It is not what you think
I attended a lovely women’s event yesterday with an interesting guest speaker, who talked about the stories we were told and learn to tell ourselves. It is so clear that we encode the stories we are told about our potential and purpose. Like so many women of my generation it was clear that I was supposed go to college to be a K – 12 teacher, stay close to home, get married and have children. Layer this with the obsession around being a “good girl” which included making my family happy, doing what we was told, and being a virgin when I get married, and the limits of the message come into focus.
My family loved me, but did not know what to do with a young girl with wings, with visions of a future that was the anthesis of their expectations. I would hear them discussing me, perhaps with the agenda of hoping I would hear their disapproving conversation and choose a different trajectory. Yes, I heard them, and no I did not change.
The path set out for me was clear, and everything I heard was an attempt to herd me into the corral they had built that day I was born. And my grandmother was the head of the pack. When I disappointed her, which occurred on a regular basis, my mother would tell me that I hated my family, say in a theatrical voice “I don’t like you right now,” turn on her heel and refuse to speak with me for a day or two or more. The saddest element in this interaction was that I rarely knew what I had actually done, hence all I learned was that I was not likable.
There was a litany of negative messages, from “you cold, unfeeling thing” when I did not want to hug everyone, to the plaintive plea “don’t be like that” on a regular basis, to the very odd “it’s too hard, don’t try” that my mother repeated at any challenge I faced. It still amazes me that I was at time in trouble for quietly reading a book. At times I still hear the echoes of these statements, that are more like short stories detailing my flaws and weaknesses.
But perhaps the tale that I resented the most, that one that was passed down from my grandmother, was the classic “and if it gives them pleasure?” asked in a dismissive or haughty or even plaintive tone of voice. It was clearly my job to make anyone and everyone else happy, regardless of my feelings. I watched my grandmother control my mother with this judgmental missive, and my mother, who resented being forced to serve others, attempted to control me in the same manner. What a family legacy, a story in which my desires, hopes, and fears do not matter. Only in the act of abandoning my true self do I have value.
None of these represent the story I have woven for myself. Now I understand that pushing against these expectations, messages and storylines helped me create and embody my life. Yes, other paths would have been easier, but they were not my path. Many of us need to walk into the forest where there is no trail, sail away from shore with only limited navigational devices, and build a life that veers from the predictable and into an eclectic adventure.