To this day, I can still feel the devastation. I push through the velvet curtains and walk on stage, the smell of decades of must, sweat, and old socks permeating the air. I was in grade six, wearing my off-the-shoulder, boat neck cream sweater and BonnieBelle Lip Smacker, with the confidence of someone who has never been dealt a blow to their self-esteem. This election was in the bag. I walk past the podium and sit on the edge of the stage, in front of my whole school and, unwittingly, commit social suicide.
“I have a pocket full of wishes…”
The rest of that speech is a blur, but I know it was cringy. Even the crickets were too uncomfortable to chirp. The silence was deafening. It was a speech meant to “connect more with the people” and not the original speech I had prepared. I clumsily pushed myself up and frantically search for the opening of the curtain to permit me off-stage.
That speech plagued me until high school. Even years later, I feel so much shame when the memory comes up. A compassionate family member needing to take me down a notch could be relied upon to mention it while passing the gravy or during other holiday opportunities for vivisection.
As a therapist and parent now, I have a new perspective.
While being called “pocket full of wishes" for years wasn't easy, the bigger shame was that I had actually written a completely different speech. It was a speech I wrote and loved. I had the courage to share with an adult but lacked the ability to trust myself. When that adult offered to help in reply, I wasn’t able to say I was happy with what I had. When that help turned into a complete rewrite, including staging and a nod to the 1961 “Pocketful of Miracles” Betty Davis movie to “connect” with a room full of people who largely hadn’t been born then, I stayed silent, swallowing the knowing I had that it was not a good move in favour of someone else’s opinion.
As an adult, I can now see this as one of the first obvious examples of betraying my innate wisdom and choosing to listen to someone else. I remember thinking, “this adult must know better. They make speeches all the time."
Who was I, at 11, to beg their pardon and consider that I would know better or that I needed the chance to figure it out on my own?
As a parent now, I strive for my kids to exist on a continuum of trying. When I feel myself wanting to rewrite and stage their lives in the same way that speech had been for me, I think about my other speech and the shivers I had gotten when I first wrote it. The laughs I had from people who listened to it may not have been true of an entire gymnasium, but if I had the space to do my own work, every reaction would have been something I could own. The messaging we give our kids when we say “I’ll just do it myself” or other forms of overreaching can be that we don’t actually believe they are capable, or that we don’t think they can handle failure or that we can’t handle the discomfort of seeing them fail. We need to foster their ability to listen to and trust their intuitive selves.
The reason why we struggle to foster intuition in children is that we have lost ours. Our generation of parents has access to infinite information. The quest for certainty, finding the book, the Instagram account, and the approach that allows us to arm ourselves with knowledge has become the greatest betrayal to our intuition.
Who are we, infantilized by the sheer volume of material out there telling us to parent better, to know we are doing a good job? The truth is we are.
We need to give ourselves permission to know this. We need to shut out the consistent flow of information and curated mommy images to get to an embodied sense that we are, in fact, enough.
One thing I see without exception is that all parents are doing the very best they can with what they have in front of them. The very compassion we have for our children while they negotiate what feels right or meaningful is the same compassion we need to extend to our own parenting.
The advice I would give to parents is the same advice I would whisper to my younger self as I hugged her and reassured her of the wisdom of keeping her old speech:
“Slow down. Trust your heart. It already has the answers.”