I got an email this weekend from a girl, a woman? What do you call someone who was a junior in high school the last time you saw her and is now an amazing mother and wife? If I call her a “girl” then she is the girl I went to school with, that I thought I knew. And a “woman?” Well I didn’t go to high school with any women. That just draws attention to the fact that the woman whose blog I have been reading for the last several months is really almost a stranger. And not because she is so different from the girl I knew but because she is exactly the woman I knew she’d become. Genuine, funny, sincere, frighteningly smart and insightful. She is as interesting to me now as she was then. Only I am different. She doesn’t intimidate me like she did then. So there is an opportunity now for a discourse, albeit through the comfortable distance of email, but honest nonetheless.
So, when I got an email from her this weekend it gave me pause. I wasn’t really sure how to answer her. But I’ll do the best I can.
You write a lot about having low self esteem, and I guess as someone with self esteem problems myself I should understand it. But I am so perplexed! In high school I envied your confidence so much. You were popular and not just with the drama kids, you were hot and tall and you took your clothes off at every opportunity. All the girls wanted to be just like you and I think we both know what the guys wanted to do…All that time were you really insecure or did it develop later?
Low self-esteem means different things to different people. I had it really easy as a kid, I was tall, strong, smart and kinda funny. I can’t recall ever really feeling shy or embarrassed in any situation. My parents went out of their way to ensure that I never went without even though we struggled financially at times. Middle school came and went with just the right amount of awkwardness. I was tall entering the seventh grade but by the beginning of freshman year the boys were catching up with me and I wasn’t so uncomfortable in my own skin. I fell in easily with the Drama kids. I found my high school niche in our great big school early on freshman year and it seemed like high school might not be the torturous experience so many people describe.
I’m not sure how it started. When I started feeling really uncomfortable with the fact that my life was so “easy.” What was I going to rebel against? What was going to make me special? How was I ever going to be an actress, an artist, an anybody if everything always came easy to me? How as I any different from the perfect cheerleaders at the other end of our long high school hallway? It embarrassed me. It embarrassed me when I was nominated for Homecoming Court. It didn’t matter how much I yearned to be cast in a “real” role in a play. I was Pretty Kelly. That’s what people saw. At least that’s what I assumed. Eventually I guess I let it define me more than it should have. I hid behind my ‘”perfect face.” If I feared that was all anyone saw in me than why not make it easy? You can’t be annoyed that no one sees who you really are if you’re standing around in your underwear, right? I knew (or at least I thought I knew) what the people I admired thought of me. An inch deep. I would never be an artist.
My issues with my body were nagging on their best days. Crippling on their worst. When you come to the realization that the only thing any one sees in you is the Outside you start putting way too much emphasis on it.
“Popularity” is a curse in high school, You don’t get to come back after a summer, with a new look. Because everyone knows you. The quiet girl in the back of the room can reinvent herself ten times over. Or again, at least, that is what I thought. I felt trapped in my Perfect Family, with my Perfect 4.0. I didn’t know who I wanted to be. I don’t even think there’s anything I’d have changed. It was just suffocating to feel like I didn’t have the freedom to try on a new “me.” I just knew I was sick and tired of being Perfect. I was “Best Looking Class of 1994.” My best days would soon be behind me and there was no stopping that train.
College gave me a chance to start over. I found a whole bunch of unhealthy ways to maintain my Perfect body. I fell in love with a Townie. I ran around with a messy crowd of people. I fucked up at school just enough to feel like I wasn’t really a part of this Perfect William & Mary scene but tried to keep my nose clean enough that I wouldn’t be barred from returning to the Perfect world I was raised in when it was time.
Bartending was the perfect game for me. I got to be whoever you wanted me to be every night. I made money hand over fist. I thought I was breaking out of my mold but really I was just digging myself deeper. I had all but wasted my college education because I was busy getting paid to be Pretty Kelly. So rebellious, right?
I’m still not really answering her question. Did I always struggle with low self-esteem? Absolutely. Only it looks different on me than it does on most people, I think. I never doubted that people liked me. I never lacked confidence. I just thought that if anyone really knew me, hell, if I did, than they surely wouldn’t like what they saw. I wanted so badly to stand up and say “hey, what you see isn’t what you get!” But I was afraid that the next question would be “So, then who are you?” and I didn’t really have any idea.
