneous extras we want to do (like making cookies, going to the movies, inviting a friend over), and the extras we want to add to our commitments (that extra class, that big project, the weekly teatime).

Of course then there are the things that we’re spinning our wheels with, taking up our time, that aren’t actually that important to us.  Like 10 hours of legos and minecraft and facebook and Harry Potter a day.  Not that those things aren’t valuable, just maybe we don’t want to be spending all day everyday doing them.

Are you familiar with the big rock analogy? It’s the story of the glass jar that fits big rocks and gravel and sand and water, but only if you put the big rocks in first.  

The Must Do list is our big rocks, the extras are the gravel, and the spinning wheels is the sand.  The things we mindfully want to be doing, vs the sand that we find ourselves choosing in the moment as the path of least resistance.  On our Must Do list includes things that everyone needs to do (eat), things that only a certain person can do (practice guitar) and things that it doesn’t matter who does them so long as they get done (feed the dog).

Every day, first thing, come the Must Dos.  These are our biggest rocks, our highest priorities.  Once all of the Must Dos are either done or scheduled into the day (I trust they’re going to happen – for example, we don’t have to be done with dinner by 10am, but we *do* need a dinner plan before moving on) we can move on to the Priority List.  This is the list of extras that we want to do.  The “Mommy will you…” list.  “Mommy, will you…?” “Yes, as soon as we’re set on the Must Dos.”  

When we’re on top of the Must Do list, getting it all done painlessly, we can add extra activities and commitments to it.  When we’re not finishing the Must Do list, then we start simplifying our commitments and making more space for the stuff that matters most.  In practical terms, this means dropping an activity, or decluttering the stuff that’s taking up physical and mental space in our lives, until we are really keeping up.

A note, all of these things are limits that I’m setting for myself.  This is what I need in order to maintain my peace and calm.  I am not willing to commit to paying for/transporting to extra activities until I know that the things that we’ve declared are the most important are being taken care of.  I’m not willing to go out of my way for someone else until I trust that my needs are getting met too.  Ooh, that’s hard to say without feeling selfish.  But the more bandwidth I have, the more I have to give, and everyone wins.  I’m not telling the kids what they can and can’t do – I’m showing them a window of what I am and am not willing to commit myself to.  If they want a class that they have the means to make happen completely without my help, I won’t stop them from doing it.  If they want me to drive them there however, then it needs to fit into my structure for me to say yes.

So that is the bare bones structure.  I can imagine it getting adapted in all sorts of ways, depending on each individual’s personal priorities.  

Here’s how it looks for us: 

My kids are 22 months, 6 years, and 10 years old.  My main priorities include quality meals, improving our circadian rhythms, a reasonably tidy house, hygge family time, and project time.  And so our Must Do list includes things like eating, getting outside, having a meal plan, dishes, laundry, tidying, taking care of the dog, and the fun things that keep slipping through the cracks, like reading books together, one on one time with each kid, board games, family adventure days.

The ongoing Priority List has all the one off things.  Some of them are boring, like returning stuff to the store or calling the dentist and others are fun like making cookies or going to the movies.  Anything can be bumped up to Must Do status if it becomes time critical.  For now, things on the Priority List only happen once the Must Dos are completely taken care of.  As we build up routines and trust stuff will get done, I bet we will open up more space to mix in some of the extras during the day.

We also keep an ongoing list of Activities that we would like to add to the Must Do commitments.  This is stuff like Scouts, Theater, weekly Poetry Teatime, and bigger projects like learning to sew a dress.  The way I’ve been balancing Activities is, we start at 0.  At the end of the day, when we’ve checked off all of our Must Dos, then we add (+1).  If there are any Must Dos that we didn’t get to, we subtract (-1).  If we get up to +5, then we’ve proven that we have space to add to our Must Do list, so we can add an activity (and reset to 0).  If we get down to -5, we’ve proven that we’re overcommitted and so we drop an activity, or else clear out a big box of stuff that isn’t sparking joy anymore.

Future notes: I can imagine a more advanced version of this, where different activities have different weights based on the commitment involved, and where boxes of stuff also have weights.  And activities and decluttering can be traded out as priorities become clear.  You really want to do theater (4 points) but don’t have the time to add that many activities?  Trade out one smaller activity you’re already doing (2 points) and help clear out two big boxes of stuff (2 points).  We’re not ready for the extra complexity yet though.  Another issue that’s coming up is, how do we make it fair when one person is pulling all the weight and others are just reaping the benefits?  I don’t have a solid solution for that one yet that balances honoring the person doing the work without leaving behind the person who can’t find it in them to help out.

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The Ultimate Life Hack: Love, Power, Boundaries and Vulnerability

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I’m a big fan of Brene Brown’s work.  Daring Greatly felt like it was written for me and my family.  I saw shame and armor at every turn.  When I read it, I was thrilled to finally have a target for releasing so much of the tension written into the way I see the world.  Embrace vulnerability, even though it’s painful – it’s worth it.  Clear, concise, even some practical examples of how to do so.  It was still difficult and unnatural and exhausting, though.  Then came Rising Strong, with some more tips and examples of how to take the lows and use them to bounce back better than before.  How to make that vulnerability a little less scary and learn from it.  Helpful, but still painful and difficult.

Then I read a simple picture book, The Conquerors.  With it’s clunky drawings and war theme, I was a little turned off, but then it changed my life.  In the book, the general goes and invades all the countries around and conquers them all because he has the best, strongest army.  Then he goes to the last country that was so small he hadn’t bothered before.  This one, however, he can’t conquer like he’s used to.  They welcome him and his army with open arms and teach them all about their way of life.  The soldiers go home and bring the little country’s customs with them.  The general sees it as “spoils of war” but the little country isn’t destroyed in the slightest.  Everybody wins.

When I think about Brene Brown’s vulnerability with myself as the little country, that it’s not me against the world, but rather me showing the world how I do things… Then it becomes really easy to just show up and be myself.  Be seen.  There is no threat, the threat is just a perception.  I can be completely myself and not have to use tons of defensive armor, because this is *my* turf and therefor I’m in charge and you can’t touch me.  If someone comes in and doesn’t respect that, then it’s easy for me to see that it’s their problem, not mine.  Because this is *my* turf and nobody is in control of it but me.  For someone else to try and take control is laughable.  Show up, be seen, live my authentic life.  Ask for help when I need it, learn from my mistakes, go see how other people live *their* lives (but don’t think that I can control the place just because I’m there).  Aaaahhhh.  I can feel the shame melting into a puddle on the floor and leaving me there, strong, myself, and with the strongest boundaries yet.

Then.  Then.  Then, power and love surfaced as relevent topics.  The idea of using my power to do things on my own, power to ask (not demand) for help when I need it.  Power to stand up for what I believe in.  Power to make change.  Power to choose my own life.  Power to keep trying when the first, second, hundredth time doesn’t work out.  This is personal power, and it’s in direct contrast to using power over someone.  With power over someone, you take away their choice.  You gain power while they lose it.  Or else you give your power away to them.  Let them control you.  You create power dynamics, power struggles.  It’s the opposite of consent, and it’s what most of us think of when we think of power as a dirty word.  Or as a holy grail.  Striving for promotions, sibling rivalry, parents yelling at their kids.  Evil overlords.

Finally, love.  Mr. Rogers said, “Love isn’t a state of perfect caring.  It is an active noun like struggle.”  If love is an action, what are the everyday actions we use to show we care?  How do I love someone?  How do I show my love?  What does love feel like?  What does it take to be lovable?  What is self love?  I realized that the actions I use to express love – helping, guiding, teaching, protecting, preventing pain, not causing hurt – those are all power dynamics.  If I show love by helping, then to receive that love, you need to be helpless.  If I show love by guiding, then to receive that love, you need to be malleable without strong will of your own.  If I show love by protecting, then you need to be weak.  If I show love by preventing pain, then when you are in pain, I’ve failed and I’m not lovable.  If I show love by not causing hurt, then how do I speak up for myself when it conflicts with you?  How do I hold strong boundaries and stay true to myself when you are helpless and weak?  And how do you stay true to yourself when I need to feel lovable and I’m trying so hard to help and guide you?  This kind of love feels like strength and weakness.  Power and control.  It’s easy for me to see how we get our identities wrapped up in power dynamics.  I am the teacher.  I know stuff.  Lots of stuff.  More than you, so I can show you I love you by teaching you.  I am lovable because I teach.  How dare you tell me I’m wrong?  How dare you not accept my teachings?  How dare you be uninterested?  Don’t you understand that those things hurt my identity?  Don’t you LOVE me?  Am I not lovable!!?!?  And if I’m hurting, then who caused it, and why wasn’t I protected??  I must not be lovable.

