The Ultimate Thumbs Up.

Thumbs Up by Laura Munson

The other day I was driving my kids to music lessons after school. My son was wondering if his guitar was in the car and I told him “It’s in the back,” pointing over my shoulder with my thumb. We were laughing about something at the time, so I was smiling as I did it. At that moment, something caught my eye and I looked to my right to see an elderly man, standing with a rake over a colossal leaf pile, giving me the thumbs up and mouthing, “Thank you” with a hearty grin in his lips and apple cheeks. My kids saw the whole thing too and as we put the pieces together we simultaneously burst out into laughter. What was a mother’s directions to her son became a compliment to an old man raking leaves. It was one of life’s rare moments of total gift. A misunderstanding just might have made someone’s day. The intention was absolutely impure. Misguided. Misunderstood. And still some good was done in the world at 3:30 on a Tuesday afternoon in a small Montana town in Fall.

And my kids and I started thinking, What if we went around just giving the thumbs up to random strangers all day? How would that make the world a better place? Would we have the guts? Could we climb so fully into the word “Unabashed?” We all decided we’d be too shy. It was too invasive. Who are we to deem someone else’s moment thumb’s up-worthy? What do we know? our inner voices hollered, preaching fear like our own personal televangalists, scoffing at us, bullying us, critiquing our every move.

It was my ten year old son who made a case for the thumbs up. “If it were me, I’d love it if someone gave me a random thumbs up.” Leave it to the very young to see past fear and to not yet be under the grips of inner destructive dialogue.

I was so accustomed to my inner verbal abuse that in order to face her, I had to name her. I call her My Evil Twin Sheila; she made her public debut in my book, THIS IS NOT THE STORY YOU THINK IT IS. We all have one and it helps to name it. For a while I thought I needed to make her die a violent death and cast her out to sea in a nailed down coffin. Lately I’ve learned that since I created her, and she’s highly immortal, it might be more productive to not be at war with her. To let her have her moment of chatter, but to smile at her, so afraid and so reactive, a scared little girl who thinks you have to fight to win. And in-so-doing, more and more, I love her into submission.

So I’ve been trying it, the public thumbs up. Why not? There’s no want of word exchange or even reaction. It’s just a simple gesture. Good job. Way to go. Excellent. It’s not just a social experiment on how we give and receive random acts of kindness, it’s about publicly declaring that which is right with the world. You’re taking a bike ride on a Sunday afternoon with your three year old? Thumbs up. You’re walking with your groceries instead of driving. Thumbs up. You’re sitting on a bench talking to a friend. Thumbs UP, man! You’re mowing the lawn in the rain with a smile on your face. You’re my freaking hero!

And it doesn’t have to stop there. We can give ourselves a thumbs up. We just finished folding three loads of laundry? We made homemade chicken stock? We took the time to do a puzzle with our kid? We invited the new guy at work out for lunch? Thumbs up.

Please enjoy the following lovely essay by the wonderful therapist, writer, and wise woman, Stephanie Baffone, who teaches us that we can practice giving ourselves a surprise thumbs up even when our internal dialogue wants to tell us that we’re fools. Let’s be fools, then, unabashed.

Take it, Stephanie:

