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.

 

Gift Giving

From the time I was a little girl I loved giving gifts much more than getting them. This applies to all occasions, not just Christmas.

Why? I love watching the expressions on faces as they open each item. It thrills me when the person’s eyes light up and a smile graces their face. It lets me know that I have chosen wisely.

Therein lies the problem. I love the thrill of the hunt: finding just the right gift for each individual on my list. Flannel pjs for the grandkids? Perfect. New shoes for Mike? Yes.

I leave home with something in mind to search for. If I’m lucky, I’ll find it in the right size and color and at a discount! Yippee.

On the way I might find other things that tickle my fancy but had never entered my sphere of interest. That makes the trip worthwhile. Finding wonderful things to give to the people I love.

I’m not as excited about wrapping as I used to be. In the past each gift would have tied with a color-coordinated ribbon and topped with a bow. I might start out that way, but as time passes and my back begins to hurt, I give up on fancy and go with simply getting the job done.

Since all my kids and grandkids live far away, I have been spared hours of wrapping. I do online shopping and so packages are delivered in brown boxes or green plastic bags. Certainly the excitement for the recipient has been downgraded as there are no colorfully wrapped gifts from me under the tree, but the idea is still there. I have thought of them, chosen something, and had it sent to them.

I also love gifts for myself, but the act of unwrapping them in front of an audience intimidates me.   I don’t like being the center of attention, everyone focused on my eyes and lips, waiting to see if I smile.

Interesting dichotomy, right? What I enjoy most about being the giver is what I dislike the most about being the recipient.

One good thing about getting older is that there are fewer opportunities to open gifts in public. For many years now it’s been just my husband and I on Christmas Day. An audience of one.

We work hard to find appropriate gifts for each other. Mike gives hints…but mostly it’s me telling him what to buy me, where to find it, what it looks like, how much it should cost. He’s great at following suggestions. In fact, he loves it when I practically outline for him what would be nice gifts for me. But sometimes he surprises me.

For example we often pass a jewelry store on our walks about the neighborhood. One time I spotted a necklace that I liked. No price was posted so I didn’t know if the jewelers prices were reasonable or not. I never told Mike to buy it, but one time we went past and it was gone. Imagine my surprise when I unwrapped a box and found it nestled within!

When I was a kid my family had an interesting unwrapping routine. Each of us would hold a gift in our laps. At a nod from my dad, we ripped off paper, ribbons and bows altogether. The item was revealed, hopefully appreciated, then we moved on to the next box. There was little giving of thanks or admiration. It was open, open, open.

My husband’s family, however, had a different ritual which we adopted for our family and still follow today.

We each hold a gift in our laps. One person opens their gift, we appreciate it, give thanks to the giver, then move on to the next person. It is a slow process. When our kids still lived with us, opening gifts could span hours with breaks in between to eat breakfast, stoke up the fire, go to the restroom, get something to drink.

I loved it. Instead of the mad dash that I grew up with, there was now a patient revealing. It allowed me to do that which made me happiest about gift-giving: watching the faces of those I had chosen gifts for.

Today I began the wrapping of gifts. My first gifts are for an exchange tomorrow. Each time had to be Christmas-themed and under ten dollars total. Since I am a great sale-shopper, I found awesome things that stayed under the limit. I can hardly wait until tomorrow when the exchange happens.

I then wrapped the gift for the teenager from the church’s giving tree. She only asked for leggings, but she’s getting two books and a gift card as well. Each of them is wrapped and nestled into one large box. I wish I could see her face when she gets to unpackage all those things! I hope she is excited.

During this time which can be hectic, please reflect on how you feel about gift-giving. Which part excites you the most? The hunt? The wrapping? The giving or the receiving? Or maybe all of it!

 

Misconceptions

I believed in Santa Claus. I loved Santa so much that every time I saw one, I couldn’t take my eyes off him. I wrote him letters as soon as I was capable. I dreamt of him, constructed rituals around his visit and was mesmerized by anything related to him.

I maintained my belief into fourth grade when my brother told me that Santa did not exist. I fought him, argued with him, cried tears in frustration over him. I did not suspend my belief in Santa immediately. However, that was my last Christmas filled with wonder.

Misconception destroyed.

From the time I was a little girl my mother told stories about being Native American. She claimed that her high cheekbones, hair that did not gray and her skin that tanned so easily were all because of being “Indian”. So was her love of bread, gravy and corn.

