Long ago, I was her

Image courtesy of Microsoft Image
Image courtesy of Microsoft Office

One of the perks of homeschooling is the world is our classroom. Or, sometimes it’s the McDonald’s around the corner. With 3 class periods down, I needed a soda and A wanted fries, so she packed up her Marine Biology books, I packed up my laptop, “dressed” Keebler in his service jacket, and we headed off to the Golden Arches. We didn’t realize the local high schools let out for lunch at 10:45 before we walked into a swarm of teens.

Despite A’s attendance at the popular  “one day school” (offered through our public schools), I haven’t sat and simply observed the behavior of teens (in groups) since….well, maybe my own days in high school. But back then, I wasn’t observing, I was surviving.

I glanced from one table to the next; cliques were clearly defined. There were the obvious jocks and the popular girls who monopolized the bar-seating and largest booths; next, three boys, maybe band members, came in, consumed their food quickly, and left without notice; there were miscellaneous sets of friends, some ate in the restaurant, some didn’t. But, there was one group in particular that caught my eye, only partially because they sat in front of me.

Three girls and one boy slid into the booth across from our table and directly in my line of sight. Initially, I tried to look anywhere but at them; I didn’t want to be that weird, old lady.  That proved awkward and impossible, especially as I started to notice recognizable behaviors I hadn’t seen since…well, my own behavior as a teen.

In high school I worried. A lot. Too much. Perfectionism was a demon I shared company with 24/7. I can still remember the day my Chemistry (and favorite) teacher called me out. I walked into class and, after darting in and out of the rain all day, my hair was frizzy and the lower 1/3 of my pants soaked. Mr. Degnan stopped dead in his tracks, looked at me, and began laughing. He explained that day after day I walked into his class with my hair perfectly coiffed and my clothes just right but, on that particular day, I looked like a drowned rat. His words, not mine. (And, at 15, I was certain I always fell short of any measure of perfection.)

He also told me I looked human, and human was a good look on me.

Obviously, his words struck a deep chord. Sadly, years passed before I embraced the message.

As I watched the teens in front of me, there was one in particular that made my heart ache. The redhead. She openly checked her look in her hand mirror. She fussed with her clothes and shoes. She played with and fixed her hair several times. She laughed a bit too loud. She fretted when ketchup splattered on her boots. She looked to her friends for approval when she threw a biting comment at the boy. She fussed some more. From my vantage, I recognized the insecurity, the desire to fit in and be seen without really being seen, the fear of rejection.  And, from my vantage point, I travelled back in time 35 years, to the young girl who once struggled to accept herself.

Sitting there, I wrote the post where I confessed I ate an entire bag of yummy chips, by myself, while reading blogs. At one point in life, this admission would have embarrassed me. Today, not so much. As a teen, I worried about having the right friends, hair, make-up, and clothes in high school. Later, as a fresh graduate climbing the corporate ladder, I worried about the car I drove and the title bestowed upon me by my boss. When I had my first child, I worried about …you name it…that was a long list!

But, with 50 just on the other side of tonight’s moon, those worries have fallen away. That’s one of the beautiful blessings of getting older; the list of things you fret over shortens and self-acceptance grows. At least it has for me.

As the teens slowly shuffled out the doors, I stood to refill my soda and thought about the freedoms that come with aging. I started a list:

  • I no longer worry about having the “right friends” or lots of them; I care about having good friends and, more importantly, being a good friend.
  • I no longer worry about “being cool” or “accepted”; I care about being authentic.
  • I no longer worry about having the largest bank balance; I care about being generous with what I’ve been given.
  • I no longer worry about having the biggest house; I care about creating a home.
  • I no longer worry about a number on the scale; I care about being healthy.
  • I no longer worry about earning a title; I care about using my talents well.
  • I no longer worry about the wrinkles around my eyes or the pimples that still appear on my chin; I care about sharing my smile.
  • I no longer worry about the approval of others; I care about following my heart.
  • I no longer worry about saying “no”; I care about saying “yes” to me, my family, the people I love.
  • I no longer worry about the grey in my hair; I care about finding the right shade of red. (What? I started going grey in my early 20’s…this is progress.)

Undoubtedly, this list will grow as I age. Quite frankly, I’m looking forward to it.  As I write this, I can’t help but think about the girl in McDonald’s. Long ago, I was her, so desperate to fit in and be accepted. Growing into one’s skin and embracing the authentic self is a lifelong process–one that is not always easy.

