I was an obnoxious little girl. Or very assertive, if you prefer.
At 4, I already thought I knew it all. I was driving my babysitter crazy. She followed a certain schedule, with outside playtime set, meals and snacks at definite hours.
In other words, she was doing her babysitter job. But I couldn’t handle it. I didn’t understand why I had to follow all those stupid rules. So I kept asking why, challenging her authority, finding ways to sneak around and do whatever the f*ck I want.
When I got into kinder garden at 5, we were both relieved. Surprisingly, I didn’t mind so much the school schedule. I guess it’s because it wasn’t imposed on me by someone I could resent, someone I throught I knew better than. Sure, there were set times, but I felt a lot more free. Within those time slots, I was allowed to do what I loved the most: learn, work, and read as much as I wanted when I was done with the exercises, which meant I was reading most days, all day. Picture reading a book per day, every day. No wonder I was so happy.
Don’t get me wrong: I was still an obnoxious little girl. I was the Hermione Granger of the class. Always front row, right hand up in the air even before the teacher had finished asking the question, ready to answer. In fact, I was so sure I knew the answers to all the questions I left my hand up at all times. It was less effort to keep it there than to flex and retract throughout the lesson.
Even then, I eventually grew tired of having my arm up and never getting asked to give the answer. Pedagogy 101: use questions to involve students who might have trouble understanding or seem to be daydreaming. Don’t quiz Hermione Granger. You know she knows. Everybody knows she knows.
I still couldn’t give up showing the world how smart I was. So in 4th grade, I draw a version of my arm in paper. It was a piece of art, with pretty rings on some fingers. I could now rest my elbow on my student desk and hold my paper arm up. Quite smart, don’t you think?
My teacher didn’t agree. She was kind of insulted, I guess. Or simply didn’t know what to do with that kid who was done with all the extra educational cards she assigned to students once they were finished with the exercise of the day.
I was too much to handle for the regular elementary school teacher. I kept asking for more, more knowledge, more to read, more to learn. I was taking too much space in the classroom, with all my questions and my strong desire to grow. I was already involved in all extracurricular activities I could: I was the mini-teacher for students who struggled, the president of the classroom, the leader of the Cooperation Council. My social life was cheerful: I had plenty of friends and boyfriends. And I was still hungry for more.
I was a student with special needs, but no one acknowledge that, because I got the best grades. Without any help, learning by myself, managing my own workload. So instead of giving me the attention I needed, the adults around me devoted their time to the other students, the ones who were underperforming.
I was a student with special needs, but I thought there was something wrong with me. Because eventually I looked around me and noticed my arm up might bother other students.
I started sweating. Not just the small stuff. Literally sweating. As in armpits pouring water out of my body ALL DAY.
In 5th grade, my whole focus shifted from the neediness to feed my brain from the fountains of wisdom my teachers and books were towards managing those plentiful fountains my underarms had become. All my shirts were meticulously picked to disguise my running water source. Tank tops in the summer, wool or synthetic fabric in winter.
In 6th grade, I had the privilege to eat lunch at home. I spent the whole hour drying up my shirt. The set up was on fleek. Chair in the middle of the kitchen, shirt carefully in place, hairdryer on in the right hand. Everything was time precisely: I couldn’t afford to waste a minute.
Eating was clearly not my priority: looking the part was. At this point, I had become so self-aware most of my energy was spent on preserving that shameful secret. I had finally found a way to take a bit less space.
In my first year in high school, I gathered the courage to talk to my mom. I got Botox. No, not between my eyebrows to soothe my 12 year-old worried forehead. In my armpits, to block the sweat glands.
It kind of worked. Combined with a full wardrobe of black shirts, I was good to go.
Wet underarms were gone, but the self-awareness didn’t stop as instantly as my perspiration problem. From one hormonal problem to the other, I was now obsessed with my chin zits.
Unfortunately, zits were not providing enough problems for my hungry brain. I had to create a bigger issue. Let’s take my whole body as a screwed playfield.
I couldn’t control the zits, but I could control the shape of me right? I had already developed the habit of prioritizing looks over lunch in 6th grade, so I kept on rolling. Anyway, the sandwich my mom made was all squished by noon, I had no interest in it (sorry Mom. I would so appreciate your squished sandwichs now that I have to pack my own).
So I simply waited until after school to enjoy my two huge bowls of Raisin Bran. By not eating much throughout the day, I avoided any bloating and believed I could keep my stomach flat, which was very important in the low rise jeans and bellybutton revealing shirt trend.
Oh, I also learned to not breathe and suck my tummy in. I mean, what’s the point of breathing after all when you might get noticed by the most popular guys of the school?
It was only the beginning of my fixation on appearance, which morphed into something more disgusting than perspiration and zits.
We all know it has nothing to do with appearance. It could have been many other things. It’s the form of mental intrigue my mind chose to get me into this game of people pleasing, but it could’ve taken any other format.
The important thing here is as long as I was that self-aware, trying to control other people’s perception of me, I wasn’t really present. I had become the constant observer, like this lil angel on your shoulder, except with a devilish outlook on my poor performance and lack of self-control on my belly expansion.
Sure, I had attained my objective of taking less space, but I was still too much to handle. I had become a vacuum of energy, a void that couldn’t be filled.
The pendulum had swung from one opposite to the other. That’s what pendulums do anyway right? From the full-blown innocent confidence of a child to the contractive self-awareness of teenage years.
Now it’s slowly getting back in a happy middle, as I’m figuring out how to step in life as my unapologetic self, yet still super attentive to the energy of others. I guess that’s what you call emotional intelligence.
Funny enough, when I stop focusing so much on what others are thinking of me and simply enjoy being me, I don’t believe I’m taking too much space anymore, as I don’t need to get all of your attention to feel good about myself.
Oh, I started breathing again. That breath leaves us both, you and I, with plenty of space to be together in that moment, both bountiful, blissful and beautiful.