I have a rather sassy granddaughter. She reminds me much more of my mother and mother-in-law than of myself or my daughters. I suppose that I secretly enjoy that she is so much more willing to assert herself than I ever was. I spent most of my childhood and teenage years being quiet and polite and even a bit repressed. I was truly afraid to be the person that I wanted to be or to express the opinions that rattled inside my brain. My granddaughter doesn’t even come close to being like that.
Don’t get me wrong. She is never rude or rebellious. In fact her teachers love her to death because she is such an outstanding young lady. Nonetheless she doesn’t mind speaking up when she senses injustice and she possesses a certain childlike wisdom that is beguiling. When her mother and I stew over problems she invariably arrives at conclusions and solutions that make great sense. In that regard she sometimes seems to be the reincarnation of my mother-in-law, a woman who always seemed able to reach the most rational and meaningful conclusions in even the most dire situations.
Since my granddaughter is still only eleven she sometimes has moments when she is whiny and overly emotional. Like most preteens she is exploring the world as she sees it and attempting to make sense of it. This is no small task given the chaos that surrounds us. It sometimes leads her to a point of frustration. She becomes irritated that others are unable to realize points of view that seem so clear to her. She hasn’t yet reigned in the tendency to become frustrated when facing opposition. I suspect that over time she will learn how to remain calm even when those around her are falling apart much as her Great Granny did.
We need strong women in our midst and my granddaughter is headed straight for that goal. She has so much confidence and she has learned early on the power of friendliness. She is never alone in a crowd because she invariably takes the lead in forging new friendships. It doesn’t bother her in the least to reach out to people. She introduces herself with a smile and her trademark, “Hi, I’m Abby!”
If I had one regret in my life it would be that I was always far too shy and awkward when I was young. I have learned over time that most people are just waiting to embrace gestures of kindness and cordiality. My mom used to urge me to be more social but my fears always held me back. I worried that I might be rejected or found to be lacking in some way. Mama insisted that the key to developing friendships was to forget about myself and think more about the people with whom I was interacting. Of course she was absolutely right but back when I was in my most awkward stage I believed that I was so grotesque that everyone would want to run from me. I spent most of my time worrying rather than opening my heart.
I eventually managed to become a much more complete person just as most of us do. I developed the ability to meet and embrace strangers. I am no longer petrified of a crowd. Still I possess a quiet nature that allows me to comfortably blend in whenever I just want to observe rather than lead. I first had to learn how to like myself before I was able to fully appreciate the people that I encountered.
I often used role models to become a better person. My dear friend Linda was one of those people. When I was still a girl I watched her from afar with a sense of awe and admiration. As far as I could tell she was an ideal person, always exhibiting such a friendly and caring nature. It would have amazed me back then if someone had told me that she and I would one day be the best of friends. Even to this day I continue to marvel at her generosity and thoughtfulness. She probably has no idea how often I studied her ways and worked to become more like her.
There was also a girl named Judy who caught my attention as a child. She seemed able to exist comfortably in virtually any circle of friends. Everyone knows of those teenage years when we seem to categorize everyone as popular or geeky, beautiful or homely, talented or without skills, athletic or clumsy, smart or simply average. Judy would have received superlative assessments on every single level and yet she was a humble person who took the time to include everyone and to notice who was feeling left out. I suppose that if I were to name one person from my past that I wanted to emulate it would be Judy. From her I learned how to forget myself and to concentrate on the other person. People generally like to talk about themselves. They enjoy knowing that someone is interested in their well being. Judy taught me that skill without knowing that she had done so. It has made a great deal of difference in my life.
Mine is a story of very strong women. It always pained me when I felt so lacking in the wit and wisdom that my female relatives seemed to so naturally possess. What I eventually realized is that each of us develops at a different pace. Once I accepted myself for who I was, “warts and all,” I was on my way to shedding all of my inhibitions and forcing myself to greet the world head on. Those who have met me as an adult don’t know that backward little girl that I once was and those who knew me when I was young marvel at how much I have changed.
For those who still struggle with interpersonal relationships and feeling good about themselves I would simply say begin practicing the art of embracing the people that you encounter. Open your smile and your heart to them and you will soon learn that they are just as human as you are. Watch the people that you most admire and learn what makes them so lovable. Practice forgetting about yourself and the flaws that you think that you have that few people ever notice. Instead focus on the other person and their needs. There are very few individuals who will spurn the advances of someone who genuinely cares about their well being.
I’m happy that my granddaughter doesn’t appear to be burdened with the inhibitions that so plagued me. She has already learned the lessons that took me decades to master. I wish that every youngster were so blessed. The world is a much more exciting and lovely place for those who approach it with gusto. It’s a shame that some of us take so long to realize that. Still, I am living proof that it is never too late to change and the process is not nearly as difficult as it may seem. So get out there today and begin to claim your slice of the best that life has to offer. You are good and beautiful and amazing!