Thursday, July 23, 2015

How I Appear to My Daughter

In yesterday's post, I described myself as a person who is often more tentative than I'd like to be.

That surprised Little Cuter, who took ten minutes out of her busy work day to put her feet up on her computer tower and call me to wonder.  

"Really, Mom?  I never think of you as tentative.  You are a hard charger."

It's nice to know that the illusion I strive to create has been accepted. 

I'm always anxious inside.  I carry with me a sense of unworthiness.  I can trace it back to my first day of 1st grade.  I spent the first 8 days of the school year in kindergarten, then skipped up to the big kids' realm.  The playground was different.  The rules were different.  There were so many more children running around, all of whom seemed to know exactly where to go, and with whom.

My neighbor, a "real" first grader, all of 2 months older than I, escorted me to the #4 painted on the playground's asphalt, and instructed me to wait there.  Obediently, I stood still, watching the world revolve around me and feeling alone.  It was obvious to me that I was deficient in some unknown trait which would have allowed me to join her and her friends.  

I was uncertain, uncomfortable, and frightened.  I had assumed that my friends from my street at home would be my friends on the playground at school.  But the boys were on the other side of the school, playing ball games and tag and climbing on the jungle gym.  The girls were segregated under the trees, playing house and running up the steps of the slide.

That slide.... oh, that slide.  It was taller than any I'd ever encountered.  The line moved quickly, not pausing passively for a tentative newbie who was terrified of heights. When the playground monitor took pity on my lonely self and walked me over to join the line, I was living a nightmare.  Nearly 60 years later I can, without much effort, conjure up the fear I felt as I stood at the top, too scared to bend my knees and sit down.

That feeling of social isolation and physical terror was with me all through elementary school.  I didn't like the school bus; I was afraid that I would be stuck in the back and never make it off at my stop.  I was afraid of the bus stop, and the giant dog running loose on the same corner.  

I didn't watch the same television shows the other kids saw; years later I realized that they all had older siblings who were driving the viewing decisions in their homes.  My little brother and sister and I were happy to watch Mickey Mouse and Mighty Mouse and Crusader Rabbit.  I didn't know that would be ground for derision, and I was blindsided when the teasing started.

As an adult, my verbal skills and general resiliency have helped me to overcome my childhood angst. I try to project a positive, confident persona, and, given my daughter's response, I must have been successful.  Still, hiding inside that outgoing exterior is the little girl who's worried that people won't like her, who doesn't understand what's going on, who is petrified and flummoxed and stuck.

I'm glad I didn't show that to Little Cuter; I wouldn't want that to be her expectation for how a grown woman should act.  I wish I could banish her entirely from my psyche, though.  She reappears more often than I'd like, sending me into a tailspin of anxiety... less often as the years pass, but there nonetheless.

Don't tell anybody, though.  I like the notion that my kid thinks I'm tough.


  1. It's amazing how long things like first grade stick with us. In my school district, if you were 6 by December 1 you could start first grade. My birthday is the end of November. It was just awful. I was small, young, and completely at the mercy of the older first graders. It didn't stop there, I was always youngest in my class. In high school I was one of the last to get boobs. The spring babies had a much better time of it.

    1. True. True . True. Nice to know I'm not alone <3


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