Monday, June 25, 2012

Be Yourself

"Just be yourself. The best, cutest, quietest version of yourself. Definitely wear lip gloss." - The Sweater Song, circa 1992

I will never forget it.

The year was 5th grade, and I had the best teacher in the world at Myron E. Richardson School in Gilberville. Mrs. Paul. Mrs. Paul had a passion for music and language arts, just as I did. Our assignment was to write an essay and submit it to something called the "Happy Pages," which ran with the Sunday comics each week in the Worcester Telegram. I can't remember the exact topic, but it may have been something like What Makes Me Happy.

I wrote a darned good essay. I wrote from the heart. I don't remember now exactly what I wrote, but I remember feeling proud: proud, that is, until each student in the class had the opportunity to read his or her essay aloud. My heart began pounding. I sank lower in my seat. I had to find a way not to read mine. I had to get out of there because my essay was nothing like any of the others. Most of them were writing about Mrs. Paul, about how awesome and nice and friendly she was. In my seat, I began erasing and scribbling furiously. This called for a redo. I just couldn't be different. Dutifully, I began to write. Another thing that makes me happy is my teacher, Mrs. Paul...

Of course, the conclusion to this story is obvious. The day came for the What Makes Me Happy entries to appear in the paper, and not one of us from Mrs. Paul's 5th grade made it to print. Although there were a few winning essays that seemed painfully similar to my first draft, the draft that had ended up crumbled in the trash.

That day, I think, was the first I understood the meaning of regret. That day was the first I had to admit I cared way too much what others thought of me.

These things have a way of passing themselves on, we've noticed. As Anna learns and grows Dan and I can see, despite our outward efforts to encourage her to be herself, to not follow the crowd, to have confidence, to trust in her God-given abilities and unique personality, those tendencies towards insecurity are indeed there.

Anna hates to show up somewhere wearing the wrong thing, or do something that will make her stand out, or to be laughed at. She absolutely, positively freaked out about having to wear a cast for a few weeks last year. She often wants to fit in, go with the flow, not make waves.

This has concerned us, when we think ahead to the teenage years. We have tried not to think too much about that.

Yesterday Anna went to a dance-themed birthday party for a friend who attends a different school and takes numerous dance classes (Anna does not). She didn't know most of the girls there. This friend is a true girly-girl, complete with long gorgeous hair and a flair for fashion I don't even have.

Anna is not a girly girl. Oh, she'll play princess and loves little cute girly-type toys and dolls; she loves when I paint her toenails, but what she most prefers is reading, experimenting, going barefoot, and often, I have to say, playing with water and mud.

It probably doesn't help that she has no sisters, has a mother with no sisters, has a grandmother with a very similar personality who also has no sisters. No one ever taught me much about hair or make-up, for example, and it took me quite awhile to realize I didn't really care that much. I've tried to be open to the fact that Anna may have some of those interests and we can't be totally in the dark. I've offered to do her hair (knowing it would most likely come out disastrously). I've encouraged her to wear skirts and girly things. But like me, she just doesn't care that much. At least when she's being real Anna, at home, banging around with the family.

So there Anna was at this party yesterday, with lots of girls in sequins and sparkles, and the instructor put make-up on all of them.

"She put in on, but I didn't like the way it felt," Anna explained to me that afternoon back at home, her face showing just the slightest traces of lipstick. "It was itchy. I asked them if I could wash it off."

I thought of my girl being there with the other girls, in this age of tweens getting younger and girls getting meaner. The girls in this group ended up being fine, but we all know, you just never know. You never know if the pack mentality's going to kick in and suddenly there is going to be something very wrong with having an opinion.

There she stood, matter-of-fact, having made a different choice. Get the icky make-up off. True to herself. Hours later now, she stood before us, her face beaming. I don't know if she had ever looked prettier.

There are so many times as a parent when you feel as if all you do is speak in platitudes. You wonder if anything is getting through, if your kids are even listening. 

Anna has gotten all A's, scored in the 99th percentile for reading on standardized tests, can sew her own clothes, and is a model big-sister.

But never, ever had we been so proud as that moment when Anna decided it was okay to be Anna.

1 comment:

Wendi Richert said...

Way to go, Anna! I miss her already. Her calm way of being the wonderful Anna she is. :)