Last night I asked Neil what he thought my greatest weakness was. While he stalled in his answer, all of the things he might say swirled around in my head. I understand his reticence to answer me, being honestly critical of another person is difficult. And when that person is your wife, it's damn near impossible. So when he finally answered, I wasn't sure what to expect. Would he take the easy road and tell me my greatest weakness was being such a darn good cook? Or would he be truly honest and tell me that I'm a terrible housekeeper or that I don't have enough patience with Sophie. He went the honest route.
His answer: that I don't have enough confidence in myself.
I sputtered and said "I don't have enough confidence? I don't have enough confidence? Meeee?" I wasn't angry, I was surprised. Not because I honestly think I'm brimming over with confidence, but because I generally think I do a fair job of hiding the fact that I'm not.
But then I chewed on what he had said for a moment. While I was waiting for his answer, I had come up with literally dozens of possibilities for what his response would be. The list of things I saw wrong in myself was long and varied. That just doesn't seem like the sign of someone who has a great deal of confidence in themself or their abilities.
Truth is, self-esteem has always been an issue for me. Growing up, we moved a lot. I was always the new kid, forced to make new friends at every stop. Sometimes it was easy, sometimes not. In some places, the kids were so entrenched in their relationships that there simply wasn't room for the new girl and I floundered.
When I hit middle school, the very worst years for all but the most lucky of pre-teens, I struggled extraordinarily. Grotesquely skinny, acne and a nose that had outgrown my face, combined with the hormonal peaks and valleys of puberty to make me a pretty unhappy kid. And while I've grown into my nose, the acne is under control and I've definitely got the curves (and then some, SIGH) I longed for in 7th grade, I honestly don't think I've ever recovered from those years. From starting my first day in a new school and having the kids taunt me with "big nose" and "ugly." From one of my first real boyfriends breaking up with me because his friends told him I wasn't good enough for him. From no dates for dances.
This afternoon, I took Sophie to the park. When we arrived there were three little girls playing on the jungle gym. A year or two older than her, they were involved in a detailed role playing game. From the moment she ran up to them, they were exclusionary and rude. When Sophie attempted to join in their play, they squealed and ran away. When Sophie would follow them, they would say "SHE'S BACK! RUUUUNNN!" and run away. Despite my attempts to direct her towards other kids or playground equipment, she was not to be deterred and continued to follow the girls around. I looked to the girls' mothers, who stood not far from me engrossed in their own conversation, hoping they would tell them to be nice, but they never did.
As I watched this play out, I almost started crying, because suddenly I didn't see her, I saw myself. I saw me timidly approaching kids and being rebuffed or ignored. Right now, my daughter is brimming with confidence. She experiences not a moment's hesitation when approaching someone new. The vast majority of the response to her is great positivity. She is the friendliest, most enthusiastic kid around. She oozes sunshine. But how much will it take to beat that out of her? How many mean little girls will it take to break her confidence? At what point did mine go? How do I ensure that in 5 years, 10 years, 25 years, my daughter will have the confidence to approach any person or goal and know that she is worthy?
I wish I could go back and kick those little girls' asses. But I can't. All I can do is love on my daughter, tell her a hundred times a day how beautiful and wonderful she is, and pray that is enough.