I am the Ultimate by Stephanie Baffone

When I was in eighth grade, about fourteen years old, I fell in love. Not with some young, strapping, adolescent fresh-faced boy with peach fuzz perched over his top lip.
Not even with a human.
I fell hard and fast for a word. When said out loud, the sound of it made me pass out like a fainting goat. It had an air of pretense, which must have been some sort of psychological projection on my part because I was hardly a pretentious girl. Pretense made me feel inferior but this word, strung together with seven perfect letters relegated me to the likes of a Marcia Brady type-the Marcia who pined away for Davy Jones from the Monkees.
The word was ultimate and when I prefaced it with the, I decided we should declare our love publicly.
“I am The Ultimate,” became the signature phrase I used to announce my triumphant arrival into a room. Arms open wide, forming a big Y over my head, I made a grand entrance one afternoon afterschool when I greeted my Mom in the kitchen.
My Mom came from hearty Irish stock and as my Dad says was, “a real lady.” My father embraced his self-appointed role as God’s laughter lieutenant and gravitates to the spotlight. My Mom, in contrast, preferred to play the part of a spectator. She raised the five of us to embrace humility and while she found us entertaining she went to great lengths to be sure we knew our place.
She canned applesauce every fall from the apples she and my aunt picked at our local orchard and taught us about the birds and the bees without one euphemism. On winter Sunday afternoons, she curled up in the crushed orange velvet recliner in her bedroom and soaked in the sunny spot by the sliding glass door. After reciting her daily rosary, she wandered off into the worlds that lived inside the stack of books resting on her glass-top table.
That fall afternoon, she must have had enough of my shenanigans and found my love affair with the word ultimate no longer tolerable or appropriate.
Still dressed in my Catholic school uniform, I hiked up my skirt and with my white blouse inching up over my belly I hopped up on the countertop and reached for a glass.
“I am The Ultimate,” I repeated; poking around in the cabinet propped up on the laminate, marble countertop.
Just as I found my favorite glass, my Mom tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Steffi, stop saying that.” She lent me her hand to get down. “It’s not very becoming.”
My identical twin sister, sat at the kitchen table, munching on a snack and laughed.
“Mooom! Seriously?!” I slid down from the counter. “I don’t actually think I am the ultimate. I just think that word is funny. It cracks me up.”
“Steffi, I know that but it’s just not funny and it’s certainly not becoming,” she walked over to the stove.
An early exchange like this between a mother and a daughter is a therapist’s playground. Clients internalize experiences with their parental figures that go on to form introjections, defined as “the internalization of the parent figures and their values; leading to the formation of the superego.”
The superego is the place inside us where the critical, punitive voice of our psyches resides. This part of our psyche buddies up with criticism like macaroni does with cheese. Think Laura’s critical voice “Shelia,” as she named and outed in her book.
That short exchange with my Mom, formed a personal introject for me that’s become a real stage five clinger.
I loved my Mom. I knew she believed in me and as daughters go, I think she actually thought I was the ultimate. I harbor no ill feelings toward her for saddling me with this introject. Her lesson on humility that day was taught with a spirit of love and compassion. Bravado, even if only in jest, from her perspective, for her children-had no comedic value.
My mother’s intent aside, what I’ve noticed is that I have a tendency to qualify myself, especially when people encourage me to believe in myself. My knee-jerk reaction is to make a mad dash to my emotional closet and don that pesky reminder that I am NOT the ultimate.
In sharing this story with others over the years what I’ve discovered is how important it is for me (and them too) to let go of the tired, worn-out introjects whose main jobs are to self-sabotage. I’m learning to replace those tired introjects with mantras more psychologically productive.
Recently, I stumbled across a useful exercise for doing just that. “Defeating Your Inner Critic,” was originally posted at as help to writers struggling to conquer and quiet their critical voice. This exercise is very effective and is not only useful for quieting the writer’s critical voice but for quieting our critical voice across the board, regardless of what in particular it is yapping about. I use it personally and also professionally in my psychology practice.
If you too are struggling with an old belief that plagues you with self-doubt and tempers belief in yourself, try these exercises. You might just discover that you indeed, are the ultimate.

Stephanie Baffone, LPCMH, NCC is a licensed, board certified mental health therapist and writer in private practice with a specialty in grief and loss, couples counseling and issues related to infertility. Prior to going back into private practice, Stephanie worked as the coordinator of the children’s grief and loss program at the largest hospice in the state of Delaware where she had the distinct privilege of supporting and guiding children whose loved ones were dying from terminal illnesses.
Stephanie is a consultant to other agencies developing programs on grief and loss and is thrilled to be an expert columnist at on the very same issues.
In addition to wife of husband who loves her like you see in the movies she is “Mom” to two dogs and two goats and “Aunt Steph,” (by relation) to thirty-nine nieces and nephews. She is working on a memoir, Doris, Sophia and Me: A Memoir About A Mother Who Didn’t Live Long Enough and A Daughter Who Was Never Born.
Stephanie is a proud graduate of Villanova University, a member of The American Counseling Association, National Board of Certified Counselors, RESOLVE, The American Fertility Association and the American Academy of Bereavement. Stephanie has been featured and used as a trusted source in print, radio and television media including, The Huffington Post, Counseling Today, First for Women Magazine, Blog Talk Radio, CN8 and WHYY.
The consummate Italian hostess, she loves to host visitors at her blog (Amelie—can you hyperlink this?) To contact her, email her at


Filed under Haven Newsletter, My Posts

24 Responses to The Ultimate Thumbs Up.

  1. Laura,
    Thanks again for the chance to share your inspirational space at HAVEN. A big THUMBS UP on that one. ;-)

    I love the idea of random thumbs up. I’m going to give this a go. Tell your son, I’ll be thinking of him and saying a little prayer for him each time fear takes a backseat to bravery.

    • lauramunson

      Stephane, I’m so excited for our Haven newsletter co-creation. I know people will really benefit from your ideas about how to get rid of the inner critic. Thanks for being so wonderful and wise. ox Laura

  2. I love the idea of the “thumb’s up”. I’m going to try it. I agree with your son–I’d love a random thumb’s up from a stranger any day. I also subscribed to the newsletter. Thanks.

