I never thought much about how I looked, whether I had friends, if I could throw a ball, or how smart I was when I was a little girl. I just walked straight up to kids and said, “do you wanna be my friend?” Anybody with an arm could throw a ball, and I was one smart little girl, everybody said so. As for looks, well, I never much looked at myself, except to brush my teeth, so I never really considered whether I looked, one way or another. That changed somewhere between being a little girl and being a grown up woman. Somewhere around 6th or 7th grade, my focus on me began to cause great doubt.
Once I asked Mom, “What would you do if you had an ugly kid?”
She gave me that quizzical look of hers that always came right before she said something like ‘how do you think up these questions?’ This time she said out-loud, “I never gave it much thought. All my kids are beautiful. Why would I have an ugly kid?”
“Well, just pretend,” I said. “What would you do if you had one?” I guessed I was thinking about it on account of Deanna being so darned beautiful she stopped people dead in their tracks.
Mom stopped the sewing machine and relaxed her hold on the Red Riding Hood cape she was sewing for Julie’s Halloween costume. She swiveled around in her handy-dandy rolling chair, which was a secretary’s chair, before Dad got it for free ’cause nobody wanted it, and he knew she’d just love it ’cause she was always getting up and down to fetch one thing or another. Mom looked in my hazel eyes, with her amber-flecked brown eyes; then her eyes started darted all around searching my face.
“You know, I don’t think they make ugly kids anymore,” she said, with her eyes going back to the left side of her brain, like she was looking up there for her last memory of an ugly kid. “There used to be kids that were down right homely, but not anymore.”
That was the end of it for me. No ugly kids existed, they were out of print.
I got a little older and started babysitting. Me and Deanna and Bonita got a regular business going, because of all the little kids we had right there at home to practice on, and because if one of us was busy, for sure another one of us could step in.
“Now you’re Deanna,” Mr. K said, when he picked me up to babysit for his three kids, while he and Mrs. K went to a grown-up party. Of course I corrected him, ’cause I was nothing like Deanna.
“That’s right,” Mr. K said, trying to make it better. “You’re the big one.”
“I’m the second oldest,” I corrected him again. By that time, I had almost caught up to Deanna in size, and I could even borrow some of her clothes. I always asked. Well, almost always. I borrowed her nice spring coat once without asking, because she wasn’t home and I was going to be back before she was, and what could happen to a coat in one afternoon? I spilled a chocolate milkshake all over the front, and had to drop it off at the dry-cleaners and come home with no coat on, and then I had to face Deanna. Deanna was mad as a wet hen at me and she had already learned how to press her lips together in a straight line and pulse her lower eyelids up to cover half her eyes. So now I had Mom and Deanna making that look at me, which made me feel pretty darned small. I probably had to go to confession for stealing, too, ’cause I did take her coat without asking. That was the one-and-only time I pulled a stunt like that.
Mr. K just had to keep going with his who’s-biggest bit. “Well, maybe you are bigger boned,” he offered. I had no response for that, ’cause I had no idea what size my bones were next to Deanna’s or Bonita’s, so I just kept quiet and looked out the window. Besides, I already corrected him twice, and grown-ups really liked to be right most of the time, so I just let sleeping dogs lie.
To this day, I have no idea what Mr. K was thinking. Unfortunately, I did re-live the experience with my daughter. She was about the same age as I was when Mr. K made his you’re-biggest remarks. She and I were Christmas shopping, when a well-meaning fellow asked me for some help.
“Excuse me,” he said. “What size are you?” My face must have looked a little like my Mom’s when I asked the ‘ugly kid’ question, because he started fumbling with his car-keys and had a hard time finding his next words.
“I’m shopping for my girlfriend, and she’s about your size,” he said, with his eyes studying his shoes. “She’s pretty tiny.”
“Well, maybe she’s more my daughter’s size,” I offered. I was still stuck with the possibility that I was the big one, even though I was a size 8 with plenty of room to move around.
“No. My girlfriend’s not that big,” said this strange man, with an obvious perception problem, because my daughter was the smaller, by far. “My girlfriend’s tiny. Like you. Not like her at all,” he continued, trying somehow to make his error into truth.
When I was a little girl, if someone called a name, I said in a confident voice, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” If someone said something mean or hurtful, “I am rubber, you are glue, what you say, bounces off me an sticks on you.” I believed those words right up until I got to be a not-so-little girl. Then somehow, my self esteem started to get diminish by the reflection of other people’s opinion. Some time during the past ten years, I came to the realization I had a choice to make about my looks. I could be wrinkled, or I could be round. I failed to make up my mind, so I got a little of both.
I made a consious choice to Be like a child. It’s better for everyone. Believe there are friends out there, just waiting to be asked. Know that anyone can throw a ball. Understand that you are one bright cookie. And most of all, only look in the mirror when you brush your teeth.