Building You Up Or Tearing You Down
I have been reflecting a lot since Thursday about parental messages I received when I was growing up and certain things come to mind…It’s funny, all my memories from when I was a kid are negative memories. I like to think that good things happened to me too…I don’t know why only the bad memories have stuck with me.
Here’s one that has stuck…
There used to be a store in Train Junction that I loved as a child. It was kind of a gift shop in the front part of the store. There were glass cases with music boxes and figurines and fine porcelain knick-knacks. Here and there were little baubles and trinkets that a little girl could buy with the bit of money stuffed in her pocket.
The best part about the store was the smell. The back of the store sold candles and candle making supplies, wax, molds, wax coloring cubes, wicks and best of all…Scents. The store just had this yummy smell, not at all cloying like modern candle shops, but soft and sweet and natural…I can practically smell it just thinking about it.
Now, this was in a more “safe” era, when it was okay to let your 8 year old go into the store by herself while you shopped the next store over…No one was worried you were going to get kidnapped or make trouble, there was lots more freedom and opportunity for independence.
So, one day, I was in that store with my parents off a few stores down. As I was admiring all the shiny things, a teacher I knew from my elementary school came in with her boyfriend. She was all glowy and happy. She saw me and greeted me and introduced me to her boyfriend. I felt very grown-up being introduced like that! I wandered away as she and her boyfriend were looking at a glass case of music boxes.
After I bit, I wandered back towards them and the teacher was hemming and hawing, unable to decide which music box her boyfriend should buy for her. And then she did the most amazing thing….She asked me what I thought! I remember feeling extra grown-up and special because she cared about my opinion. We looked at the music boxes and listened to them play. I told the teacher which one I liked better and that sealed her decision. She wanted her boyfriend to buy her the one that I picked!
I was pretty much over the moon with feeling grown-up and valued and special. I couldn’t wait to meet my parents back at the car and tell them all about it. And so I did…I imagine I was beaming and puffed up with pride. I don’t really remember my mom acknowledging my feelings of worth and happiness. She was too busy in “Pretty is as Pretty does” mode.
What did my mother say? She pointed out my peanut butter smeared, grubby pants and fly-away hair. She told me that running into a teacher like that was a good situation to point out why I should dress nicely and look nice when we went places. It’s funny…the teacher didn’t seem to mind how I looked. I suppose the teacher was looking past all that and seeing me as a person, not as a fashion plate.
And instead of feeling proud and important, I felt ashamed. And ugly. And disappointing…yet again. And it was my fault because I didn’t change into clean clothes before we went out on errands. My happy feeling soured and I felt worthless.
Pretty is as Pretty does was just an unfair expectation, especially for me.
The memory doesn’t sting as much as it used to…And as an adult, I can see that maybe my mom felt embarrassed that I was so grubby that day. And maybe she was frustrated that I couldn’t fit into the “Pretty does” mold for her. But as a tender, sensitive 8 year old, I couldn’t see any of that. All I could see was that yet again, I didn’t measure up. I was ugly and imperfect and shameful. Those are crappy messages to get when you are forming your identity and learning your self-worth (or lack therefore of).