I fell in love with her story and wanted to learn more about my heritage so I began reading every book in the library that had anything to do with Native Americans, both fiction and nonfiction.

I drew maps. I recorded characteristics and beliefs. I drew pictures of their artifacts. I immersed myself so completely into this study that I truly believed I was Shawnee.

When a powwow was being held near my home, I went. The pounding of the drums resonated in me. I wanted to join in the dance even though I didn’t know the steps. I bought fry bread and loved every bite. I also bought a CD of chanting which I played over and over.

I went to two more powwows, loving the romance of the regalia, the procession, the community. I felt one with the people. I belonged. I had history.

And then my daughter had me take one of those DNA tests as she had been unable to unearth any Native Americans in our history. Guess what? I have zero percent Native American blood.

Misconception.

From the time I understood physical beauty and attractiveness I was told that I was unlovable. I was told repeatedly that I was so fat that no one would ever love me. That I was plain. Ugly. Undesirable. I believed it. When one hears such things for all of their life it becomes part of your identity. Your belief system.

When I went away to college I was asked out by numerous young men. I couldn’t understand why they wanted to date me, for I was a nobody. Worthless. I thought maybe they had spurious interests, that there was only one thing they wanted and I wasn’t about to give them that. But I dated. Quite a bit.

Misconception? At that point I still believed all that my family had told me about myself, so I wasn’t ready to let go yet.

In fact, truth be told, I have never fully dispersed with that belief even though I have a husband who loves me dearly and thinks I am beautiful as I am.

Where I grew up in Ohio there were few people of color. When I was about eight my mom took me to a nearby park that had a shallow pool. I was happily playing in it, enjoying the cool water in the hot sun, when other kids arrived. They were beautiful Dark skin, dark eyes, but their palms and the soles of their feet were much lighter. I was intrigued. The little girls had tons of braids and clips. I wanted my hair done like that.

My mother pulled me out of the pool, saying something like those people had ruined out day. I had no idea what she was talking about, but as I grew older, more and more such incidents occurred.

I finally figured out that my parents were prejudiced against anyone that didn’t look like them. It made no sense to me. I didn’t look at the color of a person’s skin but the color of their heart. If they were warm inside, then I loved them back. If they were cold, then I stayed away.

It wasn’t until my teen years that I learned the meaning of prejudice and how it “colored” a person’s view of others. I understood as I was living with people who personified the definition. For this first time I faltered in my belief in who I was.

Misconception.

I could chronicle more incidents in which my belief systems were challenged, but it isn’t necessary. What is important is that throughout life our perceptions are challenged, over and over, forcing us to rethink who we are and what we believe.

Misconceptions are meant to falter, to disappear, to be clarified. It is part of being human. We can take our beliefs, be exposed to new ways of thinking, and reformulate our identity. This is how we grow. Our experiences allow us to alter established patterns, creating new. It is an important process.

That is not a misconception.

 

Dreams

I wish that I could say that my mother had loved me.  If she had, I’d tell you about the times she held me in her lap and hugged, so tight, all while crooning soothing words.  I would share the story about when she ran behind my two-wheel bike, holding on to the seat, while I peddled, trying to stay upright.  There’d be stories about long walks in the woods behind our house and working together in the garden.

In the winter, after a good snowstorm, she would have thrown snowballs, built an igloo, and gone sledding down Mrs. Brademeyer’s hill.  In the summer, she would have  taken the hose and squirted water all over me, until my hair drooped like seaweed.  And then she’d give me a towel and a root beer Popsicle.

Maybe when I brought home my report cards she’d checked them over carefully, and then congratulated me on good effort.  And when I was promoted to the next grade, she would have given me a little gift to show how proud she was.

Or there would have been fun-filled shopping trips in which we squeezed into the same dressing room and tried on clothes, laughing hysterically.  Afterwards we would go out to lunch at a restaurant and eat way too much food.  If there was time, we’d go to the movie theater, buy popcorn, and cry all through the love story happening on the screen.

When I played on my high school basketball team, my mother would have attended every game.  When I played well, she would have clapped, demurely, of course.  And when I didn’t get to play in a huge tournament, my mother would have walked right up to the coach and chewed her out.  I can picture her doing that.

She would have followed my bowling team when I played for the junior college, and gone to my badminton matches as well.  She would have carried my gym bag and handed me a towel when sweat dripped into my eyes.  I bet she watched with her fingers crossed, hoping for a strike whenever I released the ball sending it skidding down the alley.

