By Natha Perkins
When I drop my daughter off for school, she looks around and takes a deep breath before she opens the door, as if to fortify herself for what’s coming. She’s in 7th grade and I remember my own time served in the 7th grade was a small version of hell. Some days she comes home excited and full of stories, brimming with almost child like enthusiasm and other days she gets in the car with an air of defeat. “Mom, guess what someone said to me today?” And I take a deep breath, my stomach knotting up bracing for what’s to come.
I remember this. The insecurity. The deep pain of feeling like I was doing it all wrong. Watching kids who knew what to do and say, kids who were cool. I wasn’t one of those kids, I was shy and quiet. I would get invited to some of the parties the popular kids threw but I would rarely go, because the anxiety was simply too much for me. If I went, who would I talk to? What if no one talked to me? What if a boy tried to talk to me? I see the same things with my daughter. She wants new friends but hesitates to go out and find them. When someone compliments her on social media, she’s thrilled, but would never use it as gateway into something more. She’s easily and deeply affected by the smallest comments the boys make to her at school. I watch her whip out her theoretic measuring stick and hold herself up against it, basing her worth on the things they say to her. I see her determining whether she’s falling short in the cool department.
It takes my breath away to watch this because she’s actually considering that maybe she isn’t amazing. And believe me, she is. I remember that it was right around this age that I too lost sight of my own inherent amazingness. I’m only just now beginning to find it again 28 years later. Please don’t let it take her 28 years of suffering to find it again.
In 7th grade my three girlfriends and I decided to start a club. We called it The Celestial Club and it was a great excuse to break out the puff paints and make matching t-shirts. Armed with a four-pack of brand new Fruit of The Loom white shirts, we got to work designing. The final product was beautiful to our eyes and most importantly, very chic, very cool. Scattered with multi-colored stars and moons (hence “Celestial”) and the words “2 Girls + 2 More = 4 Friends,” We wore them to school on the same day, so excited. It was a disaster. A group of boys teased us relentlessly all day, calling us lesbians. This was the late 80’s and sadly, homophobia was still en vogue. I hardly knew what a lesbian was, but I knew that within the context of this teasing, we had made a huge mistake. Suddenly “2 Girls + 2 More = 4 Friends” seemed like the most audacious social faux pau ever. I was devastated and I had to wear the shirt the rest of the day. Although I pretended to be unaffected, I was most definitely not. It was one of those turning points in adolescent where I realized that it wasn’t safe to be me, I was simply unacceptable that way.
I dread that for my daughters, it makes me queasy to think about it. When I look at the trajectory course of my life, I see clearly how that single belief, that I wasn’t good enough, and was in fact, downright stupid and unacceptable pointed me straight in the direction of drug and alcohol use and bad sexual decisions and painfully low self esteem. It’s taken me 28 years to fight my way out of that.
So how do I work with my daughters now, at this tender age where their self confidence is so fragile? I’ll be honest, I still don’t know what’s cool and what’s not. I see the popular girls of social media online every day who seem to know what to do to be appealing. How the hell do they have a hundred thousand people in their clique?
And that’s the crux isn’t it? We’re all walking around without a clue, but more than that, the standard for cool just simply doesn’t exist; it’s an illusion. Anything can be cool, it only depends on who you ask. The difference between myself and my daughter is that I can see that now, because I have context.
Lucky, my children externally process with me. They get in the car and complain about their day and reflect on the words people said to them. I have the opportunity to help them question whether those people should be believed. I get to help them build the bridge they need to cross over the swamps of adolescence; that dark and murky place where people say mean things to make themselves feel better, or are cruel simply as a way to get noticed.
As I write, I remember a boy in school who always had something nasty to say to me. In fact, he was one of the boys who gleefully called me “a lesbo” that day in 7th grade. He added me as a friend on Facebook recently and sent a message telling me that he had always thought I was beautiful. Maybe he was so mean to me because he simply didn’t have another way to get my attention?
All these years later, I’m finally able to see that kind of thing with clarity. I want to teach my girls to see with clarity now, not when they’re 40. So I take a deep breath when they bring me their woes and I do my best to help them see how complicated it is, but also how irrelevant it can be if they’re willing to dismiss the opinions of others in exchange for believing in their own inherent worthiness.
Natha Perkins is a mama, an artist, a writer, and an intuitive life coach. She writes professionally and has been published in Elephant Journal, Scary Mommy, ManifestStation and more. When she isn’t typing away, she’s helping clients from around the world figure out what the hell is really going on in their lives (which is an art, just of a different kind.) On a daily basis she also finds herself fighting the age old internal battle of whether to fake being perfect or just go ahead and risk exposing her own truths to the world. The struggle is real y’all. You can find more of her at www.nathaperkins.com
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