It Just Seems to Happen

I was talking with my sister (mom of two girls, age 19 and 17) last night about our beautiful teenage daughters, and our own high school/teenage years. I’ve not hidden the fact my beauty has been going through it in recent months. My sister and I compared our high school, and pre-high school, experiences, which were very different as far as friendships were concerned. Even though we had those different experiences – I had a bff from 7th grade all the way through high school, while my sister did not, but rather bounced each year from group to group, never quite finding her tribe – we both suffered massively from horribly low self-esteem and very poor self-image. We both had issues with food. We both struggled severely with our own sense of worth and value.  Now I know the source we both point to, but I found it interesting that even with those different friend experiences from an early age, we both ended up in the same insecure boat.

When I found out I was going to have a baby girl, I was immediately determined she would never, ever for one minute question her worth, her value, how much she’s loved. I didn’t want her to ever suffer insecurity, self-doubt, or unhealthy self-esteem/self-image. I for sure never wanted her to deal with an eating/exercise disorder, or any of a host of  stress-induced illnesses. I’ve tried to tell her every day (sometimes I wondered if it wasn’t too much) how very loved she is, how much she’s needed, how proud of her we are, reinforcing all her strengths, encouraging her. I saw her, until a couple years ago, as a strong, independent, courageous, brave, outgoing girl who always stood up for others as well as herself. She’s incredibly smart, goofily funny, amazingly talented, and also happens to be beautiful.

But it just seems to happen to teenage girls, no matter how they’re brought up, no matter who they’re friends with, no matter what activities they’re engaged in. Teenage girls all seem to suffer insecurity – often debilitating – they doubt their worth and value, particularly amongst their peers. If there are any struggles with friendships, they find the fault within themselves all too often. They are struggling to figure out who they are, and where they fit  in, at the same time hormones are ruling their bodies and minds. Add to that anyone who may be threatened by them, and boom, perfect storm.

I thought I could keep her from going through this – I well and truly did. I’m finding you really can’t shield them entirely. Each girl has to face it – find her worth within herself, learn to accept herself, learn to be okay with who she is, find a peace with herself within herself, learn to be happy with herself. We just have to love them through it, and pray the effects aren’t long-lasting. Lord knows it took me YEARS to recover, same for my sister. I wish I could minimize and fast-forward the process, because when your child struggles in any way, you struggle.

You First

My mom recently moved out of the home she’s been in since I was just out of high school. In the process of the move, she gave me a bunch of my old things, including a box that held some of my older journals from high school. Might I just say, “wow”. Wow, did I worry a whole heck of a lot what other people thought of me, but then isn’t that the way of teenagers, particularly teenage girls? I can’t believe how much I allowed my vision of my self-worth to be wrapped up in who liked, or didn’t like me.

Learning to be okay with and like yourself is one of life’s hardest and greatest achievements. I didn’t quite figure out I wouldn’t be too attractive to others until I was attractive to myself until later. I think I was in my mid-twenties, ditching yet another failed relationship, stuck in a hotel room by myself on a business trip before I sat down and faced it all. I needed to like and accept myself first before I could expect anyone else to really like and accept me. I had to be fine alone before I could truly be in anyone else’s life, much less truly let anyone else fully inside my life.  Make sense? That was an intense week of self-reflection and self-revelation. It was painful at times – I had to clearly see and accept all my faults. I also had to clearly see and accept all my strengths, something I actually found much more difficult.

Back in high school, and even early college, I felt my value came through having someone want me, just me. I’m not talking about friends – I was lucky enough to have some really incredible friends who loved and accepted me more than I did myself. I’m still grateful to them for keeping me afloat. But as I read the words I’d written from freshman year through my high school graduation, I realized my days were preoccupied with whomever I had a crush on at the time. If he didn’t talk to me on a particular day, I must’ve looked bad or sounded stupid. If he didn’t acknowledge me, it was because I was an ugly, annoying little girl. If he didn’t smile at me, it was because I was wearing the wrong clothes. If I didn’t get asked to the prom, or homecoming, or the winter dance, I was worthless and a failure. I didn’t have a boyfriend until mid-way through my senior year of high school. Looking back, I can see that was mostly because of the way I viewed myself. Once I gained a little bit of confidence, things started to change. But if I’d spent less time obsessing about who liked me, or didn’t like me, whether I had a boyfriend or not, which group I was part of or not part of, and spent more time learning to like me for me, maybe I would have found a peace with myself much earlier in life.

