When I was a kid, I was scared of a lot of stuff. As only kids can do, I figured the whole world was always watching me, and I was incredibly self-conscious. I remember being afraid of walking places alone not because I feared abduction or boogie men but because I didn’t want people to think I had no friends. It was not so much a primal fear as it was a social one — and sometimes I think social ones are worse.
I was afraid to ask questions (didn’t want to look stupid) and to make mistakes (because then I really would be stupid). I wouldn’t ask for help or admit when I was wrong not out of a belief in my own superiority but, looking back, out of a fear of abandonment, and a need to feel in control. Although I have a big brother, I never lived with him, so I was living the life of an only child in an alcoholic / co-dependent family system and I did what I could to survive emotionally. Back then, my life was filled with an almost constant adreneline-filled anxiety.
Let me just pause a moment to take a big, deep breath of grown-up freedom: Aaaahhhh. That’s better.
While I didn’t want people to perceive me being alone, I was alone often and loved it. I learned to play by myself for hours, I learned to love reading, and quiet. I was a latchkey kid by the time I was seven and developed a fiercely independent streak that still helps — and still hinders — me today.
I intentionally try to instill in my kids the kind of confidence I never had. My daughter especially. She amazes me on a regular basis. She is a beautiful little tomboy who hates all things pink and Barbie-esque. She prefers Star Wars and Batman to Easy Bake Ovens. Where my son is a tornado of positive people-energy, this girl-child is shy and awkward in groups. But there is an inner strength and resiliency to her that is beginning to emerge, and it makes me so incredibly proud. She is the quiet observer, the one who sits in the back of the room and doesn’t miss a trick.
When she was four, her uncle died, then Michael and I had to go on consecutive business trips. To make a long story short, she developed a pretty severe case of anxiety that manifested in physical symptoms. It took six months to get an acurate diagnosis before treatment could begin, and another six months of treatment before we began to see improvement. But we dealt with the problem head on and holistically, including medication for the physical symptoms, biofeedback to help her learn how to control her body, and taking her to an awesome talk-therapist.
My little girl dresses in boy clothes. It’s not that she wants to be a boy. She just thinks boy clothes are cooler and she has no patience for all the sparkles and pink and frills they put on girl clothes. Ever try to play soccer in a skirt? Exactly.
She wears her hair in a short little bob that looks adorable and does look girly, but still, other kids (and often adults) mistake her for a boy. We had a conversation about this once, and I said, “I want you to be who you want to be. If you want to dress like this, you’re going to have to accept that people are going to think you’re a boy. Or, you can choose not to dress the way you want, and let people know you’re a girl.” She chose to dress the way she wants and to casually but firmly correct people when they mistake her gender identity. I get more riled up about it then she does. She has this quiet strength, my girl does.
I once took her to a gymnastics class, and while she looked around, I spoke to the coach. I told him about how she tended to be a little shy, a little nervous. He looked at her, then at me and said, “Nah. There’s a lot of confidence in the way she took this place in. Just because she’s quiet doesn’t mean she’s scared.”
Sometimes, it’s good to see your kid through a stranger’s eyes.
Yesterday, I took the kids to the Ocean City boardwalk after visiting a friend. We had a great time, but there were a few rides that my son wasn’t yet big enough to go on. Of course, my daughter had her sights set on one of these rides — she wanted to go on it so badly. It’s the one where you sit in a car and the thing whips you around in a circle really fast, going over soft little hills. Because I was with the kids by myself, I couldn’t go on it with her. If she wanted to go on, she’d have to go on by herself. For the record, this is something I never would have done as a kid.
She was only a little disappointed.
She likes doing things with me.
But she didn’t think twice about it. She grabbed the tickets out of my hand, ran up the stairs and climbed into the seat to ride the beast alone. I held fast onto my son’s hand but kept my eyes glued to my seven year old daughter, amazed at her bravery and instantly aware that everyone around us were potential pedophiles (I didn’t say my own anxiety was completely gone).
The ride started, and her beautiful, bobbed hair began to swirl in the wind of the ride. I watched as a smile crept upon her face. When I was seven, I was unlocking the front door to my home with the key around my neck, coming in and making my after-school snack.
The ride got faster, whipping her around in its circular frenzy, and I watched her smile. She was exhilerated. When I was seven, the tenents that lived in the apartment upstairs would bang on the door, screaming that they knew I was in there, to open up and let them in. But my parents had told me not to.
Then it happened. As my daughter went around, up and down, she slowly let go of the bar and lifted her hands high above her head, smiling the whole time. When I was seven, I broke my right collarbone when I fell out of bed, and my horrible second grade teacher forced me to write my schoolwork despite the razor-sharp pain it caused me going up and down my arm. Remembering the pain makes me nauseous again today.
I watched as my beauty-girl relished the freedom of letting go, raising her arms in victory over fear. I watched her with her quiet confidence, with this choice she’d made to do something alone, with no self-conciousness. To let go and ride it out.
And all I could say is damn, I am one proud mama.