Not normally one to seek out adventure, I threw caution to the wind, got out from the safety of the middle and decided to try my hand with the faster, more experienced kids.
I should have known better.
But I’m getting ahead of myself so let me back up a bit.
My brother and I were the second set of kids my grandparents raised. Money was tight on Grandpa’s swing shift job working the burn off at Anchor Hocking. My Granny helped in all the ways she could cooking, keeping house, and sewing. She sewed most all of my clothes.
My younger self didn’t begin to understand things like single incomes, budgets and frugality. I just knew that nothing screamed poor like matching gingham shirts and pants. All I wanted to do was fit in. I wanted someone to notice my clothes, not because they were making fun of the homespun, but because I was setting a fashion trend. For once I wanted to hear the girls ask me where I shopped for such a cute outfit.
Much to my delight (and seven day work weeks for my Grandpa) I got to get a store bought outfit in the spring of my third grade year. I was the shizzle getting off the bus and walking in to class that day. I had the cutest little solid red top that fit perfectly. The pants? Oh my word! White bell-bottom jeans trimmed with a red cuff and white polka dots. And not just any bell-bottoms. No. These were elephant bell-bottoms! Bell-bottoms that had bell-bottoms. Throw on some new white Keds and I was ready for the runway, setting trends and blazing fashion trails that left all things gingham-checked in my dust…
I was having the best day.
That is until I decided to get adventurous and push the (now banned death trap) merry-go-round on the playground. As you might have guessed, it didn’t go well. It got going faster than my little girl legs could go and since I wasn’t used to jeans with flared bottoms, well, I took a pretty good tumble. On a side note: It’s important to let go once you fall down, otherwise you keep going but not on your feet.
The boys laughed and the girls gasped and I got all kinds of attention I hadn’t bargained for nor wanted. My hands had rocks embedded in them and both of my knees and one hip were bloodied. That wasn’t even the worst of it. The school nurse could clean and cover those with ointment and Band-Aids. But what of my pants?
I felt a little like Ralphie from The Christmas Story who thought his mom wouldn’t notice his busted up glasses. My pants were shredded at both knees and down one thigh (remember to let go…) with so much dirt and blood you couldn’t tell there was a red cuff let alone white polka dots.
What was I going to tell my Granny? She asked all manner of questions: What was I thinking? Why didn’t I stay in the middle where it was safer? Better yet, why get on that thing at all? Your Grandpa worked hard so you could have those jeans and you ruined them because you were goofing off and being full of yourself.
I don’t know if these were the exact questions but it was the gist of what I walked away with. Somewhere along the way, that day translated into: being adventurous and carefree equals getting hurt and disappointing people. It equals falling and failing.
Unknowingly, that day followed me around well into my adult years. Afraid to draw attention. Afraid to be brave. Afraid to get out of the middle. Afraid to be carefree. Afraid to let loose and go fast. Afraid to disappoint. Afraid to fall. Afraid to fail. Always playing it safe for fear of busting up my best bell-bottoms.
Oh, this memory wasn’t like a cash transaction where I purposely handed over money in exchange for fear. It’s more like an auto-pay where you don’t even think about it until you see the withdrawal on your bank statement. I simply kept forgetting to cancel the auto-ship on a package I no longer wanted.
I began to recognize that little girl in the torn and now bloodied bell-bottomed jeans was embedded in my thoughts like those rocks in my hands. Always reminding me. Silently berating, shaming. Once I understood it was her that was whispering like the wind… don’t venture too far too fast, you’ll fall down, people will laugh, better play it safe, you don’t want to disappoint… I began the process of picking out the lies, of healing the hurt, of mending the tears, of telling her it’s alright. Ever so slowly I began to inch my way out of the middle, to put myself out there, to know I could fall and fail but also get up and try again. I could have fun and go on adventures. And it was okay.
The girl in the white bell-bottom jeans?
She is me. Only better. Maybe she is you too?