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?