I’m going to be speaking to a Girl Scout troop soon. I always say yes when the Girl Scouts ask me to speak or do an activity. I was a Girl Scout for a time and I truly believe in the spirit of the girl scouts; to prepare girls to become empowered women. I’ve realized recently that as I grow as a woman myself and FINALLY come into my own, I bear a certain obligation. In thinking about what to do or say with the girls, I had some thinking to do. If I were a little girl again sitting in that troop, what would be the best possible thing I could walk away with when the activity ended? And so I started to think back about where my head was at that age.
I grew up with parents who were inherently fearful. Both my parents were inner city kids. They’d seen and experienced an awful lot and I mean “an awful lot” in a literal sense; abuse, molestations, poverty, crime, natural disasters – you name it. I can’t pretend I understand what that’s like. I don’t. And I know that many of the things they did in their child rearing back then were done because they loved me. But there’s no mistaking that their beliefs came from a place of real fear based on their experiences. They hovered over every aspect of my life. They held their breath each time I stepped out into the world. There were endless conversations about the bad things that could happen. Other talks about how bad people were to the point that you couldn’t trust them - ever. The world was a bad place and they tried their best to teach me how to watch my back, be mistrusting, keep my smarts about me at all times and how to come out swinging. It’s an understatement to say I was an abysmal failure. For whatever reason, I was hard wired as sensitive. I just didn’t have it in me. So you can imagine how confused I was given my personality versus theirs. In my parent’s eyes, I had/always have my “head up my ass.” In my eyes, they were difficult, jaded and hard. What confused me more was when I stepped out the door, I didn’t generally experience what they said was out there. Yes there were jerks but statistically speaking they were a mere decimal point when compared to all the people who were kind, loving and good. These people on the outside of my family were the ones who sustained me emotionally. They encouraged me. And if it weren’t for them, I probably wouldn’t have taken even 2 steps outside the door of my home.
The way I escaped from it all was through art. As a little girl, I’d color for hours. In high school, art class was where I felt excited and at ease. I wanted to pursue art but my parents dissuaded me back then because “artists don’t make any money.” That’s rather dashing when art is the thing you love so much that you get lost in it. Then in college in Florida, I took a drawing class. As a human being, I was adrift. Florida isn’t exactly the epicenter of hope or possibilities. So when I signed up for my college art class, it was with the intention of an elective that would keep my GPA up. Things took a bit of an unusual turn though. My professor had studied at the Sorbonne in Paris and in my eyes she was secretly a rock star. I remember feeling very wistful about what her life must have been like. About half-way through the semester though, she took me aside. “Denyse, you are literally wasted here. You have so much talent. You belong at Parson’s in New York. I can help you put together a portfolio and help you apply. You have to get out of here. Trust me, I know what I’m talking about and I wouldn’t say this to you if I weren’t 100% sure you could make it.” You could have blown me over with a feather. And for a moment – my heart was sooooo hopeful. The thoughts in my head about my life were for once about possibilities. I was so excited that I went to my parent’s house and told them. And my father shot me straight through the heart. “You can’t go to New York. You’ll be dead or raped within a week, Denyse and crawling back home. You’re just too naive to survive in a place like that and besides, artists don’t make any money.” And here’s where I went horribly, horribly wrong; I listened to his fear and owned it too. I told my professor “no.”
|A colorful but flightless bird.....|
I look back and literally sob at my own weakness. It’s natural for parents to be fearful when their baby bird flies from the nest. Especially my parents. But it’s on my own head that I didn’t soar anyway. I lived my whole life sitting in my parent’s nest, heart broken to not fly. I try very hard as a parent to ensure I don’t pass on my family legacy of fear. I don’t always succeed but I TRY. If you are a parent, I hope you’ll think about the things you are saying to your children both in word and deed because you are literally setting the flight pattern for your baby.
I think back to all the things my life could have been, what I surely missed; not just in circumstance but in how I could have felt about myself. I’m grateful for one thing though. Life offered me a second chance at 43 to be an artist. And for the first time in my life, I am at ease in my own skin. It is the thing I was born to do – the thing that I do well and love doing. What a gift even if it is late. I can’t help but wonder though, how many people get second chances? These little Girl Scouts are going to be sitting there looking to me to impart something to them. I desperately want for them what I didn’t have for myself. So I’ve decided that somehow, I’m going to try to give them the gift of not needing a second chance. I’m going to encourage them and get them so excited to soar the skies that nothing anyone says will stop them. Fly little birds – be free.