For my 6th birthday, my mother decided to have a party.
I know it was my sixth birthday because of the shape of the candle on the cake… it could have been a five…
I can’t recall if she had ever thrown a party for my birthday before then. She definitely threw parties for it afterwards. One or two were memorable in a pleasant way, the rest were of the kind which are best forgotten.
She had a knack for making things which were in theory supposed to be fun into things which in practice were a chore. This was partly because having fun was a chore for her. She hated people who had it while wishing she had what they had, and if they had it because she’d gone to a lot of trouble to make sure they had it, she hated them even more because of all the not fun work that went into giving them fun.
She preferred not having fun and grumbling about it – that was not a chore for her, in fact, I later realised, it was a great source of pleasure. She was at her happiest when complaining about how unhappy she was, because the responsibility for her unhappiness was not hers- it always belonged to someone else. Whereas all happiness was somehow her responsibility. This is a problem which arises out of wanting to take the credit for making people smile, and for your own smiles even if someone else inspired them, while not wanting any credit for making people frown – their frowns were due to their own inability to smile even though they should be smiling because she was there (she’d probably tried to fix them and expected them to be grateful) and that should make them happy.
Smiling became a chore for me thanks mostly due to my mother, but other people helped. People are always telling you to smile. Sometimes completely randomly, out of the blue, a stranger in the street will demand a smile from you. That’s so bizarre!
And these days things have gotten worse because not only do people demand that you smile they then judge your smile as though you’re competing in the smile Olympics (or being assessed for quality and value as a smile slave). Whiteness levels need to be blinding. Straightness gets you extra points. Uniformity ups your points. And above all it must be seen as being genuine by the onlooker – no fake smiles allowed. If it’s also charming you might get through to the next round, as long as the judges don’t regret the charm of your smile and blame it for beguiling them and fleecing them.
Smiling is exhausting, and rather stressful. And is something I had to do, grinning and bearing that grin, through of all my mother’s shenanigans, especially when she was doing something for me.
When I fainted and chipped my front tooth… she behaved as though I’d taken a knife to the Mona Lisa’s smile. It was a disaster for her. You’ve ruined your beautiful teeth! – was what she actually said to me as I was still recovering from the disorientation of fainting. It was a strange relief for me, that chip is a scar I am very attached to even though it did get capped a few weeks after the incident. It reminds me of who I am versus who others sometimes want me to be, and all the confusion that can create which is sometimes clarified by a painful shock to the system.
My mother was always trying to shape me into her image… an image. She left me with a permanent sense of not trying hard enough, otherwise known as never being good enough, the desire to be anyone but me.
The run-up to a birthday was a time when I wished I was anyone but me, and anywhere else but in my mother’s orbit.
I often wished I could have uninvited myself from my own birthday parties. I think I said as much once and got an earful of – don’t be an ungrateful brat, think of all those children who don’t have what you have (that was her go-to guilt trip to make me behave myself (behave in a manner which suited her) – by the time I was an adult I felt permanently guilt-ridden about having anything at all if everyone else in the world didn’t have it too. I still feel that, it’s just not as crippling as it used to be… I’ve developed callouses over the soft spots.
I think I felt that way, wishing I could be uninvited, about the first birthday party I remember.
Perhaps it was because of the cake.
The cake was memorable because it was cheesecake made with oranges and had slices of orange spread out in a pattern on top which had been made very shiny with a jelly-like glaze.
I hated that orange cheesecake, it was my idea of disgusting, especially the jelly-like glaze which was like eating overly sweet gelatinous slime, but it was my mother’s favourite. She’d bought it several times before as a dessert for dinner parties, and all the adults seemed to love it. The version my mother bought for those parties had something like cognac in it – the one she bought for my party was without that additive.
She had asked me what kind of cake I wanted for my birthday, and made a big business about asking me what I wanted. I said chocolate, so she bought the orange one because… that’s the sort of thing my mother did. I wasn’t surprised when she did that, but I was annoyed – why bother going to all the trouble of making a show of taking me with her to the cake shop to choose my birthday cake, showing me all the cakes, asking me which one I would like for my birthday party, then buying the one she had always intended to get. I said as much at the time (I have a habit of blurting and then regretting blurt) and was told that if I didn’t like it then I didn’t have to eat it, and something else about how I probably wouldn’t eat the chocolate one and she’d be left with cake she didn’t want to eat. My mother always had optional arguments for everything and would keep giving them to you as presents until you gave up and accepted that all conversations were a contest which she had to win.
The fact that when given the chance to eat chocolate cake I always took it and devoured it (and got told off for literally licking the plate on a couple of occasions, this was not something you were supposed to do in fancy restaurants… but surely it’s the best compliment you can give to a chef and their food establishment) did not seem to be relevant or real.
We were living abroad for a few months.
I was going to a local kindergarten while we were there. That was my first experience of school, of socialising with people my own age. Up until then I mainly socialised with adults, or hung out with myself. Children were scarce in the early years of my life.
