Grab a cuppa and a comfy seat, and let’s chat a while.
It’s Monday again – time for Coffee and Conversation.
When I was six, my familywas driving on a highway late at night. Streaks of headlights and taillights painted the dark. For the first time, I realized that each car held people living lives as important to them as mine was to me.
I wanted to know what those lives were, and to share my own…
I always love Claudia – but this photo struck a nerve.
I know what it is to fish for compliments. I can still remember the day I learned that phrase. I was thirteen years old.
I had recently begun developing an embarrassing case of acne, and I was plagued by typical teenage self-consciousness as I entered the awkwardness of early adolescence.
When I was younger, she had once complimented my “peaches and cream” complexion. Thinking of the spreading rash of pimples, I asked her, “Mom, do I have a peaches and cream complexion?”
She turned from the stove and scowled at me. “Don’t go fishing for compliments. What are you, conceited? Wait for someone to give you one.”
I didn’t know what exactly I’d done to make her angry, and I knew better than to ask, because that might be seen as “talking back”. I bit my lip and tried to keep the tears from gathering in my eyes.
Conceit hadn’t motivated my question. Uncertainty had.
That’s natural at times of rapid change. My own body and mind seemed suddenly strange, and I wasn’t sure who I was anymore. I was, at once, excited at growing up, and trying to cling to the younger girl who didn’t worry about so much, and whose skin had not turned traitor.
And there was also the uncertainty of living with my mother, who was fond of assigning nicknames, particularly to me.
It seems sweet – but most of the nicknames pointed out what my mother saw as my flaws. I was more a bookworm than an athlete, and I tended, as now, toward a state of dishevelment. One of the less embarrassing nicknames I garnered was “Physical Wreck”, which had the effect of making me painfully aware of every clumsy motion, every tangle in my extremely long, thick, wild hair….
And every newly erupting skin blemish, too.
The truth is that I fished for compliments not out of vanity, but out of a need to feel my mother’s positive regard. My questions, really, were, “Mom, do you still love me? Am I worth something to you? Is there something wrong with me? Am I a freak?”
These questions are ones I hope my own children know the answer to, because I compliment them, frequently and sincerely, and because I make expressing my love and regard many times each day, and in many ways, a major purpose of my life.
My guess is that, when my mother was a young girl on the cusp of adulthood, she was told something similar to what she said to me. I don’t think she meant to hurt me with her words, or even the nicknames. As she often told me, my childhood was far kinder and gentler than hers.
And yet, at 44 – long past childhood, and far less concerned with others’ assessments of my appearance – I still remember the sting of her words, and of the tears at the back of my throat. I was searching for acceptance and reassurance, and I was told that I was wrong to do so.
I have a daughter. She is nine and a half, and she looks a lot like her grandmother. I find her enchanting and lovely (and I accept that I am biased). She’s bright and exuberant, physical in a way I’ve never been, and she is confident in herself, her appearance, and her place in my heart.
She’s blossoming early, this girl of mine. It’s awkward, for her, to have a body poised for puberty while her interests and experiences are more in line with her actual age. Sometimes, she needs reassuring that the moments of clumsiness, self-doubt, sadness she can’t explain, loose teeth, occasional pimples, and the like, are not Who She Is.
That it’s okay to think she is beautiful, and also okay to think she’s not. That, either way, she is far, far more than how she looks, or her stage of growth.
I never want her to feel badly when she needs this reassurance. I will not call it fishing for compliments; I will see it as a sign that I need to spend more time and attention on her, so that she knows she matters, and that she’s enough, just as she is.
And when I see her eyes return to dancing, hear the song in her voice,see the joy in her steps, and the uninhibited way she enjoys her life, I will imagine that I am also giving that to myself, when I was young, and to the girl my mother was, too.
Oh, and Claudia? You are both lovely, and an awesome angler! =)
Do you give compliments? Wish you got more? Need one? I’ll replenish your cuppa and say something nice; let’s converse! =)
You can find more Claudia (and critters in hats, too!) at Julie’s Etsy shop!