Monday, February 25, 2013

Faking It

I have a confession to make.

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?


  1. Mama Bears can do whatever needs to be done for their cubs. You will succeed because you are just the Mama that Iris needs. Never forget that!

  2. Hey Betsy - that IS exclusion and those friends never treated you the way you deserved! I always wondered why you didn't dump them and go and get some new ones?

    When I was faced with similar things (we all are!) I had my own reaction and baggage from it - if I figure any of this out I will let you know. Hell, I'll write a book and become a kajillionaire.

    Just realizing you are seeing the bigger picture makes me feel that Iris is going to be all right.

  3. Really gutsy stuff, Betsy. And you have the confidence to spill it out, write it down, and you don't realize that everyone feels that way...esp. in the middle school, high school scene. As Brent said, "When I was faced with similar things (we all are!)" Absolutely, you weren't alone! I remember one of my colleagues, in the social studies arena so more educated and aware on the topic, said even the coolest in high school is wrestling with so much stuff. The whole adolescent journey is as you describe, and we all suffer the similar quandaries that our children suffer, but with intelligence, grace and our own wonderful families, we just keep plugging along.

    Congratulations on your skill in putting this all together.

  4. Ny darling daughter--Even your mother feels this way. In grade school, I was the last one picked. And I was always on the periphery -- grade school, high school, junior high, even college! I only felt I belonged when I met your father, who also was on the outside. And we became a couple, both of us on the outside -- but now we belonged together on that outside! Even as an old broad, when I take trips like this, I feel excluded by the other travelers -- insecure, not included, etc etc ad nauseum. You would like to protect Iris from all this. But what you really CAN do is give her a secure loving home (which you have) so when she gets home, after being buffetted about by the world, she feels like she belongs and is loved. Remember how you felt??? Then sit back, let her face the Bellas of the world, and come home to love and acceptance ---!!!

  5. By being who you are- someone who knows how the bad parts feels and what it's like to pretend they don't- I think you'll be exactly the person you need to be. FWIW, I admire, even covet a little your ability to push through the difficult parts.

  6. Betsy, I identified with this so much. I wonder if insecurity is just part and parcel of being a woman in this culture...

    I have two teenage daughters, and I worry every day about this very thing. For me, prayer helps. Also, putting them in dance classes at the same age as your daughter has given them confidence to speak up in class as well as perform onstage. They are not shy about asking for help, or asking friends to come over, like I was when I was growing up.