Empathizing with “10”
I don’t remember much from when I was 10. I don’t remember the birthday party I had, nor many specific moments. I have to really dig through my memories: who was my teacher? What did I like in school? What did I do during recess? How did I relate to my mom? What did I enjoy more than anything else? And slowly the memories come up; memories that allow me to find empathy for Missy.
When I was 10, I had a male teacher and I did not like him. My friend A and I laughed at him mercilessly, though usually in the privacy of our homes. We liked to play barbies. Each barbie had her own house which we carefully decorated, and a wardrobe chosen with a true eye for detail. The barbies were usually neighbors and close friends, they went out to parties and out swimming. The themes we explored would shock me, now.
When I was 10, I rode my bike to and from school. I went to the bakery to buy bread for my mom. I bought candy at the penny counter of the grocery store, carefully weighing the bag to make sure it was exactly equal to the amount of money in my pocket. I also stood outside the cornerstore and begged people for money, which I then used to buy a candy bar. With my friend K, I liked to play “orphans,” a pretend game where we were two orphans fending for ourselves in the woods. We donned headscarves and baskets, and played for hours in her room.
My friend H and I liked to play ding-dong ditch. Once, a neighbor threatened to let her dogs loose on us. We hid in my backyard shed until the danger passed, but when we came out it turned out she’d gone to have a chat with my mother, instead.
When I was 10, I fought a LOT with my parents. Things never felt very fair, especially when my older sibling outsmarted me and got me to do something, or when my younger sibling got away with not doing the dishes. I didn’t understand why my mom and dad got to sit down and relax together after dinner, while we kids had to stay in the kitchen and do the dishes. When an explanation was finally offered – “we cooked dinner” – I jumped on that and began helping out in the kitchen.
I learned how to bake a pound cake and when I became hungry for a sweet snack, offered to bake cake. My mom put an end to that when she realized how small my cakes were, compared to hers.
When I think about Missy and all the things she does that are annoying, all the things that make her seem like a lazy, irresponsible person, I need to think back to what life felt like to me when I was that age. I was self-centered, quick to point out anything that seemed unfair, and unaware of the tremendous amounts of work and patience that my parents exhibited on a daily basis. I need to stop myself from judging Missy’s character and instead give her a hug, play a game of phase 10, and tell her I think she’s really funny, or smart, or insightful. I remember just wishing that I belonged in my family, and feeling painfully aware of all the ways in which I did not. In the end, isn’t “belonging” all any of us want?