And when I was severely trounced in my first college badminton tournament, my mother would have pulled a crumpled tissue out of her purse and then would have had the good grace to look away in my moment of humiliation.  When I was done feeling sorry for myself, my mother would have offered words of encouragement and then sent me back into the gym to face my next opponent.

Maybe I’d tell about her coming to my high school graduation, and how she got there early enough to sit right up front.  Close enough that I saw her smile with pride as I crossed the stage.  When the principal announced that I had won a state scholarship, she would have stood and applauded louder and longer than anyone.  When we got back home, there would have been a beautifully wrapped present waiting on the dining room table.  Something she thought I’d need for college.

For my college graduation?  She would have flown down to Los Angeles a week early and helped me pick out a new dress to wear.  We would have seen a movie to take off my nervous edge.  And on the day of the ceremony, she would have taken me to a beauty shop for a special treatment.  When I entered wearing my cap and gown, tears would have poured down her face, soaking her cotton dress.

When I moved back home, I’m sure that she would have invited over all the relatives to share in my accomplishments.  What a party that would have been!  Laughter, games, gifts, congratulations.

There would be stories about trying to teach me how to cook.  We could laugh about my “raw” pancakes and the meatloaf that fell into crumbs when sliced.  I’m sure she would have laughed when my first cake didn’t rise as well as over the biscuits that were charred on the bottom.  On the other hand, her face would have lit up when I mastered the infamous green bean casserole and when that green Jell-O mold jiggled, like it was supposed to, when dumped on the serving tray.

I can imagine her smiling when I brought my husband-to-be home for introductions.  She would have immediately fallen in love with him and been happy for me.  She would have shared in my joy, knowing that, at last, I was stepping into adulthood.  That should have made her proud.

It would be nice to speak of the times we shared recipes or of the Tupperware parties that we went to and bought way too many of those wonderful plastic containers.  There would have been birthday parties and anniversaries to celebrate with good food, friends, and lots of laughter.

Yes, I can visualize all of these things.  It’s too bad that absolutely none of them ever happened.

Resolutions

I was quite small when I first learned of the New Year’s tradition of making resolutions, or setting goals for oneself for the upcoming year. The idea intrigued me. Just think, by choosing the right goals, and sticking to them, in one year I could be a better person!

While memory fails me, most likely my early resolutions had to do with keeping my mouth shut and staying out of trouble. I was not a bad kid, but I had a tendency to speak up and defend myself when falsely accused, and in my mind, I was frequently targeted by siblings and parents for things I had not done.

Unfortunately my determination to improve was weak and so my goals seldom survived more than a few hours.

I remember one particularly rocky period in my life when I was fourteen. I shared a room with my younger sister, who was a bit of a slob. I got angry when my parents informed me that it was my responsibility to keep her side of the room clean. I spouted off and got punished. When New Year’s rolled around, I was still smoldering, so I promised myself that I would sit in my room and keep quiet.

It didn’t work because instead of calming me down, my insides churned with barely suppressed rage. I told myself, over and over, to keep my mouth shut, but the words inflamed my feelings of being unjustly singled out to the point that when next lectured, I exploded and suffered the consequences.

I tried setting other goals for myself over the years. For example, to lose weight. This was during my late teen years and I was tired of being the fattest girl on campus. I chose carefully what I ate, walked as much as possible, but stayed the same. I quickly gave up, considering myself a failure yet again.

I learned, after repeated failure, that I was incapable of sticking to a resolution and so gave up setting any goals for myself. It was a self-fulling prophecy which I allowed to dictate my life for decades.

To this day I do not choose resolutions, even though there are many that would be good for me to master. I accept the fact that I am weak-willed, so rather than dooming myself to repeated failure, I avoid the tradition altogether.

Resolutions are just not for me.

Beliefs

If not by an almighty god

who created the earth?

Speak to me not of inventors,

researchers, scientists.

Their works are both

improvement and ruination.

Humans, thanks to God,

have the ability to think,

yet we frequently do not.

Sunday rolls around and we find

excuses

We run hither and yon,

never stopping for even one moment

to give thanks to the One

who breathed life into our lungs,

blessed us,

filled us with promise of accomplishment,

then set us free to stumble our way

through life,

learning, hopefully, from errors.

All the while He sits in heaven

smiling down at His creations

waiting for the day when His loves wake up

and take time

sing His glorious name.

He welcomes even the unrepentant

saying, “Come here, my child.”

I, for one, will cuddle next to His chest

and cry tears of joy.

God is my reason for being.

I must never forget.