On the eve of my 50th birthday, I celebrate the liberation that comes with age, which is the best gift of all.

What gifts have you opened as you’ve aged?

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31 thoughts on “Long ago, I was her”

  1. Wow! I’ve often said I wouldn’t go back to my high school years if I were paid. I wasn’t big on being popular but I was very big about my little circle of friends that I’d had since high school. Now, that’s not to say I didn’t fuss over my looks because I did. Anyway, I always felt that my little quirky quick-witted group was enough but, when they started doing things to fit in with other crowds, I realized that we weren’t enough…for them. Typing these words, I realize this still bothers me as an adult. Thanks…something else to ponder.

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    1. Thanks for sharing, Sabrina. I was blessed by a group of dear friends that accepted me and helped me weather the high school years. I am so grateful for their individual presence in my life back them, and many of them are still involved in my life. But, sitting in McDonald’s last week reminded me of who I was, who I am, and who I want to be.

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  2. As someone whose 50th is lurking just after the new year, this list gives me hope. The herds of teens…it’s lovely to be beyond those days, god knows. Although yes, the search for hair dye does take up a great deal of time.

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    1. Hair dye–a great deal of time and risk. I’ve had the Lucille Ball results with an “Oh my gosh, what have I done?” wave of nausea hit. Then, I remember I can just buy another box because I’m not as broke as a young teen. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by and sharing, Deborah. And, enjoy the ride to 50 and beyond!

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  3. Mary -thank you for sharing this authentic and insightful post! I remember those days as well. I love how poetically you listed the things that are true for you. I’m on the other side of 50 and I strive to “no longer worry” about the things you’ve list as well, some days it’s better than others! Happy 50th Birthday dear friend Mary — I’m so glad our paths crossed at MCI way back then, when we were just cutting our teeth in the corporate world – you are a treasured friend and I love you! May you be showered and blessed with continue love, health and happiness! You are a gem Mary!

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    1. Penny, the tears that fill my eyes make it difficult for me to write. However, my heart if filled with gratitude for our 20+ year friendship, for your words, but above all, for the light you bring to this world. Love you!

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    1. I think it’s, in no small way, the honesty we learn to share as women that helps us leave the insecurities of youth behind. I wouldn’t go back to those years for all the lip gloss at the mall! And, I am glad to be a part of the club with you. You make 50 look good!

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  4. Okay Mary, ALL of my girls are going to read this. I could not have written it better – thanks for sharing in a way that speaks to both young and old. Priceless – just like you. ♥

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  5. I think we were all “that” girl. This is such a great post, and it’s too bad it takes us all so long to learn the lessons on your list. Happy almost birthday, my friend. I know this is going to be a fantastic year for you!

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    1. Maren, you are one of the brightest and best lights in this world. The way you touch the hearts of young people who are at this very stage in life is a gift beyond words. The mark you make will last lifetimes. I’m honored to know you.

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  6. Mary~
    Your list is wonderful. In a poetic format, you describe acceptance, not just of yourself, but of life. For some reason so many of us, during those crueling teenage years, waste so much time on searching for acceptance, only to find decades later that it was lying dormant within us all the while. It reminds me of Sleeping Beauty, only with us it is age that kisses us, and truly wakes us up. Welcome to the “wonder years”, Kiddo! It’s been absolutely amazing; I hope you will feel the same!

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  7. Absolutely gorgeous post Mary. The majority of women I know, self included, struggled with self-acceptance. I really like the way you closed with your freedom list too–so liberating.

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  8. Can I just say that I was that girl??? I can identify with everything you wrote. I am on the other side of 50 (3 years) and I agree!!! It took me a long time to like myself but I finally really do. I like who God made me. I have a big heart, am compassionate and kind and believe that all people have some good in them someplace. I have let go of those insecurities, like you, and embrace being who I am. It is very liberating and that is such a great word. The best is just around the corner for you—I have no doubt!!! Thanks for writing such a great post today!! I love it because it resonates with me. Happy Birthday! Welcome to the best time of your life!

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    1. Beth Ann, “thank you” seems to simplistic to express how your words just made my heart swell. I love how your described WHO you are. And, I agree, I believe all people have some good in them. Sadly, I think it is the insecurities we all feel that cause (anyone of) us to snap and bite in unkind ways.

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      1. Insecurities are indeed still there and yes—I they can make a person “mean” at times. But hopefully lee are all on the journey to feeling a bit better about ourselves!!! hugs.

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