Show me you love me

I want love to feel like acceptance, to feel expansive, like being understood, like safety and security.  Like the best place to explore and experiment and figure myself out.  The safe landing pad.  Open, cozy arms.  Shoulders to cry on.  And so I’m upgrading my love actions with listening, understanding, and respecting boundaries.  Self love as understanding myself, figuring out my own boundaries, and respecting them.  I’m releasing the power dynamics and outgrowing the need for an identity in order to be lovable.  I am unconditionally lovable purely because I exist.  I am lovable because I have needs and limits and I communicate them.  I am interesting because I’m a person and I have a story.  I’m lovable because I don’t have it all together.  I can see and respect and love you and not be threatened by you, because there are no power dynamics in our relationship.  

And just like that, the vulnerability armor explodes into a cloud of glitter that sticks to the puddle of shame on the floor.  And I’m free, and can walk away.  There is pain, and there is hurt, there is old trauma that I can finally process and it will cause tears, but there are shoulders to cry on and feeling low is just another way to be lovable.  Conflict is a chance to better understand someone (love!).  Failure is an opportunity for understanding (love!).  In order to be lovable I just need to exist.  I just need to exist.  And when there isn’t someone right there to shower me with love when I need it, there’s always self love – it’s not a booby prize.  I can always understand myself and my own needs and limits better, and use my power to get them met.  And that feels really, really good.

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Review: Ruby’s Wish

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Ruby’s Wish by Shirin Yim Bridges is the true story of the author’s grandmother, Ruby.  She is invited to go to school as a child, and she loves it.  However, she still needs to do her household learning as she is a girl.  While the other girls drop out, she stays and thrives.  She resents being a girl but tries to hide it from her grandfather.  He comes through in the end, though, and allows her to go to the University rather than being married off.

Pros: There are great themes of perseverance and being true to yourself.

Cons: There are elements that clash with Care and Feeding mindset.  Namely, Ruby is not in charge of her own life – she is at the mercy of her Grandfather’s decisions.  He has ultimate power/authority over her.  She feels the need to lie to him to cover up her intentions.  I don’t like how they deal with boundaries and vulnerability.

Overall: This book didn’t work for me.  I was looking for something that modeled personal power and got the opposite.

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Review: Mr. Tiger Goes Wild

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Mr Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown follows Mr. Tiger who lives in a drab world of animals walking on two legs.  He decides he needs something more, and starts to act truer to his tiger nature.  Enough is enough, however, and his friends ask him to take his wild to the wild.  He loves the idea, and goes.  Soon he misses home and comes back to discover that his friends have been inspired to act just a bit more wild themselves.

Pros: This is a great story of Mr. Tiger discovering his own unique needs, and doing what it takes to get them met.  In doing so, he models the same for his friends.  There’s an added bonus of testing perceived limits and enforcing boundaries without shame.

Cons: None.

Overall: I like it.  I’m inspired to be myself and not care what other people think.

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The Take My Trash game

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What’s mine is yours and what’s yours is mine, right?  Not with solid boundaries, it’s not.  You decide what you want in your life, and you mindfully accept or reject offerings as the world throws them at you. 

In this middle school classic, if I have some trash but don’t feel like throwing it away on my own, I nonchalantly offer it to you, trying to get you to automatically take it.  When you do, it’s yours and I refuse to take it back.  Now you’re responsible for disposing of it. (haha!)  Watch out, though, it might quickly segue into a game of Sneak It In

This game plays with the idea of mine and yours, and it teaches mindfulness of your boundaries. 

