January 9, 2008

Peeling off the shell

You remember learning about all those various bugs and crustaceans who carry their skeletons around on their backs? Spineless little creatures they are. I begin to think that I was brought up to have an exoskeleton. Lest you start commenting on the state of my skin and start offering moisturizers let me explain. You might say I had a pretty successful college career. Scholarship girl, super high GPA, summa cum laude graduate with a paid ride to grad school, and one of the darlings of my academic department. On top of that I was homeschooled, and we all know that homeschoolers are some of the most intensely self motivated people on the planet. I would have told you that myself. Despite what you might have heard to the contrary I was a fairly decent kid as well. In other words, by appearances I wasn't much of a slouch. However, I've come to see that appearances can really, really, sucker-bet you lie. You must understand that I bought into a lot of that description. I tended to credit my professor's creative powers when I read their recommendations (although I might add that my friends didn't), but overall I would have accepted that general picture of myself. Looking back though I see that I really had very little positive momentum. I didn't have to. Everyone else was pushing me along. Grades, chores, and even acceptance where all rigidly enforced. My single B became an echoing example of what might happen if I ever let my guard down again (or took a class somewhat over my head). I worked hard not because A's were a goal so much as an absolute necessity. I did my chores so that I might say (if even to myself) I wasn't a complete dead weight on the family -that I did in a way earn some place there. Acceptance? Toe the line or else kid. Keep your mouth shut, your head down, and get by as best you can. Fear, guilt, and the necessity of success where primary motivators during that time. The thing about them though was that although they provoked action they didn't create momentum. When you're motivated by fear you stop when a. you've met the bare requirements to appease or b. you come to a point where the effort to appease isn't worth it anymore and you resign yourself to living with wrath and failure. Guilt works about the same way. If you can never get enough done to assuage the guilt then you might as well save yourself the effort. The necessity of success is rather more nuanced I believe, but it's still confining and debilitating.
The point I wish to make here is that I had so much pressure holding me up and pushing me forward that my reaction (especially with regard to fear and guilt as motivators) was resist the pressure and hang back against it in effort to make a breathing space. My movement might have been forward, but much of momentum was zero or negative. Here's another image for you. Imagine a a thin paperback or a children's Golden Book held up between two larger books. It's secure, stable, and upright. Now imagine taking those supporting books away. It's probably going to flop over. Now think about me. All my life hedged about by pressures and necessities. All of a sudden (thank God for Allen) they go away. Oh I hear echoes of them, but the pressures aren't physically, daily, in my face running my life. In fact the opposite is occurring. Without the accustomed pressure though I flop over and end up kicking my legs in the air trying to get upright again. However, my hard exoskeleton of relentless achievement and parental demands isn't there to hold me up in my accustomed position. So I fall down again. By this time Allen is really confused, and I'm not exactly understanding this myself. And we do that for a few dozen weeks until the lights blink back on, and we can see the bits of my discarded shell scattered around the living room. All this to say -Mom's please give your children backbones instead of shells. All my life I never really had to develop the basic backbone that lets a girl decide when's a good time to go to bed. All this was decided for me. My grades, my temperament (selfish they said), my profession, my fitness as a wife and mother, my ability to cook, and even how much of my money I could/should spend on my own wedding dress were all largely predetermined and dictated to me in words if not in actions. Having broken out of a lot of that I realize that even if I do have a leg to stand on there's not much in the way of skeleton holding that leg up. It's getting better though. I'm just going to have to be patient while I wait for my new spine to grow in and make sure not to confuse limping on crutches for running on whole legs.

I do wonder though. Where would I be today and what would my past look like if I'd been taught to run like a woman instead of crawl like a spider. Moms out there. Seriously. Teach your children to run.

No comments: