The summer between third and fourth grade was one of the best summers of my life. We had spent the previous year moving to a new state, living in a hotel for several months, and attending three different schools. I had left family and close friends. I was simply…sad. So, it was a surprise to find myself enjoying the art classes, sewing projects and ‘gym’ in the local high school. I was starting to make friends and enjoying a lazy summer.
As I walked from one class to another one morning, I was stopped by a small girl in the hallway. She smiled as if she had some good news and I couldn’t help but smile back.
“My cousin thinks your ugly.” She continued to look at me, then turned back to look at two girls behind her.
“Oh!” I looked back at the other girls. She must have thought I was a little slow when I smiled back at her and said, “Okay.” I turned and walked away from her continuing to smile.
Even at eight years old, I knew that this was not a typical response. I knew I was supposed to have a reaction, get mad, or even fight. Life up to that point had not been easy (is it for anyone really). I was always shy, a little anxious, and knew I was different from other kids. So, some part of me was unwillingly to let this sense of joy (and belonging) go. I was so deeply connected to this weird inner joy. Nothing in that moment could touch that calm place.
Since that time, I have learned to let go of that inner joy and focus on what others think of me. How I speak…what I wear…or even the town in which I reside. It’s really a never-ending struggle for approval and belonging. As a mother, I am very conscious of how I judge others before they have a chance to judge me. As if having this shield against them will make the discomfort of their opinions any easier. It simply doesn’t. The reality is that I will probably continue to feel uncomfortable regardless. I often remind myself of my eight year old self, walking down the hall with a smile on her face. She reminds me of a lot of my six-year-old son explaining that…’yes…I can have two Moms’ to several friends; as he blissfully makes his way down the halls at Parents’ Night. Or my daughter, who continues to dance in the aisles at church, clapping for joy as the music ends. Let’s face it…even my wife exhibits an incredible sense of joy and pride in the family we have created. Shhh….she often ‘tries out’ the kids toys for them.