I realized today that while I’ve written a lot about my day to day life, I’ve never shared much about who I was and where I came from. That’s probably a strange way to put it, the past tense “who I was.” But I’ve grown and changed just like everyone else. Mostly, what stands out to me is the way I have ebbed in and out of comfort with, and confidence in, being myself.
I have no idea if this is everyone else’s reality too, but when I was young I felt like a complete outsider. The popular things were never things I much cared for, and likewise I’m sure. I wasn’t a Brownie or a Girl Scout, I didn’t read American Girl books (Nancy Drew for me), I volunteered in the computer lab during lunch so I could have quiet down time with my best friend.
For three years straight, I was the only kid who signed out a book on the cosmos. Frustrated that we didn’t have any foreign language classes, I taught myself Spanish. I refused to pick on other kids, and often protected and built up kids who were hurting. I was adored by some teachers and I was a target for others. Because I didn’t conform, I was relentlessly bullied by some classmates- although I sincerely wonder if people who made my life difficult then even realize it today.
Up through elementary school, even though I didn’t feel comfortable being different, I wasn’t willing to compromise my values. Kids are kind of rough on each other, and while it would have been easy to push others down to make myself feel taller, I had a sense even then that I wasn’t going to trade my integrity for popularity. As a result, I sat pretty low on the social hierarchy… which means you get picked on and made fun of a lot. Even with the near constant teasing and taunting, I still liked school. I was smart, I liked learning, and some teachers helped me grow and fostered my talents and interests. It attended a small school in a small town, but we had some really wonderful teachers and staff in our little community.
I did have a teacher once who absolutley tortured me. She was impossible to please and would punish me or call me up to the front of the class to humiliate me for some minor transgression (and sometimes for not having done anything at all). I know her behavior was inappropriate because she treated my best friend the same way- a shy girl who was the sweetest, most obedient little evangelical child you’d ever meet. Still, she was repeatedly and relentlessly attacked, too, poor thing. She taught and permitted other students to be unkind to us and she neglected students who needed additional resources. I started having panic attacks at 9-years-old because of this adult… bless her heart.
It’s these things, however, that I am so thankful for as an adult. I cut my teeth on rejection and humility. I learned I could survive insults but I wouldn’t survive betraying my integrity. It hurt like hell, and it was terribly confusing and anxiety provoking, but I figured out how to endure it. By no means am I claiming that I was infallible. I was awkward, I talked too much and probably too loud, I was impulsive and over-excited, I’m sure. I had a lot to learn about social cues and timing. But I was kind. I was thoughtful. I was honest. Even when the rest of my little world wasn’t.
Having kids now, and watching Elle navigate elementary school, I wonder what her little world is like. Is she kind? Is she thoughtful? Is she honest? I watch her struggle like I did: she’s a little awkward, she is impulsive and gets over-excited. She has a lot to learn about social cues and timing. But this is the time and place to learn these lessons. Fortunately for her, she has nice friends. She also has had truly remarkable teachers who care deeply for her and who have wrapped their supportive and encouraging arms around her. I am so grateful and thankful for that.
Instead of deep unkindness, she is learning her intergrity and resiliency through finding her way through my disease. No one ever wants their children to go through the things that build character, but every parent wants their child to have character. If there is a bright spot in all this (and there are several, really) it is the way our family has arrived on the other side of the battle. We have been torn down but we held on to each other with all our might. Now, we are beginning to rebuild and find our stride again and it is such a beautiful moment.
Looking back, I really have to say “thank you” to all those who lifted me up and those who pushed me down. You helped create a woman who is forged out of steel with a heart as big as mountain. I feel more in touch with that young me than I ever have in my life. I am less afraid to be myself because the commitment to my intergrity and authenticity is as unabashed and unrestrained as it was when I was a child. Life is more complicated in many ways now, but the resolve to my values is a simple as it was back then.
So here’s to the haters- I have more than forgiveness for you. I have love for you. I wish you peace, kindness and your own special brand of integrity.