In Praise Of The Awkward Phase

My awkward phase was brutal. When I see throwback pictures of myself at age 13, I cringe so hard that it basically tricks my body into vomiting.

Okay, not really. But almost.

It was during my peak of awkwardness that I had a bad perm, glasses and the wardrobe of a 40-year-old. Not much has changed since then.

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I was 17 in this photo and trying to kick a terrible case of mononucleosis.

I remember what it felt like to have crushes on boys who thought I was unappealing. I recall the sinking feeling of being shut out of the cool crowd and how heavy a lunch tray can feel while navigating an unfamiliar cafeteria.

I remember the dread and the agony, the frizzy hair and the acne. It sucked.

BUT.

The awkward phase, while excruciating, fortified my character. It was uncomfortable as hell, but I had no choice but to dig deep and find the qualities that now sustain me through the difficulties of life. I think we all know people who never had to dig deep in their earlier years. More than likely, they now struggle as adults with life’s difficulties. Let’s be real: It’s difficult to cope effectively with adversity if you’ve never had to face it.

During this low point in my life, I learned empathy because I knew what it felt like to suffer. I discovered my sense of humor, because laughing is preferable to crying. I honed my instincts and refined my bullshit-o-meter. I discovered hidden talents which didn’t involve my looks—obviously.

Despite the tragedy of it all, I do not intend to shelter my children from experiencing their own version of the awkward phase. Honestly, I welcome it. I hope it’s epic. I want them to see what they’re made of. Winston Churchill famously stated, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”

I eventually emerged on the other side of hell and went on to discover important things like tweezers and contact lenses.

Now I have a daughter, and she has the kind of cherubic face that makes people stop what they’re doing and stare. We recently walked through our gym hand-in-hand as a water aerobics class was being held, and a literal hush fell over the room. The instructor stopped instructing. Arms drifted down into the water and heads turned as they watched my child toddle by in her Hello Kitty swimsuit and baseball cap.

I can’t blame them. She’s adorable.

The instructor stopped me later and said, “Your little girl is so beautiful. I forgot what I was doing because I was so busy admiring her!”

“Thank you,” I said, as we continued on our way.

My daughter is oblivious to her beauty. She’s a happy, charismatic child, intelligent and charming. She knows her colors and shapes and recognizes numbers and letters, but because she’s beautiful, all people want to talk about is how pretty she is. “But she’s also smart,” I insist. “And funny.”

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No one hears, or maybe they don’t care, because they’re far too busy staring at her wide eyes and dimpled cheeks—and I understand, because I do it too. But I want all three of my children to have strength of character. I want them to know that they have so much more to offer this world than what is visible on the surface.

I want them to be confident in the knowledge that because they survived pimples and name-calling and brutal body odor as an awkward teen, they can also survive rejection and adversity as an adult.

I want them to be kind because they know what it feels like to be on the other side of cruelty. I want them to understand what it’s like to be on top of the world, and then have it all come crashing down in homeroom.

The awkward phase is where life lessons are thrown at you from all directions. It’s painful, but worth it in the end.

Bring on the headgear.

© 2016 Harmony Hobbs, as first published on Scary Mommy.

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Bittersweet.

At 10 months and 2 days old, the baby finally crawled.

Raising little girls

It was so bittersweet. I was standing barefoot on a blanket watching her, and I thought I would burst with pride. Of my three children, she took the longest to start crawling, but she put the most work into learning. For almost 3 months she has been working on figuring it out, spending her nap times practicing in addition to countless frustrated hours on the floor.

It’s hard to watch your children try and fail and try again. Today I watched Maverick try to climb a tree. He insisted he needed help, but I refused. It was a low tree, and I was close by. He doesn’t know that I was climbing trees like a monkey when I was just a little older than him. I would take the canoe out alone and paddle around the lake at 8 years old. I haven’t told him much about what I was like as a little girl because I’m afraid he will think he can just jump into the nearest canoe and take off with it. He can’t swim yet … so I’ll hold off on my stories.

Looking back, it freaks me out to think about the things that my parents let me do. My mother must have been worried sick while I was off adventuring through the woods, but we had a big German Shepherd who always tagged along and — get this — nothing bad happened.

As I grew older, I found that a large majority of girls my age were fearful and lacked self-confidence because they had never been allowed or encouraged to be independent and/or strong.

Children won’t know what they are capable of if they are never allowed to DO ANYTHING, especially girls, who tend to have confidence issues to begin with. Sometimes by thinking you are protecting them, you’re actually stripping them of the one thing that is vital to their quality of life and happiness: their inner strength.

I understand now how hard it is to let go and hope nothing bad happens as you loosen your grip to allow your child more freedoms. It’s terrifying. I waffle between wanting to lock my children away from the world, and encouraging them to be as involved in it as possible so they can eventually, somehow, change it.

So … I say all of that to say, it’s a big moment for me and for my kid when he climbs his first tree. And, more notably, when his little sister finally crawls to the edge of the blanket to eat the grass she’s been eyeing for months.

As I swept her up and moved her away, pulling wads of clover from her tight grasp, I whispered “I AM SO PROUD OF YOU. YOU JUST KEEP GOING.”

And I know that she will.