When I was in elementary school I was enrolled in a program called TAG. It was a program for “gifted” (yeah, right) kids who needed a bit more intellectual stimulation to nurture them. For the first couple of years it was cool; TAG was fun. We did lots of puzzles, logic games, stock market games, brain teasers and the like. By the time I got to middle school TAG was a drag. I was being pulled out of my classes to go, and the activities weren’t really entertaining anymore. They felt more like work.
The big kicker, though, was that being in TAG in middle school made me different; it put me firmly in the “nerd” social caste, which was akin to being untouchable unless someone wanted to copy your homework.
I enjoyed writing even back then. So, I wrote a pretty passive-aggressive play for the fall festival. It was all about how TAG had become socially stigmatizing for me, how I hated it, and that I really didn’t want to go anymore.
My TAG teacher was basically like, “Oh, ok….sooooo, you want us to perform *this* play at the fall festival?”
In hindsight, I’m guessing that she probably called my parents to give them a heads up that I was using my “talent” to say “Screw this program, I’m dunzo!”
My parents sat and watched the play that fall night, and we drove home in near silence. I don’t know if they were embarrassed or proud or what they were feeling, but I distinctly remember the energy in the car being kind of thick. Frankly, I’d gone through all of the trouble of writing a play, convincing my teacher that I wanted to do it and dragging some classmates into the performance—I wanted a response dang it.
I got one.
Eventually Dad said something like, “Sooooo, you don’t want to go to TAG anymore? You could have just said so. You don’t have to go anymore.”
And that was the end of TAG.
Looking back all those years, I don’t know why I couldn’t just tell my folks I wanted to quit the program. I just remember that talking to them didn’t even really seem like a viable option to getting to my desired goal.
I also don’t remember considering whether they might be embarrassed by my elaborate “messaging.” In many ways we’re a down to earth family, but I’ve always, always felt like we were concerned with our image. Or maybe it was really just me. My family was very involved in church; I always felt like I needed to behave in a way that would honor their positions for fear someone might see me acting out. I don’t know if that was me or if it really was a family thing, but it was an enormous amount of pressure I put on myself way back when, at such a young age. Ironically, I would never have dreamed of doing that kind of play at our church; gosh, parishioners would have talked about me forever. We couldn’t have them saying bad things about me. Nope.
I’ve carried that pressure to perform with me always, so it’s probably more internally driven, I guess. Achievement means a lot to me; a lot a lot. I have failed, but I’ve succeeded more than I’ve failed—which in hindsight is probably a bad thing.
I live in an area of the US where status is a cultural touchstone. We meet someone new, learn their name and ask what they do for a living. Sure we may be genuinely interested, but many also do some social sorting based on the response.
It’s a rat race of keeping up, at least for me, it’s always been that way. I guess it is hard wired as I describe it here.
So, as a new mom, this image conscious, high achieving, control freak has met her match, and I. Am. Losing.
I can’t even say I fear failure anymore because me and failure are like…BFFs now. Probably not, but it feels like it so it might as well be so.
Every one of my magical super powers of problem solving, Olivia Pope-fixing, being a total badass with a sterling reputation that I prided myself in have all come crashing down like a mirror around me. And I’m sure there’s a black cat somewhere lurking about (no offense to black cats…).
I have internalized the need to “fix” Hope, to be validated as a mom by the people who mean the most to me, to want to feel like I am totally winning at life. And well, I might not be able to do those things and that reality is settling over me such that I seem like a shadow of my former self.
The one thing I want to do the most, help Hope, seems to be the one thing I can’t do. Now intellectually I know that this is a long haul process, and that in the cosmic scheme of things, we *are* winning, but it doesn’t feel like it. And intellectually I know how this is all supposed to work, but see…my imagined reality is soooooo off, it’s not even funny.
I am not ashamed of my little family, on the contrary, I’m so proud of me and Hope and our naughty pup, Yappy, but our success is so radically different than how I saw and defined success before. It’s different than how my social and professional circles defined success. It’s like I tripped and fell into an alternative universe.
