I, on the other hand, fully expect to be a non-cool mother who you sometimes look upon with scorn and other types of not so loving faces. And like me, your mother, you have a face that gives away EVERYTHING.
I have not always been good about hiding my faces or my expressions. Which is ironic to me. Many years ago, I used to model and was told that I didn’t have enough “expressiveness” and needed to work on it. I wasn’t aware of the “Smizing” exercises that Dame Tyra Banks (I am sure she has been recognized by now for her contributions to society by England’s deserved Queen, Elton John) used to teach her proteges, but I did know that something in the pictures was not matching up to the way I was in real life.
An open book. Always have been, always will be.
But sometimes open about the WRONG things. Closed about the things that would take real bravery to talk about.
I don’t know if any of this is making sense, but since I have a good solid 8 years before you officially enter teenage-dom, I feel like by then I will have made better sense of this.
So I write this now, knowing full well that when it comes down to it, my years before you start demanding that we shop at Hollister or Abercrombie are just a few years away. You are like me in that way, always running to get to the next place and sometimes forgetting about the view along the way.
A few things came to mind today – for several reasons. There are some things we don’t talk about to you too much right now, but I hope we do by the time you are ready. It may be 12.
It may be earlier.
I made a lot of mistakes when I was growing up. I think it goes back to being scared to acknowledge the view. I was so eager to run from the bad, that I often missed the good, the breathtaking, the amazing things happening all around me.
I still suffer from this malady today. My shrink has a word for it. I am not too crazy about his words though, no pun intended.
I just call it “eager.”
There is something I thought of today that I wanted to ask you to do before I forgot about it.
Always stand tall. Always walk tall.
Why did I think this today?
Well, here’s why. You might not believe this Shay, but, when I was growing up, I was really tall. Like the tallest kid in my class until I hit the 6th grade. I also had boobs.
And big feet.
It felt weird. I already felt like such an anomaly in a school where most of the kids were white, went to Church, prayed to Jesus or prayed to a Menorah.
Yes, I thought they were praying to a menorah. And I thought a dreidel was a holy thing.
You see – all the things above could be quite different from each other, but I always just put all those kids who didn’t “look” like me into the same club. It wasn’t true when you really think back, but at 11 years old, that is how I felt. Their moms did not wear a bindi. Case closed.
To hide the tall, I would hunch my shoulders to try to make myself shorter.
To mask the big feet, I would try and wear black sneakers. I found them to be more slimming and gave the illusion that I had teeny little feet that would make a petite Chinese lady in bindings jealous.
To hide my new mammary extensions, I would hope the hunching would hide the fact that I suddenly had these breasts. I didn’t understand why I got them before my friends and I certainly wasn’t being schooled at home to be “proud of what my mama gave me.”
Basically, I tried to make myself invisible.
I was invisible for a LONG time.
To others, and in a lot of ways, to myself. I just didn’t want to acknowledge what was staring back at me in the mirror sometimes.
I remember that over time, I stopped feeling invisibile. While I may have tried to disappear visually, I always knew how to use my voice. And I was proud of that ability. Though I sometimes I think I used it for evil and not good.
Can you try not to do that please?
I remember on one especially rare confident moment, telling a boy I really liked in High School that well, I REALLY liked him. We were friends and had been hanging out in the cafeteria after our mid-term exams. He was teasing me about something when I finally just blurted it out in some really non-cool way.
“Cut it out.” I said, pushing his arm off my shoulder.
“Why?” he asked, palling around with me as if I was one of his little football cronies.
I remember mustering up all the courage I had to get the words out. Past that little frog in my throat that was trying to block this stupidity. Trying to say, “Shut the hell up and just look at your big feet. Who wants to date someone with such big feet.”
But I decided I didn’t want to be shy or invisible anymore. I was going to take a chance. Even if my friend was a high school stud muffin, I was just going to say it.
And I carpe’ed Shaila. Oh I carpe’ed big time.
“Because I like you.” There it was all out. Now this was the part where he would declare his undying love for me or at least tell me he liked my sundress or something.
“But Kiran, I can’t date you.” POP. No, not my cherry. For that moment in my life, he popped my hopes and dreams really (I was only 16, so what the hell did I know?).
“Why?” I asked naively, not realizing that this was my chance to walk away with some dignity. Or at least walk away without dignity. But to just get the hell back there in my little hunchback turtle pose.
“Because of what you ARE.”
Now I was really confused. I said the first thing that I could think he might mean.
“Because I am smarter than you?” I asked. At least I could walk away tall and with my shoulders back, I thought. Lord knows he spoke the truth if that’s what he meant.
It didn’t occur to me until later when I recounted the stories to my non-Indian friends that they thought he meant something else. They later confirmed with him.
It wasn’t because I was smarter, Shaila, darling. It was because I was Indian.
I don’t remember being particularly crushed though it was tons of years ago and Mommy’s memory has taken a big beating from all the abuse she gives it. I went on to face much worse rejection several more times in my life. Sometimes the turtle pose returned. Sometimes it stayed put.
I remember when I was in my mid twenties, I was seeing a really sweet guy. We walked into a crowded club one night and I immediately started to do the shoulder hunch, as if I was a Football player trying to make it past enemy lines. I had my head down and I walked fast. A beeline towards an imaginary touchdown.
My date stopped me and reached out his arm to gently grab mine.
“Will you just walk?” he asked, brushing some hair away from my face which I managed to hide under like Cousin It.
“I AM walking.” I insisted.
“Listen, you’re beautiful. Will you just give everyone a break and let them see you if they want? You don’t need to hide.”
I almost argued with him until I realized that he was right. Absolutely right. Not so much about the beautiful part. I think he was just trying to get laid with that line.
But that I didn’t want to have these eyes on me. That I wanted that nifty invisibility cloak that Harry Potter has.
Shaila, please don’t ever walk like your Mother did. Walk proud, walk like you OWN your walk. I don’t want you swinging your hips around like the girls in high school who got called sluts or anything, but …. oh what the heck, just swing ‘em however you want. As long as you are proud of who you are.
It’s not about the view you give others, though I am sure that will be gorgeous too. Its about the view you take in when your head is a little taller, your neck a little more upright and your heart?
Well, when you heart is positioned to soar.
It may make your heart more vulnerable baby. But it’s so worth the ride.
I hope you ALWAYS have a beautiful view.
“So be careful in what you believe in
There’s plenty to get you confused
And in this land called paradise
You must walk in many men’s shoes
Bigotry and hatred are enemies to us all
Grace, mercy and forgiveness
Will help a man walk tall
So walk tall”
John (Cougar) Mellancamp, “Walk Tall”