I'll be emailing you about your prizes. Congrats guys!
And now, onto the Poetry Pact Blog Hop. When Angela Felsted asked me to participate in this, I thought, secret pacts? Hush-hush groups that got me through bad times?
All I could think of was this. It's an excerpt from an essay I wrote and never published. There was no group, just my mom. And yes, she got me through one of the worst times of my life. So here we go.
In fifth grade, seemingly overnight, my classmates hit that tricky age when a profound difference between generic and designer jeans came into existence. Pretty faces and perfect hair were worth everything. Oddly-named, small, ethnic girls were the least worthy of all.
Suddenly, the girls who’d always made me laugh were laughing at me. I could do nothing right. My clothes were too old. They were too short. I was too short. My house was too square. It was too big.
I breathed. I existed.
My mother watched me, perplexed, as I withdrew at home, lost my appetite, and cried until my pillow dampened with saltwater. I begged relentlessly for new clothes. It was the only thing I might fix, since there was no return receipt on my ethnicity. But money was tight, and Izod shirts were a waste of money on a stupid reptile logo.
The bullying and isolation continued into sixth grade. My “friends” alternated between including and excluding me, based on whims I cannot decipher to this day. When it got to be too much, my mother would sense the overflowing anxiety bubbling in my heart and take me aside after dinner. She’d close the kitchen door, pat the linoleum floor, and let me talk.
Being close to the earth made sense to Mom. In the little house in Seoul where she grew up, the rooms were kept heated with hot stones placed beneath the floorboards. Warmth would rise up, insistent and comforting, whether the family ate dinner or curled up on their flat mattresses for sleep. I remember visiting in second grade, that same year I’d transferred to this school, in awe of my pleasantly toasted rump while my grandmother fed me rice cakes and snuck me pieces of chewing gum.
So now, decades later and hundreds of miles away, we lay with our spines against the tough linoleum, staring at the amber light fixture on the kitchen ceiling. She gave me the space and time I needed to talk. At first, I didn’t say much. But before long, it came out in a deluge. One by one, I’d talk about each girl and detail her personalized brand of alienation.
Mom didn’t say much. I don’t think she knew how to produce the feel-good lines in English to make it all go away. They probably wouldn’t have worked on me, anyway. Instead, she just listened to it all, absorbing the bitterness, fury and despair of her eleven-year old daughter. Occasionally as I talked, I’d see liquid tracks slipping down her cheeks. Night after night, we’d both splatter that perfectly clean floor with the misery that was my social life.
It was then that I first saw, with agonizing clarity, her love for me. In that wretched time of my life, I saw my pain through her eyes and thought, only love could hurt this badly.
What she had to offer wasn’t words. It wasn’t just food, a warm house, clothes, or an education. She couldn’t fix my life then. She couldn’t and wouldn’t apologize for bringing up her three children in land so different from her native home. But she could lay a perpetually warm hand on mine and offer me a bit of sanctuary. She could share my suffering, and show me a wealth of love and acceptance that existed outside that daytime torture.
One day, the hurt miraculously lessened. My classmates and I were thrust into the bustling metropolis called middle school, and the mean girls were diluted into a sea of new faces and new friends. I would find confidence in myself, in increments. I began to suspect I was smart. On certain days of the week or month, I experienced a bizarre, alien contentment in not looking like every other girl. I began to actually believe my mom when she said I was beautiful.
My mother quietly accompanied me into that new era. Warm hands and all, she celebrated the return of my smiles. Though we never again needed that linoleum floor to dispel the bad times (for there would be more to come—it’s life, after all), I would never forget that moment of clarity, that first time I understood her love for me.
Now that I’m older and wiser (though some days I feel too old, and not nearly wise enough), I see my own three children growing up in an era where the same hurts get flung with painful accuracy. Social Survival 101 now has a huge chapter on Social Media Survival as well, and together we’re all trolling through new waters.
I know my kids will have bad days in the social arena. To say that my heart aches in anticipation of these days is an understatement. It’s mothering angina, and yes, it takes my breath away.
When the time comes for them to need me to listen, I'll bring the warm hand and the hard floor.
Thanks for guys for listening. Candace Granger started a wonderful anti-bullying campaign, the End. It. Now. Project. and it deserves more attention and support, so please check it out.
Also, check out the wonderful posts in the Poetry Pact Blog Hop. And thank you for stopping by!