I’m on Star Trek, and well…I never really was into Star Trek.
It’s so different and hard to describe and explain that it’s easier to be somewhat self-isolating rather than to try to build bridges back to my pre-mom life.
Right now, I can’t keep up with the Jones’ of my pre-mom life, and so I feel like I’m slowly drifting away from so many of those connections. I am so insecure about how my new brand of success will be viewed. It’s awful, and it’s really not fair. It feels so very shallow because I am giving up on relationships, things, people that were once important to me because I can’t fix my mouth to just explain that my life is so different now, and I need people, I need emotional connections, I need reassurance, I need to get my cup filled. I’m guessing it’s probably offensive to my dear friends because I have convinced myself that they just won’t understand.
Oh, look there’s that self-loathing again!
I’m going through a lot of mental and social gymnastics rather than just calling up pals and saying,
“Hey, how are you? I miss you. My life is so different now,
you really cannot imagine,
no, really, you have NO EFFIN IDEA!
I don’t want to bore you to tears with the ups and downs
(besides I might breakdown in tears, snot and whatnot),
but there are massive ups and downs and some days it’s just soul crushing,
mind-erasing, and earth shattering in good and bad ways,
and I don’t feel like I can talk about it because so many folks
(but not everyone) assume it’s just “Add Water and Stir.”
I could really use a bourbon; don’t you want a bourbon too?
Can we grab a drink and catch up?
Yeah, I’ll bring Hope next time, but right now,
I just need some grown folks’ time to hang out like we used to…”
Instead, I’m writing 1300 word essays that echo a “quit” play I wrote in 6th grade.
At least I’m consistent, right? Consistency is supposed to be good for parenting…Ha!
Local peeps…if you’re reading, get at ya girl because I’m not sure I can break out of my rut to reach out first.
November 19th, 2015 at 4:58 pm
I want so much to respond to this post with the right encouraging words because I really understand it and I believe your friends, or at least most of them will get it and will reach out. Have faith in them, they weren’t your friend because of social statusy stuff, they were your friend because they liked you. It probably had something to do with being gutsy, smart, articulate and interesting. Just a guess. Anyway, good for you!! great post!!!!
November 19th, 2015 at 5:26 pm
In my eyes you are doing everything right, including showing your vulnerable side to Hope. After hearing Hope on the interview that feeling was confirmed. Just like you felt with growing up – that mirrors what it feels like being adopted. Hoping better days ahead…
November 20th, 2015 at 6:14 am
You have reached out first, in your way with your post.
Let’s hope your friends read it and call you and lend you a supportive ear, a night out with the girls, or what ever you need right now.
Know you are doing a great job and success is measured in the smallest of steps in this journey.
Thinking of you both.
November 20th, 2015 at 8:45 am
Wow…good post. I totally relate. My circumstances are different, but I am so you on the inside. That internal pressure to always get the “A”, to never let anyone down, to never ask for help, to always be there for others.
And now, at age 64, I have run into a hard place. I’ve shattered into a million pieces. I can’t help myself, let alone anyone else. My friends who I thought would be all judgey have been phenomenal. It took a lot of courage and a tremendous amount of humility to reach out to them and let them know I needed help. And they responded far beyond what I had any idea.
I was so surprised to find that they wanted to help, that they liked me for me. Even people I hardly know have reached out, once they heard.
Great post…so articulate, so incredibly self reflective. If I lived in your area, we would definitely be having a bourbon together, talking adult talk. 🙂
November 20th, 2015 at 9:34 am
Name the winery and let’s meet up.
November 20th, 2015 at 9:36 am
Omg, totally forgot you were local. Isn’t there one near Fburg?
November 20th, 2015 at 9:41 am
I’ll DM you.
November 21st, 2015 at 3:00 pm
Tripped and fell into an alternative universe – yes, that’s it exactly!
May 11th, 2018 at 3:43 pm
This really resonated with me – it’s so surreal, isn’t it? And it’s so weird to feel like you can’t even explain/describe it to others.