My GrandpaT always said at nearly every meal to at least one of us grandkids "Why don't you eat and leave the food alone?" Which, to a 5 yr old, is pretty confusing. I think I have it figured out, but don't tell my family. We all believe what we want about Grandpa's words of wisdom on just about everything in the world.
For me, I will simply say - it makes me wonder what in the world I really have eaten myself into...

Friday, February 22, 2013

A Friendly Boost

Many times in life we find we surround ourselves with the same types of people. We befriend the same friend over and over in different forms and different names. Sometimes it’s the same love interest, just better looking or not, but the same type of person. Occasionally, though, you have a truly unique experience. My friend Amy was that unique friend for me. Unlike all my other friends she didn’t need me to help her or council her. She wasn’t poorer than I or from a broken home or had suffered abuse. She wasn’t someone who called to my “Super Saver-Girl,” the girl inside me who just needs to save everyone, because it made me feel good about myself. At our respective tender ages of thirteen and fourteen, Amy had something I didn’t. I learned more from her about it then anywhere else. Amy had self-esteem.
            She had a great home, great parents, the right clothes, the best shoes, the prettiest perfume, and expensive everything. She wasn’t gorgeous or even particularly pretty. She had blonde, kind of fried, frizzy hair, and wore tons of makeup. She was a bit of a thick chic; she wasn’t the Barbie doll that everyone expected popular girls to be in the late 80’s to early 90’s. Yet, she was popular. In fact there were times when I marveled at her seeming self-esteem because I just couldn’t see it myself. Of course, I was her best friend so I saw her best and worst. Amy could be unfailingly generous, warm, funny, and bright. She could be completely self-absorbed, bitchy, mean, and ditzy. Who you met depended on how long she had known you and what she thought she needed from you. I knew her failings. I knew her weaknesses. I knew she often put others down or made fun of them to feel better about herself. I could see all her bad and loved her anyway. She was redeemable and really a wonderful person if she let you in her heart.
            You might look at those things and wonder how anyone could think she had self-esteem. The fact is, it took you awhile to get to know her. Her behavior made it take even longer to discover she was actually just as insecure as any normal teenager. This was tempered by her confidence in almost any situation. When she looked in a mirror, she only saw the best parts of herself. She knew her own weaknesses and she hid them well while playing up her assets. Once we met, we became fast friends. We spent the next seven years of our lives at each other’s side. Early on I noticed the way Amy dealt with people. She always made them feel that they were the center of her world at that moment. Yet, made them feel like they wanted to make her the center of their world. People wanted to tell her everything. People liked her. People wanted her to like them. People complimented her all the time.
            One lesson I learned from Amy was how to take a compliment. It can grow your self-esteem every time you receive a compliment. Does anyone want to compliment someone who turns the admiration aside every time? When someone would compliment Amy she had this truly amazing response. It was revolutionary to me, a young chubby chic, to see this even younger chubby chic accept compliments without batting an eye. She never acted like the person complimenting her was insane. Amy always smiled sweetly, touched their arm when it was appropriate and said, “Thank you”. All the while conveying a sense that she was truly, humbly, touched by the compliment, yet completely expected it, as was her due. She behaved like a royal princess, but a really well liked one almost all the time in front of new people or mere acquaintances.
            When someone complimented me I might say, “Thank you” because I was taught to. More often then not I would play it off that it wasn’t “me,” it was my new sweater or my nice makeup. Never did I accept a compliment simply because I deserved it. When I walked into a room I usually needed to know there were people there I knew. I would feel uncomfortable and uncertain. If I could I would have a friend with me when I arrived so I wouldn’t be so conspicuous. I couldn’t put myself forward in many situations. I couldn’t conceive of myself as being anything worth admiring. What I saw in the mirror was not what I thought was worthy of much at all. I had no model for how to accept a compliment with grace and poise as Amy could. Or to walk into a room like I owned it, like she did.
