Saturday, April 10, 2021

Confidence, the Good Kind



Artful Life
Tara O’Neill

As I stack more years in the back of the cart than the front, so do many of my friends. Our knees and hips creak, our ankles swell, and our necks and shoulders stiffen… and let’s not forget the vague memories of sleeping through the night without having to get up. These challenges I take in stride, what I don’t appreciate is hearing over and again that “it’s hell getting old.” And the alternative is…?

What amuses me is that you hear this much more from people in their fifties and sixties than you do from folks in their seventies and eighties. Could this mean that getting old is annoying, but being old is a blessing?

Right now I find myself in a mood to count blessings… and one of the greatest gifts of getting old is the fun to be had embarrassing our young and dear ones. Today I take aim at my beloved nephew, Zachary.

Zachary is in his late twenties; smart, artful, funny, and successful. He is an absolute original and I’m proud to be his auntie. I have, however, a memory of Zachary’s first day at pre-school he probably wishes I wouldn’t share with my tens of thousands of readers. So of course I must.

As a toddler, Zach had a flashy sense of style. He liked wearing bright colors and mixing prints like stripes and plaids or flowers and checks; he liked Mardi Gras beads; he also liked bunching his riotously curly hair in plastic barrettes. Just having a bit of fun.

On his first day of pre-school, my sister Maureen, Zach’s mom, managed to get him into a somewhat toned-down matching outfit that befitted the role of a serious four-year old student. The one thing she couldn’t talk him out of was his favorite barrettes. Well, no battle here; she wasn’t about to traumatize her son by making him feel like a freak just because he liked plastic barrettes. She just hoped no one else would.

I was sitting with my sister that day when Zach came home – barrette less. Maureen and I exchanged worried glances but, before she could ask him one question, Zach spouted a stream of euphoria about his first day: all-the-fun-and-friends-and-cool-teacher-and-on-and-on-and-on. (Zach did, and still does, talk 90 mph.) When he finally slowed down enough for Maureen to insert a casual inquiry into the whereabouts of the hair ornaments, my solid little nephew drew them from his pockets, placed them on the table and gave her this gentle scolding, “Mo-om, why didn’t you just tell me they make these for girls?” And then added a “sheesh!” to show the exasperation that went along with raising such a silly mother before running upstairs to check on the safety of all his toys.

No trauma and no self-doubt; no insecurity and absolutely no worries. I was so impressed by him, by all that happy confidence. Admittedly, I was extremely sensitive when I was a little girl, the slightest teasing made me bawl my eyes out and, consequently, made me the perfect target for those so inclined. (I could spend hours hidden away wracked at being born a freak all because some fatheaded kid up the street called me one.) Confidence was not my strong suit.

I don’t remember when it turned around for me, but I’m pretty sure my artful side had something to do with it. I was creative and I knew it… no, I just felt it… this I loved and no one could take it away from me. By the time I hit high school I was getting some pretty praise from my art teachers… but when I didn’t, I just shrugged it off with a what-do-they-know.

Confidence is the tool I most wish every parent give their child. You may think kindness more important, but kindness is a by-product of confidence (we’ve all read about insecurities that manifest to bullying); and generosity is good, but it comes a lot easier with confidence. With a positive sense of self comes the understanding that you won’t feel any better about yourself by putting someone down; you won’t be any richer by making others poorer.

Confidence is the ladder that lets you climb to your own best potential. That’s real confidence, the good kind, Zach’s kind. Zach graduated from R.I.T. and went on to get a masters degree in packaging… he not only thinks outside the box, he is now reinventing the box – that’s confidence for you.


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