I have two older sisters.
Our parents deemed me “the talented one.” I took music and dance lessons.
My middle sister was “the smart one.” She was a certified SCUBA diver as a teen and a member of the Junior Zoologists Club.
My eldest sister was “the pretty one.” She took modeling lessons and even participated in a pageant.
I loved the stage and landed easily into this role but what I also did was internalize my label as “the talented one” to mean that I did not hold the attributes of my sisters. I took this to mean, “She’s not much to look at, she ain’t real bright, but she sure can sing!”
I was proud of my musical abilities, no doubt. I worked hard in my lessons and practiced daily, but I also longed to also be considered pretty and smart. These gifts bestowed upon each of us seemed mutually exclusive.
I have kids now and I may have overcorrected. My daughter told me, “I’m afraid to tell you my dreams.” Because when she did, she said I would find every class or club that could support whatever she may have mentioned being interested in.
“I have to make sure I really mean it first, because you go overboard, mom,” she said.
I see her point.
My parents never told me I was ugly. On the contrary, I know my mom told me I was beautiful. She sewed clothes for me and encouraged self-expression in how I dressed. I can’t imagine she ever thought I was ugly.
I also know that learning music and playing in a competitive marching band takes intelligence.
But the things you hear the most, sink in and make it easy to collect assumptions about what’s being emphasized in others around you. Especially if it’s your sisters.
My middle sister (the smart one) came to visit over the summer and stayed with me. She’s learning to play the drums. I played sideline percussion in high school, so she was a bit nervous to let me watch a video of her playing. I’ve never played a drum set and she rocked it. I was impressed.
She told me, “I wish I could have learned an instrument as a kid, but you were the talented one.”
She had also felt stuck in her childhood compartment. But the more we talked, she pointed out something I hadn’t considered. We didn’t grow up in a wealthy home. We weren’t poor by any means, but my dad could rub two pennies together and turn it into a dollar. He is frugal, smart and knows how to plan. I guess that’s what a degree in accounting and a career as a comptroller will get you.
Maybe what Dad could manage was to support one special interest for each of us.
“It was very privileged of us to think otherwise,” my sister said.
She’s right. Dad did what he could. And as a grownup I know that I am talented. I’m also smart and my husband thinks I’m beautiful, so that’s all that matters.
I also know that each of my sisters are all of those things as well. I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve been given as well as the lessons adulthood has helped me learn.
— Bonnie Jean Feldkamp is a wife, mother of three kids, and the opinion editor of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Louisville Courier-Journal. She can be contacted at email@example.com, followed through her YouTube channel and on Twitter: @WriterBonnie, or click here to learn more about her. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.