Being Me

For the longest time, I really didn’t like myself. I knew, intrinsically, that somehow I was not the child that my parents wanted. That’s a hard cross to bear.

I was not pretty. I was not talented in any way. I took a long time to learn things. My memory was not the best, so I repeated the same mistakes over and over.

I was not girly. I wore dresses only because that’s what my mother gave me to wear. I wanted to wear pants and shorts and t-shirts because that’s what my brother wore.

I hated long hair. It took too much time to brush it, and then what I got older, it was difficult to style it because I had no skill in that area. I wanted short hair cut in a “boy” style. When I finally did get it sheared off at shoulder length, it angered my father so much that he called me foul names.

In terms of academics I was not my brilliant brother. He excelled in science. I excelled in nothing. No, there was one thing that I could do better than him! I could write beautiful cursive.

I was so slow to learn that I spent most lunches in a tutoring room, supervised by a strict nun who offered no support. I hated the room in the summer as it was sweltering. In the winter, however, it was shelter from the cold.

In high school I discovered that I was good at math and languages. I was still awkward. I was still not pretty. I was still not girly. I was now able to wear shorts and jeans at home, but had to wear dresses to school and church. I felt fat and dumpy. When I sat, the width of a single one of my thighs matched the width of both of anyone else’s combined.

I discovered that I had a talent for bowling and badminton, so played on my high school teams. I was not the best, but I held my own. This gave me something to crow about. I held my head higher and walked prouder.

When a young man asked me out, I felt desired. Not at first, but as he continued to date me, I accepted his amorous fumblings with positive regard. Because of him I began to understand that beauty is not defined by what you see on television or in magazines, but what others see when you walk by.

Once I was in college I realized that my skills in math and languages were appreciated by my professors. My heart swelled with pride.

When contacts came on the market, I entered a trial program on my campus to wear them. Without my glasses I didn’t feel as old-fashioned or as clumsy. I dated several men at the same time! Wow! Imagine how it felt to be popular for the first time!

I smiled when I walked about campus. I greeted casual acquaintances and sat with people I barely knew. I worked in the bookstore and found myself a valued employee. I was a good roommate and a good friend.

As my circle of friends grew, so did my self-esteem. By the time I graduated, I must have had at least fifteen friends! A record number for me.

After college I had no choice but to return home, back to the environment in which I was less-than my siblings. I was subjected to cooking lessons which I never mastered. I was forced to clean house every day, including my sibling’s rooms which I felt was grossly unfair. I was little more than a servant.

To make matters worse, I could not find employment. I applied wherever I could. I was rejected over and over because potential employers didn’t like that I was a college graduate with no office skills. I wasn’t even hired to distribute cards from store to store! What skills would that require?

The longer unemployment went on, the lower my self-esteem plummeted. At home I was that unhappy, unfeminine little girl. I was worthless because I lacked domestic skills and had no desire to learn. My activities were monitored, so I was not allowed to be social. I could only go out when my activities were chaperoned by an adult.

I was an adult! I was twenty-one. I could drive and vote and drink legally.

When I finally got hired at a now defunct furniture store, I was out of the house forty hours a week. I bought a car. I rented a studio apartment. I was free! And once again I began to like myself.

From there I slowly became who I am today. It was not an easy road. I spent hours alone, but I also went skiing, saw movies, ate out with colleagues. I saw Joan Baez in concert. I went camping in the Santa Cruz mountains. I took a class in hiking and went with the group. It was tough! My backpack was canvas on a metal frame. By the time it was packed and on my shoulders, I feel over backwards! But I went.

The rest of my story, my story of learning to like myself, was like climbing a ladder. Each rung up taught me that I could do things, that I could succeed, that I had value.

When I look back and I realize how long I struggled to overcome those early restrictive years, it’s amazing that I emerged as me. I wish I could spare all girls the struggle. What I can offer is my life as example.

No matter where you are in life, never give up on yourself. Fight against whatever forces hold you back. Find something that you do well. Anything. It doesn’t have to be academics. It doesn’t have to lead to career, but it could.

Believe in yourself. No matter how others treat you, no matter those who try to hold you back, know that in you, there is value. You have much to offer the world.

Like yourself. Be you.

 

Transformations

If you remove the normal transformations that we experience as we change from child to adult, I believe that I have been many different people.

I have always been shy. Put me in a crowd and I become a silent member of any group. However, when I am with trusted friends, I can find plenty to say. I love listening to my friends talk and then responding to whatever they bring up.

When I was a field officer for the IRS I had to knock on doors and enter businesses where I knew no one. It was terrifying. I knew that no one wanted to see me, but somehow I had to communicate how much they owed and establish a payment system. I learned a lot in that job.

First, I discovered that I had a voice. I had something important to say even if the message was not a pleasant one. This came in handy when I became a teacher. Conferences are tough. Parents show up hoping to hear that their child is a genius with hidden talents. Nice if that’s the truth, but not always the case. Imagine telling a parent that her child has a learning disability that will make reading/writing/math challenging? Imagine the looks on faces at that news. Then imagine yourself as the bearer of that news.

That’s what I did for 23 years. That’s who I was. The teacher who wanted to offer hope, to say that one day their child would wake up and the disability would be gone, but I couldn’t in good faith do that. So the person that I was at that time was the giver of negative gifts. It hurt.

Second, as a Revenue Officer I discovered that I could navigate myself around San Francisco, Walnut Creek, San Mateo, just about anywhere around the Bay Area. Not such a big deal now with all the technology we have, but it was then. I relied on a book of maps and directional instinct. This was a real confidence booster. Without my dad driving, I could get from point A to point B and then on to point C.

I used that planning skill when I began teaching. I read helpful books, but then I had to implement a curriculum that I had planned, from beginning to end. When finished, I evaluated the relative success of a lesson and then adjusted. I still got from point A to point B, but upon reflection often a divergent path was taken.

I relied on my IRS skills throughout my career, no matter the job title. While presenting at meetings still make me nervous, I knew I had the wherewithal to plan and execute.

As a wife and parent I used the same skills to run our household. Having never been much of a cook, now I was responsible for three meals a day for a growing family. Cookbooks became my new best friends. Some of those early recipes are still in use today, now prepared by my husband or kids for their families. I learned that I could follow directions and usually end up with something edible. That’s a real confidence booster.

For a while I was involved with our church’s women’s guild. At first I was an observer, but in time I was pressured to begin organizing things. At first it was Santa at a bake sale. Then it was as treasurer and eventually president. I didn’t like any of these roles, but because I knew how to plan, organize and implement, I pulled them off.

When we began traveling as a family I once again tested those skills. I created a checklist that included necessary camping gear that constantly had to be revamped when we discovered that key items had been left home. Like the time our tent poles were left in the garage or when we tailgated without the grill to the BBQ. But as organizer I learned how to make reservations, buy tickets and pay fees, all when the internet was a baby. It meant phone calls. Lots of phone calls.

All this organizational practice takes me to who I am today. I can do all kinds of things that my parents would have thought impossible. From the shy Kindergarten kid who never opened her mouth I have become a singer, a friend, a member of an extended family, a person who leads book talks and who reads stories in public. I do these things with much more grace than I did earlier in my life. I know how to ask questions that get people talking. I know how to respond with appropriate comments.

I treasure those fleeting moments when I realize how life has transformed me into the older woman I am now. Looking back, I would never have pictured me doing all the things that I now do; if I had stayed the course set all those years ago, I would be a lonely spinster with ten cats and five dogs clamoring for attention. They would have been my family, my companions.

Because I have been transformed, I am pleased with who I am.