I stepped out of our 1963 white Ford station wagon wearing a purple empire dress, nylon stockings and platform shoes. I was more of a bobby sock, tennis shoe kind of kid, but that look garnered too many snarky comments from my last school, traumatizing my psyche so much that I still remember how it felt! It was 1969 and I was 13 years old.
That was the first day of school, my 7th new school in the last 8 years. I was tired of being the “new girl”. And I was tired of being tired. With each step forward on that 8th new first day, I made a conscious effort to walk just a bit straighter. Step by step, I distanced myself from the very uncool station wagon and anxiously waving mother. Standing and walking upright, despite the stares from the students in my new small country school, gave me an air of confidence despite the inward insecurities that most adolescents share. In retrospect, I was faking it, because the last thing I was…was confident.
The previous seven “new” schools found me slinking out of the car, hiding, shrinking and praying not to be noticed by my fellow peers or teachers. I vividly remembered thinking with each new first day, “don’t notice me, don’t look at me, don’t ask me questions or subject me to explain who I am and why am I here.” I was a bundle of insecure, self-doubting nerves. I know now that shrinking always gets one noticed. Teachers especially can spot a “shrinker”, even with her back turned to her students. And it may even generate a curiosity, “why is that child so insecure?” I know this, because as a teacher for the last 33 years, I can see myself in every insecure and shy adolescent girl.
And, truly, all teens have inner self-doubts and insecurities from time to time. They’re just so busy being self-absorbed, that they may not realize their peers are feeling this way too. Attention teachers, handle kids with tenderness!
The new school was small and very different from the urban nightmare that was my 7th grade experience, hence the nylon stockings. And, I was still recovering from being called a “goodie-goodie” because I didn’t ditch class to smoke weed with a fellow 7th grader. I was a profoundly naïve 12 year-old. Once home, I had to ask my mom, “What’s a goodie-goodie?” And then asked, “What’s weed?” Oh the look of horror on my mother’s face!
I could tell by her expression that whatever it was, it wasn’t good. Interrogation then ensued with my mom firing off questions faster than I could answer them. Looking back, she must have spent many sleepless nights feeling guilty for the frequent upheavals in our lives. And now this, ditching class and pot smoking! Luckily for my mom, I wanted no part of cutting class. And, weed, just didn’t interest my 12 year-old insecure self. I was more interested in doing things that didn’t get me noticed, not things that did.
Fast-forward one year to the first day of 8th grade. I continued striding my nylon covered legs and plat formed covered feet to my homeroom class, keenly aware of the stares, chuckles and whispers coming from the mouths of other insecure, self-doubting 13 year-olds. Oh silly me! I must have looked ridiculous.
This time though, I felt less insecure. I could sense that the stares were from a place of curiosity, maybe even approval. Was it the shoes? The stockings? I hoped it was the feigned confidence. The stares didn’t feel sinister. For the first time ever, my naturally quiet, shy self, was sensing something comforting coming from within me.
I believe now it was the power of self-acceptance, the power of acknowledging who I was, a “new kid” whose family moved a lot. If it was my destiny to always be the “new girl”, I might as well make the best of it. And I did.
It wasn’t the teachers or students who made me feel uncomfortable, I made myself feel uncomfortable all of those new first days.
Eighth grade was the last year I was the “new kid”. We stayed in the community until I graduated from high school and went off to college to join the rest of the “new girl” club. As difficult as the first eight grades were, I am grateful for the experience of being uncomfortable, of enduring that feeling and learning to be comfortable with that. I learned at a young age that one might as well embrace the unknown, embrace who you are because the alternative is to shrink away from it and be miserable.
There have been times throughout my 57 years, that I have had moments of self-doubt. Moments when I have felt uncomfortable in my own skin, when insecurities have reared their ugly heads. Moments when I have felt judged, mostly judged by myself. Moments when I have forgotten the wisdom of my 13 year-old self. But thankfully the moments were brief and did not turn into disabling years.
When I most need it, I conjure up that feeling from those years. I remember the sweet me, the shy me, the insecure me and the 13 year-old me who learned to be ok with that. I remember that self-acceptance lights up inner peace, that inner power and the sweet feeling that all will be ok.
And it was. Day 2 of 8th grade, my 7th school in 8 years found me striding to school in bobby socks and tennis shoes.