When I think back to my childhood, I often go through a quick mental Rolodex of half blurry images — carnival music, the ocean, playing with my cousin, grandma’s food, reading with my mom, my sister tugging on my sleeve. And then somehow, those memories creep into view. Kids laughing at me, a teacher’s stern reprimand, my best friend who no longer liked me. The pain is still real and my feelings are still raw, covered by a thin scab of time and pseudo-maturity.
I was a kid with an overactive, rich imagination. My parents were (are) decent, loving folk who praised me reasonably often. But that message didn’t reach my brain, which was like this constantly overzealous hamster — a hamster training for the wheely marathon.Till I was a little older and realized that I could transcribe these thoughts to paper, I struggled with 2 realities — the reality of the world and the reality that I was sure existed just under the surface. I imagined slights, analyzed micro-expressions (before I could even spell the word) and generally had my defenses up all the time. This is not to say that I was targeted or bullied. I was NOT. My peers at school were mostly decent, innocuous kids, blessed with social graces. They mostly liked me but were likely put off by how high maintenance I seemed. I needed constant reassurance that I hadn’t offended anyone, and that shtick gets tiresome for a bunch of 9-year-olds. Of course, there were some children who didn’t genuinely like me, and while adult me is ok with that, my 9-year-old self felt like I wasn’t good enough.
All this insecurity led me down the perfectionism road. I HAD to excel at everything. Failure wasn’t just not an option, it was also this cold voice who constantly goaded me into acting out with anger. And since I couldn’t possibly succeed at everything, I grew into this angry, sullen teen with polarizing emotions.
Over the years and with lots of therapy later ( both paid for and wisdom I’ve picked up here and there), I am a reasonably well-balanced adult. I’m moderately successful both in my chosen profession and in my Calling. But I still struggled to raise my kids without self-doubt. I wanted them to see me as imperfect and human, but somehow I forgot to let them make their own mistakes. I was always hovering, worrying and badgering them. “Don’t do that!” “Are you sure?” “Do you need me to help?”. I could see the confusion in their eyes — “Am I not good enough?” “ Why can’t I try it my way?”.
I was somehow taking these beautiful small humans and trying to make them perfect, little robots. I honestly didn’t know why? There was this deep fear of failure and now I was projecting that into my children’s lives, intensely buffering their actions, lest they fail and fall.
Sometime last year, I had finally had enough.I finally sat down and had a meeting with myself.With my inner child. That inner child was scared to see my children hurt. So, I reached inside and held that child. We wept together. We mourned the lost time and the life unlived. I hugged that little girl tight and promised to always love her, without her ever again asking me to. And when I left her finally at peace, I made a conscious choice to just….stop. Cease and desist. Abdicate and let things run their own course.It was just as simple (and as difficult )as that.
Nowadays, my life is a chaotic mess. Things get smashed easily, knees shiny with happy bruises and fingers messy with impromptu bake-offs.I still catch myself wanting to step in, to correct. But instead, I shut up, sit behind and laugh with my children. And inside me, the little girl laughs with abandon too.
|Photo by tam wai on Unsplash|