Being the oldest of four children, the one word I heard most while growing up was Share. Yes, Share was said even more than Quiet. Well, sometimes.
Everything was shared, from my room to my hair barrettes; right down to the personal pan pizza redeemed for meeting my Book It! quota. But one of the first lessons in sharing was learned in sharing attention. I was four years old when I became a big sister. At first I struggled with the fact there was a new kid on the block. Better yet, in my bedroom. The baby took all of Mom and Dad’s time. I couldn’t laugh as loud as I wanted as before without getting shushed. The baby was sleeping. The baby called the shots and we were all at her whim.
I was fed up and hid her clothes, hoping she was disappear too. My mother explained that my parents still loved me, but I was no longer an only child. Being a good big sister meant understanding that not everything was about me anymore. But to my five year old ears, anymore meant never again.
I never wanted her to feel bad or upset, so I let her win at every game we played. I gave her the first and last cookie. I gave the clothes off my Barbie’s back. As I started to make everything about her, I slowly dimmed myself.
Putting her first made me feel like I was being a good big sister. A good daughter. This carried over to my life outside of home. Being one of the few kids in my Kingergarten class who could read, I felt guilty reading aloud, worried that I’d somehow hurt the other students’ feelings. I hid my high test scores from my classmates. My cheeks would flush embarrassment when I was praised in front of my peers. I felt that my achievements were nothing to be proud of because they put me ahead of others. Every wonderful thing I did was followed by a It’s not a big deal or It’s nothing special.
I had it all wrong. I was not being humble or modest, I was being self-deprecating at every turn. I had replaced It’s with I. The more I said it, the more I believed. I felt everyone was more deserving, more beautiful, more worthy. I had made myself Quasimodo in my own Notre Dame, ringing the bells and singing the praises of others, never of myself.
I dumbed myself down for my dating partners, whispered my ideas at work. By midday my eyeliner and lipgloss would be smeared off my face and onto a tissue. Attention, of any kind, made me anxious. It felt wrong to be noticed. I felt more comfortable in the background, playing Cyrano and pushed my ideas through others who I felt had more of a voice.
I’m still struggling with this, but have learned that hiding me: my thoughts, feelings and talents is extremely selfish. One person being inspired by something I do, say, or write is more valuable than hording my gifts to myself. Denying my greatness does no one any favors and only does to me a disservice. Humility comes with the connotation of respect not disrespect of oneself.
My sister graduates college this year as the most decorated athlete in her university’s history. I will be there to cheer her on. Cheers coming from a place of balance, self-respect, but most importantly love.
photo © Anders Lundstedt | Dreamstime.com