Early ‘ugly duckling’ self-concept paid beautiful dividends down the road

How do you fix your quilt of memories?

I recently received an out of-the-blue email from my first puppy-love. I was mildly obsessed with this dear boy, showering him with attention and gifts, from kindergarten to Grade 6. He was the only apple of my eye for those eight years, and I even sported shoe laces with his first name on them. Nowadays, I think we would almost call the 12-year-old me a stalker.

As we’ve been catching up and reminiscing, I can’t help but think that the quilt that I’ve sewn in my mind of those days was stitched with more holes and flaws than I knew. You’d think I’d protect myself from unhappy bits of my life with a comforting and forgiving blanket of thoughts. Instead, I knitted my quilt with straight pins jabbing outwards, pricking me anytime I wrapped myself in it.

I think it is fair to say that I grew up feeling like the ugly duckling. As my first love was unrequited (or so I thought), and I had my share of divorce and abandonment issues, I always felt less than “enough.” I dated the wrong men, in an ugly cycle, which took me decades to break.

Now, after speaking to my elementary school crush, I’m seeing my recollection quilt quite differently. My crush was just simply not interested in any girls at that age, it wasn’t that he was uninterested in me in particular. Granted, we are all our own worst critics, but I was particularly harsh with myself. I definitely need more forgiving fabric in my quilt. Funny how a different perspective on the past can soften it. It’s freeing to finally let go of my ugly duckling trope.

That said, I want to thank it for what turned out to be its purpose. As a parent, I made sure that my children grew up knowing how special, attractive, intelligent, kind, capable, and funny they were/are. I didn’t sugarcoat; I focused on the positives. My goal was to raise confident, independent children (not unlike my first crush). I believe that I’ve accomplished that goal, and am not sure it would have been my primary focus had I not had the formative years that I did.

Also, I’ll thank my ugly duckling self-concept for the fact that over the years, I have been told that I don’t know how beautiful I am, and that that is part of my beauty. I squirm uncomfortably even writing this, because I still have a very difficult time accepting compliments. I’ve often thought people were lying to me. Some days I recognize that I’m better preserved than many in my age bracket. There is also the occasional mood and look where I feel that my milkshake could “bring boys to the yard,” if they just knew where I lived.

I thank my poor recollections of my formative years, and my then low self-esteem, for helping me to focus on my kids’ self-confidence and approaching my own. I’m awed at the mistakes on my blanket of past memories, but am excited to be able to remove the painful protrusions from one area.

Now, it’ll be much nicer to wrap myself in my memory quilt as the years race forward. With this new revelation, maybe I’ll consider taking a seam ripper to other scratchy patches to see what I can do to soften them as well.

Here’s to puppy love, reconnecting, re-remembering, and the lifelong journey toward self-compassion and self-awareness.

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