I look at my four year old and I see how strong he is and how smart he is. Looking at him, I see me. Messy curls, smart attitude, and strong temperament. Then I look at my thirteen year old and how fast he wants to grow up, how much more mature he is than his peers and how stubborn and headstrong he is and I still see me. I am amazed by my boys and I am scared. I also wonder, was my mother amazed and scared? Did she ever wonder how all these characteristics would benefit me and also put me at a disadvantage? Did she know that life would challenge me more than it has challenged my siblings? Did she know that despite everything I would endure? Did she know that I would struggle been being strong and being weak? How about that little girl that I was – my messy curls, my smart attitude, strong temperament, older than my years – did she know?
I just remember not relating to my peers because I was a lot more mature than most of them. I was more into books than being a little girl and when I was not in my books, I was a tomboy – climbing trees, playing with bugs and dirt, and beating up all the boys in the neighborhood. I was one tough little girl and I grew up into a strong woman. So yes, perhaps, my mother was amazed and scared. I think she was amazed and still is about how strong I was and still am. I think she was scared about what that meant and what it has meant throughout my life.
The little girl I was didn’t dream of finding Prince Charming. She dreamt of having it all – a successful career, a great husband and amazing kids. When I was a teenage girl, I thought I could and would have it all. As have I gotten older, I have realized that things aren’t as easy as they seem. Having all these things has a cost. My health has been compromised, my career hasn’t moved as fast as I thought it would, and I have learned that a successful marriage isn’t an easy thing. If I could describe my life in two words, it would be, “changed plans.”
I have spent so much of my life taking care of others and I have always said that I just wanted someone to take care of me. I was reminded recently that I had to be the kind of woman that would actually accept someone taking care of me and I don’t know how to be that woman. I have been so headstrong about taking care of myself, being independent, and taking care of others that I have never known what it means to be taken care of. It is something I need to change about myself but it involves admitting that it is okay not to be strong all the time. I struggle with the notion that I can be weak vs. strong.
My brother was diagnosed with cancer and passed away and I was determined to stay strong so that my mother and kids could lean on me. When my mother had her stroke, again, I was determined to stay strong for my children and for my mother. The last thing I wanted was anyone to see me fall apart. Life has thrown me some other obstacles in the past several years and I have remained strong – not because it was the answer, but because I was afraid to let anyone see me fall apart. Maybe I learned this from watching my own mother so I am afraid this is what my kids are learning from me.
That little girl I once was – could she have ever imagined this? Could she have ever predicted that life would throw her one curveball after another and that she would just learn to swerve? Did she ever realize that by her mid-30s, she would have endured more heartache than most? Or that life would challenge her and that despite the journey, she would still triumph? Did she know how strong she would need to be in order to get through life’s tests? Did she know that she would sometimes question why she was given so many challenges while other were given less or smaller challenges? Did she ever wonder that she would question so much, including her faith? Did she ever think that adulthood would be easy or did she prepare herself with her stubbornness and strong temperament? Maybe I have always been prepared – and maybe it just has taken me a long time to realize it.
I figure that little girl must have always known and I think that is the reason she was such a strong and feisty little girl. That is why she would grow up to be a teen that had dreams of being successful and that is why when she found no one to pick her up, she picked herself up when she was in her 20s. And even into her 30s, when life threw so many challenges her way.
I worry about my boys picking up on my strength, my fear of weakness, and sometimes my lack of emotion. People look at me and think that all these qualities are good. They might be but they also take a toll on you. I am trying to be different for the sake of my own sanity and so that I can deal with the challenges that lie ahead. Mostly, for my kids. For a long time, I thought that I had to fix others but now I know that I need to focus on fixing me first and that is what I am doing. The scary part is that doing this is forcing me to see a side of myself that I hate seeing – the part of me that can be weak. But I learned that in order to be strong, we should never be afraid to be weak – well I am learning, at least.