Don’t tell my mom, but I didn’t go to prom.
Sure, I got dressed up in a low cut dress, my mom did my make-up, and my boyfriend got (semi) dressed up to take pictures. But that was all for my mom. My boyfriend didn’t want to go and I was the kind of high school girl that didn’t want to go to prom without her a*shole boyfriend. So, we did all the stuff for mom and then left my house. We drove around the block then sat in his dark living room to play video games. That’s not entirely what this blog post is about, though.
Being a parent has me thinking about my own childhood a lot. I reflect, I figure out what I’d like to pass on to him, and I also try to identify the red flags from my own journey. Not because I want to guide him down a perfect path, but I find it all so interesting in hindsight. Speaking of hindsight, it’s not all really 20/20. I still can’t figure out why or how some things happened in my life. Sometimes life just doesn’t make any sense.
Here’s what I do know: I had a happy childhood. I’ve always been a relatively happy person. I’ve been told I was a happy baby. I’ve always been an idealist. Happiness hasn’t been a struggle with me. Happiness has been a gift running deep through the years of my life.
Our child, too, is a happy child. He’s as precocious and wild as he is happy most days. There is never a day that passes where we don’t find ourselves laughing with this child. Even if we sometimes laugh as we cry in that place where parenthood takes you. A dark place where you wonder how on earth you’ve been given a human life to raise and nurture. We’re brought out of that scary place by our child’s pure wild nature and his rambunctious laughs. Happiness is a deep root in this family tree.
I wonder if happiness is enough, though. Because in my idealist and happy ways, I was misunderstood a lot as a child. Misunderstood by my family, by other children, and often by teachers. I didn’t have very many friends when I look back. All through elementary school, I only had one friend: George.
I was also great friends with the next door neighbor kids. There were seven of them, and their mother babysat for me most years of my life from kindergarten on. So, really, those kids were much more like siblings than “friends” for me. In fact, their mother always called me her “other kid”. With none of the kids being in the same grade as me, though, that meant George was my only actual friend.
I remember sitting alone at lunch most of the time, usually with a book. I wasn’t lonely; I didn’t know to be. As an only child, I didn’t really feel lonely. Being alone felt as normal as anything else. Sometimes I’d sit with George under the tree at the back corner of the playground. We’d talk about the books we were reading and we’d talk about silly stuff. We both had ACTIVE imaginations. This made for fascinating conversations as I look back.
By the second or third week of class, the teacher usually noticed our trend to pass notes or talk amongst ourselves. Mostly because we were both really bored in the classroom setting. As a result, we were often assigned seats on opposite sides of the room during those years we were lucky enough to be in the same class.
I remember in sixth grade George talking about running away, skipping high school and never looking back. He was a dreamer. We both were. We always found ourselves endlessly bored with school by Christmastime. Every year. Without fail. We just wanted to stay home and read and write stories. Because stories felt better than being picked on and called out by teachers. By the end of elementary school, the girls in our town started to get rough and physical. George couldn’t stand up to these girls for me. I couldn’t stand up for myself. I could use my words, but one day in a dark stairwell two girls tossed me down the stairs and broke my backpack after stealing my books.
Reacting to this, my mother moved us to another city the next year. She was sure that this was a problem isolated to our lower income environment. I was put into a new Jr. High school with all new kids. This turned out to be an advantage because these kids didn’t know that I hadn’t had any friends growing up. This is where I got involved in dance, performance, and theater. I finally had an outlet to be weird. Even with that outlet, though, I didn’t really become best friends with anyone. Girls didn’t like how I dressed and boys loved to pick on me. Sure, I had friends in these group activities, but I still had very minimal social interaction outside of a school event.
During this time, I started going to church and I did make some friends there. But, if I ever stopped going to church for more than a few weeks, those kids ignored me. It didn’t feel like punishment, but it felt like I had to be on their team to be acknowledged. Even with all of this and with me sharing these stories of ups and downs with my mother, she didn’t really get it. She didn’t seem to notice that I didn’t have friends. She saw the happy kid and assumed that happy kid was well received. I was so able to be socially appropriate among adults and I think that spoke to her. Some days I just played along with her pretending to be well liked, and some days I sat alone in the hall during lunch hoping I wouldn’t get caught.
I worry she just didn’t want to deal with what it meant that I didn’t have friends. As many mothers, she had her own idea of who I was. There didn’t seem to be any changing that. To this day, she tells stories of my being really well liked and popular. It’s just not the truth, and that’s why I mention it. I want to be standing in the truth as a mother. I feel like I might be able to help our sweet child if I can admit when things just aren’t fantastic.
By high school, she moved us all the way across the county to an entirely new state in New England. I think I felt it here the most that I had never had friends. Part of never having had friends meant I’d never had conflict. I’d been picked on a lot, but I’d never had the aggression in my face that is the Mean Girls of high school. Nothing can really prepare any of us for that. The problem here was that everyone had lived in this town their whole lives. Theater wasn’t easy to get into and I found myself really struggling to understand the female dynamic. What really saved me was making older friends at my after-school job. Friends I still have to this day.
So yeah, I was a happy child. That didn’t make it easy for me though. So, as I watch this tiny human of ours sprout before us with smarts, personality and soul, I wonder what his life will be. Will he make friends easily? Will he stick up for those two kids that stick out? Will he be grounded enough to be successful? I just don’t know.
I guess I just want him to feel safe enough to be brave in this life.