The blog posts in my drafts folder are full of words, all negative and unpublished, as I filter through my days. I currently struggle with my words.
As a young girl I never said them; taught by my conservative parents to “not make waves” and to assimilate. In my formative years I was shy, asking my girlfriends to speak for me. I was to blend in and please others; to succeed academically. I was taught that I would excel based on merit alone.
I kept my words to myself; my only escape in writing stories. Recently, while clearing garage storage space, I found the dusty photo album among my late mother’s things. While my husband encouraged me to toss trophies, give away clothes and furniture, the only things from my childhood home are my mother’s china, and photo albums that sit in my garage. As I sneezed my way through its pages, my sixth grade son found the newspaper articles and certificates I received at his age. His curiosity made me remember.
As an only child I always listened and observed my environment, trying to understand the social dynamics of people. At a young age I would re-enact the social situations with my Barbies or marbles, creating families and social groups based on the interactions I encountered. I would create stories for fun. At the end of fifth grade, a teacher submitted my essay into a local contest and to everyone’s surprise, my writing won. The quiet girl had a hidden world.
I had been happy to join a group of students in an extended learning program (the precursor to Gifted and Talented Education aka GATE) to hone my writing skills. It was a ten mile drive for my older parents and I excitedly headed into the classroom, ready to learn. But then I heard the comments from first, fellow students and then from parents. I didn’t belong there. It was only because I came from a poor, immigrant town that I had been accepted. And so I rarely spoke and doodled on my papers. When my essay advanced to the university level, I felt no joy. I felt unworthy; the token kid in a prestigious writing program.
My sons listened to me quietly. My voice had become brittle and hard as the memories washed over me.
Real life entered the picture as I grew older; the lessons learned in high school, college and beyond. Humility and silence does not always serve well when you must lead or speak. When all other things are created equal (grades, test scores, essays) the person who got the nod was the one who spoke up and touted these things. It didn’t matter what I looked like on paper if nobody knew what I did. I had mastered the ability to remain quiet.
The names from the past came to mind. Mrs. Murphy, Mr. Jennings, Gerry Starowicz, Mr. Osborne and Mr. Murtha; the teachers and counselors who advocated for me and taught me to speak my words.
The elementary ELP teacher, Mrs. Murphy, ferreted out why I had lacked motivation in the writing program. She spoke directly to the program administrator who quickly put a stop to the unkind comments but I always sat alone; choosing not to make friends.
Mr. Jennings, in seventh grade, brought a modem to my home and taught me how to dial a connection to my first online chat board. He made science fun and introduced me to technology with a Commodore 64. Could this be why I married a computer scientist LOL?
Gerry Starowicz, the cheer/song advisor and arts teacher, finally taught me to yell and to yell LOUD. It was on a high school songleading squad that I learned about queen bees and wanna bes and how to navigate through what was popular and what was right.
Mr. Osborne, the band director, kept me interested in music and challenged me to continue playing. After twelve years of piano I still got jitters performing in recitals or solos. But concert groups and marching band kept me involved and eventually, my university choice came down to its well-known college marching band.
Mr. Murtha, my high school counselor, guided me to scholarships and college financial forms when my father was dying of colon cancer. He walked me through the college application process and proofread all of my college essays. We had hoped I would gain entrance to a few of my colleges and he celebrated when I got into them all.
In high school and beyond I learned to assert and to speak my words clearly and succinctly. I thrived. But my glaring fault is that justice, in my eyes, must be served. To call out when things are wrong.
I used to do this to get noticed (in school and in work); to be the one to get things done. But in these middle years I’ve realized that words don’t need to always be spoken. With words I say what I mean but saying them doesn’t always make things right. I am a firm believer that actions speak louder than words. I must mean what I say. In some cases, I must NOT act upon them.
- At work when the evil boss tasks me with unpleasant tasks, I whine in complaint. We own a small business and so I remain with my evil boss 24/7.
- In organizations which I serve, the queen bees and wanna bes suck me in. I try hard to keep my words to myself as egos and hidden agendas get in the way.
- In the social groups I am involved with I try not to let kid or parent dramas affect my relationships. I cannot change others’ opinions; even with mediation.
