When I was little I was jealous of my friends who had TV names. Audrey, Kelly, Kristin, Sarah, Jackie, Katie, Caroline. I had a grandmother name, Virginia, which, shortened to Ginny, seemed trivial and odd. Ginny could never be a prom queen, which, as it were, isn’t actually the chief end of success, though at the age of nine it seemed like it was. I did not go on to become prom queen.
In middle school the peak of my envy was over hair. Between middle and high school, the long, ultra-flat, part down the center, glued to your head look was in for girls. Straighteners were not what they are now. It was, looking back, a lot like the first iMac computers. Bulky, slow, fairly ineffective, and very expensive. I had a friend who helped me “straighten” my hair. It took ninety minutes and, looking back at photographs, was ultimately a tremendous waste of time especially in summer because it ended up a bit like a frizz helmet. I spent a lot of years, the majority of life as a matter of fact, hating my hair! Granted, I didn’t know about mousse or not using a hairbrush, but I digress.
At the beginning of college I started comparing myself to other girls in terms of shape and stature, the way I talked, what I studied, who I hung around with, what I wore. In most areas I felt that I measured up, but not all, and in those things I tried to fit in and it wounded me deeply. Later in college Ginny Weasley had come onto both the literary and Hollywood scene, so my name wasn’t as bad, and curly hair had become enviable. I had also grown into myself in many ways, and accepted that my name and my very recognizable head of hair were actually appropriate for my personality, right along with my Chuck Taylor All-Stars, my love of the library, my infatuation with Patty Griffin. My best friend at one time called me “quirky.” That’s a great descriptor, but it took a long time to accept it for myself.
Comparison is the thief of joy. Theodore Roosevelt said that.
I thought all of that stupid inner competition and envy would dissipate when I became an adult, but it only changed. It found new homes in places that have continued to appall me. The latest is in parenting.
An example. Jack is fifteen months old and he isn’t walking yet. He stands up, moves from object to object holding onto the dog, tables, my legs, the wall, crawls really fast, and even does this incredibly impressive plank walk that takes a ton of abdominal strength. He doesn’t walk. Apparently most toddlers are on foot by now, which I didn’t know since Jack’s my only child and I didn’t pay attention in AP Psychology.
I was pretty thrilled when he started crawling, and basically ecstatic the first time he pulled up on a plastic light-up car and pushed it across the floor.
Then one person, I can’t even remember who it was, said “Is he not walking yet?” And wouldn’t you know, just like that, all the excess of joy I’d been frothing with dried up in an instant. I went home, googled When should a baby start walking, and discovered that according to standards set by whoever sits in the Baby Development of the World office, Jack is late. Mark walked in from work that night and immediately said, “Oh no, what’s wrong?” That’s how glum I was.
Roosevelt’s words are stark and true, and as I become a mother (I guess I am one, but it feels like a process), I feel more hostile to that powerful thief. My initial response is to reject comparison outright, but that only leads to contrary and self-righteous individuality. I want neither! I long for my heart to change, so my buoyancy is not derived from the acceptance of men and women.
Jack will probably walk, or else we’ll buy him knee pads and his chores can be cleaning the baseboards, weeding and mopping. I will probably compare myself, my family, my life, my faith against others because I am a messed up human being. But I hope, over time, I’ll stop.
Comparison is the thief of joy.