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The Interrupting game

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Interrupting is a skill.  Some people have a hard time interjecting at all.  Others have no regard for the person talking and just talk over them.  Somewhere in the middle is the well-timed interruption.

Maintaining your focus despite interruptions is also a skill.  Not getting derailed, keeping on topic, and maintaining control of the conversation are important things to know how to do. 

If you have any doubt, here’s an interesting article on gender differences in conversation habits.

The interrupting game goes like this:  There is a talker and an interruptor.  The talker is talking, and the interruptor interrupts, with the intention of derailing the conversation.  If they are successful, they get points.  (No, the points aren’t worth anything more than kudos.)  However, if the talker catches the interruption and politely asks the interruptor to save the thought for later, then the talker gets points.  The interruptor can choose to listen or not.  If they don’t, then the talker can get more points by completely ignoring the interruptors bids for attention.  Finally, when the talker gets to a breaking point in their conversation, they have a third chance to get points by bringing the focus back to the interruptor and giving them a turn to speak. 

My kids are loving this game.  They like the green light to try to interrupt.  They like the green light to not listen when I say to wait.  They love when I give them “points” after they’ve successfully derailed me. 

I am loving this game.  I love not feeling guilty asking them to hold their thought. I love being free to completely ignore and talk over them while they jabber nonsense (literally) at me.  I love giving them a turn to talk afterwards, and being able to totally focus on them.  And I’m looking forward to finding some great phrases for holding control of the conversation.  “Stop interrupting me” from the article linked above, “I’m not done talking” and “wait, I’m still in the middle of talking” are my current favorites. 

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Boundaries and Bubbles. Dents and Bulges.

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When I talk about boundaries, I’m talking about a sense of self and also of self worth.  Knowing where you end and ‘other’ begins, what *you* need and where *your* limits are.  There are the obvious physical boundaries – what’s my body and what’s yours.  This covers babies learning that they are their own person, and not just an extension of mama; and it also covers parent/kid relationships (corporal punishment and forced hugs and kisses, etc) as well as romantic relationships – nobody is “owned” by someone else.  There is a lot of conversation around this right now, and it’s important.  There are also mental boundaries – what is my motivation vs yours, what is my desire vs yours, what is my mistake vs yours, and the list goes on.    It probably maps pretty well to the needs I’ve outlined in the framework of this site. The conversations about these boundaries are starting to pop up and they’re critically important, too. 

And then there’s self worth.  How much can I take, how much can I give, how much space can I give myself?  How much am I worth?  What’s too much to keep track of?  

I have a mental picture of a circle. A bubble around an individual.  The bubble represents where you end and ‘other’ begins.  The volume of the bubble represents your self worth.  The shape of your bubble isn’t always a circle, though.  Unhealthy boundaries come when your bubble is too small (and you don’t take what you need for yourself, don’t feel like you deserve it) or when you overreach into someone else’s space (the controlling or abusive personality) or give away what is rightfully yours (the pushover/accommodator).  These last two look like bulging arms reaching out, or like caves carved in to your circle.  

I would say that healthy boundaries feel really good to an individual.  That is the lowest energy state, and leads to the highest default happiness with life.  I would also say that most everyone doesn’t have perfectly healthy boundaries.  Some are healthier than others, for sure, but it takes work.  You see, life is an attack on your boundaries.  There is a nonstop stream of assaults, and figuring out your needs and limits is a learning process, complete with the need to make mistakes.  Any time there is an assault that you’re not sure what to do with, it can dent in your circle a bit, and it stays there as trauma until you can process it.  The starting shape of your boundaries is passed from parent to child, and from friend to friend. It’s contagious, because it’s defined by what we can validate for each other and what space we can hold for each other. 

So you go through life, and there are assaults, and if you don’t have defenses or ways to process the assault then it sticks around.  And you have a dent. A trauma.  But it doesn’t always affect your self worth – the volume of your bubble.  This means that if you have a big dent in one place, you’re going to want, to need to overreach in another place to maintain your self worth.  And self worth feels even better (to some?) than a healthy sense of me vs you. 

