I’m not who you think I am.
This confidence you think I have? It’s a show. You know how people say you should “fake it till you make it”? Well, I’m forty years old. At this point, I may have to accept the fact that I’ll always be faking it and I’ll never quite make it.
I’m insecure. I am sometimes crippled by self-doubt. I have an embarrassing lack of self esteem. And I’m never really sure if anyone actually likes me.
I just pretend to be confident to get through the days.
I pretend really well. So well that, at times, I almost believe me.
Bear with me, I have a point.
A couple of days ago, I went to a birthday party for one of Iris’s friends. So there I was in the middle of the loud, crowded chaos that is a child’s birthday party, watching Iris run around in the arena full of bouncy houses. And I start having horrible flashbacks to my own childhood. And, though none of what happened seems to have dampened Iris’s spirits or, actually, affected her at all, it triggered in me a great big bubbling up of the insecurity I try to pretend I don’t have.
You see, if you ask Iris, she has a best friend. Her best friend is Bella. There is no one in the world Iris likes as much as she likes Bella. The problem is that, lately, Iris is not Bella’s best friend. Bella’s best friend is Alice. And Alice is imaginary.
(Not that it matters to this story, but, seriously, what do you have to do to be displaced in a friend’s affections by someone who isn’t even real?)
So, yesterday, I watched Iris follow Bella all around the party, trying to get Bella to play with her. Or notice her. And I watched Bella not care. Not maliciously. She’s three for goodness sake. She’s not trying to make Iris feel bad or anything of that ilk. Right now Bella just, clearly, doesn’t like Iris as much as Iris likes Bella.
When Bella disappeared to play with other children or even by herself, I watched Iris go looking for her. “Bella? Bella? Where are you?” she would call into each of the bouncy structures.
And a lump formed in my throat.
Because watching Iris…I was watching myself.
When I was young, that was me.
I spent my school years as the unnoticed.
Oh, I don’t think anyone disliked me. They just didn’t exactly see me, either. I was never anyone’s first choice.
In high school I had this group of friends (a term I’m using loosely here). There were four of them. They were on the speech team with me. They did theatre with me. And the four of them were tight. Me? I was on their periphery. They weren’t unkind. But they often just forgot to include me in whatever hijinks they got up to. They would go out together. Or go to a dance together. Or have parties at each other’s’ houses. And just wouldn’t include me. I was an afterthought, if I was thought of at all. Senior year, they all went on a camping trip together for spring break. I found out about the trip after spring break was over.
But, oh, I wanted to be on the inside of that group. Somehow. I knew I wasn’t the most talented or the most attractive person. I knew I wasn’t the boldest or most outspoken. I knew I wasn’t a standout, not the one people remember. So I tried to be the kindest.
Need someone to drive to the movies? Sure. And I can get the snacks! Or help you’re your homework. Need someone to run lines with you for that play you’re in? Okay. I can also listen to your prose performance for that speech competition. Or help you perfect your debate case. And if you can’t think of anything else to do, why not come over and use my family’s hot tub?
And, despite the fact that they identified me as their friend, told me they liked me, and were never outright mean to me, I was still the one who was on their borders, the edges, the margins. The one they just forgot to call.
Not exactly excluded. But not included, either.
It was a pattern that repeated throughout my childhood and into my early twenties. Not being cool enough or talented enough or smart enough or interesting enough to be first choice. And, to this day, I still have the crushing suspicion that people who tell me they like me, who say they are my friend, don’t and aren’t. That they are merely tolerating me. That I’m annoying or not good enough or that I’m trying too hard.
Most of the time, I can use the logical side of my brain to shut those thoughts down. But, sometimes, the emotional side of my brain is just…louder.
As I watched Iris following Bella around, all of this was bubbling up inside me like the poisonous lava that it is.
I don’t want history to repeat itself.
I don’t want Iris to ever feel like this.
I also don’t know how to keep it from happening.
I don’t know what to tell her or teach her or show her to make her understand that she is good and worthy. I don’t know how to give her the self-esteem and security that I seem to lack. I know I can’t shield her from experiences like this. But I do want to give her the strength to weather it better than I did and do. But, how do you give someone confidence and strength when you’re only pretending to have them, yourself?
I guess I’m going to have to learn to fake it till my daughter makes it.
Is that even a thing?