Who Am I? And When Will I Know?

Peach came to me with a delighted look on her face after receiving a compliment from a friend who told her, “I wish I had your life.  You’re so cool.”  This surprised Peach who, of course, spends time thinking the same thoughts about others. 

She repeated the words several times, testing my reaction, seeking validation and convincing herself that it could be true.  ‘Cool’ isn’t a concept she’d tried on before.  Did it fit?  Could she pull it off?  We are what we believe we are, but how do we know what to believe?

I wish I could say it’s only tweens and teens who absorb the opinions of others in order to define themselves.  But too many times as an adult I’ve caught myself feeling good or bad based on another person’s criticism or compliment.

In my book, Tween You and Me:  A Preteen Guide To Becoming Your Best Self, I advocate for girls to know themselves, be themselves, and love themselves.  What I don’t highlight is how challenging the first step is.

Figuring out who we are is lifelong work.  We’re like a slow-cooked meal that needs extended time to simmer before emerging from the pot in the form of palatable dish.  Becoming a mature person who understands herself takes patience and practice.  It requires us to spend time on the inside, releasing the flavor of us, bit by bit.

A sage will advise you to ‘Listen to your heart’ or your gut, or some such organ, to guide you through life.  But if we haven’t established a relationship with our innards, this advice is useless.  We’re likely to choose the more convenient but tenuous path of adopting the world’s idea of who we should be.  Seeing ourselves in the mirror of the world can be helpful, but the world can only show us how we are.  It can’t define who we are.

Certain Native American tribes had naming ceremonies, sometimes beginning at birth.  The name reflected a virtue the parents hoped for the baby to have.  This would be replaced in adolescence in response to a strength for which the child was known.  As an adult, another name might be granted to reflect an expectation for the person to live up to.  The process of identification was fluid.

The goal in getting to know yourself isn’t to land on one comprehensive definition.  The goal is to become skilled enough at turning inward that you can see, understand, and act in accordance with your true vision and values as they apply to any given moment. 

As parents, we want this for our children.  We want to know that they’re armored with self-confidence and immune to the judgmental world.  We want for them what we still don’t possess for ourselves 100% of the time.  The best we can do is meet them where they’re at, not trying to change anything, and not expecting adult-level responses to the feedback that hammers them every day from all directions.

I offered Peach an observation of my own.  “I see a girl who is growing and learning every day.  I see a girl who is a good friend and loves her family.  I see a girl who wonders about things with an imaginative mind and works tirelessly at creating.  This girl has ideas worth sharing and a future that’s bright. And I think that makes you pretty cool.”

Peach smiled at this and said, “Thanks.  I think I can see that too.”

A Girl’s Wishes

sad butterfly 1I wish my father would have been kinder about fat girls. Perhaps I wouldn’t have starved myself in order to appear well-under the imagined weight that was the threshold of his love.

I wish the schoolboys wouldn’t have judged other girls harshly, finding fault with models and actresses and teachers. Every criticism, though not directed at me, prompted my own inner critic to register a list of unacceptable traits and unrealistic expectations of perfection.

I wish that advertisements would have been honest about beauty and the need for improvement. Perhaps I wouldn’t have wasted so much money and time on fixing myself.

I wish my boyfriends didn’t believe me when I pretended not to care that they flirted with other girls. I might not have crumbled on the inside while learning to put on a pretty face.

I wish my friend’s father knew that nicknames aren’t always welcome. Perhaps I wouldn’t have doubted the me I knew, compared to the me he labeled.

I wish someone had taught my high school crush to be gentle and kind when letting a girl know that he’s just not into her. Perhaps my veins wouldn’t have turned to ice and colored my future relationships.

I wish I would have had the courage to say ‘no’ and to register my honest opinion.  It might have spared me regret.

I wish I hadn’t needed boys to affirm my self-esteem. But I did. I was human. And I was girl.

The Grace of Parenting

mother_child_4Bringing my daughter to tears on the first day of Middle School was not one of my shining moments. More

One Direction

one directionDespite my love for football, I’d never been to Gillette Stadium – home of the New England Patriots.  And I never suspected that when I did get there, I’d be amidst throngs of screaming adolescent girls who were swooning over the five adorable lads of One Direction.

I should have been prepared for the frenzy after hearing a remote comparison to Beatlemania.  One Direction themselves reported in an interview that American fans are their loudest and craziest.  But truly, I had NO IDEA.

Husband, a seasoned tailgater, packed the family SUV with coolers, grill and food.  Good sport that he is, he also decorated the windows with One Direction tribute.

one d

He, too, was taken off guard when observing that the men’s bathroom at Gillette, normally packed with obnoxious football fans, was so empty he ‘could have played whiffle ball’ in the vast space.  In short time, the men’s bathroom was converted to a temporary Ladies Room in order to accommodate the sea of females waiting in line.

Husband and I laughed about the contrast between this and our own teen concert experiences with rock bands of the 80’s.  Cell phones have replaced hairspray torches (thank God), and LED graphics have replaced strobe lights.  But in spite of all the differences, one thing remains the same – teenage obsession.

I recall the internal pandemonium – the feeling of coming unglued at the sight of my celebrity crush – a rockstar, an actor…  I see girls quivering and crying, hear their frenzied screams, and feel their pain. Complete surrender to the allure of a star is intoxicating.  He’s singing to me.  He means his words.  He loves me too – didn’t he say as much in his song?

I’d dream of my hero, unable to shake the memory of seeing his face, albeit on a jumbotron from 2000 yards away.  He was there!  He was real!!  I wanted desperately to be recognized.  If only I was famous too.  Then life would be great.

At some point the crushing reality sets in that no, your rockstar crush didn’t see you.  He won’t ever know you, and elation gives way to depression or disinterest – until the next big thing comes along.  Thus goes the cycle.

What I didn’t realize as a teen was the flip side.  What happens to the star at the end of the show?  The tragic death of Robin Williams makes it difficult to avoid the topic of the dark side of fame.  In a 1981 television episode, Robin, as the character Mork, says, “being a star is a 24-hour job and you can’t leave your face at the office…some can’t take it.”  Chilling.

Truth be told, I actually enjoy One Direction.  I tap my foot to their music and applaud their clean image.  But I worry about them.  They are so young.  And so suddenly popular.  So instead of dreaming of them at night as I’m sure my daughters do, I pray for them.  Please be okay lads, even when the fickle little girls turn away.

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