I recently woke earlier than my children, so I took advantage of the silence by sitting outside with a cup of coffee.  It was only 6:00 am but much warmer outside than I had expected. (My giant mug of hot coffee certainly didn’t help) I decided to cool down and further take advantage of the solitude by exercising with some laps in our pool. I am not even talking about fancy Olympic-style strokes either. My speed is more like that of a giant, old tortoise meandering at 5mph through the water. It is somewhat embarrassing to admit that I once could lift weights and go hardcore at the gym, but now I settle for geriatric-style laps or pool aerobics as my only form of exercise. I recently joked with friends that I am going to become an expert at making Jell-O shots and raise hell while doing therapeutic water exercise with the “old bitties” at the local pool club. It would be epic. Forget the cool concerts that I used to attend; that would be way past my bedtime now anyway. Partying with the elderly posse is where it’s at. Pass the alcohol-infused gelatin treats, please.

Swimming, with my three children is never exactly a relaxing event, so it was going to be a treat to just enjoy the pool by myself for once.  Swimming with kids usually involves repeated chants of “Mommy! Look what I can do!…..LOOK what I can do!….LOOK what I can do!” I am frequently attempting to summon believable displays of awe and amazement at mediocre feats that all seem to look the same. (I’m also constantly reminded of “Stuart” from Mad TV) Pool time involving my kids usually ends with a water gun being shot at full blast to my face when I have just closed my eyes, leaned my head back on a pool float, and least expect it. (SUPER SOOTHING) For the entirety of a child-inclusive pool experience, I am basically twitching and fighting off PTSD from previous times that I have been shocked out of a relaxed state, while almost been rendered completely blind from a “high-powered” water cannon being shot at my eyeballs.

It was a beautiful morning where the sun was super warm but the air still cool. Not the usual summer in New England air that is like a heavy, wet, nasty curtain of humidity soup. I had mounds of laundry to fold and knew that the breakfast-making extravaganza would soon begin, wherein I would need to create three separate meals for my finicky eaters; usually while not making anything for myself….because lukewarm coffee really should suffice. (Momma… Don’t get all  high and mighty thinking you deserve a hot breakfast or something) Screw it though. I was going to enjoy some “me time.” The past year and a half had been a struggle trying to navigate my kids through the unknown of quarantine, online learning, and crumbling friendships. I had become way too involved in situations that I should have just stayed out of.  Why can’t I ever learn to …. JUST. SHUT. MY. MOUTH? Why can’t I ever learn to …… JUST. STAY. OUT. OF. IT? I had issues swirling in my brain and I needed to work them through. Swimming would hopefully help. Sure.

The water temperature was like a warm bath, but no relaxation or exercise would occur because when I entered the pool and looked to my right, there was a swarm of yellowjackets hovering at the pool’s edge. The pests stretched out, covering the entire length of the pool. I briefly contemplated running inside to fetch my pretty, lime green fly swatter adorned with a plastic sunflower. (You too can own such luxury if you shop at The Dollar Tree) I envisioned myself as some stylish, bikini-clad Ninja, effortlessly slaying all yellowjackets that dared to stand in my way so that I might resume with the relaxing morning I had intended. Then my conscience turned on me. “Save the Bees,” and all.  I mean….. are they not (sort of)… distant cousins or something? I began having visions of killing a few of the little “buggers” off, only to have hundreds of abnormally gigantic, yellow, and black striped flying terrors descend upon me to avenge the deaths of their relatives Bill, Fred, Myrtle, and little Sami Jo. Yeah……probably NOT a good plan.

I remained in the water and thought that if I just left the insects alone and stayed on the opposite end of the pool, surely they would leave me alone. I assured myself that I could just do a few laps and it would all be fine. I always tell my kids that bumblebees and yellowjackets “are harmless and will not sting, if you just let them be.” Surely, I should follow my own possibly foolish advice. I swam about 3 laps before I was ready to die from exhaustion. (Pathetic but true) While attempting to catch my breath and ignore my gnawing feeling of physical failure, I noticed a yellowjacket struggling in the water. I once prided myself on being smart but what I did next was certainly less than intelligent. I scooped my hands under the tiny pest’s body, thinking that if it remained floating above my hands in a pool of water, I could safely extract it from certain death. Shocker…… I was IMMEDIATELY STUNG! I was only trying to HELP what I believed to be a poor, defenseless, drowning insect. I was trying to help, but the bee’s instinctual response was to react as if it were under attack. Sometimes humans feel the same in our interpersonal relationships and we feel like we are under attack when we are not. Then we go on the defensive as our survival instincts kick in. Sometimes it ain’t pretty. Maybe the bee would have found the strength to fly away on its own. Maybe it was nature’s intention to just allow whatever might happen to run its course. Maybe the yellowjacket just wanted to drown in peace.  Why did I feel the need to intervene?

I was recently feeling defeated and mentioned to a friend that I felt a bit foolish for having opened myself up and intervening in various altercations involving my children, only to leave myself feeling too vulnerable and perhaps….even misunderstood. In attempting to HELP and hopefully “fix” some situations with my kids, I really had only made things worse. Worse for them. Worse for me. Worse for others. At this point in my life, perhaps I should know better. My friend commented, “you’re a kind person and you don’t need to change that. Don’t let others change you.” Perfect words that I needed to hear. Stay true to you, even if people might disagree with, or misinterpret your intentions. It just might “sting” but it will hurt less than constantly having to hide my authentic self, while gauging my actions fearful of how others might respond. The right people will stick by you anyway. They might disagree sometimes, but they will talk it out and still be there. Hopefully.

You know what? I was dumb to try saving a yellowjacket and expect not to be stung. You know what else?  I would do it again. Life “stings” sometimes. People can “sting” sometimes. I will never change the fact that I try to be a compassionate and helpful human being. It is just who I am, even if I am getting it all wrong. I will not change who I am at my core, even if it can sometimes be painful to have people disagree with, misinterpret, or reject you.  I will always try to be authentic, trusting, and available to people, even if it puts me at risk for being stung. Sting away yellowjacket. Bring it! Worst case scenario……there’s always my fancy Dollar Tree fly swatter.

Jenn Miele Leslie lives in Woodbridge, CT with her husband, three kids ages 8, 10 and 15 and two bulldogs who likes to fart and snore. Originally from Long Island, N.Y. (yes, that IS how you say it – if you’re from there you just understand) she misses being able to find a decent bagel or breakfast sandwich. Once an Art Therapist specializing in working with adults with various developmental disabilities, Jenn now spends her time shuttling her minions to: school; playdates; dance classes and competitions; occupational therapy; coding classes; and what feels like a million additional places, on a daily basis. In her occasional down time, Jenn enjoys photography, painting and an iTunes playlist that boasts way too many 90’s alternative songs.

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