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Two Little Words

Submitted by Bonnie Sludikoff on September 4, 2010 – 3:30 amComments

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I just got home from an interview to be a nanny for a girl whose mother was quick to label her as “difficult.”

“How would you feel if you tried to talk to her or get her to do something and she said no.” the mother asked nervously, adding, “She can be really… intense.” The mother made a point of explaining this, as if it might be a deal-breaker.

It's fine.

I tried to picture myself at age ten. Loud, precocious and quickly labeled as “oversensitive.” I remember my life in vivid color and detail with full conversations still sitting in my mind, in tact. I could do anything, I believed. I had this plan to publish my first novel by the age of 10 and then take over the world.

That year I had some tumultuous situations at school and at home . It wasn’t uncommon for me to cry over one thing or another- someone in my class punched me once, and I was reduced to tears. Another day this boy deliberately crushed a diorama I’d spent a week making and then waved one of the smashed clay pieces defiantly in my face. Later that year another boy blew pencil shavings in my eye at the pencil sharpener, and that same week, my parents had a fight and my mother threatened to move out, leaving us for two days.

Looking back I feel like I’d probably cry at any of these situations as an adult. Umm… especially that diorama thing! But seriously, if I had to describe myself with five adjectives, emotional would definitely make the list. I acknowledge that. I do.

Why then, does my emotional state constantly weigh on my mind as something I need to “keep in check.”  I had a conversation the other night about my disdain for letting people see me show excess amount of emotion.

So, when did it stop being okay to show emotion?  It probably didn’t happen all at once, but I remember when my tendency to show my feelings first came to my attention.

When I was ten, a bright-eyed, well-adjusted (popular) blonde girl from my class, Tina, was assigned to have a “talk” with me during a class period.  (The teacher was concerned that I’d been crying too much.) We walked around the empty play-yard with only an aide standing across the way, also keeping an eye on the parking lot.

“You know, my grandma passed away two years ago,” Tina told me. “And I was sad for a long time.” Tina talked about how she used to cry over her grandmother’s passing, but then she started to move on and she didn’t feel upset anymore.

I stared at her blankly.

“Do you feel any better?” Tina asked, and I nodded, not knowing how to react. I felt fine- and then I felt a bit awkward, noticing Tina’s eyes drilling into me with concern.

“I’m fine,” I told her.  And I was.

Tina nodded her approval and everyone moved on.  I cried less. And no one even needed to ask if I was okay, but if they did, I knew the correct answer.

Gradually, though, I made it my mantra- calling on those two little words as a default- particularly when they weren’t true.

They led me through several situations, where I gritted my teeth and told no anything other than “I’m fine.”

Even in my late twenties I catch myself falling back on what I know and expecting to be warded off at the slightest hint of vulnerability. “I’m fine,” I say, no matter what is really going on.

I can’t help but look back and see how I would have been spared from several negative ongoing situations if I hadn’t felt it necessary to be “fine” in the public eye. I’d go into it, but I also prefer not to be seen as bitter as well.

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