I’ll be honest I’ve been going through some growing pains lately. I’m not sure if that’s exactly what you call it when you get to your twenties but that’s what it all feels like. Feeling lost, trying to figure out what direction my life should be taking, all while trying to dig myself out of my mountain o’ debt. I’ve heard some great terms for what I’m experiencing like “quarter life crisis” as if I have this condition that’s very normal and average and somehow makes me more human. For the record this does not get me any closer to figuring out what on earth I’m doing, but as soon as it’s mentioned in conversation certain people seem to light up with understanding as if there’s this great underground world of secret crisis sufferers and I’m wedged in amongst them.
Since thinking about my quarter life crisis and potential career paths is exhausting and leading me to a place that looks a lot like nowhere, I’ve been thinking of other unique little experiences that have led to growth throughout my life. One stood out as being particularly important.
The year I turned five-years-old I was a biking machine. Pink bike newly de-training wheeled, hot pink helmet (lets face it I was the height of fashion) and a posse of like-minded five-year-olds made for ideal biking-obsessed conditions. My parents and I have camped my entire life in a charming park where everybody knows your name (cue the Cheers theme), and the thing is designed in one giant loop so it’s impossible to get lost (not really roughing it by any stretch). I would set out on the road and ride the circle until my little heart was content. One particularly hot Sunday afternoon my parents set off for home, leaving me in the care of close friends to enjoy my extended vacation. Within 30 minutes of their departure I was off on that bike taking the loop by storm. Barreling down a hill on rough gravel, my little bike did the wobble and I went flying over the handlebars. I woke up on the ground with a young girl leaning over me with absolute panic on her face. When I looked down, my clothing was covered in blood right down to my saturated socks and underwear. I’ll never understand how it managed to spread like that. The panic seemed to leap from the young girl who accompanied me to my caregivers (and grandparents who thankfully hadn’t left yet) to every adult within the park’s radius. I remember their solemn faces as they handed me a cloth filled with ice to hold over my mouth and I watched the pale orange cloth stain to red.
The result was three premature lost teeth and a stapled up lip that swelled to the size of a golf ball on one side. I, of course, managed to squeeze this little accident in directly before beginning kindergarten. It’s funny because I don’t remember the kids teasing or even asking what had happened to my lip and I made friends easily.
I learned over time that not everyone can look past things like this and just see a person. Adults were actually the worst offenders. I remember meeting the parents of friends on play dates and going home and crying because they’d stared at the bump on my lip with interest and quizzed me relentlessly about its origin. I couldn’t understand why it mattered. Some went as far as curling up their own lip in a sort of disgusted way and openly judging. I went through this many times throughout the years.
It broke my mom’s heart to see me upset and to have adults being openly critical of such an insignificant aspect of who I am. One day after another incident she threw up her arms and said “well I just don’t understand why it matters! Good grief! People lose limbs and they re-learn how to do everything and it changes their lives or they get in accidents and become paralyzed or whatever! They go through things that make an impact and it changes the course of everything. You have one tiny bump and it doesn’t change a thing so why on earth does it matter anyways?” I thought about this for a long time. I’ve considered looking into having it removed and I’ve had others ask me why I haven’t. I’ve never been able to give them an answer. The truth is, over time it has become a part of me and actually it has made an impact. I didn’t have to re-learn anything or alter the way I did anything because of it, but it made me think about how I react when I see someone who is different or how I feel when someone treats me as if I am. That little bump has changed me because it taught me about humility.
I volunteered in a classroom with young children (aged 7-10) and I used my story as an example about how we all have quirks and differences that make us human and that they’re good things because they make us individuals so we should respect the heck out of them. The class was silent for a few breathtaking moments and I wondered if I should throw in some little anti-bullying tagline or something to get through to them and make sure it hit them on the right level. A girl in the back raised her hand sort of timidly and when I called on her she said “Well…I think you’re beautiful”.
No word of a lie, I felt like those years of tears and questions about why I had to have that stupid bump on my lip just kind of melted into oblivion. As cheesy as it seems, if I can teach just one little girl that beauty is so much more than what you see, me and that little bump have done our jobs. It took a long while but somewhere amidst the growing pains I figured out that what truly matters is my approach and the way I feel. If a person has trouble getting past the bump (and it sounds ridiculous but some have) and can’t just skip on to getting to know me, what a timesaver! Chances are, they’re not someone worth keeping around anyway. Needless to say, the bump is here to stay.