2. I’m raising two daughters. This feels like the challenge of my life.
3. I recently read a book by Rachel Simmons called The Curse of the Good Girl, which talks about that nasty death of female confidence that begins in adolescence. She writes about ritual apologizing, passive aggressive confrontation, the lengths girls and women go to to restore balance and peace to their relationships, and their self-destructive, self-effacing behavior. I read this book thinking it would help me parent, but it also dredged up painful memories of my adolescence and young adult years.
Suddenly I was the girl fanning her face in class, too embarrassed to speak, afraid to be smart and express my opinions, though I had many.
I was the college student who drank too much because she was uncomfortable in her own skin. I hated myself and I didn’t know what to do about it. When I think about my daughters possibly feeling this way, I freeze up with fear. Despite my best attempts at parenting, it could happen.
I know we grow from challenge and failures, but that doesn’t mean I’m ready to watch it happen.
4. My mom recently reminded me of the month we moved to South Carolina. 1996. I was a junior in high school. I had just come out of an unhealthy relationship and was devastated about leaving my friends in North Carolina. I’d been a straight-A student, near the top of my class. When I went to the guidance counselor’s office, she tried to speak to me about the classes I could enroll in. I started to cry and put my head down on her desk.
My mom told me to pick my head up but I wouldn’t. I would not look at anyone; I would not speak. I spent a lot of the next two years with my head on various desks. I wore a pilled, gray LL Bean fleece almost every day; in retrospect I think I was wearing a security blanket. I didn’t fit in at my new high school and I didn’t try. I thumbed my nose at the hyper-religious, well-intentioned students and drew mustaches on the women in my textbooks. I don’t know why. (God bless the friends who took a chance on me then, who offered me some humor and understanding.)
Here was a smart girl from a loving family who could do many things. Here was a girl who wanted to disappear.
Last week I asked my mom if it was hard to watch me act that way. She couldn’t answer me. She had tears in her eyes.
5. When I wrote this story for Ploughshares and Medium, I was thinking about that vulnerability. I was thinking about tipping points, self-destructive thinking, the complex construction of a girl’s self-esteem. The girl in this story is not me or anyone I know. But I feel like I know her.
Read it, if you will, and tell me what the ending should be.