I bought this shirt for Natalie the other day:
|Ignore the "been in a bag a few days" wrinkles.|
She tried it on and it fit well. The jeans I had bought with the shirt were too small (serves me right for not measuring her before I ordered) so I put the jeans back in the bag to return. She asked if I was going to return the shirt too and I said no. It fit well and didn't she like it?
She hesitated and said "Yea, I guess, but I get made fun of when I wear stuff like that." I tried to get her to elaborate on what "made fun of" entailed and what "stuff like that" is, even though I had a clue.
Natalie has declared herself a tomboy for the past few years at school and I suspect that when she wears something more "girly", kids notice and talk about it and even if it's not mean, it probably makes her uncomfortable and likely makes her feel like she's going to lose her "tough girl" reputation. And then who will she be? Will her guy friends still let her play with them?
I shelved the convo last night since we were tired and brought it up again this morning. Mother's intuition was right.
She has a role that she actively defined for herself as "tomboy" and any time she steps out of that box now, she's called on it. Because who we are gets away from us. It gets into the hands of the public - the people who know us and the people that don't and it becomes our definer, even if it's a shallow definer (we're all more than just one label). And she didn't say this, but she feels required to be who people say she is now.
It happens to the best of us, baby girl.
I asked her - separate from what anyone else thinks - does she like the shirt?
I described for her why I thought she would like it, why I picked it out for her. The details that made it scream "Natalie" to me. I wasn't going to guilt her into keeping it, but since she did like it, I wanted her to know why I liked it too. Why I thought it was a nice fit for her, as someone who knows her well.
Then I told her this: "You are going to have to decide for yourself what you like and don't like and you are going to have to not let what other people think you should be affect your decisions. Otherwise, you're going to spend your whole life being who other people think you should be and never being yourself. And that feels bad."
I told her that she can wear what she wants to wear, who cares what anyone else thinks? (Then I had to remind her that it still had to pass mom and dad's approval because Lord knows she would run with that)!
I reminded her that she can be tough and like to get dirty and like dresses too. It doesn't have to be one or the other. It's up to her to decide what she likes and who she is. She doesn't have to fall into a box. There aren't rules to it.
I told her that if she really wanted to wear something but felt unsure, she could blame me and say "Yea, my mom made me wear it" if anyone said anything to her, but then I told her it would be much better to just say "Yea, I like it, so what? I don't care what you think about it." Eight year olds are already so sassy, I felt I had to follow that up with this: 'I don't want you to be rude or disrespectful to someone, but I do what you to stand up for yourself and have confidence in who you are."
And then, I ate my words because just like a 1990's sitcom, these words of wisdom apply to my current situation as well. (Someone cue the sappy music).
Haven't I been feeling this way too? Haven't I let my persona get away from me? Haven't I felt like I have to live up to the person, the role, that I have now been assigned so that I don't catch any flak or push-back or just weird uncomfortable moments of people questioning if I can authentically be both this and that or am I just a faker all around? Doesn't this line of thought affect me too often? Or maybe, all the time? Since about age 17 or so, really.
It's the way we make sense of our world - to put people into categories, to put ourselves into categories. It's not wholly bad, if we allow for flexibility in ourselves and others. If we understand it's sort of fluid - this being a real person thing. We may fit dozens of labels and categories at any given time, or maybe we fit none. We have different sides to us, we play different roles. We have layers. It's okay to sort ourselves out, but we really shouldn't box ourselves (or others) in quite so much as we do. And we surely shouldn't get so bent out of shape when someone decides for themselves that they would like to do or be a little different than they have been. We have to allow for change, in ourselves and others. Sometimes, it takes a series of changes for us to find our sweet spot in life. Sometimes our sweet spot changes. That's life, right - change and growth? And generally, if we hang in there, I think we can find that the essence of a person holds pretty solid. But we have to be willing to dig in a little, past the labels and boxes, right?
It's been on my mind and heart lately, to tap back into that person I was when I knew who I was. Sure, I've gained some insight and wisdom along the way, but I've also lost some clarity and confidence. I've got to get a better filter, really. It's not about ignoring the world around me, the people around me, the social expectations and nuances of the world around me, it's just about filtering it better. So that I can make my decisions with all those things in mind, but based on who I really am and who I was designed to be - not who someone else says I am or thinks I am or wants me to be or even needs me to be. That never really works as well as being true to yourself and your unique and innate design. It's not so much about seeking a specific version of yourself as it is about seeking wisdom in regards to yourself. Not so much about self-fulfillment as it about making peace with, and finding acceptance in yourself, with yourself, Because doesn't that inner sanctuary that you learn to clear out and settle into - doesn't that become the place from which you can pour out those things to others? The patience and grace and love and sense of purpose and hope that you learn to have with yourself and with your life becomes abundant and can be shared. It starts to radiate from you. No matter how it starts, it becomes a spiritual journey. Isn't that what all the important things are? It all gets kind of holy when we really get into the thick of it, doesn't it?
I didn't think this day would come so soon. This figuring out who you are versus who they think you are and figuring out who you want to be versus who they want you to be thing. I really thought there'd be more time before we got to here. But as Providence would have it, it turns out that we might just be navigating the same waters at the same time - a couple decades apart - but I suppose we'll learn together. That is the best motivation I can have to commit to this - this being who I am, this better filter, this confidence building, this cleaning out of my inner sanctuary. This holy journey of remembering./discovering. It isn't shallow and it isn't selfish. It is the foundation of everything - this "self" stuff - because we were fearfully and wonderfully made. We are children of the Most High and so it is not something to toss into the corner - this identify crisis. It is the center and root of living a life that can be fruitful - to know who you are and where you are from and what you are to do with it all. It's not just about the shirt. And it's not just about me.
And the stakes feel so much higher when you realize it's not all about you anymore.