When I was in college, I was fortunate enough to spend my junior year living in Paris, France. Ooh la la! As I packed for the adventure, I just knew it would be transformative. Like the title character in one of my favorite movies of all time, Sabrina, I would leave a slightly (ok, totally) gawky, awkward, frizzy-haired, caterpillar, and return a sleek and chic butterfly- or as they say in Paris, un papillon.
That’s not quite the way it happened.
In my defense, it’s not like Audrey Hepburn was EVER, even for a fraction of a second, gawky or awkward, and I’m sure it took a village of Hollywood hairdressers to transform her lovely locks into something even vaguely approximating frizzy for the “before” shots.
But back to me. So off I went to Par-EE where I did my best to absorb the language, the culture, the je ne sais quoi that all French women possess. Along the way I also absorbed a lot of croissants, baguettes, and brie. Oh, I was a caterpillar all right- The Very Hungry Caterpillar. I gained about 25 pounds during my stay in the City of Lights, which did not exactly help with Operation Papillon. And the whole frizzy hair thing didn’t get any better on the other side of the world.
Unfortunately, the lesson didn’t quite stick. Upon returning from Paris I said au revoir to my evolved self and reacquainted myself with the American tradition of trying to be things I’m not. I spent years trying to change myself myself to fit in with various crowds, always coming up short, feeling somehow “less than” as a result. I played the roles and dressed the parts: the intellectual, party girl, the suburban mom, the corporate ladder climber, and yes, even at one point in my life, the Club Med showgirl.
But none of those were me, and none of them felt quite right. I always found myself feeling like an outsider wearing a costume (sometimes literally) that didn’t quite fit. It wasn’t just the jobs, but the whole package. As my “finding myself” years stretched into decades, I started to wonder- was it just me? Was being just me just not enough for me… or for anyone else?
Until one hot summer day in 2009, when God sent me a message. It was a 7 pound, 12 ounce message which arrived gently and with barely a cry.
One minute a bundle was placed in my arms and the next two big, blue eyes blinked back at me with an intensity I’d never experienced. I could see instantly that this little girl knew who she was. She was laughter, she was love, she was chocolate frosted cupcakes and warm, sandy beaches all rolled into one. She was pure joy. In fact, I was so sure of it, I knew right then and there it was literally her middle name.
And since that day, she has more than lived up to it. At age 4, she is still so blessedly and unabashedly bold, so completely absorbed in being herself that she doesn’t have time to even consider an alternative. If there is a song playing in her head (and there usually is), she dances with abandon, not giving a moment’s thought to whether the rest of us can hear the tune or know the moves.
Not only does she march to her own beat, she leads the band with a plastic recorder while wearing a skunk suit.
She is a girl unafraid of making a bold fashion statement, the kind that involves mixing multiple prints with multiple muppets.
And when it comes to accessories, she’s got a plan of her own.
I’d like to say I’ve religiously applied that mantra to my life and have effortlessly blossomed into my very own butterfly at last, but progress isn’t always linear and I’ve had my share of slip-ups. Lately I’ve found myself back at the comparison game, which is one I always lose. I’ve been spending too much time looking at what others have, or what they’ve achieved, or where they’ve been and wondering once again why I don’t ever seem to fit in.
So for her, and for me, it’s time to make some changes.
For her, and for me, I left a job I didn’t love, one which was rapidly turning me into a person I didn’t love, a job I was holding on to because it was easier than finding my own path.
For her, and for me, I’m recommitting myself to celebrating the things that make me different, and the wonderful people in my life who embrace those differences because, really, who has time for anyone who doesn’t?
For her, and for me, it’s time to be OK with who I am and where I am.
No more waiting for some magical transformation to turn me into a butterfly. Maybe I’m already there. Any maybe I’m not. But either way, I don’t want to wish away all the joy (and the Joy) that’s already here.
Mona Shand is a broadcast journalist who lives with her family in Brighton. You can read more at Mona’s Blog.