As has always been my experience in life and of myself – I didn’t fit in or belong to the social group. I didn’t know the rules and had to learn them quickly and messily, and then felt restricted by them because they required that I not be myself, that I become someone else, someone who looked and behaved superficially just like everyone else.
That’s as exhausting to do as smiling, and in the long run never works. It didn’t really work in the short term either.
I apparently look as weird as I am no matter how hard I try not to look like I look. I have had people comment on my looks as though they’d just discovered an alien from another planet.
When we traveled to Japan I was treated as some sort of celebrity and kept getting papped by the locals. A picture of me was supposed to bring good luck – or so one of the many people who took my photograph said when they were asked why they and other people were doing it. I should mention that most of these people thought I was a boy (that person said I was a lucky little boy) as my mother kept my hair in a pixie cut trying to fix it – apparently I had pink hair as a baby which was very embarrassing (by then it was a pinky-orange), and she dressed me in rather colourful clothes (vibrantly stripey trousers, yellow sweater and a glossy red jacket). Perhaps they thought I was a Pokemon.
Once while sitting by myself watching a film in an hotel which had a cinema room, a little girl sat down next to me and started stroking my skin. When I asked her what on earth she was doing, she told me that she’d never seen skin like mine before, she needed to touch it to know that it was real and that I wasn’t an hallucination (I think she may have been weirder than I was).
One of my cousins kept trying to cut a lock of my hair as though it was a collectible for their collection of curios (I almost gave in to their repeated requests, but then I decided not to. I’m open to the weird but sometimes it’s best not to encourage it especially if it treats you like an object. Like a cake (a weird one with oranges glazed in a jelly-like substance). Once you give them a slice of you, they might ask for more or they might just take it).
People still look at me as though they’ve seen something bizarre, even though I try to look ordinary and my reflection in the mirror thinks I’ve succeeded.
And I try to behave as unweird as possible (which may actually make me behave weirder than usual).
When I was 6 years old, at that kindergarten, I tried to behave like the other kids behaved. But I kept making mistakes which made me stand out like a sore thumb. I eventually gave up trying to fit in and went with buying my place in that mini-society.
I became a dealer of candy, smuggling it into school and doling it out during nap time. My mother bought the candy for me and knew what it was for, she was my supplier.
She may have even suggested this tactic to me, although that sounds more like something my father would suggest as it was something he did with his own peers. I probably just copied his behaviour, as children do what they see… even when adults tell them to – Do as I say and not as I do. A child doesn’t adjust to hypocrisy easily even if it is rife in the family environment, perhaps because their eyes do more listening and learning than their ears.
Being the candyman can make you popular very quickly. You’re the source of sweet stuff for others, and they love you for it… or, at least they love the free sweet stuff which you’re giving out. Kind of like smiling for no reason, people get addicted to free smiles, they’re so sweet, and get pissy if you try to wean them off (getting pissy with you for not smiling… that sure is encouraging you to give them a smile).
This buying friends and a place in society is great, you now not only belong, fit in, but you also have power over others. However your status relies not on who you are but on what you do, over and over and over again. You must keep doing this without fail (and even then you might fail, people love sweet, but they also like bitter and sour). You’re stuck in this role if you want to maintain that popularity and status. Turn up one day without the supply to meet the demand and people will drop you, you’ll become very quickly unpopular. It’ll be as though nothing ever happened, you’re back to square one…
…except now you’ll be viewed as a disappointer of expectations, someone who promised and delivered on that promise, but then stopped delivering and thus broke their promise to always deliver what had originally been promised.
Once you get given a status within a society, you’re expected to maintain the status quo of that status. People talk about change a lot, sometimes like it’s a magic pill that creates miracles, but it’s a very specific change which is the focus of their admiration – other types of change are viewed with less enthusiasm, some are downright hated and discouraged.
Don’t change unless it’s a change which is acceptable or you’ll get the returning you to your previous state and status treatment (using all sort of weapons, particularly emotional blackmail).
Once people have decided who you are (for them), how you fit (into their scheme of things), what you must do to belong (to their societal clique), you are not allowed to change (unless it is for them or for a better which benefits them… but even then they may not like it).
This can apply to even the slightest change brought on by a natural rhythm. If you won your club card because you smile a lot, you must keep smiling at all times when with club members.
Don’t feel like smiling? Don’t do that not smiling shit around the members of your club.
Want to say something different from what you usually say? Don’t do that without pre-approval as it won’t go down well.
For some people this can be experienced as very disruptive of you as they had a whole program prepared based on you being the person they rely upon you being, you must not deviate from the way that you are according to them. Your change causes a problem for them, for their plans for themselves, because you’re not playing your part in their plan for themselves. It’s confusing for them, and that’s inconvenient and inconsiderate of you.