    • lauramunson

      Oh great, Kim. I think you’ll like HAVEN. A place to be vulnerable and honest with no judgement out here in cyber land. Look forward to seeing you there. yrs. Laura

  3. Loved it, Laura! We never know what splendid spirit / person is raking those leaves … and we all need a thumbs up now and then. Here’s one for you and your family. Blessings, Daisy @ (what’s in a name anyway? :)

  4. I would love a big thumbs up today. .

  5. Pingback: HAVEN Newsletter– November « THESE HERE HILLS

  6. cindy Pitre

    I love receiving your newsletter, as I loved reading your book….. they way you write and the subjects that you choose to write about are like”comfort food ,only it is comfort reading… It brings out the best side of us… more compasion, more kindness.

    • lauramunson

      Wow, Cindy. I’ll take that compliment all the way through the weekend. Thank you. Went straight to the heart. yrs. Laura

  7. I was jussssst writing about my bad voice here:
    What perfect timing! I love These Here Hills!

    • lauramunson

      And it loves you!!! I’ll come by and read about your inner Sheila. Look forward to it. I’m just now able to find the time to peruse more blogs. Thanks, Anne. I’m working on turning my inner critic into the kindest earth mama of love this side of the Mississippi. Yrs. Laura

  8. Fiona

    This was a nice reminder. I identified, and named mine years ago, but then left it at that, without really doing the work to establish a healthy cohabitation.

    Since reading your article I’ve revisited mine inner critic and have been providing reassurance and comfort.

    There’s a sense of relief and dissipation of many strong emotions.

    • lauramunson

      I think we would do well to not only name her, but to teach her heart language. Glad you re-visited your innter critic, Fiona. It’s such an important exercise. yrs. Laura

  9. I agree with Cindy that Laura’s writing is like comfort reading. Stephanie’s story is a good reminder that our own inner critic — and those of our kids — tends to take the parental message and amplify it as if it were shouted through a megaphone.

    • lauramunson

      I’ve really been thinking about Stephanie’s “I am the ultimate” story all week too and paying attention to what flies out of my mouth around my kids. So true that what to me seems small, to them sounds like it’s come out of a megaphone. They’ll often say, “Stop yelling at me,” when I’m not yelling at all. I’m just stern. New awareness has come because of Stephane’s powerful story. yrs. Laura

  10. Nancy Ness

    I read your enews early this morning. Loved it, but I couldn’t think of how I was going to try out my “thumbs up”. We live way out on a gravel road. The only people I see during the day are neighboring farmers going down the road to whatever field they’re going to work in.
    I was out in my arena working with Lucky when I heard Mr. Edmonds coming down the road on his ancient John Deere. Opportunity knocks!
    Lucky and I turned just as he came up over our hill and I gave him my “thumbs up” as he went past. I wasn’t sure he saw me, but I had fun doing it anyway.
    Later this afternoon, on my way back from my barn and evening chores, I heard his tractor coming from the other direction. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. I was going to give my “thumbs up” one more time, just for fun.
    As he came up to our hill again, out of his window came a hand with his own “thumbs up” for me! I smiled and waved and gave it back again.
    Tell your son I think he’s a genius! Both my neighbor and I started and ended our day feeling good and all it took was a “thumbs up”.
    It doesn’t get any better than that!
    Yours, Nancy, smiling at the way things go

    • lauramunson

      OH, NANCY, YOU JUST MADE MY DAY. (Actually this and the ride I just took in the rain!). I’ve got goosebumps! I can just picture your Mr. Edmonds and that moment. I might have to use it in a novel. May I? LOVE it. Random acts of kindness indeed. Thank you for sharing! yrs. Laura

  11. Pingback: Tip for Tuesday-I am the Ultimate : Stephanie Baffone

  12. Hi Laura,
    I’m so glad others found this topic helpful. I say we stick all these loud mouth, blow hards on a deserted island with no vegetation but that might be too generous of a locale for some of them. ;-)

    I love the idea of making a space for them. Turning them into the best earth mama this side (or that) of the Mississippi is a wonderful way of loving those parts of ourselves too.

    It struck me that my story has inspired others to be more mindful of what they say. My Mom’s intent was never to foster a critical voice but you’re right, you never really know how what we say effects others, especially children.
    Thanks again for sharing the platform!

  13. Judith DiFrancesco

    I enjoyed your story………….via sis-in-law Steph(The Ultimate)

  14. Pingback: Following Up: Techniques for Combating the Inner Critic « THESE HERE HILLS

  15. ‘ Showings are at 4:00 pm on Saturday and 2:00 pm on Sunday.
    She is currently in foster with one of our trainers.
    Borouchoff must have studied Joan Crawford in Mommy Dearest:
    when she first appears, in curlers and green facial mask,
    raving about ruining the veal scallopini, she’s a monstrous mommy
    to make any drag queen jealous.

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