"It's OK," she said, "you're just sensitive."
And any other day, these would have been fighting words, a stinging insult to my ability to Do It All, to my strength in Overcoming The Feelings. But on this day it feels like a relief, a reminder.
The girls we once were are coming back to us now.
Whispering their stories, our stories, in our ears.
Let us hear.
I heard a radio program once describing children's different personalities and how to parent them. I'm not a parent, but I listened to just about anything that came on the radio in those six years I spent as a reporter, driving from the city to the suburbs, from suburb to suburb, running down the car battery while I hacked out one more story on the laptop or iPad balanced my knees, twisted sideways around the steering wheel. In the daytime, that mostly was women's programming about parenting and relationships -- not my favorite topics, but the hostesses spoke in quiet, reassuring voices that keep my blood pressure down.
I started paying attention on this day when I recognized all my particular childhood quirks: how I wouldn't wear tie-shoes because one inevitably would be tied tighter than the other and that bothered me, and so I wore mostly moccasins through the fourth grade, when gym shoes were required. How I only wore knee socks, yanking at them constantly, because the only way I could be sure my socks were staying at the same height was if both were settled into the crook behind my knee, and this was important because slouchy, uneven socks bothered me. How I loved splashing in the lake, but hated getting out because the sand and grass would cling to my feet and ankles and that bothered me. The intense emotions. The creepy intuition. The big words. The tiny details nobody else ever seemed to notice but bothered me.
This is the sensitive child, the radio guest said.
I eyerolled. Sensitive. Nobody ever would accuse me of being sensitive now. Sensitivity is something to overcome, something I had overcome, I thought.
And then, What have I missed?
Let us listen to the little one that is who we were
that is who we are
before the shame and obligation took their toll.
In photos, The Girl I Once Was is sitting at a desk, wearing a Band-Aid, looking sleepy and writing, writing, writing -- not so different from The Woman I Am Now. She is blowing out Ducktales candles on a Ghostbusters birthday cake. She is rocking red pants with her favorite windbreaker, yellow with heart-shaped buttons, staring into the camera from her bike with a withering gaze that would shame most hipsters today. She is standing in front of her dad's office in Chicago wearing heart-shaped sunglasses and those goofy knee socks; she'd taken the Metra train in from the suburbs with her mom and grandparents and she is having an adventure. She is ignoring the camera, her nose buried in a book.
In my memories, she is filling pads of construction paper with drawings of birds leaving the nest, telling stories before she had words; then she's hacking out words on a blue typewriter, then her family's first computer, which ran DOS and WordPerfect. She is catching frogs on the shoreline and turtles from a rowboat with her mom at her family's cabin in Wisconsin. She is listening to her dad read her biographies as bedtime stories. She wants to be April from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles when she grows up or Janine from Ghostbusters or Velma from Scooby-Doo -- all women who could handle the weird and hang with the boys. Her other heroes, the real-life heroes, are Annie Oakley and Abraham Lincoln.
She is a little quirky, but she is pretty awesome, and I wonder what she'd be like now if she hadn't forgotten that for a while.
May we trust her
and let her lead.
The Girl I Once Was is a leader, and I see that coming back to me now, in friends asking me questions at Bible study or strangers asking me to talk to their groups, in taking charge of projects at work.
And, yes, she was sensitive, but I am starting to see ignoring those feelings isn't power; "Nothing is more powerful than allowing yourself to be truly affected by things." It doesn't even make me a good journalist -- one needs both facts and feelings to tell a story, to connect with the human condition. It just makes me sick, and then I end up crying quietly in my doctor's office, while she offers me a Kleenex and tells me, "You're just sensitive."
So I'm trying to still myself, trying to listen to the tanned, towheaded kid in the yellow windbreaker and remember what she was like.
I'm trying to trust her and let her lead.
I'm trying to feel it all.
What would happen if you reached deep inside and whispered for the girl you once were to come back?
Linking up with the Story Sessions' "The Girls We Once Were" linkup for International Women's Day.
Poem: The Story Sessions blessing by Brandy Walker.
Photo: The Girl I Once Was (more photos of her on Instagram). Story Sessions.