I did manage to make a couple of friends at that school who were not ones bought with candy, but ones who gravitated to me because they were as weird as I was and didn’t fit in either. And I had a couple of friends I’d made randomly elsewhere. One was someone I think I may have met at a playground, and the other one I know I met at a restaurant while their family was vacationing near my home in Italy. I think they came to my birthday party, there were definitely a few kids besides me there, but frankly I don’t recall who was there other than me and my mother… and neither of us really wanted me there.
I mainly remember the strong and lasting impression that the party was not really for me. It was my party, celebrating my birthday (except it wasn’t held on my actual birthday as that was a weekday), but I wasn’t really required to be there other than as a prop, an excuse, an optional argument for some contest which my mother was trying to win – probably best mother in the world (she was obsessed with that competition). Chances are that my mother would have happily replaced me with a stand-in, a better behaved and looking child, a new and improved version who loved orange cheesecake, was grateful to have it, and grateful to have her as a mother.
This memory (plus all the other tangential ones) popped into my head this morning as I was thinking about a current state of being. I’m taking some time at the moment to come home to myself… and really settle into my new house. I moved in physically a few months ago but the rest of me is only just moving in.
Throughout my life I’ve gone through phases where I’ve wandered away from myself and got a bit lost… in being someone else.
This someone else is not a fake person, it’s not someone I am not (although I have on occasion done that too, but that never feels right). It’s more a case of going through the motions of being who I once was… in part due to others who have taken that once as meaning forever. This someone else started out as me being me, but evolved over time into someone almost separate from me.
Perhaps our paths diverged, they had to stay the same while the rest of me let life being lived change them.
The original who was the source of this now someone else has moved on leaving an echo – that’s who the someone else is, an echo of a former self in a moment in time. While I was being that way originally a snapshot of this me was taken by others and they expect me to always be the person in the snapshot. This is who they think I am, should be, need me to be for them. That’s the version of me which is lucky for them. And maybe it was once lucky for me, but now the scales are tipping the other way.
This someone else is still me, it’s based on who I am, but it’s a facet of the whole rather than the whole gamut of facets.
It’s an easy thing to do. We can all get caught up in accentuating the parts of us which other people like about us, and because other people like us for those parts we may try to be more of that and less of the other parts.
My mother was always telling me about my past selves, especially about how she preferred who I had been to the person I had become. What usually triggered one of these tales of old me was my present self not doing what my mother wanted me to do, not being who she wanted me to be for her. She’d compare me to an old self in the hopes maybe that I’d be insanely jealous of the love she had for that past me and I’d reverse time to be that way again. It occasionally had that effect – I’d make an effort to be like I had once been… problem was that my mother’s versions of me… never really sounded like me at all.
Remember that birthday party when you were 6 and I threw you that awesome party and bought you that magnificent cake and you were so happy and grateful… why can’t you be more like that instead of how you are now. What happened to you. I miss the old you.
We may end up favouring those personalities which other people give us, whether they are actually our personality or not – we may think they are even when they’re not simply because if others tell you enough times who you are… it starts to become who you are… or were and should return to being.
We may give in to the lure of winning someone’s love and like, and it may work so well that we stick with it, using only those personality muscles until we become unbalanced and the parts which have been pushed aside make a play to overthrow the rule of the parts which are in charge, and an inner mutiny ensues.
This can play out in a number of ways, and often falls under the tag of – acting out.
We suddenly break free from the confines of this person we’re being, disrupting the usual program which has been running. This can shock those who’ve become used to the one facet of us. It can shock us too, and we may feel ashamed, embarrassed, really really sorry about it, afterwards.
But it can also have an edge of liberation that feels good, even with it feeling bad afterwards.
We may return to being exactly who we were being before we acted out…
perhaps all we needed was a break from that someone else to realise that they are us. We just needed some fresh air, that personality was suffocating us, fugging up our inner lenses… but now we can see clearly once again. We’d lost touch with the origins of that state of being, we were doing it, being it, without feeling it, and simply needed to reconnect, to review and check to see if we’re still true to who we are.
Sometimes I think it’s healthy to lose ourselves… as we get to find our way home to ourselves again, bringing with us everything we’ve learned while we were lost.
We are who we are, but who we are changes, evolves, as we live our life… we may still be who we are, but it gets upgraded, levels up, matures and shifts.
We don’t expect ourselves to remain as we were when we were children. We all expect children to grow up, learn, change… we may still have the echoes of that child within our adult self, and may still behave as we did then in some ways – an adult version of the child’s way of being. So why do we expect our adult self, and those of others, to always be the same, never change, never learn.
We’re supposed to let life change us, yet not let life change us. Which one is it?
One of the ways I come home to myself when I’ve wandered away is through random memories, often of my child self. There were certain aspects of me then which are a constant in all the me’s I’ve been through the ages.
I’m still the sort of person who prefers not to be invited to my own party… if someone else has turned that party into one for someone else, someone I’m not.