I say this as we have just celebrated my mother’s birthday at my house with my brother and all of the grandkids. It was fun, but also very predictable. There were the same conversations, the same (mild) disagreements, College football and a fabulous birthday cake, if I do say so myself. I think like most families, we are all rooted in our familiarity and our routines.
Mom was seventy-seven, and while she still looks good, she might as well be eighty-seven because she has always been older than her years. And it has all had to do with her thinking. She has always been “too old” for this, “too old” for that. She “cant” do this, she “cant” do that. “But” is a big part of her vocabulary. I love my mother, and we are closer now than we have ever been, but it is sad and frustrating to see how her thinking has shaped her life. It is frustrating for me, as that kind of thinking has shaped parts of my life. And most discouraging, I see the same patterns taking shape in my thirteen year old daughter’s life.
How do people get it, that confidence thing? It is certainly not by being told we are “fabulous and can do anything we want if we just work hard.” If that were the case….my youngest gal would not have the female family curse because I am sure all my children have heard that line come out of my mouth more times than they can count. I am a firm believer that we are in control of our destiny, and while there are certainly some unforeseen challenges that arise and we all have to pull over to the side of the road, I believe what holds us back is the fear of getting onto the road in the first place. My two older children have escaped the curse. They are what I like to call, “comfortable in their own skin.” I do not have to worry about them. They will both succeed…not because of anything I have ever said. They just believe it!
And then there is my youngest. To look at her…and listen to her, you would never think she lacked an ounce of confidence. She is pretty and tall and walks with purpose, especially when she is storming through the house in frustration. Since the day she came out of my stomach, it has not taken much to create a storm. Words I have heard to describe her are, “spunky,” “enthusiastic,” “energetic.” These are all wonderful traits if channeled properly. But right now I see so many traits in her hat are just like me.
We have encouraged her to sing. She has a great voice. She sings in her bedroom and in the shower and in the car, but if I mention the word choir the response is, “No! I can’t sing.” It’s fear. When I suggest sports the response is, “No! I hate sports.” It’s fear. And, boy, I had it too. My fear of letting a team down kept me on the sidelines, for sure. Her school work gets behind because she is afraid to ask for help. She is afraid the teachers will think she is dumb. It brings tears to my eyes to think of our similarities. It’s painful to have passed this along.
When I think about my grandmother, I see a quiet unassuming woman with not much of a say in anything. I remember hearing her mother was a tyrant. And ironically, my mother has described her mother (my grandmother) as a tyrant at times. Of course I cannot imagine this in my memories of her. But I think a very important trait of tyrants and bullies is that they are lacking in confidence and self worth. That would describe my grandmother.
My mother was not a tyrant. I would describe her as…just there. We had a wonderful home; she was a great cook. She loved to entertain but she loved to go out more. During the holidays, our house was the most decorated on the block. She was in the local Women’s Club. She was a “lady who lunched.” Yes, she was there…but not really. She might admit this; I think she spent her time escaping her reality. I don’t think she ever questioned whether she wanted children or not. She never gave herself the luxury of asking or getting what she wanted. She was too afraid. She was accepted into United Airlines Flight Attendant School when she was twenty-two. At the time, they did not allow their stewardesses to be married and she had just met the man who would eventually become my father. What a wonderful adventure she would have had! In the end she was afraid to leave home and chose marriage.
To tell my daughter to look into the future at what life will be like if she lets her fears hold her back is not fair to her. She is still young and precious and is just starting her big adventure from young adult to adult. I have been trying to break the cycle and hope it rubs off on her. I chose to be single after many years of a safe but unfullfilling marriage. I am putting my passion, which are words, out there for the world to see. It is scary! But it is high time I take “can’t” and “but” out of my own vocabulary.
Back to my daughter’s singing. Though there are not many singers I would want her to emulate or songs with much value these days, there are a couple of songs, sung by women that seem to have a positive message. They sing about being brave and roaring like a lion. At night when she is alone in her bedroom we can hear her singing and dancing around. I am not kidding, nor am I tone deaf when I say she has a good voice. I just want her to think it. Not for fame or stardom. Just to get it out there. I hate to think her only audience is going to be the four walls of her bedroom.
Emily, I will be baking your birthday cake in November. Give yourself a gift. Be BRAVE and ROAR!
Listen to your mother.
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