I had all the opportunity in the world handed to me. I grew up in a great home. With wonderful parents. In a terrific school system. I was smart, attractive, I think I even had a reasonable amount of talent at some point… but I didn’t know what I wanted to “be” when I grew up. My friends from high school were following their “dreams.” Each year at Christmas fewer people came home because they had “become somebody.” They were building lives and fortunes and families of their own. Some of them even had, shudder, careers.
And I still didn’t have a clue. Because I couldn’t admit what I wanted…. not out loud. It wasn’t enough, not for me. Not for Kelly, Teacher’s Pet, who gave a speech at graduation about how much potential we all had… I was almost thirty and I still hadn’t figured it out. And even worse? Pretty Kelly was fading. I didn’t have the stomach for the drugs that had kept me skinny in my youth. I didn’t have the desire to put in the effort it would require to maintain it in any other way. I didn’t have the discipline because everything had been handed to me as a kid. The lines around my eyes meant my youth was passing me by. If I cried myself to sleep it took hours and expensive eye creams to look presentable in the morning, not just a cold shower. I never wanted to be Pretty Kelly. But all of a sudden I realized that she was fading like it or not. And I had nothing waiting in the wings.
My twenties were a blur. I was up and then down. I got “help” along the way from counselors and “groups” and books. I had a partner in crime. He was in so many ways just like me. His own worst enemy. You can’t fail if you never try. I looked to him in moments of weakness, but even then I knew he was just as broken as I was. I battled my own depression, I manifested sadness, drug problems, a bad marriage… all to give me something to overcome. Something to lend “character” to Perfect Kelly. Something to give me an identity I had earned. And identity deeper than great genetics.
(Sitting here now, re-reading what I have written, there is so much left out… but I am not sure how to wrap it all up in a bow. Writing this all down here… knowing anyone might read it is like masturbating on stage. If the point if to only make yourself feel good, than why do it in front of anyone? I don’t have an answer to that….)
Until I got pregnant. I was twenty-nine years old and it was finally not an embarassing thing to admit that all I ever really wanted was a family. I wanted to be a Mom and a Wife. A good one. That’s all. Not necessarily a “Stay At Home Mom” just a Mom. You’re not allowed to be from Fairfax County and graduate at the top of your class and have no “ambition.” Not in theory, anyway. I hated myself for not wanting more than that.
But now I am a Mom. I still struggle with my body. But at least the human being that I grew in there can be “blamed” for the less than flat stomach. I struggle with aging, daily. Because Pretty Kelly is on her way out. And like it or not I can already see that Mom Kelly is not a hat I can wear forever, either. But I figure I have a good fifteen more years to figure out who I will be after that. More if I can manage to get this imperfect body to design another perfect child. A lot hasn’t really changed at all. But I am not ashamed of it anymore.
I’m a Mom. And that isn’t all I wanted to be. I also wanted to be a Wife. And soon I will be that, too. As MQD and I plan a wedding it has been very hard for me to admit that I have dreamed of this moment all of my life. And not the way girls dream of being a Princess at their own wedding. I dreamed of the moment someone would look at me and see a woman that was not Perfect. Not on the outside. Not on the inside. But a moment someone would say “I pick you to be my Family.”
It is impossible to talk about this part without acknowledging that I have done this once before. The Family I created with Jer wasn’t the one that was meant for me. I desperately tried to fit my very, very round and average peg in to his square hole. He is a Wanderer, a Dreamer, he is spontaneous and free. I don’t begrudge Jer for not wanting the same things. In many ways I think I picked him because I knew it would always be an uphill battle to build a Norman Rockwell life with him. And I just didn’t want another thing in my life to be easy.
And now here I am on the precipice of the “Life” I wanted. I make dinner and we eat at 6:30. We play outside. We have great friends and most of the time my kid asks to be excused after we eat. We have a nice home even though we don’t have a lot of extra cash to make it such. I made curtains for every single window in our house within ten days of moving in here. I pick up the living room really quickly before Mike gets home from work because it makes me feel good. And I am not ashamed that this is “all” I wanted. Because it is so much…. it is so very much.
All the “opportunities” I was afforded made me ashamed to want something so simple. Or so I thought. But all you have to do is read a newspaper or watch the news for five minutes to be reminded that the American family is a far from simple accomplishment. I fight the urge even right now to say that what I want is a Perfect Family. Because I know there is no such thing. I just wanted to be a Mom. And a Wife. Not a perfect one. But the best one I can be….
So I get up every day and I forgive myself for my failures. And I try again. And at the end of every day two people that I love so very much say “I love you, too.” And that is enough. It is so much more than enough.