Has anyone ever made you feel stupid? Or extremely small?
As an adult in those circumstances, I roll my eyes on the inside. I realize the person making me feel small is probably hurting far worse than they made me feel. I mentally place my hand on my shoulder and dust it off. But sometimes that person is from our past and our memories are more inked in. The words are on a permanent feedback loop. Or sometimes, like me, you suppress those mean messages right up until they randomly fall out of your head.
Recently Chris asked me if I was ever a girl scout, explaining that he was a boy scout-wanna-be. I think this meant he tried on his brother’s yellow scarf, learned to a build fire from sticks, and made some sort of drum out of an oatmeal container found in his mother’s kitchen.
I sighed deeply and told him I was in fact, a Brownie drop out. For those unfamiliar, Brownies come before the green sashes, thin mints and peanut butter patties. Brownies are the little girls preparing for The Big Dance.
Writing digs up memories and mental images from ancient history…ones that were forgotten or buried under layers of seemingly insignificant life soil. Somehow writing all the words is a bit like an archeological dig. On a good day a little treasure emerges ready to be identified, asking for more words to give it some sort of meaning.
And somewhere between my discussion with Chris, and my morning writing session I dug up this gem: I was back in my elementary school cafeteria. It was late in the evening. It felt like midnight. I was an early riser and so my eight pm bedtime was being pushed. For some reason we, the Brownies, were all lined up in a row and there was a woman leading us through some sort of dance. There was kicking (think Rockettes) and there was sweating and unclear instructions. I think step ball change was mentioned. The mood was intense and the instructor passionate. Please don’t ask me why the Brownies were performing this dance because I simply don’t remember. (The final product did involve a stage and bright lights.) But the most horribly memorable portion of this story was the words that flowed from the unkind lady’s mouth in Miss Hannigan form:
“Girls, this is terrible! You are going to do this again until it is perfect. Jenni and Beth, you are going to have to try extra hard because you are the littlest and you keep falling behind. The little ones are not going to ruin this number.”
I think something about making our dance shine like the top of the Chrystler Building followed. I have never been called “little” since that day, but in that moment I felt very small indeed. I remember sweat and stress and my owl shaped glasses with the puppy etched in the corner needing to be adjusted. I remember a distinct inability to get the moves in order. I remember my body would not cooperate or stay on the right beat…and I remember the woman in charge making me believe that it really mattered.
Weren’t Brownies supposed to do crafts, say pledges and collect badges? Why all the dancing? Why were we being made to feel like we were preparing for an Olympic competition? Not surprisingly, on that day, vows were made. I will not be the weakest link. I will not participate in things that make me nervous, sweat, adjust my glasses, or in any way bring embarrassment to myself or others.
Those words buried something deep inside of me. Underneath the layers I realized I had buried my courage, confidence, and my risk-taking ability. It was not only that woman or her cutting words, but I realized others in my life had grabbed shovels and heaped on to this pile; leaving the category of competition and striving a thing of the past. Engaging in those activities could bring potential embarrassment to myself or others. Don’t risk.
For some it could go the other way. A series of events and string of words could be the very catalyst producing far greater passion and drive. Me, not so much. Not to turn the brownie and boy scout conversation ever so serious…but re-telling it made me quite aware of my words and how very powerful they are. It made me long to be cautious and careful with the little people in my world…the wide-eyed ones with all the sweat, and the glasses, and the awkward, and the self-conscious. It also made me want to pull the little girl in the cafeteria aside. It made me want to grab her by her little shoulders and tell her it was okay that she wasn’t good at being a Rockette, but the nasty ladies’ words didn’t need to shut down her desire to dance, dream, or put herself out there. Her message and the message of others should not turn off her “try” button moving forward throughout the rest of life.
And so here I am…putting myself out there on paper. Pushing pencils and writing pages. I pray whatever your thing was…whatever was buried…whatever vow you made…I pray that it may surface today and you might resurrect your inner child who in a sense, died. Kneel down and look compassionately in to her little eyes. Tell her she doesn’t have to be good at everything–but the voices don’t get to dictate all things moving forward in to the future. Tell her no matter her age–to begin again. Tell her the truth. Tell her to try.
Because life is too short to be a boy scout wanna be or a brownie drop out!
May You Be a Blessing and May You Be Blessed!