The New York Times had an article a few years back that emphasized the vital importance of a family narrative when it comes to our children developing a strong sense of self. The knowledge that they are part of a bigger whole, and a whole that has had both shining moments, and those not as sparkly, is essential in the formation of a child’s core identity.
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Countless scholarly articles and psychological research have been devoted to this topic. Tools are available to families to help guide the conversation, particularly to adolescents and teens. But the conversation can begin much earlier, even with our littlest children.
And with this strong core identity that our children develop, there should flow increased self confidence as our children brave the world, both under our guidance and once they leave our nest.
We all have a story. Girls, this is where yours began…
The Perfect Shade: Our Family Narrative
The memory of hot, humid mornings in late August couldn’t escape me if I tried.
The insurmountable task of moving her oldest daughter into a freshman dorm must have completely overwhelmed my mother, who elicited my uncle to help us with the heavy lifting. Despite the uncomfortable heat, in each and every picture I have of that day, I’m nothing but smiles. And not just a pleasant, smile for the Kodak moment type of smile, but a cheek-to-cheek picture of ecstatic joy.
The night before leaving for college was filled with more anxiety and trepidation:
What would it be like leaving the only home I’ve ever known?
What if I wasn’t smart and talented enough to make it at my first-choice school (which, in retrospect, might have been a bit of a stretch)?
And, most important to my extroverted, feeling personality type:
What if my peers didn’t like me?
What if, like most of my school experience to date, I didn’t really fit in?
I dropped most of those concerns somewhere along the interstate heading west, chatting with my uncle about his fondest collegiate memories at a school similar to mine. The freedom college promised was intoxicating, and the possibilities open to me seemed endless. At the time, these possibilities were not over-whelming or scary at all. This was in the weeks leading up to September 11, when my generation didn’t really know what we had to fear until we watched the events of that day unfold.
Once everything was hauled up the stairs, I set to taping all my pictures to the white cement walls. Clothes, school supplies and toiletries could wait, but my connection to my past could not. I knew subconsciously that this was a turning point in my life: not only the start of living independently, but for the first time, being handed the opportunity to truly make of my life what I wanted. In this moment, just about anything seemed possible.
After bidding my family farewell, I settled into our first hall meeting, surrounded by women who were basically complete strangers. But since everyone was new to this college life, we were all equally excited and terrified. Our hall meeting later expanded to a dorm wide cookout where we mingled with students throughout our quad. We all exchanged basic information: our hometown, what we hoped to study, if we knew any older students who might invite us to a party.
Recalling the events of this day, my heart races with the anticipation of something amazing about to happen, coupled with the peace of the knowledge that it did.
After dinner, there were a few more “getting to know you” games that the resident advisors organized, but I bailed to get dressed to go out with some friends that I met at orientation. I walked down the hall adjacent to mine to the room of a friend from high school that, as luck would have it, was placed in the same dorm as me. We weren’t the closest of friends in high school, but we had agreed to stick together as we tried to navigate the wild world of college life.
She straightened her hair (which, in the August humidity, was a useless attempt) while we chatted about the people we met that afternoon and tried to remember the directions to the party. What to wear wasn’t a question, since the only acceptable outfit at that point in time was a fitted pair of black pants, with a complimenting top containing too much spandex, and some sort of strappy black heals.
I leaned over to see if she had any cold drinks when I heard a knock on her partially ajar door. My friend, bound to her hair straightener, encouraged me to see who it was. Far too wrapped up in my own world and what the evening ahead might hold for me, I hardly nudged the door open with my foot while simultaneously calling “Come on in!”
I stood up from the fridge and looked over to the doorway. I unexpectedly locked eyes with the guy closest to me, who flashed a smile that made my already over-excited heart ramp up a few notches. Tall, blond, tan, and eyes the perfect shade of blue. I smiled back, in what I’m sure was a very awkward fashion, and hoped he would be the first one to speak.
Thankfully, one of his comrades did. “We are playing the ice breaker game the RA’s gave us, and we need to find someone who has milked a cow.”
Finally, growing up in a rural area seemed to be beneficial. “I have,” I quickly quipped, and then tried to go back to what I was doing to appear important and desirable.
“Well, that’s weird,” the comrade responded. “Where did you do that?”
“I grew up in the country. There were lots of cow farms around.”
I let my gaze fall back to the intoxicating blue eyes, and thankfully, he was still engaged and smiling. Introductions followed, and then the group moved on down the hall to meet more dorm-mates, as my friend and I prepared to go out on the town.
Of all the freedoms waiting for me as I began college, the one I never anticipated was that I would be given the pure honor of being myself. When I describe it to my children, I beg them to understand that they were created to be truly known and loved in this world, and that they don’t need to wait until they are grown and out of our house to feel accepted and valued. I wouldn’t want to starve them of that happiness for the world, and hope and pray each day that they’ll discover it for themselves with the utmost haste.
In retrospect, I truly believe my adult life began the moment I moved into my college dorm. That day stands out in my mind as the true turning point toward gratitude, appreciation, and the beginning of a broader understanding of the world and my ability to contribute to it. The acceptance gifted to me as I moved into that stuffy room allowed me to march forward into this new chapter of my life, shedding off the insecurity and apprehension that may have held me back, and move strongly in the direction of the rest of my life.
I would have never anticipated it at the time, but this small college town would become my home. It was the town where I returned from my honeymoon, accepted my first “grown up” job, and bought my first house. It would become the town where I cared for thousands of patients and taught hundreds of students to do the same. It was the place where I welcomed my children into the world and shared with them the joys of living in a small town, stocked full of history and beauty.
But with all the independence that was given to me when I began college, what I didn’t realize was going to make me the happiest were the people I met in the moments and days and years that followed. Women and men who would challenge and support and shape me into the adult that I was becoming. People who, over the next two decades, would influence me, not only by their novel ways of thinking, but in their unwavering encouragement and support of me becoming the person I was designed to be. Friends who now are forever a part of our family as God parents to our girls.
And what I certainly never expected, on that hot August day all those years ago, was the lifelong happiness that would be mine in the most unassuming moment of them all. But I’m reminded of it, time and time again, as I look across our dinner table, past the faces of four daughters who look remarkably like their father, and lock eyes with the perfect shade of blue once again.