I used to believe in fairies. Truly I did. I loved the whole bit – unicorns, wizards, sprites and talking cauldrons – long past the age when it was acceptable. It wasn’t just that I wanted it to be true; it’s that I needed it to be true. I wanted to be ethereal, beautiful, powerful (and able to fly, let’s be honest) and I believed that the only way that would ever happen was if magic really existed. So I drew illusory pictures, wrote fantastical stories, wore elaborate hand-made costumes and playacted it every chance I got. Except for me it wasn’t acting. It was the only time I felt real. Reality was the shadowland.
This is why I was crying last Saturday.
“Would we have been friends in high school?” Strangely this question has come up quite a bit lately. Whether it’s because I’ve finally reached the age where everyone wants to relive their glory days or because we all want our own reality show and being 16 (or acting like it) seems to be the fastest way there, I have had the what-kind-of-person-were-you-in-high-school convo at least a dozen times in the past month.
My answer? Probably not.
It’s the truth. The school years were not very kind to me. I was spit on, called names, pushed around, prank called, had doors slammed in my face and in one memorable moment had an entire lunch tray complete with sloppy joes upended purposely into my backpack. I don’t want to make it sound like I was horrifically bullied – so many others have had it far worse than I did – but the constant little digs were enough to make me hate life and, sadly, hate myself. Eventually I learned to cop one of those classic teen “I don’t care what you think about me” attitudes as a method of self protection but I don’t know that anyone much believed it. I certainly didn’t. I always cared what they thought of me, even when it was the football players yelling numbers at the girls walking down the hall to describe their hotness quotient and I got… a two. At least I wasn’t a one?
I did everything I could then to take myself out of the game – I went goth, vegetarian and depressed. I took a lot of art classes and wore combat boots. I dated boys ten years older than me. But it didn’t work. I was so terribly insecure that it turned into a vicious cycle. I was insecure because I didn’t have many friends and I didn’t have many friends because I lacked confidence. Insecurity is a cancer and the only people who are attracted to that are those who share that sucking chest wound or those who want to use it against you. It didn’t help that high schoolers are particularly adept at sniffing it out.
I wish I could say that losing the dorky glasses (you know, just like in the movie! The one where the ugly girl is magically transformed by contacts and a brow wax! Because we all believed Rachel Leigh Cook was hideous…), moving far far away and accomplishing some pretty cool things fixed all that. But if any of you were also at the bottom of the pecking order in school then you know how hard it is to shake those feelings. The voices have a way of sticking in your head. I didn’t get that job because I’m stupid. That man snapped at me because I’m ugly. Why did I ever think trying this was a good idea? I always fail! I’m soooo faaaatttt!
Insecurity has led me to make some the worst choices of my life: staying too long in an abusive relationship, giving up a scholarship I really wanted, having eleventeen different eating disorders and dying my hair red for years even though it looked horrible on me. But the effect of insecurity on myself that I like least is how much I still seek other people’s approval, still need outside validation and what I’ll do to get it – a losing proposition since no one, no matter how well intended, will ever be able to externally fill an internal hole. I’m the only one who can do that.
Before we get all down in here and break out The Smiths records I do want to say that it’s gotten a lot better. Aging is probably the single best thing that’s happened to me. (Better than the alternative, right?) My 20’s were infinitely better than my teens and my 30’s are shaping up to be better than my 20’s so by my 60’s I should be rocking it. Exercise has helped. Being surprised by my own external strength has taught me that perhaps I’ve underestimated my internal strength. Learning to recognize beauty in myself and others has been a huge leap too. While beauty and confidence aren’t the same thing, one certainly can help the other. But I recently discovered another key to the cage…
Last weekend my husband and I took our kids on a trip to the Dells – America’s! Largest! Waterpark! (And Collection of Atlantis Kitch Outside of a Sunken City!). While the weather was a little cooler than we’d hoped, the boys loved the water parks and had a blast. But Jelly Bean was having none of it. She spent the morning covering her ears and shrieking every time the bucket dumped:
You know who wasn’t scared? My boys, camped out right underneath the bucket.
