Last week I had a conversation with a friend who is also a father of an 8-month old and a 4-year old. Something the older child had done brought back memories of his younger years. He had been a bully until a particular age when he started to feel guilty about the way he’d treated people and went around apologizing. Naturally, he’s hoping to prevent his son from going through the same thing.
No matter what our childhood was like and how much we think we’ve put it all behind us, the moment we have children ourselves, we realize that all our glories, struggles, successes and mistakes are still with us. Sure, we could fool ourselves into believing those early years became irrelevant once we became “grown up”, but who we are now comes from who we were then whether we want it to or not. With our own children, we begin to ponder who they will be and how we can steer them toward or away from the choices we made (or didn’t).
So what was my childhood like? I was quite shy and slow to warm up to people and generally felt like a non-traditionalist outsider. Certainly, I was no bully and I don’t recall ever being bullied. That is, unless you count the time when I accidentally brushed shoulders with an angry redneck in the hall way as a senior in high school. She verbally threatened me and I looked at her like she was crazy. Which she was. I had a pretty good set of swimmer shoulders and a crap-ton of fitness, so I wasn’t terribly frightened, albeit worried about my lack of experience with fisticuffs. Apparently, she was all talk, so nothing came of it.
I think the most striking thing about my childhood was my lack of ability or willingness to compromise certain parts of my self image to fit into a nice, neat clique. I wasn’t all about school work, but I did that pretty well. I was an athlete (swimmer) but didn’t fit in with all the ball sports groups that got all the glory in rural Georgia. I liked hanging out with the creative artsy types, but there was a streak of businesslike pragmatism in me that didn’t fit that group. I refused to be totally mean to those kids that were often bullied and made fun of because I didn’t understand why that was necessary. I often found myself on the outs with no group to turn to for comfort in my identity. I think that’s how I learned to not give a crap what other people think so long as I’m doing the right thing for me and living by my principles. Funny thing is that once I gained confidence in this “I like me as I am” identity, others started to become drawn to me and I wasn’t on the outs any more. Probably the most salient lesson I learned in high school, with a strong second being typing. You wouldn’t believe how fast I can type and I owe it all to typing class.
I’m not saying my childhood was mistake-free. Oh no. But, you know, I’m OK with encouraging Remy to be brave enough to be different. I just want to help him figure out how to avoid the feeling of being shunned because of non-comformity to other’s silly expectations. You know, he’s probably not going to conform to my expectations, and I have to be ready for that. This is going to be some kind of journey!