Watching my older two navigate high school, I’m reminded why you couldn’t pay me enough to relive those four years (well, most of them anyways – it wasn’t all entirely awful). If I could go back and tell my sixteen-year-old self anything it would be to love, care for, and accept myself first. I’d tell myself not to send my “representative self” to school each day, but to just be me, and be good enough with who I really was to put that person out there every day. If I wasn’t good enough as myself, my representative certainly wouldn’t be good enough either as she was a shell, a front, a wall between me and the world around me.

I guess my point is this – love you, first. Once you learn to love you, others will find it easier to love you too.

Treasured

A few days ago, P was gushing about a friend of hers at school, specifically she was gushing about how he treats his girlfriend. She told me he compliments his girlfriend in front of his friends and her friends, lets people know she’s important in his life. I said, “Oh, he makes her feel treasured, cherished, lets her know she matters.” “That’s it,” P said. Yes, my dear girl…those boys are the winners in the end. When you’re looking (years from now, please) for “THE ONE”, find the man who makes you feel treasured.

That’s really how Spouse won me over. It took months for me to finally cave, but that’s what did it. He wasn’t a big gesture type of guy (although he has pulled off some big gestures since then, and I love them all the more for being few and far between – they’re always surprising when they happen), but he quietly and persistently let me know I mattered to him. He quietly and persistently let others know I mattered to him, and that meant almost more. He wasn’t one way when we were alone together, and another way entirely when people were around.

We talked, almost every single day. Now remember, this is before cell phones were in everyone’s hands and LONG before texting and social media existed. We actually talked, on the phone, every day, for hours on end. We saw each other nearly every weekend. He made me laugh. He taught me to laugh at me. He gave me the space I demanded, but never gave up, and never left. When I had to have surgery, he drove over an hour to see me and make sure I was okay. When the sun was shining and the weather perfect in  San Francisco, we both ditched work and spent a beautiful Spring day together in the City. When my dad had an aneurysm, he showed up and stayed with me in the waiting room during the long surgery. He was just there, in every way I needed him to be so that I knew I mattered to him.

He could be a little overprotective, and even a little jealous, at times (still is). I chafed against that, often, but then came to realize it’s just because I matter, because he does cherish me, that he does that. When we’re out at a party or social event, I know that he knows where I am in the room. For whatever reason, that still makes me feel a little special. He still gives me my room to be me, my space to have my own section of life, but I know I’m his, I matter to him, I’m treasured. That’s what I want P to find someday.

 

If she could see what I see

Navigating the  path of raising a daughter is fraught with many perils. When the Princess was born, I was determined she would always know her worth, never suffer from self-esteem issues or lack of confidence. I’m learning no matter  how you raise your girl, no matter how often you tell her she’s loved, you’re proud of her, no matter how many A’s she earns, how many times she’s successful onstage, on the field, in the pool, in whatever contest, she’s still likely to suffer from a lack of confidence and low self-esteem. PS – if you know the secret to overcoming this, please share.

I suffered severe shyness growing up. It was so painful, and resulted in so much daily anxiety over even the tiniest of things. I had no confidence, and zero self-esteem. Nada. Zero. Zip. I never liked what I saw in the mirror, never felt I was ever good enough or worthy. It took leaving for college far from home, and the opportunity to reinvent myself, be who I WANTED to be, to overcome most of that. It still resurfaces more than I’d like.

I wanted so much for my girl to never experience that. We put her in various sports, groups, and activities. I tell her – probably more than I should – how proud of her I am in all that she does and who she is. I wanted her to look in the mirror each day and be content with what she sees. I wanted her to know her value comes from within. But lately, things she says seem to show her confidence in herself isn’t there, her self-esteem is failing. She seems to feel she is less, scared, not-as-good-as, not good enough, not cute enough, not-as-smart-as. Fear and insecurity seem to be the winners lately. Does every teenager feel the same? Are some just better actors, hide it better?

