Tuesday, January 25, 2011

What do I care what you think? (aka Do I have something in my nose?)

Forrest Gump rocks.

I remember thinking at the end of that movie, "I want to be Forrest Gump." Not because he was a little slow; not because he did amazing things in his life. It was the fact that HE NEVER CARED WHAT ANYONE ELSE THOUGHT.

And I don't mean that in an ostentatious "I'm so great so I don't care about anyone else" way, but a "This is me and I'm genuine and inherently honest and if I do something you think is stupid it really won't affect me" way.

For some reason, I have always been a slave to the "what will they think" theory. On my first day at a new high school, I will never forget entering the classroom and having all those Catholic schoolgirl eyes on me. I looked at them in their little plaid outfits and cute, white bobby socks. Then I looked down at me - I was wearing navy blue knee highs, just like the handbook said. I never felt like a bigger loser in my life. Did anyone notice? I have no idea. No one ever said anything. But that moment made a huge impact on how I perceived myself at that school. I was a loser before I even tried to win.

Once I warmed up to high school and started making friends, I was happy but always trying to be someone else. My best friend had what I thought was a great fashion sense so I tried to dress just like her. Looking back, I looked ridiculous. I never tried to be popular; those girls were prettier, smarter, had bigger houses and better clothes than I would EVER have. I wasn't upset about this; it was just a fact.

My obsession with what other people thought grew through adulthood. When I got divorced, I was SURE every mom at my son's school was whispering about me as I passed. "There goes Amy; you know she's getting a divorce. Psssspssspsssss..." Actually, they probably were, but in my head they were huddled up in the teacher's lounge trying to find a way to throw me off the PTC.

When my kids have acted up, and I've gotten a note home or that dreaded phone call from a parent, the first thing I think of isn't "Why did my kid do that?" It's "What must this parent think of me to be raising a kid to do that?" Except I must confess, a mom called me when my son was in kindergarten and said in a huffy voice, "YOUR son told MY daughter that he was going to ANNIHILATE her," to which I replied proudly, "REALLY? He said ANNIHILATE???" I puffed up just enough to exhale and apologize before she started to think badly of me, too.

I know what you're thinking. "That's very self-absorbed, Amy." Yes, it is. But it's not a conscious thing, necessarily. It's more of a self-conscious thing. I've thought about this and I think it's my own self-expectation run amuck, and the fact that I forget one small detail:

Everyone has their shit, and they don't give a damn about yours.

I kind of came to this realization about that miraculous, wonderful time I turned 40. All of a sudden, I didn't care so much. I mean, I wasn't running naked through the streets and telling my gossipy neighbors to mind their own beeswax during my dating years; I wasn't really even thinking about it at all. All of a sudden, I thought to myself, "Do you think the things you think people think about you when you think of them?" And after I figured out what I had just asked myself, the answer was, "No." So what made me think that people were going to waste their time thinking anything about me???? Along with that realization came sort of a calming, self-assurance that I wasn't ALWAYS doing stupid things, and that my actions weren't SO completely out of whack that I was going to get canned from any of my committees.

An old friend of mine who knew me well used to play on my fears. I'd be talking with her and she'd slowly touch her nose. Without even thinking, I would wipe mine and continue talking. She'd touch her nose again and just watch me squirm as I dealt with what might be hanging from my nose until I would finally realize what she was doing. Maybe that was her way of performing behavior modification on me.

Suffice it to say, I still care what people think, but mostly I care that they think of me as a good person. Yes, I'm quirky, and blunt, and crass at times, but I try not to be unkind. I may have a weird body shape, or crazy, curly hair, or even something hanging out of my nose, but I'm OK with that. OK, I'm not OK with the thing hanging out of my nose. But you get the idea.

Does anyone have a mirror?

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