- At home my pent-up frustration builds. The words flow freely but I find no resolution. My need to make things right gets in the way.
My preteen and teens listened intently as I shared the words above; of the adults who made a difference in my life. They, too, are on this precipice where they are discerning what is fair and unfair; right from wrong. They weed through social groups, heavy homework loads, time consuming extra-curriculars and looming college applications. I had forgotten these pubescent memories; wishing them away. But my sons gleaned information from sharing about my own preteen and teen years; a time I rarely speak of. A time they currently reside in, in their own lives.
I went from the quiet only child to the extrovert adult with too many words. I feel the burden as scenarios play out in my overactive mind. And when the words build, unspoken, they always find their way out.
In the most random of places, a music store, the epiphany came. I had been slow to recognize the solution to all of the negativity surrounding my life. For weeks I filtered and kept my words, hoping that time would lessen the urge to say them. But I had gone about this all wrong. The multiple unpublished blog posts were symptomatic. It goes against my nature to be something I am not. Words are my medium and my negative environment didn’t have to dictate who or what I am.
I dug deep for the inner cheerleader within. The one that emerged in high school as my father’s cancer spread.
As a teen I often wondered why I could not be gloomy or negative at school; knowing my father was dying at home. School had engaged me and I found respite in books, writing, music and cheering at games. I inherited my father’s indomitable spirit; his zeal for all things social. Both of my parents exuded hospitality; my father with words, my mother with hosting others in our home. I often felt like a fraud for not publicly grieving my dad’s deteriorating health. But I’ve come to realize it is this trait that kept me going, and the ability to compartmentalize allowed me to survive various difficult periods in my life.
We commiserated in the store and quietly absorbed the negative vibe when my own son’s words came forth from my lips. It had been on a day, this week, when he was exhausted and frustrated; hearing comments from various people as his marching band prepares for an out-of-state national competition. He hears of how his section struggles and he plopped on the couch stating that they would, most likely, not make the final cut and they felt the burden. They have tirelessly worked and played towards this goal from the month of June; even canceling a Yellowstone trip so he and his brother wouldn’t miss camp.
I had sat beside him. It’s not always about winning. My sons knows this is an acquired mantra; my competitive streak reined in during their younger years in recreational sports.
I’ve struggled with my competitiveness and my perceived sons’ lack of it in sports, academics. I see twenty and thirty year old men addicted to video games, porn, or substances like alcohol or marijuana. They don’t feel the compulsion to work and lack competitiveness and drive and have no motivation. I don’t want this for my boys. In a competitive world I want my sons to engage and participate; to self motivate and serve. Dr. Sax’s book, Boys Adrift is affirming many things that I observe. Winning can’t always be everything but it is a great motivator. It is only by initiating and leading by example, particularly with male role models, that my boys can become productive men. I am grateful they have plenty of those type of men in their lives.
I also enjoy sports, particularly college football, and my voice can be heard in the crowd as I cheer my team or my boys’ teams on. In soccer I’d squeal excitedly, in competitive swim I would chant at the end of the lane as they flip-turned. I had to remain quiet for golf; so I clapped politely. The shy girl has become quite boisterous; cheering everyone on from the stands. I try my best to applaud all things good and my boys know their mother has got their back. I had forgotten how to do this simple act; too busy criticizing and analyzing.
The girl I once was, in high school, has resurfaced. In the midst of frustration and exhaustion my inner cheerleader has returned as I compartmentalize the chaos and craziness of our busy lives.
As the friend listened and commented on my son’s frame of mind, I shared my resolutions and we both agreed on what we will do. We must encourage our kids to do their best. They must put aside the negative and accentuate the positive to move forward, to encourage others. When I encourage others to do better, I am forced to do better for myself. Those are the words that need to be spoken.
When we encourage others to do better, we are forced to be better for ourselves.
I am deleting my drafts folder full of diatribes and frustrations. I acknowledge that they are there and when the right time presents itself, I may share these thoughts; or not. I don’t need to be right or call things out all the time. I just need to speak encouraging words that are true. To say them clearly and just cheer.