I dropped her off at school this morning wearing an orange skirt and a blue shirt. Her ponytail was tied back with an orange and green curly-cue ribbon. As I did her hair this morning, wrestling with her still baby-fine hair that was rumpled from preschool slumber, she bounced up and down (making my pursuit of a ponytail even more futile).
“I match Goofy, today, Mama! And I get to take him with me to SCHOOL!”
It’s her first show-and-tell day. The letter sent home from her teachers specified that the kids were to bring teddy bears…but even her teachers knew that little Jennifer wouldn’t be bringing a bear with her today. They told me days ago that her beloved stuffed Goofy was welcome to come instead.
As her teacher helped her out of the car this morning, Jennifer’s eyes twinkled with excitement and her knees bounced. “Goofy’s coming with me today! He gets to come IN!” I laughed and asked the teacher if all the other kids are this excited about show-and-tell. She laughed and said, “Um..no. They all just have bears. No one else has a Goofy.”
And Jennifer bounded out of the car, Goofy in tow, eager to introduce the other kids to her best friend.
As I drove away, I prayed, “God, please don’t let her lose this. This spark she has…this way she has of doing her own thing and not caring that its different….don’t let anyone take this from her. Lord, don’t let ME extinguish that spark.”
She’s always been carefree and unconcerned with convention. If I didn’t know any better, I would probably think that’s just how preschoolers are; I know from my own experience, though, that not all children are as comfortable in their own skin as my little girl is. When I was little, I had a dangerous preoccupation with what the other kids would think…with being just like everyone else so that I would blend in perfectly. The ripples of this were far-reaching, causing me to rip Keds tags off my older sister’s shoes and glue them to my own Payless variety…deny my own favorite color of green because all the other girls said it was “a boy color”…hide my glasses in my desk and let my grades and my health suffer because I didn’t want to be the only kid with glasses…take out the store brand of snacks from my lunch and replace them with “cool stuff” I had bought with my own allowance.
It’s true. I did all of that, and more. Once I got older, the desire to blend became more intense and, consequently, more dangerous. Boyfriends. Clothes. How I talked. How I acted and, most dangerous of all, how I thought. There comes a point when the concerns for the outward penetrate the inward. Once that line has been crossed, it’s hard to go back. I clearly remember one evening in high school when I decided that the best way to be who I wanted to be was to pretend to be that person even when I was alone.
“Act like someone is watching you all the time, Jess. Then eventually, all of this will be natural to you.”
The philosophy made sense to me, and I adopted it as a personal mantra.
Today, at the age of 31 and in a much better place in life, I can see how silly all of that was. What I cannot do, though, is say that I have moved on. I cannot claim that my singular preoccupation in life is to be myself…to shamelessly be who God made me to be. Yes, that is my heart’s desire. Yes, I long to be more concerned with what God thinks of me than what others might think as I walk by. On good days, that might even be true. All too often, though, I give far too much attention to what someone else might think…say…wonder about me. The truth remains that if I thought as much about what Jesus thinks of me as I do about everyone else, my life would look different. It would look very different indeed.
If I thought about how precious I am to Jesus as I got dressed, the clothing I put on would bear no significance on how I saw myself in the mirror. If I remembered how I am God’s child first and foremost as I run errands with my daughter, I wouldn’t be as concerned with how others perceived my mothering style. If I more readily embraced my gifts and my passions as God gave them to me – rather than worrying about how those gifts and passions make me different from other young moms – I might be closer today to realizing my dreams. If my mind swirled with thoughts of how beloved I am rather than how different I might be…if my heart pounded with a realization of my purpose for life given to me by my Creator, rather than with horror at the last stupid thing I said…then maybe I would be a very different version of myself. Maybe I would be more who I was made to be.
I do not dislike myself, nor do I wish away any part of my journey. Everything I have done and been through and experienced – good, bad, and ugly – has been a part of my path. It’s part of my story. It’s part of what brought me where I am today. I am in a good place, and I am thankful for every single part of my journey. There is no room for regret on this trip. I do wish for something different for myself, though, and I ultimately wish more for my little girl than I have settled for in my own life.
So today, when I pull up to the car line and watch her walk out with Goofy nestled in her arms, I will say another prayer that her experience today was a good one. I will hold my breath as she tells me how show-and-tell went, and I will hope with every fiber of my being that nothing was said or done or – worse – thought today to make her feel like being different is a bad thing. My instinct is to blend in to the background, but there is a colorful, vibrant spark of individuality that I see coursing through my daughter. My prayer – in all that I say and do with her – is that she knows how precious she is to me just the way she is…..that God sees her as absolutely, phenomenally incredible…….and that ultimately, no one else’s opinion matters.
My prayer, sincerely, is that she will not grow up to be like me. I want her to be a lot of things….but most of all, I want her to be her.
(Note: Those of you who know my family may be confused by my reference to Jennifer. As my girl gets a little older, I’m giving her a pseudonym anytime I reference her in my online space. When I asked her what name she would want if she could have any name in the world, she said Jennifer. So Jennifer she shall be! Here, anyway….)