If you’re visiting for the first time, you might notice my tagline says ‘Awesome Author of Imaginary Tales’. It says it on my business cards, too. Today, I want to talk about that word, ‘awesome’. No, I’m not entitled–at least I don’t think I am. Well, okay maybe, just a little. I believe if you go to a restaurant, the waitress should wait on you, not chat with her friends. I believe if I pay for internet service, I shouldn’t have to complain every week that the service isn’t working. I don’t think that’s entitlement, though. To me, those are standard, normal expectations. Entitlement would be thinking that if I pay for internet service every month, I should also get a free computer. Just because.
I was born in Washington D.C., but some time shortly after I arrived in the world, we moved to Georgia because my uncle promised my mother it never snowed there. Once we weathered the snow storm that arrived during the move, the one that never should have arrived, I settled down to life in the deep south.
There are a million stereotypes about life in the south, some of them true, some of them not so true, and some of them only true in June. If I were to address all of them, I’d be here for a long, long time.
What’s important is, in the South, it’s all about everyone else. Everyone is your neighbor, your friend, and your family. Everyone. You serve everyone, including your country, and you take pride in your humility. You cater to everyone. You smile, you make everyone else feel comfortable. It’s that warm, cozy, southern charm. And I was fine with it.
Then parenthood came along.
I taught my kids what I had been taught. I taught them to serve others. I taught them when we visit someone, we take a gift the first time. I taught them to offer the best of everything we have to guests. I taught them to give first, then see to themselves. To please others. To be generous.
And I watched my daughter not stand up for herself because she was so focused on giving everything to everyone else. I watched her give away all her favorite stickers to her friends when they came to visit one day. I watched her give and give and give and not understand why the giving wasn’t reciprocated. I watched my daughter, over the course of a year, shrivel up before my eyes as two boys from school took advantage of her generous nature. They took her things. They took her place in games. I picked her up some days with her six-year-old face bloodied, tears streaked down her face, because they had thrown her into the gravel and beaten her. I listened, outraged, as she told me how when she was hanging upside down on the balance bar they poked her with sticks until she fell. I gasped in horror as she told me how they waited until the teacher left, cornered her, and told her they were going to kill her.
I had meeting after meeting, with teachers, principals, and school nurses. I contacted the police. I threatened to contact Social Services. I did everything short of pulling her from the school and breaking the law by keeping her at home (in Sweden, you cannot home school). This is the same girl, I might add, who began the school year trying to be nice to the mean kids. The same girl, who in her heart of hearts, listened to the stories that said, ‘bullies are just unhappy kids and if you’re nice to them, they’ll suddenly become adorable little chaps and buy you ice cream.’ And while she was trying to be nice to them, they were stealing her hat, rubbing their penis all over it and laughing in her face. Where, I wanted to know, are the books that talk about those bullies?
My husband began giving her fighting lessons at home. And while they spent hours punching and kicking, I took a long, hard look at what I had taught her all this time. I had taught her to be submissive. No one else, just me. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in teaching sharing, but I had failed on another level. I had only taught her one side. I had taught her to serve others, instead of standing up for herself.
A dear friend of mine mentioned she also had difficulties with bullies in school, so her mother spent time teaching her self-confidence. Not how to run from the bully, or tell a teacher, or be nice and include the bully. Her days were spent learning how to stand tall, how to be confident in her strengths and know where her weaknesses fell, and how to walk with confidence. These lessons had nothing to do with bullies, everything to do with self-esteem and yet she said it worked. They left her alone.
The downside? It took a year.
I looked again and noticed my daughter constantly pointing out her mistakes. She’s a fantastic artist, but she’ll point out how the elephant’s ears are wrong, or the wrong color. I know many kids struggle with this, so I don’t think it’s a singular issue, but I began to wonder what she did think she could do well.
I asked her.
“What do you think you’re good at?”
“What do you know you’re good at?”
This is the same girl who wrote more than twenty books, with a cover, AND a plot, AND character arcs, before she was six years old. This girl, who is good at ‘nothing’, learned how to read and write in record time. She can paint, draw, make necklaces, jump rope, climb the walls (literally), sew doll clothes by herself, and a host of other things.
So why did she believe she wasn’t good at anything?
I began to watch what impression I gave her. I looked at myself. When my husband said I was good at something, I immediately disqualified it.
“Pfft. I’m not, but thanks, you’re sweet.”
“Your book is on par with Robin Hobb. When is the next one coming?”
“You’re my husband, you have to say that.”
Did I do that? Every single time he tried to complement me?
First, give my husband a medal for perseverance. Second, someone please slap me. Thirdly, and most importantly, I know now why my daughter doesn’t think she’s good at anything.
I was ashamed. I vowed immediately to change things around here. It helps that I have a husband who exudes awesomeness the way other men sweat. In the morning, he blares the Lego Song as a wake-up call. The kids grumble and groan while in the background some very happy people are screaming:
‘Rocks, clocks and socks
I’ve tried working on it, too. When my husband complements me, I try not to smother it with disqualifiers. I try to tell myself, ‘I am awesome.’
I’ll be honest, some days are better than others.
I asked my daughter to say the words, ‘I am awesome’. For the first week, she couldn’t say them. She even cried. She just couldn’t say the words. It’s hard when you think about it. To admit you’re pretty darn good, by God.
You try it.
Say to yourself, ‘I am awesome.’
For those of you who did, I bet you smiled, didn’t you? You can’t help but smile.
‘I am awesome!’
And Bam! There’s the smile. Do you know how many feel-good hormones you just released? I don’t either, but it has to be a gazillion!
And so, my tagline, ‘Awesome Author of Imaginary Tales’ might scream entitlement to you, but to me, it’s a reminder. It’s something special. It’s a campaign to recognize the worth in myself, my daughter, and yes, even you, and to celebrate that. It’s a constant reminder when the doubts pop up, and make no mistake, they always do. But it doesn’t matter, because I am pretty darn good at writing stories. I can make you laugh and cry. That’s my strength and I’m going to celebrate it. I’m going to teach my daughter that she’s pretty darn special, too (and son, though he seems to follow my husband’s lead. He already knows he’s awesome. He and I may be having humility chats later).
We all need that reminder. We have enough judgment, don’t we? In the eyes of our co-workers, our parents, our friends. In the off-hand insults thrown our way, especially in the anonymity of social media. In the failures and mistakes. In the broken promises we meant to keep. In the guilt and shame we carry around with us of unmet expectations and embarrassing moments. We’re surrounded by judgment.
When was the last time you said, ‘I am awesome?’ and really believed it? Do you know that you are? Go ahead, say it. And smile. Then believe it and never let it go. Because someone is looking up to you, watching you, and they need to know it’s okay to believe it.