And the afternoon sleeping on my lap until she peed through her swim diaper and soaked both of us. (Let me tell you, little sister does not like to be messy! Dramz!)
You can’t see it but there is a puddle of pee right under me
But no one drowned so I considered the day a win.
The next day however we stopped by Wizard Quest on a whim. It’s basically a huge warehouse done up to look like a fantasy land. You’re given a quest and some clues and then you’re off to run through a (gorgeously constructed) multi-level maze to solve both mental and physical challenges in hopes of rescuing the lost wizards. I was unprepared for how much I loved it. For a brief time I was that girl again, the one who believed in magic, the one who believed she was magic. So when it ended (we found all 4 wizards!) I was surprised to find myself not just a little teary but outright weeping.
“Are you mad because you didn’t win?” my husband sighed. (While we finished our quest we didn’t have enough time to finish all the mini-puzzles embedded in the game.)
“I’m not mad! I’m sad!” He stared quizzically at me. “I’m sad because it’s not real!” I sobbed. “And because for a moment I remembered what it felt like to believe it was real!” That girl I was, the place I used to escape to, all those feelings. All back. I didn’t know what to do with the disappointment any better now than I did then.
It looked cooler in real life. I’m just bad with the photography. The flash kinda ruined it but I couldn’t figure out how not to use the flash.
“I’m not a fairy,” I sniffled to Jelly Bean. “I’m just me.” But as soon as I said it, I saw it in her eyes. She believed it. For her it was still real. For her I was magic.
Being able to accept someone for exactly who they are, at that moment, is a rare gift. It’s not something everyone can do, nor should they. Those that are deeply invested in our welfare – parents, spouses, bosses – do not have the luxury of having no expectations. And we need them to expect more of us so that we can grow to meet it. As a parent myself, I know that the second my kids were born I was already seeing them for the people they would one day become, the people I would help shape. It’s unavoidable.
But there are those who are able – and, miracle of miracles, willing – to take me just as I am. It’s not that they don’t want better for me but they don’t expect me to be better. They only expect me to be me. My sister is one of those people for me. I know I could show up at her door in any state and she’d just take me in, kids included. My best friend Liz from high school (the friends I did have were true gems), my keeper of the wonderful memories. Gym Buddy Allison, my confidant. Dear L, my shoulder. Dr. Jon, my faith in humanity. Carla (you may know her as MizFit), my OG of blogging but who has always cared more about the girl behind the blog. And most especially: my children.
Young children, it turns out, are perfectly beautifully suited to love you just as you are. When they are very young they simply can’t have any expectations because expectations require experience and everything is brand new to them. A hole punch – machine of joy! Hi-C – nectar of the gods! But even as they grow they still see you with magic eyes. They don’t worry about being too vulnerable (even though they are) or not cool (diaper, one mitten and pink crocs, yes please) or afraid (perfect love casteth out fear?). And they don’t worry a bit that you’re not perfect. Because to them you are perfection.
To cheer me up, my husband bought me some “faerie earrings” from the Wizard Quest gift shop as a souvenir. So today I pulled them out – I was having a horribly insecure day (the list of failures is too long and too depressing to numerate) – and they did indeed work their magic:
I felt better. But not because of a flashy piece of costume jewelry. Because Jelly Bean saw me wearing them and immediately ran to get her “faerie necklace”… to put on me:
When she was done she whispered, “Mommy! So pwetty!”
And I believed her.
Love is a pineapple necklace.
Who do you have in your life who accepts you exactly as you are, in this moment? Have you told them thank you recently?? 😉 How do you deal with insecurity/build confidence? I’d love tips… (Unrelated question: Should I grow out my bangs?! I’ve been really kind of enjoying not having them this summer. (They’re still there but because of the heat and humidity I’ve been pinning them back.))
This pic has nothing to do with this post but it amused me so much I had to put in. It’s from the upside down White House!