Thursday, January 12, 2017

Pretend Perfection

It is frighteningly awakening; to suddenly be aware of how your life can change in a matter of moments. Seconds, really. One moment, you are healthy, and the next, you are on your way to have surgery on a tumor you didn't even know you had. One second, it's a normal Christmas morning, and the next, you're scrambling around the kitchen because your Grandmother was always the entertainer during the holidays but this year, she isn't well.

One evening, you waltz out the door for a movie with a guy you recently reconnected with after five years and return home a girlfriend. His girlfriend.

It's a long story really. Those who remember our history completely understand, and those who don't probably never will. Honestly, the two of us can't really believe it either.

Suddenly I found myself post-surgery, cleared for a trip to Nashville on the condition that I wouldn't partake in any strenuous activity for about 10 days. Nashville; a far cry from my original plans but not at all disappointing, complete with the city atmosphere I required and an artistic community that I preferred. A baby New York City in its simplest form, and I had found my future home; one I never would have considered a week prior to my visit.

Sounds romantic, to say the least, so it was time to think logically. But jobs were wide open, salaries were appealing, and living situations had ten times the amount of options I had been previously considering. All roads essentially led to Nashville. God truly works in mysterious ways, and I am so thankful I was listening.

So there I was, in route of boarding a flight to Nashville, when I noticed her: a little four-year-old girl in a costume dress made like Princess Sofia, complete with a plastic tiara and purple dress-up shoes; likely the only way the poor mother could get the girl out of the house that morning.

"These kids better not make noise on this flight," I overheard the male voice from the row behind the little girl. I'm certain the mother heard it, too. I turned to face the overwhelmed momma who was balancing a baby on her hip while she instructed her pre-school daughter on proper flight etiquette. The baby wailed. The mother sighed. The men in front of me groaned. Loudly. The mother looked frustrated. The little girl looked sorry. 

A girl never has to be very mature to learn when she is being an inconvenience.

The little girl stood up, attempting to get out of a man's way (as many girls quickly learn to do), and her little bag spilled out all over the aisle. Picture books, colored pencils, and the girl's Barbie doll scattered across the row. Everyone in the immediate area moaned with annoyance.

The little girl looked up slowly, her lip quivering ever-so-slightly. Oh no, I told myself, I've seen that look before. And I had, though more often than not, I was the one living it rather than interpreting it. The growing burn in her throat coupled with damp, stinging eyes was all too familiar to me; a sign of weakness triggered by the rotten emptiness of inadequacy. After all, her mother was clearly counting on her to be a grown up today, and she was miserably failing.

It wasn't a moment later that another male thirty-something came crusading down the aisle, knocking the poor girl off her feet as she tried to gather the lost materials. As if watching the man's accidental push wasn't enough, the little girl's crown clattered on the floor of the aisle and the first tear was shed; a hopeful princess losing her crown due to her own disappointing failure.

No one even looked up to help. In fact, everyone seemed to turn away, as if ignoring it was the answer and oblivion would make it go away.

I couldn't take it anymore. Two steps behind the little girl, I dropped to my knees.

"Your Highness!" I exclaimed, "Be careful! You almost lost your crown."

The little girl was surprised. Her mother was touched. Those selfish men behind them were stunned.

"Thank you," the little girl practically whispered as she had likely been taught to do. I placed the little tiara back on her head.

"Of course," I told her, "Being a princess is hard sometimes!"

I kept walking, but I was likely impacted more than the little girl or her mother. There is a theme to every fairytale story; a dreaded point in the plot line where the Princess genuinely wishes she wasn't royalty. When she doubts that she's doing a good job, making a difference, or will ever be loved the way all the stories tell her she should be.

Being a girl in today's society is truly no different.

I would've been honored to be a member of that little girl's kingdom. Despite her youth, her innocence, and her incapabilities, she was doing exactly as she had been told. She was following directions; being quiet. Being polite. Being good. Trying her best to stay out of the way. It was not her fault that the odds were against her, as they are against all of us sometimes.

I can't help but notice that we should have more realistic expectations of people. The way people are asked to look, the way they are required to act, and the things they are expected to accomplish are not always possible, and may not be done exactly the same way you would do them. And that's okay. For whatever reason, it is generally acceptable for us to tear each other apart with the idea that we have to fit a standard model; that our thoughts and actions and opinions are to be executed and received in one way; specifically our way.

How selfish. Why are earth are we more concerned with pointing out everyone's struggles than we are recognizing things we do well? When I compliment a perfect stranger, they are stunned. Nine times out of ten, they look at me like I'm absolutely crazy, and I am no exception when I'm on the other end. I find myself fighting before receiving a compliment, rather than recognizing my worth and humbling myself to just say "thank you."

People often roll their eyes after they hear me say that we have just as much, if not more, to learn from children, but I see it every day. Our younger generations are losing confidence in themselves before they even have the capacity to gain it, and it is our fault. If we spent half as much time encouraging others as we do pretending to be perfect, we might all be a little stronger, and if our imperfections were recognized and accepted, would we still feel the need to pretend?

It isn't likely. Adults who doubt their own significance in the world are inevitably raising children who are unable to recognize their own. We cannot expect future generations to become more accepting if they are not shown how to do so, and it is our job: as parents, as educators, and as general role models, to be that confident example.

There is always a younger pair of feet dreaming of following in your footsteps. Make sure the life you are living is worth following.