I have twin eleven year olds. We are entering middle school next year, and yes I say “we” because I see it as a shift in all of our experience, individually and as a family. Admittedly I see this upcoming event as a shift because of my own experience in middle school – well, junior high then.
These were the years where I most clearly remember beginning to experiment with how I expressed myself explicitly to get different reactions from other people. It sounds so manipulative when I say it that way, and I guess it is, but I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only one. Okay, I’m more than pretty sure, I KNOW I wasn’t the only one because we talked about it, didn’t we? Groups of girls talked about what to do, how to behave, WHO TO BE in order to get the desired outcome, whatever that was on that day. I remember needing to fit in, to do it right, to not stand out in any way that would draw attention. I remember wanting to be just like whoever the “it” girl of the week was.
As my kids approach this time, I find myself thinking about our core selves, what my teacher and mentor Martha Beck calls our essential selves, and the struggle we put that essential self through. It seems to me that little kids totally get the essential self. There is no other self. They just do them until consequences make themselves apparent, but even with the usual learning about good manners and how not to upset their parents, kids keep being themselves, expanding, exploring, trying things on.
At some point, there is a shift, and that expansion reverses. And we begin to contract. Our practicality demands that the exploration and freedom we were allowed as children be curtailed. Our responsibilities make us believe that the vestiges of childhood must cease, must be cut off, no longer suit or show us at our best. We slowly cut away at ourselves. We separate ourselves into tiny pieces, only a few of which get regular air time in the world. The rest are left to suffocate or starve.
And then we wonder why we feel bad.
We wonder why we feel dissatisfied.
We wonder why we don’t enjoy the lives we’re building or why we can’t seem to make any headway.
We wonder when everything got so hard.
We feel bad.
We feel bad because we aren’t being ourselves.
We feel bad because we abandon ourselves.
We feel bad because we’ve forgotten that we are the only ones on the planet who are exactly like us.
We feel bad because we’ve been so busy trying to be the same enough to “succeed” that we forgot to be ourselves.
We feel bad because we’ve lost sight of the fact that when we are not ourselves, nobody fills in that gap.
We feel bad because we are in a constant battle with the parts of ourselves we’ve deemed unacceptable.
We fight them.
We say mean things to them.
We close them in little mental closets and don’t let them out.
We bury them in obligations, booze, and snacks.
We feel bad because we are not whole and we’ve allowed ourselves to believe that we are wrong, tainted, anything but glorious, anything but real and intentional and made for this world.
We feel bad because we’ve forgotten how to play, how to feel, and how to rest deeply.
We feel bad because we believe we don’t deserve to feel as good as it could feel to allow ourselves to be all that we are. We are afraid of what would happen if we let that out. We are afraid of succeeding or afraid of losing love, affection, or status. We feel bad because we are telling ourselves that we are not good.
So what do I tell my twins as I see this time coming? Let me back up a step, what do I tell myself about middle school? First I tell myself that their experience may be different from mine, even if everything I know about adolescents says otherwise, but it’s important to leave room for a better experience. THEN, I remind my kids that they are spectacular. Because my children were IVF babies, I have told them that they are miracles pretty much every day of their lives. Truth is though, that I would feel that way no matter how they were conceived. I remind them that they are unlike anyone else and trying to be like everyone else will just make them extremely unhappy and will deprive everyone of THEM.
And then I take a deep breath, and tell myself the same thing. I am a miracle. There is nobody else like me. When I try to make myself like everyone else, we all lose out. It’s okay to continue to grow. Those parts of me that I’ve hidden from the world, they are good parts. Being whole is how I claim my place, my moment, and my real fun in this world. Being whole is grace, compassion and wealth beyond measure. I’m doing more of it than I ever have, this being whole business, but I still need to be reminded, and maybe you do too. Maybe it seems scary, and well, it can be. And maybe people won’t like it, and that can happen. But I want to reassure you, as someone who has touched the other side, being your whole self is an act of courage for which you will be rewarded deeply every single moment that you come even close to pulling it off.
So Much Love,