I realized just two days ago that I started college exactly half my life ago. A friend from my art program at college had posted happy birthday wishes on my Facebook wall. I turned 19 on the fourth day of school. To me, that moment is the bridge between my childhood and adult life. The number of days of my entire childhood equals the exact amount of time passed since that day. No wonder I feel tired. How much have I learned in those years?
|Me at 19 (photo by Jenn from my art class)|
I think about my childhood. I was lucky to grow up in a loving home. I was gratefully sheltered from things that other peers were not so lucky to escape. I only had an inkling of how good I had it. Like any child, we all grow up thinking what we experience is pretty much how it is for everyone else.
I stare down at my feet. For the most part, I wear them bare. I like my feet to be firmly planted on the ground. Especially outside. Unless I’m working/gardening near spiders or anything creepy crawly. Bare feet makes me feel connected to the world. Same reason I like open windows I think. When I’m closed off from nature, or fresh air, I feel isolated and start to ruminate. When I feel connected, a space opens in my chest where I can breathe more easily, and feel more at ease. I don’t know if everyone else feels that way. It’s how I am. It’s how I need to be.
On that day I started college, I was wearing 8 hole Cherry Doc Martens. Scuffed and worn. They were tied so tight I had indents in my legs above the ankles where the shoes ended. I loved those boots. They were very trendy but I was always proud to say I got mine before the trend exploded. You know you’re the trend setter if people insult you. I remember in high school, a boy told me I looked like a wrestler. I got a lot of weird stares from the in crowd. Then the trend arrived at our school, and I still got weird looks from the in crowd but now they meant “hey, you poser, you’re trying to look cool, like one of us” as they’d forgotten I had them before they did.
I was not popular in high school. I certainly didn’t make it easier for myself by blending into the background. No, I always had a bit of flair and enough pride to stand out just enough to make more trouble for myself. Wearing mismatched socks and standing up in auditoriums to speak my mind on various issues was probably not helping the situation. I’m guessing I prided myself on being an outsider even though it tormented me to not be one of “them”. Whoever “them” is.
When I think of my childhood, I remember the sights, impressions, and smells. I mostly remember my close ties with family. Then there is school and friends. That is a more painful experience for me. I was a very cute little girl. Very timid and naive. When I was little, maybe 7 or 8, I was teased. Normal for everyone. Most kids have enough sense to recognize teasing for what it is. Not me. So when some girls told me I was ugly, I believed them. To the core. Not to be forgotten. To affect me forever. I think when you let yourself believe something like that, it sets the course for how you let people continue to treat you. It is a snowball effect. Things do not get easier. I think bullies sense this weakness.
On the first day of school in Grade Four, I was so excited that I was on the “senior” side of the playground. The school had their playgrounds separated into primary (grades 1-3) and senior (grades 4-6). A girl, new to my school, came up to me, hovering over me by at least a head or two and nastily told me that I wasn’t allowed on the senior side and to get back over there. She said other things too I’m sure but I just remember wondering who the heck she was to rain on my parade. She didn’t let up on the bullying for another 6 years. It only ended because she transferred high schools in grade 10. It is amazing to see how much my life improved when three of my bullies transferred that year. I tell myself now that those girls were not happy. They were not from loving families. They were not sheltered and their souls were damaged. I try to focus on compassion but even now sometimes I get angry remembering.
I had a best friend during those years. We walked to and from school. Spent all our free time together. Sleepovers and even some vacations. Went to summer camp together. She had this rule that we weren’t allowed to associate when we were at school. I didn’t like it but I never questioned it. It only occurred to me yesterday that this was probably an indirect result of my being bullied. I always thought it was just the bullies that really disliked me and that it only affected me directly. I thought I wasn’t overly popular because I was flawed or because the other girls were snobs. During my “Aha moment” yesterday, I realized that maybe, just maybe the bullies had really marked me as someone to not befriend. I wonder….
My best friend always loved to tell me that she was smarter than me, and that everything I could do, she could do better. If she said it, it must be true, right? I guess I was able to mostly tune it out and focus on how much fun we had. Or maybe part of me was just glad to have a friend. I took friendships very seriously. I was loyal. On my 12th birthday, I started Junior High. On our walk to school, my best friend announced that we were no longer friends and would not associate with one another again. Luckily, I’d celebrated my birthday party the weekend before. That was a crushing blow. Extremely crushing. My first real heartbreak. The ultimate betrayal. To top it off, when she saw me in the hallways at school, she’d ribbit like a frog. She got her whole class to do it. One by one, they’d file past me “ribbiting”. I think it had something to do with a sweatshirt I had with dancing frogs on it. I can’t think of anything else it could be. In Grade nine, she tried to get her new classmates at our high school to continue the ribbiting but I’d had enough. I told her she was lame and to knock it off. She did. She even tried to be friendly with me once in Grade 13, getting nostalgic about our earlier years. I was so stunned, I just nodded and politely excused myself. She acted as if nothing bad had ever happened.
One thing I regret when it comes to friendship, is the best friend I made when I was 13. We had fun but sometimes I felt a bit stifled. She didn’t always take subtlety well and I wasn’t one to be brutally forthright. I became friendly with another clique of girls when I was 14. I was really only friends with a couple of the girls but they were a group… did everything as a whole. Gossiped, walked to school, ate lunch, listened to music, conspired… as a whole. One day, one of the girls I wasn’t overly fond of told me to stop being friends with my best friend. I was already annoyed with my best friend and I went over to the dark side. I gave her the cold shoulder. I will always regret how I treated her. I got the payback though. The group of friends dropped me and added her to their clique. I think she is still close friends with all of them. I really didn’t belong in that group. They adored the New Kids on the Block. Boy Band music made me cringe. Really, I had a negative physical response to hearing boys crooning while making cheesy side stepping dance moves. Even now as I type I’m started to feel nauseated. However, my regret at mistreating a friend remains.
I found a new group of friends. I was a camp counsellor. It took me a couple more years to make friends that really shared similar interests. Things improved and I managed to have a bit of fun in my last couple years of high school.
Those were some memories of childhood and how relating to people was difficult for me. I look back now on the second 19 years of my life and I can see the same struggles and patterns pop up again and again. Interesting. The themes that follow one through life. What do I want to do the same, and what can I change for the next 19 years?
I didn’t plan for this blog post to cover some of these painful moments but I’m glad I talked about it. It is some of the stuff that weighs me down. It is on my mind right now as my sweet little daughter is entering school. I want her to be a stronger, more secure and confident person than I am. I want her to also be compassionate and understanding of herself and others. Thinking about how to help her achieve these tall orders has me thinking about my past. I am reading a book called “Little Girls Can Be Mean: Four Steps to Bully-Proof Girls in the Early Grades by Michelle Anthony” and I’m hoping it will provide some insight. Maybe it might even help me heal the little girl I once knew.
At some point, I’ll write the second part of this blog post. It will be about the teachers in my life… for better or worse.