We are all imperfect beings, and for some of us, that takes a little getting used to.
What I have noticed about myself, and the rest of the people in my life is that many of us strive to be what others perceive as good or “perfect,” we make “appropriate choices,” we are politely social in a crowd, politically correct, and we often put other’s needs before our own. But then some of us endeavor to rock the boat, make waves, and buck the system. And some of us just want to fade into the background, be left alone, prefer not to be noticed. Sweeping generalizations, of course, but overall, we tend to behave in sort of good, bad, or indifferent ways. Some of us grow out of the more difficult stages, while others do not. No doubt genetics and upbringing, maybe even birth order, have a lot to do with the path we eventually find ourselves on with our personalities and our behavior.
So, at what point do we become self-aware? When do we decide how we are going to behave? When do we decide what kind of person we really want to be? Is it possible that some of us never do? Some of us never take responsibility for how we behave towards ourselves, and towards others. And then, sometimes, we know how we want to be, but we find ourselves straying from our own path and we don’t really understand why.
I was an only child until I was five and a half years old. I was happy, and loved, and according to my mother, I was a pleaser. When I was told not to do something, I didn’t do it. I was a good listener. I was a good big sister. I was a good student. I was the teacher’s pet, and often the teacher’s assistant. I always did my homework first, and played second. I did my chores. I helped out without being asked. Later I dutifully babysat my siblings. I got straight A’s. Everyone in my life, every day, expected me to do the right thing. At least that is how I felt.
My sister was just the opposite. From the minute she entered the world kicking and screaming, she owned it. It was her way or the highway and she fought tooth and nail for her independence. She was naughty, and belligerent, and by a certain point, the only reason she agreed to attend school at all was to be with her friends. She climbed out her window at night until our father nailed it shut, and then, she just walked right out the door. In middle and high school, she was the life of every party. She smoked, she drank, and she had sex. She had so many boyfriends I cannot even count them. She was constantly irritable at home, she did not like being around the family, and we all walked on eggshells.
We were two very different girls, living in the same house, with the same parents. Such is life.
For the most part, being a goody two-shoes suited me. I wanted to be good. I wanted to get straight A’s because I knew I was doing my best, and it made my parents happy, or at least they didn’t have to worry about me. But sometimes, sometimes always being the good girl took a toll. Watching the other kids partake in questionable or even naughty activities looked fun, but I was never asked to join in, because I was one of the “good” kids. I innately sensed that if I crossed over to the other side, there was no coming back. Once you did one bad thing, you were now part of the “bad” group.
And then, when I was a freshman in high school, 14 years old, I was feeling the pressure, the pressure of always doing what was right, of always being the responsible one, of always being good. I was constantly being put in charge of my siblings. I had been working an after school job for a few months, I was playing sports, and I was still easily getting my straight A’s. I was with my family shopping at the mall. My sister was 9 years old. I went into the dressing room to try on a shirt. To this day, I remember exactly what the shirt looked like. I looked at myself in the mirror in that shirt. I didn’t even really want the blouse, I didn’t really need it, but something inside me snapped. I sat down on the bench and unbuttoned the shirt. I looked at myself and decided right then and there I was going to steal that shirt. I stuck the shirt in my purse and walked out of the dressing room. I instinctively knew there was an undercover security guard following me out of the dressing room. I knew I was going to be caught and I already started to feel unburdened. The security guard tapped me on the shoulder and asked to see inside my purse. I looked her straight in the eye and opened up my purse. She pulled the shirt out, with the tags still attached, and told me I would need to follow her, which I did. My mother was nearby and I could see her look of concern and confusion. She grabbed my sibling’s hands and they followed us to the security office. My sister was peppering my mother with questions. My mother knew what had happened, she just didn’t know why. She told my sister that I had taken something that I had not paid for. My sister was adamant as she said, “no, they have the wrong person, Kat would never take anything that didn’t belong to her, I know it, Mom, I know she wouldn’t.” It was at that point right then, that I decided I wanted to be the good girl. I wanted to be the girl that my siblings could look up to. I wanted to be the person that did the right thing, that didn’t take anything that did not belong to her, and that did not hurt people with her actions.
I walked away from the security office that day with a slap on the wrist. I wish it had been more, but for me, it was enough. My mother had stood there in that room with me while I received my “talking to.” She did not make excuses for me to the store, she did not try and fight my battle for me, and she did not interfere. When we left the security office, she did not berate me, she did not punish me, she did not make me feel bad. She knew I felt bad enough on my own.
In the end, being the good girl turned out to be what I wanted for myself after all, not just what other people thought I was or wanted me to be, but what I wanted to be. From that day forward, I have always tried to do the right thing. I have not always been successful, but I have tried, and I have done it for myself, not because it is what others expect of me or because I feel an obligation.
I had a conversation with my mother the other day regarding my husband and his addiction and we talked about the things he has done and I brought up that incident at the mall all those years ago and I thanked my mother for giving me as a child the kind of love, safety and security I needed to make a mistake that I could learn from in that quest of figuring out who I was and who I wanted to be, on my own. Because of my mother, I have never felt shame.