I am a little apprehensive when it comes to New Year’s resolutions. The ‘New Year, New Me’ mentality that surrounds the approach of a new year implies I’m supposed to know exactly what I need to do and who I want to be. I feel like I am in a constant state of figuring those things out 365 days of the year. The ironic thing is, I knew these things quite well when I was much younger and now it’s a matter of forgetting much of what I’ve learned since then. I think the earliest version of me – the four and five and six year old version – knew many of the answers I’ve been digging for.
I knew back then that free time was my favorite thing and that home was my favorite place. I knew that loose comfy leggings were the obvious clothing choice because dresses and skirts and constrictive jeans did not lend themselves to free, spontaneous cartwheels. I knew that my body was perfect because it let me run and play and dance and climb trees.
I knew that daydreaming was not only acceptable, but a wonderful creative escape that fully deserved my time and attention. I knew that there was nothing more beautiful than a well-illustrated children’s book. I knew that I loved to make art and that someday I would be an artist. I knew I didn’t like to sit still unless I was reading or making art.
I knew that I didn’t like church because I had to sit still…and listen to stories I did not understand and because it made me angry that women could not be priests. I knew that girls were just as strong and smart and worthy as boys and I knew that it was okay for boys to wear pink or play with dolls or cry.
I knew that being myself was more important than being accepted; despite hating to attract attention to myself, I flat out refused to follow the trends of my peers for fear that this would make me “fake”. I knew that bottling up my frustration, excitement, anger, sadness, joy, and fear was not worth it. Well to be fair, I did not consciously “know” this, but rather I did not yet know how to not wear my heart on my sleeve.
I knew that it was wrong when an adult at school yelled at a student who was just confused and distracted and scared. I knew that it was wrong when a teacher exasperatedly took a book away from a little boy who was “not ready for that level of reading”. I knew that it was wrong when another teacher grabbed me by the hood of my jacket and yanked me backward when I was rushing down the hall at the end of the school day in my eagerness to get home where I could feel safe and free. I knew a lot of things that happened at school were wrong. And I think those early school years were when I started to forget some of the important things I had known.
I started to let the world around me teach me new lessons. I learned that it wasn’t normal or acceptable to be quiet and reserved. I learned that comfortable clothes were not always the right clothes and that daydreaming was not a wonderful creative escape, but rather a recipe for getting in trouble at school.
I learned that, after kindergarten, art was only worthy of forty minutes of the seven-hour school day one day per week. I learned that sitting still was a very good thing that teachers praised. I learned that boys and girls were separate and that if I was friends with a boy I would be teased by my classmates.
As I got a little older, I learned that my body was supposed to look a certain way and I learned how to hide what I was feeling. I learned that being accepted was at least as important as being myself, if not more so.
I had gathered a whole new body of knowledge that I found rather difficult to live with. If only I’d had thicker skin, had been more oblivious to the subtleties around me… Had I been somehow immune to the new and peculiar life lessons I was learning, I surely could have saved my unsuspecting family – and myself – the strain of endless meltdowns, illness, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, and other futile embodiments of a child caught off guard by a world she didn’t easily fit into.
As I’m sure many a like-minded, soul-searcher can attest to, it is no small task to sift through the layers upon layers of oneself in order to find what is real and worth keeping and what is not. As I sift, I am seeing more and more that the layers worth keeping – the real layers – are the ones that have been here all along. It turns out my five-year-old self was wiser than I ever gave her credit for. It turns out I kind of like the original version of me. I think she was on to something… and I think I’ll keep her. Or rather, I think I’ll continue to work toward getting her back. That is my New Year’s resolution.