Growing-up I was always the nice one . At family functions, in school, out with friends and in my own mind I was identified as the nice one . When I was little it was very easy to keep this label. Being nice meant helping out, doing what the grown-ups said and being quiet. But as I grew older being nice became much harder to understand and far more complex than I could have ever imagined.
I tinkered with the idea of being the good listener. That was pretty easy for me, especially since I have an innate talent for getting everyone's point. On any side of an issue I'm pretty good at seeing where they are coming from. For a while being the good listener was alright, except I started getting afraid of seeming dumb. Both my mom and my sister are exceptionally smart, strong and outspoken women, and I have always looked up to them. It's okay to be a good listener, but if that's all you are it doesn't give you much time to discover your own thoughts and opinions.
Perhaps, then, I could be the quiet thinker? This would be one way to allow for listening, which I'm good at, and discovering myself, which I had never really taken the time to do. Partly because I was so busy being the nice one or the good listener, but also because I was afraid that once I tried to discover my own beliefs and idea's, they would be lacking. I liked the idea of the quiet thinker because my sister has often said, "Have you noticed that Tsara doesn't have much to say, but when she does say something it's often profound?" I kind of liked that. But my problem with being the quiet thinker is I have a hard time bouncing ideas about who I am off of myself, I need an audience. Real or imagined, it helps me to have an audience.
When I was nineteen I became the mom. That was huge. My whole world revolved around my son and being the best mom I could be for him, and eventually his three brothers. But the world of being the mom is filled with as many identity crisis labels as any other. To be a loving mom was a given and came naturally. But should I be the strict mom? The fun mom? The overly involved or stand back and let them be themselves mom?
When my kids were still pretty young I was floundering in these labels. My mom and I were chatting over coffee (aaahhh" the healing power of coffee chat time!) when mom recalled an incident from my own childhood. She had told me this story many times, but at that particular moment, I was truly ready to hear it.
"I remember the sadness I felt ", she reminisced, "when your sister was singing and everyone was saying how wonderful she sounded. I was so proud of her. Then I looked over at you and saw the decision written all over your face, and in your eyes. You were going to let her be the singing one. You stopped singing for us after that. It was one of those moments as a parent when you know that hard as you try-- and I did try!-- the decision has been made."
I looked over at my boys: two neuro-typical, two slightly autistic, all four absolutely amazing and unwritten. How would I want them to label themselves? The nice one? The funny one? The tell it like it is one?
How about the happy one? And that was it. From then on I labeled myself the happy one. I sing to myself and grin goofily walking down the street. I am eager to be the good listener, the helper, the one with asked for advice. As a mom I am happy to encourage behaviors, compliment achievements large and small, or make suggestions for change. Personal semantics have shaped my life. They have helped me discover myself, while at the same time been an important and constant reminder that the meanings behind these words and labels were mine and mine alone. I can't tell someone else who they are or who they should be. It's not up to me to decide what words are bad or good. Words come with their own personal histories and so a lovely word for one person can be dangerous to another.
Being the nice one sent me on a dangerous rollercoaster ride that I'm just lucky I survived. For another person trying that label on could make a wonderful difference. Another example of personal semantics; for me the word force feels ugly and cruel. To force my kids to do something would be horrible" to me. For another the word brings up images of nature and beauty, forcing their kids means encouraging with gusto and intention.
I try to teach my kids the importance of choosing their words with intention and a touch of curiosity. In teaching them I remind myself. For now I like to see myself as the happy one. One day that may change, if visions of a dopily grinning old lady don't suit me, I may play with semantics some more. But I will never underestimate the importance or the personal differences.
MY words encourage my actions. MY words define me.