The timid five-year-old clung to her mother’s leg, anxiously surveying the playground. With white knuckles and a sweaty palm, she gripped the handle of her metal Strawberry Shortcake lunch pail. Her mother bent down, offered words of encouragement, and silently prayed that her daughter might finally find the courage to walk into kindergarten on her own. She gave her a gentle push and a kind smile, and watched her take those first tentative steps. She made it past the swing-set and paused, turning to make sure her mother was still there. She was. A few more steps were taken, with more assurance. And then, right by the see-saw, it happened. The latch on the lunch pail failed her. The contents tumbled out into the dirt. A sandwich, some grapes, and a cookie scattered around her. She looked down at the mess, turned around, and ran sobbing back to her mother.
“Perhaps tomorrow”, her mother thought, as she consoled her crying child and walked with her, hand-in-hand, into the classroom.
That shy and anxious little girl, clinging to her mom and terrified the other children would notice her clumsiness, was me. I wish I could say that it got better after kindergarten, but it did not. I was a perennial introvert. I was always a good student, never disrupting a lesson, teasing a classmate, or breaking the rules. However, I was also a near-invisible student, a wall-flower determined not to make waves or be noticed. So, whenever my young self was faced with the task of public speaking, I regressed to that same fearful kindergartner. I longed to hide, to somehow escape the horrific task before me, a task to be avoided at all costs. I imagined various scenarios that might permit me to avoid the speech, the play, the performance. I pretended to be sick. Sometimes I didn’t even have to pretend, as I truly became sick with worry.
Now, thirty-something years later and a much more practiced and comfortable public speaker, I have children of my own. My greatest wish for them is that they find joy, happiness, and confidence in their lives. And many times, I have desperately hoped that they are not plagued by the same insecurities I experienced as a child.
Thanks to a recent event, I’m now discovering that my oldest daughter may, in fact, have a courage and confidence that I never possessed at 11-years-old. I’m seeing her in a different light: Yes, she has some of my shyness and timidity, but it’s tempered with a self-assurance that is admirable.
What brought about this realization?
Student Council elections.
For years, she has asked me when she would be old enough to run the school Snack Shack. For years, she has talked about the day when she could finally be on the Student Council. That day is here. IF she runs. IF she makes her posters. IF she completes her speech in front of 87 other sixth graders. IF she gets elected…
As the prospect of elections became a reality, I once again found myself regressing to those same old insecurities. I recalled my own hesitancy to pursue a role in student government. Surely it’s just a popularity contest anyway, right? Won’t it just go to the prettiest girl and the most athletic boy? So, why even bother with fancy posters and an elaborate speech? Why bother at all? It’s better to feign disinterest, right?
I’m a mature, 30-something-year-old woman. So why are these old insecurities returning with such a vengeance?
That’s when I realized: I’m not worried that she’ll lose and be disappointed. I’m worried that in losing, she’ll discover some insecurities of her own. I’m worried that next time, she’ll have the “why bother” attitude of her mother.
I’ve tried to keep my mouth shut. As much as I have wanted to explain to her how sixth-grade popularity works, there’s no way I will be crushing her excitement. We did, however, talk about the “what ifs…” of losing and the disappointment she would feel.
“But mom, I would be even more disappointed in myself if I never tried!”
Yep, my daughter is my hero.
So, I helped her make some posters. I have watched her speech countless times. I’ve offered encouragement, advice, and praise. I’ve even contemplated buying votes with Zhu Zhu Pets, Airhead Extremes, and Silly Bandz. Then I remember that my daughter is my hero, and I aspire to be a better person, taking the high road of an honest election.
This week, as she walks up onto that stage, in front of that large crowd, I know she will be nervous. I know she will feel shy and timid and afraid and anxious. She may even feel a little bit sick and wish for some way out. She gets all of that from me. But she will also find a way to follow through. To get it done. To do her best. To fight for something she wants.
And that is something I hope to learn from her, my daughter, my hero.
As parents, we carry many of our own childhood insecurities with us throughout our lives. Do you make a purposeful effort to notice how your own insecurities play a role in your parenting? How do you set those insecurities aside in order to be the best possible parent?