After high school, did you have a college or work experience that led you to an entirely new community?
I left Los Angeles for the beautifully bricked, white columned campus at the University of Virginia, bright-eyed to study American history.
The first few weeks were packed with events I can’t help but call mixers, meet and greet, get-out-and-introduce-yourself activities. I saw how exciting and uncomfortable it was to be entirely unknown, to have the chance to describe yourself in one sentence and be judged accordingly.
I had grown up in a community that invariably knew my family before it knew me. I was Fred Taylor’s daughter–a child of an elder at church, a daughter of an insurance salesman and backpacker, Mary Taylor’s grand daughter–in a lineage of faithful church service, Mina’s oldest–her friends wondered how much of my mom’s creative genius I had inherited, Engracia’s grand daughter, the one she took on walks introducing her to neighbors before picking their cumquats.
Every time I return home, for a holiday or even for a drive-by visit during a Los Angeles speaking gig, I remember the old patterns of who I am at home.
There are labels we find sticking to us, sometimes stuck to our back without us knowing that define us growing up, labels that make it significantly difficult to grow beyond. I was the oldest, bossy daughter. The number one command that I broke was “Being the mother.” Bossy Jonalyn returns home once again.
I was also the outspoken, enthusiastic, talkative one. When Myers-Briggs personality tests came out there was no doubt that I was an extrovert. Family friends and members saw it in me even before I could take the test. My mother has stories of my aptness to speak before I turned two and ask impossible questions. My favorite story is after a stream of my talking, she announced, “Joni, I need no questions for five minutes? Unless it’s an emergency, no questions, okay?”
“Okay, Mommy!” I cheerfully sang from the back seat. Intent on pleasing I looked out the window and the passing trees. Thirty seconds later I cried, “Mommy, THIS is an emergency! Can we go to the moon?”
Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year’s is upon us, with opportunities to return home, to visit with family who will remind us of who we were growing up, with stories of our antics and embarassing tendencies–all of which reveal something about us. But they might not always help reveal all we are today.
When I return home, I’m often amazed at how this community-dubbed extrovert, loves to be in her spare room reading. I’m surprised that I’m not quite as bossy as I used to be. Sometimes, I think my family isn’t sure who’ve I’ve become either.
Years ago, as I was discovering my strengths beyond my family’s description, a good friend, Lisa told me that it would be helpful to explain to my childhood friends how I had changed.
“Do you think I’m different now than I was a teenager? I asked Lisa.
“In a lot of ways you are,” Lisa replied.
What person were you at home that have since changed? How do your friends view you? Has your family been given the chance of interaction with the grown-up version of yourself?
Take a moment before you go home to list out a few things–make them the strengths–that describe who you are. When you arrive home consider if this list matches who your family know you to be.
This last Thanksgiving I considered my current work in the non-profit sector, how I work to listen to what people say and what they don’t say, to help others grow more healthy, more appropriately human, and I considered bringing that side of Jonalyn to my family.
Instead of fearing they’d continue to label me the bossy older sister, or the show-off, or the queen bee (all labels of my past), I gave them a taste, an update of who this woman has become today. In my friendships, I can offer honesty and gentleness, good listening and sharp thinking.
I brought this to my brother and sister this Thanksgiving.
And surprise! I had some of the best, most grown-up (in the best sense of the word), encouraging interaction with them. No heated discussions, no arguments, no accusations of being the bossy older sister.
My brother and I had our first grown-up outing together, lunch at Thai Time. Finn cordially dozed while we caught up. I really enjoyed hearing about his life goals, what he cares about and the food was wonderful. Jacob even warmed up to Finn.
My sister Abby and I had such a good time talking while we made cookies, swapping book ideas (visit her wry blog at Abby’s Alley), sharing our challenges of living in a small space, that we burned the snickerdoodles. I count those smokey fumes evidence of success.
This holiday season consider the strengths you bring to your friendships that you can also share with your family.
What did you discover in your family and in yourself? Fun, frazzled or frustrated comments welcome!