I enjoyed coffee with a friend this morning. We talked about all the things we normally discuss on Friday mornings: kids, parenting, husbands, work, running, goals, plans, leggings, and everything in between.
Yesterday she experienced one of her daughter’s “lasts.” She’s a little ahead of me in the parenting game as her oldest daughter is now a senior. As she related the story to me, my eyes welled up with tears.
“She’s not even my kid,” I sniffle-snorted.
But when I met my friend, her oldest daughter was younger than my boys are now. It’s kind of a mind-trip to realize that a child you regarded as young now stands on the precipice of the rest of her life. I’ve watched her grow, watched their whole family grow.
The boys’ school pictures came home yesterday. My husband was at work, so I snapped them with my phone and sent them via text.
“He looks older,” lamented my husband, complete with deeply sad face emoji.
He does. He looks older. His shoulders look wider, mirroring my husband’s build. There’s no more little boy left in his face.
It is what it is, of course. I cannot slow time. I cannot pause it. All I can do is attempt to keep up with these two boys. For the record, the older boy looks… older, too. He looks like a fifth grade boy. And no, I don’t want to discuss middle school on the horizon. Hush your mouth.
All of these Sunrise, Sunset moments left me thinking about who I was all those years ago.
In third grade, I didn’t yet need glasses. I read everything I could get my hands on, including abridged versions of the Classics. My favorite at the time was—obviously—Romeo and Juliet. That’s right. I was a third grader who quoted Shakespeare. It is not surprising that I wasn’t all that popular. Related: My name in Spanish class in high school and on into college (six years total) was Julieta. You can thank the 1996 Leonardo Dicaprio and Claire Danes version of the Classic for that one.
In fifth grade, I talked too much. My teacher told my parents as much and no one was shocked for a country mile. I brushed my perm. I wore a one piece pants/jumpsuit with bubble legs, shoulder pads, and a wide, white collar that my grandmother made for me. I had giant glasses that all the Cool Kids wear nowadays. They weren’t cool in fifth grade, let me tell you. Neither was getting your period.
The thing about third and fifth grade is this: I knew I was somewhat different. I knew I wasn’t one of the Cool Kids. But I was okay with me. I liked me. I longed for all the cool shirts my friend S had, yes, but I had clothes. I had friends. I was smart. What wasn’t there to like?
Flash forward to my senior year.
Things weren’t the same.
Oh, I was still quirky, yes. I wore long butterfly skirts, white eyeliner, and platform sneakers. Because the ’90s. I still made straight A’s, complete with Academic Letter. I starred in the musical and senior class play. I scored an academic and music performance scholarship. I had friends. I had a steady boyfriend. My hair was long, long, long. I played softball, competed in cheerleading, and checked the box on a number of other extra-curricular activities.
And I hated myself.
I don’t know exactly what happened between fifth grade and my senior year. Or, I do, but some of that is locked down tight with other things I don’t access simply out of a desire to protect myself from myself. Or, I don’t, because memories shift and change and get the beauty and hindrance of hindsight thrust upon them; the past changes all the time.
But I do know that somewhere between fifth grade and my senior year, I decided I needed to be perfect in order to be liked. In order to succeed. In order to be good enough. In order to be loved. An A wasn’t good enough; I needed a 100%. Or better. The lead wasn’t good enough because, well, was it a pity give or did I earn it; so I trained and worked my ass of to prove to everyone that I deserved to be where I was on that stage. Even if I never believed it myself.
I never believed it.
I wish I could say I figured out how detrimental my perfectionism was to my mental health and changed it up before college. Or after college. Or even last year. Last month. Yesterday.
It’s still my downfall.
Nothing I ever do is good enough for me. I can always nitpick and pinpoint something I could have, should have done differently. Better. Best.
But I am actively trying to fix it. Or address it. Or at the very least acknowledge that it’s something I struggle with and might always. The good news is that I no longer avoid taking risks due to fear of failing before I even start. There’s that.
I look at my third and fifth graders and wonder what lies ahead. I see traits that worry me. I see traits that give me hope. I recognize and celebrate the ways in which they’re their own selves. I feel thankful that they have the two of us as parents. But there’s a little part of me that wants to pull them in close, whisper affirmations in their ears on repeat, and keep the negativity far from their big, big hearts. They love and trust so much, so hard, and I want to protect that beauty for as long as humanly possible.
I figure the best thing I can do is to continue to work on who I am and how I see myself. I was doing really well in that regard earlier this year until a series of unfortunate events left me doubting my every step. But still I work. Hard. Because nothing matters more to me than having my children understand how much they are loved, how much they are worth. One step in that process is modeling self-love, self-care, self-awareness.
And so I wake up every day, despite a severe bout of insomnia leaving me with 45 minutes of sleep some nights, and give them the best I can—giving myself the best of me. They don’t have to repeat my mistakes.
Neither do I.