Now we have people with unhealthy boundaries waking around in their funny shaped bubbles, overreaching in some areas and not believing they even can reach at all in other areas.  There’s not much of a issue until there’s an overlap between two peoples’ bubbles and then the conflict is brought to light.  Limits are set and hopefully people move on.  But limits are HARD.  They can make you really upset.  Because if someone tries to smooth your bulge, where else is the space in your bubble going to go?  What about your self worth? Do you need to overreach somewhere else instead?  Or are you not actually worthy?  Panic! Anger! Fight back!

What’s happening is, either you are being traumatized by someone else’s bulge denting in your bubble, or else someone is trying to lop off your bulge and it feels like trauma (even if you can logically see that they’re right.  In order to make sense of this, you need to either reduce your self worth so you can fit in this new shape (ouch!), or you need to change the shape.  Changing the shape means either overreaching somewhere else (ick!) or finding a dent and popping it back out (HARD, painful).  If you know what to do, you can get straight to it through tears or laughter or talking, but if you feel stuck, it’s likely to come out sideways as anger, depression, anxiety, stress, coping mechanisms.  Any way you turn, it’s work. 

I’ve been observing myself and my kids and how we get stuck, a lot, some of us more than others.  Limits used to be painfully hard for me, but now I’ve figured them out – only they’re starting to cause more pain than growth.  And so I realized, it’s time to find those dents and pop them back out again.  I can’t set a limit on self care very easily, without really muddling up the self vs other lines.  It involves reaching into the bubble of another and claiming ownership.  I see dents in my kids’ bubbles though (it’s so much easier to see in others than myself) and now it’s time to pop those dents back out.  My plan involves games humor and lots and lots of laughter, completely unrelated to anything else going on, and definitely no limits (besides the rules of the game).   My hope is that by popping the dents out into a circle again, the bulges will shrink on their own, with relatively few limits and meltdowns.  Or at least the meltdowns will be productive rather than stuck. 

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Love and Boundaries

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As I ponder the love languages, I personally have trouble with a few of them due to boundary violations.  The five languages are: quality time, acts of service, words of affirmation, receiving gifts, and physical touch.

It has been groundbreaking recently for me to figure out something that would really be helpful, that would truly be of service to me, and to not only identify it, but to ask for it and then receive it.  Wow.  Bliss!

Up until recently, acts of service, to me, has meant being grateful for the things that others are doing for you.  Which doesn’t particularly feel like love if it’s not something I wanted in the first place, and can kind of feel like twisting a knife if it’s something I specifically wanted/needed to do myself.

There’s a boundary and self worth thing going on here.  A few things.  Knowing what’s me and what’s the other party is a big part of it, and then there’s drawing a line against the stuff that I don’t want, and drawing a line asking for the things that I do need.

I’m learning, there are a few facets to the nebulous concept of “boundaries.”  There’s understanding what’s me vs you, what’s my motivation vs your motivation, my needs vs your needs.  Where do I end and you begin?  And then there’s finding the needs and limits and enforcing them – making sure that I don’t overextend or take on too much, and making sure that I get what I need and the help I need.

So when someone does something for me in the name of love, but it’s not something that actually services me, it blurs the line between me and you (why *are* you doing this “for me”? And begs for stronger lines, clearer communication.  “Thank you for doing that, but I’d actually rather do it myself.  What I could *really* use help with is ______.”

And then there’s the love language, words of affirmation.  Another that I bristle at.  But there have been times where I soak it up like a dry sponge.  I think the difference is when words of affirmation is being used as a manipulation tool.  If we’re in agreement that my job is to get on your track (as some see child-parent or employee-boss relationships) then words of affirmation are great – they confirm that you’re on the right track and you won’t be shamed.  (Me vs you is getting seriously blurred here) But if you see people as separate, with their own needs, desires, motivations, then words of affirmation just degrade that sense of self.  Another boundary violation.  Alfie Kohn has a lot to say on the topic in his book, Punished by Rewards, and Kelly Bartlett has some alternatives in her book, Encouraging Words for Kids.

So in order to *feel* loved by the various love languages, you need to be able to accept the love offering.  And in order to do so, healthy boundaries are a must.  Without them, “love” can degrade your sense of self, and make it hard to figure out what your own needs and desires actually are.

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