It’s probably safe to assume that you are familiar with the concept of viewing the world through rose-colored glasses—everything looks beautiful! Flowers and sunshine! Positivity and rainbows! Dinosaurs and chocolate! (These are MY rose-colored glasses, after all.)
Recently, however, I switched out my lenses. The rose-coloring was obviously just a pink wash and I was doing a poor job of really believing the rosiness, especially when I looked in the mirror. My new lenses: they are Emily-colored.
Perhaps I should explain.
Emily is the 7-year-old daughter of my bosom friend Melissa (please refer to Anne and Diana in Anne of Green Gables for the reference). I absolutely adore Emily. I love her mom, dad, and little brother too, but my love for Emily is different and confusing because, well, she’s a mini-me.
It’s disturbing how alike the two of us are. Sometimes she gets this gleam in her eye and I know what she’s thinking (and it’s not good). I can practically see the wheels turning and I know that they need to stop. Now. And I say, “Emily Grace, I am in your head. Don’t even think about it.” I have to get my serious face on because I am, after all, a very responsible adult. But it can be really hard to keep the smile off my face… and I know it’s still there in my eyes.
Emily is different from other 7-year-old girls in several ways. She is exceptionally bright. Like really, disturbingly bright. She is logical and reasonable and she communicates very much like a small adult.
However, Emily can’t escape the fact that she is still a 7-year-old girl, and like her peers, she lacks the maturity that can only come through life experiences and growing up… in that context, time is the only teacher.
The problem with an intelligent, rational, exceptionally communicative 7-year-old girl is that’s it’s hard to remember sometimes that she is, in fact, SEVEN. Not twenty-seven. Not even seventeen. But seven. And as a 7-year-old girl, she still behaves like the kid that she is. Sometimes that can be hard for adults to accept, because they somehow expect more. Someday, it may even be hard for Emily to accept because she somehow also expects… or feels she should have expected… more of herself at that young age.
At this point, you’ve probably realized that I am projecting. Projecting like crazy.
My mom always says that I was born 40. I was bright, like Emily, and for the most part acted and communicated at a level higher than my age would suggest. (I used to dress up like an old lady and invite my mom to make me some tea so we could discuss her daughter’s (i.e. my) behavioral issues. Truth.) But, also like Emily, I was only able to function at a maturity level consistent with my age. (Obviously, maturity level is relative, and at the ripe old age of 29, I still make bathroom jokes… so… not sure how trustworthy I am on this subject, but I’m trying.)
I know these things about Emily. I know them and I accept them and I love her for the intellectually mature kid that she is. When she gets tired and has a meltdown over crayons at a restaurant, it’s because she’s seven. When she takes me for a moonlit walk in the snow and talks to me about Sonya Sotomayor and the infallible love of God… Well, that’s something else altogether and it amazes me. But it doesn’t detract from the fact that she’s a KID.
And yet, for a long time I have thought of my young self in such a different light. I reflect on previous choices with my current maturity level and have a very hard time reconciling my actions then with the path I might choose now. I spent an inordinate amount of time as a child (you know, until I was like 27) desperate to be liked and my unique abilities in alphabetization of rock flash cards (how I loved those cards! how I loved my rocks!), to name dinosaurs (I could always name the most different kinds!), and experiment with the coefficient of friction* didn’t seem to be doing the trick. So I resorted to other tactics. I said things I thought people wanted to hear, I obsessed about the way that I looked, I shared confidences I shouldn’t have shared, I failed to be the supportive friend that I should have been, and so on and so forth. And to this day, I have an extremely difficult time reflecting on these things without feeling a truly overwhelming sense of guilt.
My old rose-colored glasses made me defensive. I tried to justify my actions, find reasons for behaving the way that I did. My new, Emily-colored glasses provide a very different perspective. A perspective that revolves around the idea of maturity. I was immature. I was desperate and sad and I was trying way. too. hard. That doesn’t mean that I was a bad person then. It means that I was immature and struggling to grow up… just like everyone else.
That all sounds nice, doesn’t it? But it’s still a struggle and I often still fall into those patterns of guilt and shame. I’m working on it. It’s getting better. And in an effort toward kindness, I often prompt myself with: “What would I say to Emily about this?” And I’m looking forward to the day when Emily is all grown up and amazing (because she will be a game changer in this world, I have no doubt) and I can have this conversation with her. It will be fascinating, to be sure.
Emily is an amazing little girl, but right now, she’s a little girl. I love the little girl that she is, and she’s helping me to love the little girl that I was. My hope for Emily is that someday she will love the little girl that she was– no guilt, no shame, just a happy recollection of the trials and triumphs that growing up entails.
*I learned about the coefficient of friction between two surfaces when I was in in high school physics (Ms. Betrus– excellent teacher, by the way). I was a smart kid, but I certainly wasn’t given the gift of common sense. One night, I was outside with my friend Kelly in the driveway. I took one look at my brother’s skateboard ramp and I said to Kelly, “Hey… I wonder what the coefficient of friction is between my shoes and that ramp.” (Which is essentially a nerdy 16-year-old girl’s version of, “hold my beer” or “hey, watch this.”) I slowly walked up that ramp, one foot in front of the other, until I effectively overcame the coefficient of friction between my shoes and the wood and… BOOM. I slid down the ramp, on my face, and ended up underneath my parents’ van in the driveway. This. This is why I was trying so hard. But thank goodness for kind people like Kelly– she seemed to like me anyway 😉