I wish she could see what I see when I look at her – a beauty that flows from inside of her, her precious, infectious smile/laugh. I wish she could understand how proud we are of her hard work at school, in dance, in cheer; how we treasure the fact she deeply cares about her friends and makes sure everyone is treated fairly. I love her compassion, her physical and mental strength. I wish she understood that no matter how many times I see her dance, every time feels like the first, most-amazing time, and I am in awe. I wish she understood that just because math takes her longer doesn’t mean she isn’t good at it. I wish she knew that everything she does to help with her brothers and around the house is recognized and truly appreciated.

I wish she could see the witty, funny, adorable, beautiful, smart, hard-working, well-loved, well-liked, inspiring girl we see when she looks in the mirror.  She isn’t less. She is worthy. She is blessed and she is a blessing, not just to her family, but to everyone who cares about her.

This fierce, fearless girl is who I see…..My wish is she would see the same, all the time.

Those hard questions

Yes, the Herd has been on something of a hiatus this summer. Truthfully, I’m still working on fitting all the new pieces of the puzzle together, and have been trying to just be in the moment rather than always thinking about how I’m going to write about the moment. What it comes down to is this: I’m freakin tired! No one ever told me having high schoolers – high schoolers involved in any kind of activity – means you essentially don’t get summer anymore. Bless, between a trip to Palm Springs, two weeks off from cheer practice, and Big Man being at cross country camp for five days, I’ve had a few sleep-in mornings, but we’ve had two (TWO!) beach days all summer, and one of those was over the weekend. I’ll update, at some point, what we’ve been up to. But for now, I give you this….

Remember the Princess likes to ask some of those “holy hell, what now?” questions, usually while we’re driving to or from dance? Yeah, that. She unleashed a few beasts last night. They’ve been twirling around my brain. First, she asked when I knew I didn’t want to be the same kind of mom my mom was. Wait, what? Not even going to touch that one here. Then she comes at me with, “What would you change about yourself as a mom?” Good grief. She doesn’t pull any punches, does she?

What would I change about myself as a mom? In some ways, I wish I were the mom that LOVED to get down on the floor and play board games with my kids. I detest board games. Drove me insane to even attempt them when the kids were little. Zero patience. Nada. Zip. Zero. But you go with what you’ve got, right? So I learned to accept I wasn’t that mom. Not a huge fan of the disaster crafts seem to leave behind either, but we’ve done our share…which accounts for the fabric paint on the kitchen table, family room carpet, and sofa, as well as the stack of contact-paper-laminated Thanksgiving and Christmas placemats taking up space in my buffet, (I actually really love taking those out every year – they make me smile), and who knows how many sheets covered in paint/glue/glitter. I don’t really like forts made out of sheets, pillows, couch cushions, blankets, and everything needed to hold said fort together. Why don’t I like them? Because I’m the one who only ever ends up putting everything away.

Are you sensing a theme here? I wish I cared less about messes. I wish I had more patience. I wish I was less easily frustrated. Those are the things I would change most about myself as a mom. Notice she didn’t ask me what I think I rock as a mom? That just dawned on me. Maybe I’ll bring that up when we’re driving to dress rehearsal tomorrow…equal time, right?

She also asked me what I would change about Big Man’s personality, the one so much like my own. I just see him doing things the same way I did in high school, in life, and I would (and do) push him for more – to do what he’s capable of, at the level he’s capable, to speak up for himself, to advocate for himself, to not give up when things get hard, to not always take the easiest path just because it’s easy.

And then she asked me what I would change about her. I’ve said before, I wish I’d been half what she is when I  was her age. She’s me, to the power of ten. She’s courageous. She’s a fighter. She goes after what she wants. She’s determined and focused. She sticks up for those who need a champion. She’s a perfectionist. She can be fearless. So what did I tell her I would change? It’s something most women probably need to change. I told her, when she compares herself to those around her, she only remarks on the negative. She doesn’t comment or even seem to notice/recognize her own strengths, those skills and traits with which she stands out.

Like I said, these questions have been floating around my mind since our conversation last night. It hit me when we were driving home from Costco this morning…she  never asked what I would change about Little Man. Maybe it’s obvious in her mind – take away  his autism. But when I asked her about that this morning, she said taking that away would change who he is completely, including the awesome and really cool parts of him. We would just make life easier for him.

She really doesn’t let me slide on this mothering thing. She has that tendency to ask me things I’d rather not address even in my own mind,  much less in a conversation with my daughter. But she makes me bring those things out into the light, look at them, analyze them, talk about them. Hopefully someday, I’ll see the results of these talks in the form of a healthy relationship with her, and seeing her as a successful mother to her own inquisitive daughter.

