Who others expected I’d be
I was 12 years old, sitting on the school bus ready to go home after another day in the seventh grade. Behind me two boys were talking about who they thought was most likely to be “emo.” One of them said, “Janai would never be. She’s like the happiest person in the world. She would never be depressed.”
I walked to lunch after a rather exhausting day in math class. I was two years ahead in math, which wasn’t so bad in middle school, but in high school I found the leap to be overwhelming. I had received one of my tests back to find a score that wasn’t exactly ideal. I found my friends and sat with them on the floor in a hallway to eat. One asked why I was down. I told them I had received a bad grade on a math test. Another friend commented, “well for you a ‘bad grade’ is like a B so I’m sure you’ll be just fine.”
I didn’t tell her that I would’ve been ecstatic to have a B, over the D that was actually written in red on the top of my test.
Growing up people perceived me in a way that was very different from reality. Yes, I am a naturally cheerful person, but cheerful people can seem to the world as unlikely to ever have emotional struggles, when in reality they are just as likely to be silently suffering. My friends commented often about how I was “perfect.” I was in honors and AP classes, ahead in maths and sciences, and for most of my middle to high school career I received straight A’s. But they didn’t know how much I struggled in math, how I had to retake triganometry because being 2 years ahead was just too much, and that I only passed calculus because my teacher was an easy grader. I was seen as the one who never had a problem or care in the world, and was informed by others that it was so. And yet contemplations of suicide plagued me regularly.
For some reason the world has expectations about what we will become. It’s an “of course they will… [fill in the blank]” kind of world. The world said to me, of course you will… graduate from Brigham Young University. Serve a mission for our church. Be a “mommy blogger.” Have a lot of kids. Be one of those moms whose house always looks prestine.
These are all things that have been expressed to me as givens for my life.
But my reality has been quite different.
I had a baby and dropped out of BYU, where I wasn’t exactly excelling in my classes anyhow. I was a “C’s get degrees” kind of student. I have no plans to return to BYU, and if I do go back to school at all it will be for a degree in Vocal Performance at some other university.
I did not serve a mission for my church. I actually did apply to, but could not because of the severity of my anxiety at the time.
I have no plans to be a “mommy” or “lifestyle” blogger. Not that there’s anything wrong with those things, but I refuse to keep up the facade of my life being neat and tidy. Despite what others may have thought, I would not be able to keep up the tidy, crafty lifestyle of mommy and lifestyle bloggers. Instead I’m blogging about the hard things -mental health, body image, vulnerability.
I can have only c-sections, which means the number of kids I can have is limited. But not only am I physically limited in the number of kids I will eventually have, but I am emotionally limited. My reality is I struggle on a daily basis with feelings of anxiety, and fewer kids will mean an emotionally healthier me.
And as for the expectation of being the mom with an always tidy and shiny home, I do keep my living space quite clean. But tidy is another story… I don’t know how my mom did it, and maybe someday I will learn and fulfill this expectation, but it will not be an expectation I place on myself. Just a nice goal. 🙂
It’s not easy to let go of the expectations my peers had for my life. I see those from my high school class graduating college with their degrees, and it’s strange to not be part of that. It actually kills me sometimes.
I think of the many people at my wedding who told me to graduate before I had kids, and I feel like I need to make excuses to them, act like my baby was an accident or something. But he was planned and wanted. Very wanted.
I hear comments about how if I space them well enough I should be able to have just as many kids as I wanted before, or I hear how I should ignore my OB and try a v-back anyway. They tell me nothing has changed. I find solace in bonding with other women who have had c-sections, who understand that everything has changed.
When people come over, I feel I need to prove to them I can be the tidy, crafty mom I feel they expect. But it is an overwhelming task to do even just for company.
All these expectations could be seen as compliments, however, I think we could all do ourselves favors by complimenting ourselves on what we’ve already accomplished, instead of what we might accomplish. Recognizing someone’s potential is valuable, but pinning them to a specific life choice can result in heartbreak when life takes them in another direction.
People also told me that I was going to make an amazing mother if I was blessed with children. They told me I had a beautiful voice that could bless people’s lives. They told me I was creative. That I was compassionate. My parents told me I could bless a lot of people someday through my kindness and observance. These are all expectations I hold dear. Expectations of my character, not of accomplishments. Compliments on the character I already had, that they knew could be applied in wonderful ways someday. These are the things I hold close to when I’m threatened to grieve the expectations I will not meet. These are the things that matter.