There's a picture of me as a baby where my dad is holding me behind the head and his thumb is positioned in such a way that it appears I have one enormous (and by enormous I mean elephantine) ear. This particular picture happened to be the one my grandparents decided to stick in a large frame full of various grand-babies that hung at the top of their stairs. So, every time I climbed the steps, just past the point where I could look down over the railing and see the top of the grandfather clock that peppered the house with unexpected outbursts day and night, I would stop and see that big-eared baby picture and feel a surge of embarrassment.
Even though no one teased me particularly about the picture, even though everyone knew it was just my father's thumb, even though I don't actually have one elephantine earlobe, still I froze every time I saw that picture. I hated thinking that was the image my mema and granddaddy had of me when I was away. Since we only saw them once a year or so, and since they likely walked up those stairs several times a day, I knew they saw that big-eared image of me many hundred times more often than they saw my real face.
It never occurred to me that when my grandparents looked at that picture, they saw my smile or my dimpled cheeks or a certain resemblance to my father. How could I imagine them smiling over that silly photo, beaming at the way their fourth grandchild was the spitting image of their fifth child? When I looked at that picture, all I could see was the freakish visual effect on my ear. It never occurred to me that someone else might look at that picture and see a beautiful baby girl. All of the other grand-babies on that wall looked perfect and pink and proportional. And I looked part Dumbo.
I guess you could say the habit of comparing myself to others started early.
How sad, given the unrelenting fondness I had (and have) for that old Kansas City house, that I let one silly picture ruin even a small corner of that house for me.
|Swinging with granddaddy in the back yard.|
Theodore Roosevelt said, "Comparison is the thief of joy." I wish that I could say I learned my lesson early on, that I let go of the big ear and embraced the big picture, but honestly the tendency to compare myself to others has followed me my entire life. And for some reason, recently the comparison habit has kicked into overdrive. Like a weed, it has crept in and wound its way around the roots of my thinking, soaking up the water, choking out the light and the air.
Finally, just this week, I realized how much ground I had lost to the infestation of comparison thinking. I confessed to Sam, shameful tears gathering in my eyes, that I just couldn't get past the feeling of not measuring up. Everyone I looked at seemed skinnier, prettier, more talented. Everyone else has a weekly date night, I told him. Everyone else has more help with their kids. Everyone else has a bigger house and better towels and carpet that doesn't have holes in it.
Sam spoke sense, as he's wont to do, saying things like we're not everyone else and you are beautiful to me and who cares about the carpet. Then he said, "Given the choice between being Ebenezer Scrooge and Bob Cratchit, who would you rather be?" Of course, he knew the answer I would give: Bob Cratchit, all the way.
I have been spending so much time and energy worrying about what I think I should have that I had almost forgotten to think about who I think I should be. And the fact that he had to reduce it to such simplistic terms to get me to wake up is the ultimate indictment of the way I've been thinking. Not only is this comparison thinking unhealthy; it's also misleading and inaccurate. I don't really want to be the powerful, rich guy anyway, and I don't know how I let myself get wrapped up in the pursuit of an ideal I don't even value. I don't believe my worth comes from the way I look or the square footage of my house or the number of digits in my bank balance.
I am a broad shouldered, big mouthed woman in a world that wants women to be small and quiet and compliant, a world that is perfectly accepting of women who diet down to prepubescent size, shave themselves to look eight years old, and become obsessed with a Pinterest inspired home and wardrobe. I am not capable of becoming that woman, not only because I like cheesecake too much, but also because I wouldn't want to be that woman.
I'm not some wannabe Barbie stomping her plastic heels because she was promised a dream house and a mate with a convertible and abs of sculpted plasticine. I am not some callous business man trying to keep warm by counting and recounting my stack of coins, wrapping my success or my title or my bank statement around me for comfort. And I am not some insecure little girl, pausing on the stairs to wonder how anyone could possibly see past that one big ear in my baby picture.
|My cousin Andee and I comparing, um, assets on the front porch of mema and grandaddy's house|
I think of how many minutes I wasted staring at my big-eared baby picture, moments in my grandparents' house that I can never get back, moments spent feeling inferior in comparison to all the other pictures on that wall. Time squandered on the thief of joy. Time that could have been spent in the kitchen, sitting in my mema's lap, listening to my granddaddy tell his stories of the war while his grandfather clock chirped about the passage of time from the other room. Time that should have been spent drinking in the truth I wouldn't ever find in that silly picture, the truth that I was loved and valued and seen even back then as more than the owner of perfectly proportioned features.
It feels like I've turned a corner today. Nothing has changed about my life except the way I'm looking at it. I'm remembering the reason I have two boys and two dogs is because I wanted my life to be full of life and mess and laughter and noise. I'm remembering that I made a vow to always welcome people into our home because I believe in sharing our lives with people, not because I wanted to show off my pristine carpet and luxurious guest towels. And I am reminded that the reason my husband loves me with an unflinching, unyielding love is not because I have movie star thighs but because I push myself, I challenge him, I insist on honesty and value integrity. We've always been substance over style, and I don't know how I let myself forget that.
Bob Cratchit, all the way.