What do I tell her?

The Princess will be 15 in a few months, starting high school just before. We are entering the world of boys, dating, parties…..high school social life. I’m a bit terrified. Such a minefield. So here’s my question – how much of your life experience do you share with your teens? Does it make a difference or change their behavior? Do they even listen, or just nod their heads while rolling their eyes?

Do I tell her my mistakes? Do I tell her about the time I cheated on my boyfriend because the guy I’d had a crush on years before finally took a moment to notice me? Do I tell her the potentially really bad situations I put myself in? Do I tell her about the relationships I sabotaged or ended before the guy could have a chance to leave me, or prove himself? Do I tell her about the boys I treated badly, using the excuse of recovering from how the last boy treated me? Do I warn her off controlling boyfriends? Do I tell her the things I really regret doing or not doing?

I went from not being noticed at all, to getting a decent amount attention from boys. It was pretty heady, and overwhelming. It took me years to figure out how to handle myself, handle them. I needed, oh how I needed. I made so many mistakes, so many errors in judgement. Sometimes I just shake my head, realizing how lucky I am to be where I am. On the flip side, I had some amazingly wonderful experiences, met some incredible people, and grew because of choices, right and wrong.

I try to think back to when I was her age. Did my mom try to talk to me? Did I just tune her out, unable to imagine her as a teenager facing what I did each day? Would it have made any difference if she did tell me, and I did listen? Do we all just have to walk that path on our own?

We were driving home from the studio last night, and I felt this driving need to tell her everything, really talk to her about boys, dating, sex, relationships. But I didn’t know where to start, what to tell her, what to hold back. So I didn’t say anything. It haunted me through the night – memories dredged up, old hurts revisited, heartbreaks re-lived, some of my darker, most regretful moments brought back to life.

I wasn’t promiscuous, nor considered a “bad girl” by any means, and yet there are still many things I would have changed, avoided. But what, really, does she need to know, if anything at all, of my past? All I’ve told her to date is that I kissed my share of boys, and dated/hung out with more.

What do you tell your kids when you reach this stage?

In which something has changed

Yes, the Princess graduated from 8th Grade last week. As one of my friends said, “She was up on that stage so much, she should have had her own chair.”  Yes, she is something of an overachiever, and is well-liked by her teachers. She’s that kind of kid.  She’s more than ready for high school. I do believe, for the last couple months, she’s felt halfway between both, as she’s at the high school every weekday morning for cheer, then heads off to her school for classes. She has friends who will be Seniors come fall, and friends who will just be entering seventh grade.

She’s been a teenager for nearly two years, but it seems just recently something has changed. Now it really matters to her how she looks when she walks out the door. Frizzy hair is a no-go. Clothes and shoes must be just right. Will a boy like her, ever? Will she one day be asked to prom? And oh, by the way, can she go to the mall with her friend for a few hours? Can she go with me to get a manicure? Can she have her hair colored the way the other girls are doing theirs? Wait, what? Cue eyeball roll (you know, the one so typical of teenage girls).

Where did my American-Girl-Doll-playing, I-need-a-unicorn-pillow-pet-and-unicorn-onesie, pigtail-wearing little girl go? I dropped her off at the JV Cheer Captain’s house the other day to hang out (for hours on end) with most of the JV team. They talked about boys, who is dating who, which kids got in trouble for what, dresses, nails, hair, phones. They didn’t really swim so much as they stood in the pool/floated in the pool, talking.

This all feels new. It’s as if I woke up one day to an entirely different daughter. That little girl still hovers in there, but we don’t see her often. This new, completely teenage-girl girl is who we see most. I know she sees me watching her sometimes with this searching look. And there are days I’d swear she asks questions just to try and stump me, throw me for the proverbial loop.

Don’t get me wrong, she’s still a good girl. I don’t worry too much about where her life is headed. She’s a driven, self-motivated, rule-following perfectionist. She has goals and plans. She knows what’s right, what matters. She knows one wrong choice made in a split-second can have life-altering consequences. I have a feeling the next four years are going to be kind of incredible to watch. Something has changed, and it’s scary, but it’s also wondrous to see.