At the hint of accusation, a wall in my brain goes up. A hurricane of defensive arguments takes over my train of thought, and I can feel metaphorical hairs standing up on my back like a dog ready to fight.
Why am I like this?
I’m the younger sister. I’m the younger sister of a brilliant older sibling. Having skipped the third grade because she could read quickly and knew math as if it were her first language, I was left in the shadow of her spotlight.
My parents felt instantly frustrated that I could not comprehend letters and how they formed words. Numbers looked like an alien alphabet. Each time the teachers called us up for our report cards, I already knew the results.
I never failed. I was just doing “below average.” There were always notes that I had room for improvement.
I preferred to play outside. I wasn’t in any sports, but I loved to ride my bike and rollerblade. Coming inside when the street lights flickered on, I saw my homework sitting on my desk. My heart would sink, and I was afraid to ask for help.
“We’ve been over this. Think, Shannon. What’s 7 times 2?”
The responses to my inquiries rendered me frightened to ask for help.
Then came womanhood.
The embarrassing onset of puberty is never easy, especially when you can’t muster the courage to ask your parents about it.
The question about what a period was got me the response, “go ask your sister.” Which I did. She told me. And that was that.
No one asked me if I had started my period. I hadn’t – yet – but that set the tone for where the conversation would go when I did.
But, we all know where puberty starts. Hair.
My fifth-grade class went on a camping trip, and we spent some time in the pool. A popular girl with her friends swam up to me and told me she “liked my hair.” I assumed she was talking about my long hair.
Boy, was I wrong.
I cried and never went back to the pool for the rest of the trip.
As soon as I got home, I went to my parent’s bathroom and stole my mom’s razor. If she wasn’t going to teach me about body hair and femininity, then I would.
I started reading magazines and watching teenage television shows. That’s where I learned to be “pretty” and about buying a bra. How to put on makeup and make my hair look nice. What clothes were “in” and how to accessorize.
I was far from a girly girl. As a matter of fact, I was more of a punk rock princess with an attitude who knew how to accessorize with fishnet shirts, plaid skirts, and green camo jackets. I taught myself how to put on black eyeliner and played with shiny eyeshadow.
By the time I was in high school, my parents had divorced, and I had been a latch key kid for five years. I felt independent and didn’t seek guidance from either of my parents.
No one should navigate life like this.
I couldn’t talk to my parents.
Dismissed and talked down on, I never felt as if I had been doing anything right. So, I had to blaze my own path and seek acceptance elsewhere.
In the arms of boys.
I did my best to please them. I put them first in my life. I had no moral compass, and all I wanted was some recognition.
This doesn’t mean I wasn’t picky. I just didn’t keep my standards very high. Like, when I was cheated on in my very first relationship. His reason? I didn’t want to put out.
Most girls would have said run for the hills. But, having grown up unable to open up to anyone about such intimate subjects, I forgave the asshole and assumed it was my fault.
This thought process continued through future relationships until I realized I was being taken advantage of. I’m ashamed of how long it took me to see the pattern.
But, much of my time was spent working and going to school. So, it wasn’t like I could analyze the situation beyond the surface.
At work, I was seen as a leader. I took charge of situations because I couldn’t stand to see customers look at me as if I was failing. I would quickly be promoted at any job I took on.
Starbucks kept me jumping through hoops until I realized, after ten years, that I was being taken advantage of. Just like the relationships of my past.
I’d spent years trying to receive a promotion from shift supervisor to assistant store manager. A position I’d seen handed out like candy to the most incompetent outside hires I’d ever had the displeasure of sharing a busy Sunday morning shift. I was watching the ship go down in flames while angry customers glared at me, sneering with their eyes, “what are you going to do about this mess?”
I couldn’t consider at that moment that it wasn’t my fault. All I was thinking was how I could have prevented the situation.
At school, I felt more in control — even though I was in a major, I didn’t particularly want to be studying. My sister had known all along what major she would be pursuing. The same as our father’s. Computer Science.
So, I stumbled my way through college, taking classes I liked and trying to stay within my degree. I was drawn to the writing-intensive courses.
For the first time, I was seen.
Two professors reached out to me regarding my major and why I wasn’t pursuing a degree in English. They wanted to help me hone my writing skills. I had never felt my heart flutter as it did when they told me that I could excel in writing. As though a piece of my puzzle was being held out to me. But then, I heard my father’s voice: “you can’t do anything with a degree in English.”
I reluctantly declined my puzzle piece and finished out my degree.
I never got a job with my degree.
I did, however, land an unexpected job outside of my experience. I excelled at it. An administrative sales assistant. This blossomed a desire to become a personal assistant, much like Anne Hathaway’s job in The Devil Wears Prada.
Those dreams were cut short after peeing on a stick that read positive.
I was faced with a list of judgmental possibilities.
I was still living with my dad. I had only been “dating” the guy for a couple of months. We weren’t planning on getting married. I feared the worst.
Then, I was surprised by the best. No one cared about the father. They only cared about me and my growing belly. The wander that is new life.
Until she was born.
A tidal wave of insecurities washed over me. Pressures of having to pump enough milk and not being able to. Comments that “if you could have enough stored, you could have a date night.” Long nights with an inconsolable baby screaming until three in the morning — every night, not knowing what I’d been doing wrong and why parenting was so hard!
I had thrown in the towel. I picked up the phone at two in the morning and called a friend.
My husband thought I was crazy, but she saved my sanity.
High needs and colic.
The words rolled off her tongue like a coffee order. All four of her girls were high needs, and three had colic—signs of very aware and highly sensitive children.
She had been through exactly what we were facing. Four times. All four of her daughters had high needs. Three had colic—a sign of highly aware and highly sensitive babies.
She talked me through a schedule to start and asked me to check in with her in a week.
We were on a schedule and had a new outlook.
My mother only knew outdated methods from her schooling in early childhood development. She commented, perhaps I was spoiling her. Because one-month-old babies were capable of such deep concepts of manipulation and greed.
My mother-in-law could only remember her three boys sleeping reasonably quickly, except the first who had a touch of colic. Nothing compared to my daughter’s as I could see the horror in her eyes when the screaming started. She feels nervous watching our daughter past a particular hour of the night to this day.
I had to let go of the idea that I could pump enough milk and resolved that buying formula isn’t the worst thing in the world. The worst thing in the world would be letting my baby starve because I didn’t want to fail at breastfeeding.
Why did it take so long?
I’m 32 — going on 33 — and it has taken me this long to take much of what people say with a large grain of salt.
I can’t help but overanalyze in fear that I’ve stupidly missed the punch.
I want to be aware of what others’ intents are but, at the same time, know how to hold my head up high in confidence that their judgemental — whether it is openly or underlying — comments won’t affect me.
Maybe I’ve been so concerned about people looking at me that I’d lost myself in my own negative thinking.
I don’t want to be someone who shrugs and doesn’t give a damn. I will continue to put my best foot forward, but I’m tired of living in the shadows of what I “should be” doing.
Previously Published on medium
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