I think I know exactly the moment I lost any self-esteem I had growing up. It must have flowed right out of my body along with my very first menstrual period when I was ten years old. Yup, ten. Before any of my friends, my sister, or anyone else I knew. I think it was after that moment that I began to take notice of what other people were doing and wearing and how they were acting and how people were reacting to them.
Before that time I was just a little kid in my own world. I was raised by great parents who let me be me, as much as any oddities I may have had probably bugged them. Never once did they cut me down or doubt me in any way. I was a kid who could read before kindergarten (when this was not the norm), was a good soccer player, had tons of friends, and who, as the teacher once told my mother, was looked to as the trend-setter in girls' hairstyles in my fourth grade class.
So where, when, and how did I end up being self-doubting, self-loathing at times, sitting home alone on weekends feeling sorry for myself and getting voted "most likely to become president of the negative thinkers club?" (High school girls are mean, aren't they?)
If I knew these and other answers, I could decipher the mystery of what is becoming my five-year-old's self esteem.
As Knox grew up, he was always being thought of as "one of the triplets." He was only eighteen months younger than his older twin brothers and very closely resembled them in size and looks. He always wanted to do everything they did; and for the most part, I let him.
Fast forward to about a year and a half ago, when his best friend, his idol, and his constant companion was diagnosed with cancer. His brother was there physically, but gone mentally. In a week, Knox had lost the person he looked up to the most, the person who gave him all of his great ideas, showed him how to act and treat his other brothers, the person that we were sure was going to be his best friend for life. But this wasn't to be.
Knox was only three at the time of his brother's devastating diagnosis, yet I have a feeling he knew what was going on.
It has been almost a year since his brother has been gone. In that year I have seen some changes in him, changes that I know are probably normal for all children making the transition from preschool to grade school, but some I think may be attributed to his self-doubt over his role model being gone.
I have been frustrated with him this whole year. It seems like over the winter we literally did nothing. There was no suggestion of a sport or a class or a play date I could make to him that he wanted to undertake. Every time I suggested something, he would protest - loudly! And if I would just take him somewhere, he would literally spend half of the time pouting, while the other children were having a great time and getting to know one another. He gained a lot of weight over the winter, too, moving him into the 99th percentile for weight, although balanced out by being in the 92nd percentile for height. He's always been a big kid; but for this weight gain, I blame myself for allowing him to sit and pout and mope and watch t.v. and eat snacks. After all, this past year, I was sitting and pouting and moping a lot over both losing one son and gaining an unexpected other one.
He didn't want to try any sports because he didn't think he would be any good. He quit playing soccer last spring because he "wasn't scoring any goals." And, unfortunately, because we were in the midst of our other son's illness, we let him quit. He wouldn't ride his bike without training wheels, and he quite frequently came home from preschool in a sour mood.
And I feel like it's all my fault somehow. I kept thinking, 'has my negative self-esteem rubbed off on him? Have I projected my own insecurities about friendships and talents onto him? Have I been too hard on him?'
Or does it have to do with the death of his brother?
Or is it just normal growing up stuff?
One beautiful day that Hubby happened to have off work, I came home to an elated Knox.
"Mommy, I have something to show you!" And he jumped on his bike and sped off without his training wheels! Daddy had just taken them off and told him to hop on. He was so proud of himself that whole night. He had to call Grandma and Papa and tell them because, after all, Papa had told him he could do it.
Later that evening while we were cuddling, he said to me, "I wish Joey could have seen me ride my bike like that."
And this wasn't the first time that he has mentioned his late brother. He often says, "I wish Joey were here. He always had the best ideas of games to play." He mentioned that his fifth birthday party - at which we had a blow-up water slide, snow cone maker and cotton candy - would have been so much better if Joey had been there.
Soon after the training wheel-free bike ride Hubby, who is a DDS, discovered that Knox was getting his six-year molars, or "big boy teeth." Knox just beamed with pride! That Friday was kindergarten round-up. He brought "homework" to show the teachers. Having taught Joey, and knowing that Knox might need some special attention, they gushed over the paper on which he had scrawled his name. And he learned that a nice little girl from his preschool class would be attending kindergarten at his school next year. He has begun reading sight words, and nightly insists on trying to read one of his Hot Wheels books to us. He has been wanting to do more "homework" every night. Clearly in his case, a little success goes a long way.
He asked to try soccer again, and I quickly signed him up before he could change his mind. On the day of his first game, Hubby and I sat huddled together on the sidelines silently pleading with the soccer gods to let Knox score a goal, knowing that if he didn't, he would not ever want to play again. It turned out that the soccer gods smiled on us in more than one way, as not only did he score a goal, but he lucked out and got put on a team of little hustlers. His previous teammates were happy to just stare at the clouds and dig in the dirt, and this was part of the problem. But this current team is all about going after the ball. We even saw him pat a teammate on the back and tell him 'great job!' Hubby and I let out a joint sigh of relief as we got the victorious "thumbs-up" from Knox several times during the game. He has since been asking to try some of the other sports I had previously suggested to him.
Despite all of these successes and the growing confidence he is displaying, there are hints of his former insecurity. Before dressing for preschool (this is preschool, mind you), he asks me what I think all the other kids will be wearing. He asked me the other day what I think he should be when he grows up, and frequently asks me what I think he should play. He's been asking me to re - comb his hair before he goes to school (could he have a crush on the aforementioned little girl?). He plays Mario Brothers as much as we will allow him because he "has to be as good as" his little friend who has been over for play dates. And lastly, he hasn't exactly stepped up to be the big brother I hoped he would in Joey's absence (but I think that's another story).
So the secret to building a five year old's self esteem? I can't answer that. For me, it took keeping a journal, a Book of Smiles as I called it. At first I just wrote compliments people paid to me, mostly about my shoes or hair or outfits. I wrote about every time a guy paid me some attention or I got asked out on a date. Eventually though, the journal was more about compliments on my teaching ability or my success in graduate school. Ultimately, I stopped writing in it, although I think I could still use it at times. Self esteem is something I will struggle with for the rest of my life. And the more I talk to other women, the more I think everyone struggles a bit with an inner demon or two.
As for my son? I think he's either got it or he doesn't. I have a feeling self esteem will be something he'll mount an ongoing struggle against as well. I also know that I can provide him with opportunities, praise his success, and comfort him in his failures. In the end though, it's going to be up to him to see the value that lies within him.