Sixth grade started only last week and already, I see my daughter’s confidence in her physical self begining to slide. On the one hand this usually shy, under the radar, type of kid signed up for theatre arts and is running for student council, but, every morning as she stands in front of that mirror more and more negative comments come out of her mouth. At last count she hates her hair, ears, face, smile, and laugh.
I wrote about this in September 2003 for my newsletter in an article entitled, How To Find Your Courage:
Often my excuses for not doing things have been valid like when I didn’t have the time, money or know-how. I’m okay with that. What I am ashamed of is all of the times that I didn’t have the courage. I think I had it once. I’m wondering where it has gone?
Elizabeth Berg, in her novel, The Pull Of The Moon, illustrates the loss of courage beautifully. The main character, Nan, turns fifty and decides that she must find herself before she can embrace menopause and live out her mid-life and remaining years contently. So she takes off to places unknown on a self-discovery road trip. Tapping into her feminine wisdom, she follows no agenda or timetable and decides instead to follow the pull of the moon. Her journal entries and letters to the husband she’s left behind make up the entire book.
One passage in particular caught my attention – in it, Nan writes about her childhood desires. She would read Hitchcock and then daydream about how someday she would be a famous writer. After looking through her treasure box of found objects – bird’s nests, stones, dried flowers – she imagined herself as an archeologist, setting out into the world to make amazing discoveries. Once her homework was completed each night she would visualize her future life as a beloved and respected teacher, inspiring the minds of her students.
Never did it occur to the childhood Nan that she could not make these dreams come true and become the person that she was imagining. Then Nan recalls the moment when her courage began to waiver:
Then at night, before I went to sleep, I’d read teen magazines, which I’d just discovered. I read about where hems should fall and how faces should look and what to say to boys to lure them and hold them. And I thought, wait. I don’t think that I can be this. It began to occur to me that I was a failure. I lost my grip. By the middle of the year, the phone replaced Hitchcock and my sure dreams of being everything. On my dresser, tubes of pink and coral lipstick and sable-brown mascara appeared, blemish creams, concealer. Concealer, yes. The rocks in my closet got lost, and so did I.
Reading that passage blew me away! I have never made that connection before. I used to lose myself in Nancy Drew Mysteries, but, like Nan, I eventually replaced reading The Mystery of the 99 Steps with desperately following the steps dictated to me by the writers of Teen Magazine.
The pre-teen boys I knew at that time were trading baseball cards and pretending to win the World Series in their backyard. Whereas I would man right-center field during my softball games wondering if my pony-tail looked cute under my ball cap and if my ugly orange uniform was giving me a “farmers tan”.
We lose our pre-teen innocence the moment that we gain the skill required to masterfully apply lip gloss, then the “how to’s” never stop. We’re instructed on how to get a date, lose ten pounds and pick a bathing suit for our body type. Then we advance to how to get into college and decorate our dorm rooms on a budget. Only to graduate to how to get jobs and go from the office to evening with one outfit and a change of eye shadow. Eventually we are being told how to snag a husband, get pregnant, make wrapping paper from recycled Tampax boxes, feng shui our bathrooms and juggle work, home and children while having great sex lives.
As the baby boomers age, the “how to’s” will keep coming. I bet you my life savings that someday right beside Seventeen Magazine there will be a copy of Seventy Magazine telling women how to decoupage their walkers and pick up men in nursing homes. Bejeweled coverings for colostomy bags will be all the rage and women will be discussing whether or not to wear their casual or dress dentures out to dinner.
Obviously, tips and techniques can be helpful. But constantly following the “how to’s” of others takes less courage than figuring it out as you go along.
We know that all of these “how to’s” are just guidelines. But at some level we allow them to guide us completely and lose a little piece of our authentic selves with each successfully completed step.
So I have no “how to’s” to share with you. I’m not sure how to go about regaining those pieces that you may have left behind. But I believe that it is important to pinpoint the moment when the girl that you once were decided that you couldn’t become the woman that you wanted to be. If you can find enough courage to explore that for a while, then perhaps you’ll have enough left over to find her and release her from where she has been hiding all of this time. I’ll bet that she has some wisdom to share. Have the courage to listen and learn.
I suggested to my readers that they explore their inner pre-teen and see what they could find. Certainly hindsight is 20/20 and figuring out where the dissconnect occured back then can assist in making right now a much better place. But here I am, watching my own pre-teen daughter and I can see all of this shit heading straight for me like a freight train. I don’t know how to stop it. I don’t know how to derail this train without killing all the passengers.
Any suggestions would be GREATLY appreciated.