When Phil drives Emma home from gymnastics, she tells him stuff. Stuff she would never tell me. I can’t imagine why. Phil thinks it’s because I tend to overreact. “WHAT THE F***K ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT!?” is my response to that.
Over turkey sandwiches later that night, Phil gave me a debriefing on their post-gymnastics car ride.
Apparently, before they even left the parking lot, Emma blurted out: “Everyone says I am weird.”
Phil countered: “Everyone?”
“Well, no, but lots of kids.”
“Do you think they mean funny?”
“What do you think weird means?”
“I don’t really know.”
“When do you they call you weird?”
“When I am talking. I talk a lot.” (she really does)
“Well, I think being weird is good, as long as you are just being yourself.”
“But DAD! What does that even MEAN?”
With a mouth full of turkey, Phil admitted her question had left him stumped: “I didn’t know what to say! How do you explain ‘being yourself’?”
I needed some background before weighing in. “Well, first off, who
do I need to throttle is calling her weird?? That’s just ridiculous. She’s not weird!”
Phil paused mid-bite and gave me a little smirk.
“What?? She’s NOT!”
His eyebrow curled up like a caterpillar: “Her incessant discussions about the Titanic? Her obsession with Squanto? Her yearly membership to PETA Kids?”
“Ok. So she’s a little weird. But whatever, weird is better than boring.”
“Exactly what I said when I started dating you,” Phil said with a wink as he polished off the last bit of his sandwich.
“Just” be yourself. For Phil, I think it really is as effortless as he makes it sound. HE DOES NOT CARE WHAT PEOPLE THINK. NOT EVEN A LITTLE BIT. This fact is evidenced by his Christmas list::
- Large Oar
I am pretty sure Phoebe is destined to follow in his foot steps, considering she shouts: “MY POOP SMEELS LIKE DUNKIN DONUTS!” every time we use a public restroom.
I have FINALLY reached the point in my life where I don’t waste much energy worrying about what other people think. But for a long time, I cared. I cared a lot.
And clearly, so does Emma. Which is why she brought it up. I couldn’t just dismiss it with a wave of the hand and some breezy platitude. I needed something substantial.
Laying in bed that night, I pondered the question: What does it mean to “Just Be Yourself?”
Emma finally came to me the next morning before school: “Dad told me to be myself, but I don’t know what that means. How do I know if I am being myself? I mean, I have only known myself for 6 years.’
“What were you guys talking about before Dad told you to “just be yourself?”
“Well…a girl at gymnastics said I am weird.”
“Everyone is weird, most people just don’t admit it. What were you doing right before she called you weird?”
“I was talking about the Titanic.” (I KNEW IT!)
“Because you find the Titanic interesting, right?”
“Yes! Did you know they sent out an SOS but the closest ship had turned off the radio for the night? And who was in charge of counting those life boats?
I knew where this conversation was going. We were about two seconds away from a filibuster on how an iceberg is formed. And we still had to pack lunch and find a field trip permission slip.
“You know what Buddy, this is a good question. I am going to have to give it some thought before answering.”
She appeared relieved that I understood the gravity of this situation. “Yeah, good idea. Maybe you should call Mrs. Feeney and see what she thinks.”
Ahh, the faith my child has in me.
I have yet to call Mrs. Feeney, but I did dig in to the works of everyone from Joseph Campbell to The Cat in the Hat. I found a lot of great stuff, but was having a hard time packaging these words of wisdom into something a 1st grader could grasp. Even I had to admit that my comparison of a Nietzsche quote to a Hello Kitty jigsaw puzzle made no freaking sense. I decided to focus on the things that have actually helped ME to “just be myself.”
To Emma, On How to Be Yourself
- Some Will, Some Won’t, So What, Move On: Not everyone you meet is going to like you. “But why?” you might ask. And to that I say: “Who cares”? Seriously. WHO CARES? Some may love you, others may admire you, and a handful might flat out dislike you. Either way, it is their choice. Trying to change what others think is a waste of time.
- Do What Makes You Feel Alive: Pay attention to the sense of connection that comes with doing the things that make you feel alive. The things that make you feel free: riding your bike down a hill, creating art, swinging really high at an empty park while singing Total Eclipse of the Heart. The things that give you joy. Do those things as much as possible. Maybe even before you do your homework.
- Be Here Now: It’s really hard to be yourself when half of you is somewhere else. I feel most like “myself” when I am in the moment. This is why I love yoga. This morning in pigeon pose, even with salty sweat dripping off my forehead, I felt beautiful. Because there I was: tight, open, strong, shaky…the whole enchilada. Perfectly imperfect. Be ok with who you are right in this moment….reading your Titanic books in the middle of the yard in December.Because that is being yourself. Wonderfully weird. Perfectly, imperfectly you.