I am an introvert, always have been. But when I was younger I was also painfully shy, unsure of myself and completely lacking in confidence. So imagine how much fun it was for me when my family moved from one town to another when I was going into 9th grade.
High school was the worst four years of my life.
Now I get that there are a lot of people who would say that high school sucked. I get that. But I can only speak of myself. I had very few friends, and they became my friends almost by accident. I had nothing in common with them- they didn’t do anything I enjoyed.
So why didn’t I make friends that I shared interests with? Why didn’t I expand my friend group?
I’d like to blame it all on high school. Don’t get me wrong: my new high school may have been the cliquiest place on earth. We moved from a solid, blue collar neighborhood with post war cookie cutter houses. People parked their Chevies and Buicks in front of their houses where they did their own lawns. We moved to an upscale town, where people had gardens lovingly tended by matrons in knee pads and wide brimmed sun hats, and teams of paid lawn support. Mercedes and Lincoln were the names pulled into well lit garages. I was thrown into a world where I didn’t understand the language- where the old world had the Brooklynese dropped r’s, and my new neighbors had the Thurston and Lovie Howell Locust Valley lockjaw…
It would be easy to blame the whole thing on my surroundings. But while that was definitely part of the problem, it was not the whole picture. See, when you don’t really like yourself, it’s hard to find friends. When you have no interests other than reading, it’s hard to find friends. I spent my lunch periods in the library, my nose buried in a book. I left school right after the final bell- there were no extracurriculars that I partook in. I did get a job when I was sixteen, and that was a lifeline of sorts. It’s at that job folding shirts and stacking jeans that I began to figure out who I was.
But back to the move. My Mom was not always the happiest person on earth. She had ideas- she had always wanted to live in a posh house in a zip code that was Long Island version of 90210 lite. She wanted the pretty house, but my Mom didn’t want the lifestyle that came with living in one of these communities. She wanted the beautiful décor, a house that made people say Wow. But she never had anyone over the house so that they could say Wow. She made exactly one friend in the twenty five years she lived in that house. My Father made zero- but honestly- he was working seven days a week to pay for that house in that nice suburb.
Let’s focus on my Mom for a second: A Mom is supposed to be their to support their child when their child is hurting. (remember the other day- a parent can’t be selfish) My parents bought a house that needed some reno. I’m pretty sure my Mother had a nervous breakdown during the renovation process. She had trouble with the contractor and the architect that she hired- I guess their vision was different from my Mother’s. But it doesn’t matter because my Mother was emotionally unavailable during that first year when I was in a new school. I needed support, and no one was available to give it to me. I was floundering, and no one noticed. My father lost to his job, my Mother to herself.
Admittedly, floundering for me was being a sullen kid who didn’t study and didn’t do their homework. These were the days when if you had a little bit of natural intelligence you could get a B in school. I didn’t drink. I didn’t do drugs. I was not promiscuous. I did not break curfew because I barely went out. The police never escorted me home. I didn’t do anything self destructive. I was just unhappy. My Mother knew I was unhappy, but instead of helping me, she just told me it was my own fault. She would give me sound bites as to what to do, but as we all know, sound bites are style over substance. These little mottos and tough love were not what I needed. My Mom had been popular in High School- she had absolutely no idea how I wasn’t, nor did she know what my problem was. She armed me with expensive clothes because when she was younger that was all she wanted- a big walk in closet filled with clothes. So I had monogrammed crew neck sweaters in every color. I had ten Bermuda bag covers. But I had nothing else.
So how did these four torturous year known as High School affect me? Well, it made me decide that once I got to college I would make a concerted effort to make friends, real friends who I shared commonality with and that were good people and would like me. And we know, as I’m telling this story sort of backwards, I did. When I sat in the French placement test my first week of college, and the pretty, perky brunette girl turned to me and said “Trois? What happened to deux?” I smiled and shrugged my shoulders and said “At least you know you missed one…” And that was the day I met A. Who would later introduce me to G and M…And we know that story hasn’t ended yet…
My other take aways: I didn’t know if I wanted to be a parent because I didn’t think I could handle having a child who was unhappy and not know how to help them. I made a conscious effort to make sure I did as much as possible to help my child navigate every stage of their life- a little tough love, a little understanding, a little communication.
This started my love of function over form. I live in a small apartment. I have furniture that meets our needs as a family: a desk to work at, a table to eat at, a sofa to sit on. I really don’t care much for décor or things like that. To me it’s not worth the brain space to create a perfect physical environment. I am never going to pillow chop. I am never going to arrange knick knacks on a coffee table. I saw what that did to my Mother. I will not let it happen to me. Sometimes you just do a 180.
I also made a promise that my daughter would not change schools in the middle of her tenure. of course, the way NYC public schools system is set up, my daughter has entered an entirely new school environment every time she moves up. When she went to middle school she only knew about twenty of the 480 kids who would make up her grade. But it was Ok, because she is a different person than I am. She might be an introvert, but she exudes confidence and authority and leadership. She walked into that building of strange faces and took control of her destiny. Just like she did when she went to high school. And exactly what she will do when she heads off to college.
I know that things happen, that you must adapt to a changing environment. As I’ve stated before, adapt or die. But adapting, change…not so easy. Arm your kids with what they need to be resilient. Arm yourself with tools that make you resilient. Because in the end, resilience is what matters most.