I recently learned an interesting lesson.  It was a few months before my son and daughter-in-law’s wedding and I was making a montage of photos from both families as a gift for the couple.  It was a wonderful process that allowed me to focus on the 30+ years that had passed—the sweet memories, the silly celebrations as well as the painful reminders of people I loved who wouldn’t be sharing our family’s delightful new stage. This process also gave me the pleasure of checking something off my “To Do” list—the long delayed ritual of sorting through old pictures and tossing the blurry ones, the five copies of the Grand Canyon vacation with the cousins and the snapshots of people you can’t even remember. But perhaps the most important thing that I learned from this process was realizing how much our emotions can control how we perceive and live our lives.

What struck me like a blow to the gut was a picture from 1992.  It was a photo of my son taken at camp visiting day for my daughter.  He is wearing his then-favorite purple shirt and his teeth are pointing every which way (it was a time before braces).  He is leaning against a tree. Suddenly I am shot straight back to that time of my life. In the bottom of my stomach I remember the anger and the disappointment that colored those days. I remember the feeling of being on edge and impatient so much of the time.  I remember seeing all the flaws.

1992 was a difficult year for me.  I was overwhelmed.  I felt the demands pulling at me from all sides–from work, from my family and especially from my kids.  Everyday seemed to be a battle…a battle that I was losing. I was stressed and short-tempered all the time. I felt as if I was doing nothing well: I was giving only half the effort needed to overcome the challenges at work, failing as a parent and resenting the pressures that my parents and husband were putting on me. I was at a low point and those dark green gremlins–those keepers of judgment, expectations and negativity that lurk in the corners of our lives waiting for our defenses to be down–had conquered me.

As I looked at that picture of my 10 year old son in his purple shirt, I suddenly was vaulted back 20 years to the day it was taken.  In the bottom of my stomach I once again feel the anger and the disappointment that colored those days. Yet, before me was this lovely picture of  a sunny summer day with a delightful, impish little boy hugging a tree.  There is a twinkle in his eyes and a small turned up smile on his face.  He looks adorable and possibly even angelic.  He is not demanding.  He is not pushing my buttons. He is not waiting to pounce and charge me with everything I’m doing wrong.  He’s just this young boy on the cusp of adolescence–charming, gawky and cute beyond belief– enjoying a beautiful day with his family.  The challenging, maturing, testing the waters, growing up process that marked the days of 1992 is now just a memory–one that makes me smile.

I suddenly realized how my gremlins—my self-doubt and my expectations of myself as a mother and as a professional woman trying to do it all—had colored my reality and unfortunately negatively impacted the flavor of my life.

Without the negative emotions, the invasion of my personal “oughts” and “shoulds,” my personal gremlins, I could now see more clearly.  I could celebrate life and laugh at the awkwardness of maturation.  I could enjoy how it feels to just “be.”  I can smile and laugh and remember the good times—and there were mostly good times. So, as I face the next stage of my life, I intend to keep that picture of my 10 year old son front and center in my focus especially when I feel the gremlins lurking. I will use that charming image as a reminder not to lose those special times by allowing my negative emotions to reign over what’s really important to me—being mindful, positive and living in the present.  Armed with my happy image, I will not let the gremlins color my reality again…at least not without a fight.  I hope you will do the same.