Amy’s mother was much the same way as Amy. I am still not certain if it was just a part of their southern culture, the debutant balls and Charm School diplomas, or just an inherent part of who they were and who raised them. I suspect it was a bit of both, because even Amy’s grandmother’s had the same demeanor when it came to being complimented. My mother, who had very low self-esteem, on the other hand, raised me. She is much like I was, always looking for someone else to confirm her worth. She has never had any idea of her own worth. How could she? Her father was an abusive alcoholic and her mother disappeared off the face of the earth when she was only nineteen. Her whole childhood set her up to be very insecure. Subsequently, in spite of an awesome childhood I grew up just as insecure.
            As I passed through my teen years with Amy and watched her in every situation, I learned how to accept a compliment. I learned how to walk with confidence into any room regardless of my own nervousness. I learned that no matter what other people thought of me when they saw me, the only opinion that really mattered (for ill or for good) was my own. I learned to “fake it” until I “made it” into some semblance of self-esteem. It is a fact that the more you hear compliments, the more you believe them, and the more they are true.
            You can see an example of that in my friendship with a guy named Scott. We were both in our mid 20’s. That time in one’s life when fun and flirtation are almost always the order of the day. Scott complimented me all the time when he saw me. One night, a bit drunk, but having a good time he leaned over and complimented me yet again. He then told me I even had cute ears. That time I believe I actually wrinkled my nose, but said, “Thank you” as I had learned. He said, “No seriously! I just like to compliment you; because you always give me that gorgeous smile and don’t tell me I’m a liar or crazy. Who wants to compliment someone when they refuse to believe you?” That was the epitome of my friendly boost from Amy right there. I had learned to be complimented. Now I believe (almost) every one of them. I have a real amount of self-esteem. I owe it all to watching a not-so-pretty, not-so-perfect, slightly insecure teenager act as if nothing and no one ever bothered her. She deserved the compliments and popularity that came her way.
            As I came through my twenties, and into my thirties I developed a very strong sense of who I am, who I have always been, by taking to heart the good comments about me. I have made it a point to never listen to the bad. I have faced some trying situations in those intervening years. An abusive marriage, being a single mom, and now going back to school! My strong sense of self has withstood these tests. I am stronger for having endured them. I still know who I am.
             I use this story often to teach young ladies I come across about their own self-esteem. Most of the time I doubt it sinks in. This last year I got re-acquainted with a young woman who, in her teen years heard my story and lecture more than once. Oh, her self-image is still very realistic, but not negatively so. She has confidence and poise she didn’t have when she was a teenager. I heard her cite the same lessons in a class at our church just a few weeks ago. Talking about how she wants to pass them on to her daughters. When she was done, she smiled at me and said, “Thank you.” She learned these lessons and is passing them on. What greater compliment to myself and to my friend Amy?
            When I first realized how important my own self-esteem would be in raising a daughter with self-esteem, I could only be thankful to Amy. I am thankful for having the friendship we had. I am beyond blessed that I had that foundation so young. So many women don’t have that. They may develop it as they become older and wiser, but not until after they have raised their daughters. They have already affected their daughter’s foundation of self worth.  I get to pass on these lessons, the poise, and the ability to walk confidently and be happy with who I am onto my daughter. I can’t express how much that means to me. I see who I am in the mirror everyday. I like myself. I like who I am. What I look like is a direct result of my choices, good and bad. I am teaching my daughter to be able to say the same.
            I only wish I could introduce my daughter to my friend. Sadly, Amy is lost to me now. Many years ago she moved south. We kept in contact until a few years ago. At that time she began to face her own extreme difficulties and has refused contact with all of her old friends. I wish she could see how important the person she was back then is to me. How her young life will affect other young women in my future if I have anything to say about it. Someday, I will get to tell my daughter all about mommy’s crazy friend Amy and all the crazy things we did as teenagers. I look forward to the day when I can tell her how I learned to love myself, no matter what. 
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