On Being Average, or Not!

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I grew up knowing that I was average: average intelligence, average attractiveness, average ability in anything I attempted, average Jane. On top of being average I was the quiet, middle child. Oh, to be the middle child when your older brother is obviously a genius and your younger sister is just as cute as a button and oh, so outgoing. I was not a miserable child but I knew the world did not revolve around me on any level.

This position of average-ness had its benefits. I didn’t attract a lot of negative attention, though I occasionally sought it out. Hey, if I couldn’t get positive attention because I wasn’t as attractive, as personable, as amazing as my two siblings I could occasionally garner some attention by saying something inappropriate, dark, a bit twisted, or stupid.

You see, every child born yearns to have their parents turn every little bit of their attention onto them for just a little bit. It is a need. It should be recognized by all parents. What happens, though, in the reality of life is that two children are born one after the other, sometimes three or four, all in a row. Poor mom is pulling her hair out. Oh yes, the firstborn was the center of attention for a year or so until the Interloper is born. Oh, the dreaded Interloper, that evil second child who inevitably turns into the middle child if there is a third, dares to appear on the scene and inevitably screw up the entire world (because the entire world revolves around the firstborn for a brief time)! That third child, the baby of the family, is born and we have an oldest, a middle child and the baby of the family. Here is mom trying to juggle the firstborn who is supposed to be the center of attention, then a second baby is there and mom is exhausted. Maybe dad is not there when #2 comes along (as was the case with my birth) and mom is trying to handle two babies at the same time. If #2 is a quiet child she is called a good baby and spends a lot of time staring at the ceiling. Ceilings are not terribly stimulating, you know. Then number three comes along with curly blonde hair, huge blue eyes, and the biggest smile. I am done for.

Me adoring my daughter.

Me adoring my daughter.

At some point in the family dynamic the middle child is faced with a decision: shall I continue to clamber for attention, any attention at all, or shall I move forward with my life as the invisible, boring, average child, going off by myself, doing my own thing, living in my own head, staring at the ceiling and eventually discovering books. Well, I know you can guess that I mentally left the three ring circus and headed to new lands. Before I discovered books (around the 5th grade), I lived entirely too much in my own head. But I was a daydreamer, so it wasn’t an awful place, really. I always had a friend or two, was very creative in my playtime, and loved to explore. I grew up in a time when a child could take off on a bicycle and even head into the woods and be safe. Okay, I didn’t go into the woods alone; I always had a friend with me, but I didn’t hang out with my older brother or younger sister once I was old enough to take off on my bike. My friends and I would act out stories from television mostly, oftentimes in costume. We would drag out half of our belongings into the yard and set up elaborate scenarios and then spend hours living in these scenarios.

katielily

Now don’t get me wrong: my sister and I played together a lot. We played library, school, kitchen, with my brother’s Matchbox cars, with our Barbies, dolls, dressed up the cat, and anything else we could dream up. But when I reached 6th grade, my last year of elementary school I pulled away. I was growing up and my little sister was 2 and a half years younger than me, an eternity at that age. She was a baby, THE baby, and I was turning into a young woman.

One common theme throughout all of these years was that I still didn’t attract anyone’s attention. I did okay in school. Never once did anyone tell me that I was smart. You see, I didn’t know it at the time, but I am ADHD-Inattentive Type (that means I have difficulty focusing but am not hyperactive — very common presentation for girls). I don’t think anyone knew what this was when I was a kid, or because I wasn’t hyperactive no one questioned my occasional struggles in school or my daydreaming and missing instructions. If I had been hyperactive I might have been labeled “Minimal Brain Dysfunction.” Thank GOD! I didn’t end up with that label. Instead, I was blah. I wasn’t anything special. I wasn’t real smart and I wasn’t dumb. I was average. I knew this as well as I knew my eyes were green. Never once in all my years of school did one of my teachers lavish praise on me. Not once. I was never called bright, smart, clever, creative, innovative, or any of the other positive labels that a child grabs onto and makes a part of their self-image. I didn’t attract attention at all. I was there, did the work, got decent grades, and continued through life.

When I finished high school I knew I was average. That word defined me to myself. I knew I was of average intelligence, would have an average life, would probably marry an average man and have some average children while living in an average house in an average neighborhood. Truly, I was defined by my average-ness.

Fast forward to 1981. I am 21 years old, had a young child, had been married and divorced. Then something happened. My mom decided that we were leaving Miami and moving to the Hill Country of Texas because my mom was just too progressive to live in any of the small Texas towns that most people think define Texas. My mom was a divorcee with two adult daughters and a young grandson in tow. I am just guessing on all of this but most married women really despised divorced women as though they were all Jezebels. Yes, the world was really like that, even in the 80’s. The Austin area it would be. My sister and I were thrilled to be leaving a Miami that no longer felt like home, and Texas was a different climate in many ways. We would be near family for the first time in our lives, too.

I felt like a different person in Texas. It was a different world. People were friendlier, jobs were easy to find, and I was almost happy. I was a secretary. A lot of women were secretaries in the 80’s. I did finally sign up for a class at Austin Community College but the professor was horrible and I was too immature to just get through it and the next class and the next class with the goal of getting a degree being paramount. I was too stuck in the experience of each day to see further ahead. So I stayed average in my average job. I grew increasingly unhappy as a secretary. It was not challenging and I hated office politics and all of the personality junk that happens there. I changed jobs every 1.5 years for awhile. At one point I tried to work out of my home, owned my own computer even (in 1984), but couldn’t make quite enough money to live on so I had to get back into the work force as a secretary, of course. That’s what I could do, what made me enough to live on. But I hated it.

I am going to vent for a minute. Why, oh why, didn’t anyone ever encourage me to go to college? Ever??? When I was in high school, I was never even given the option of college preparation. My parents just let me slide along and never once talked to me about my future. None of my teachers ever asked me if I wanted to go to college. I was so nondescript that I honestly think I must have been invisible to them.

Now let’s fast forward even further to the 90’s when I discovered that I had an IQ of about 135. Let me tell you that I was shocked. I wasn’t a genius but I was well above average intelligence. Never once in my life had anyone ever told me that I was smart. Not once. Let me say again that I was well above average intelligence. I wasn’t average in intelligence. NOT AVERAGE!!! I was pissed. I felt like the world had conspired against me to keep me oppressed and under control. Let me tell you: my feminist side reared its ugly head when I learned that I was above average intelligence: The patriarchal society I lived in was not only content, but conspired to keep women from knowing their true potential so that they could continue to be good secretaries and wives to the men who still ruled in our supposedly modern society.

Well, this was somewhat true but not completely true. Most of my teachers had been women. Not once did one of them encourage me in any way. I worked with women in many capacities, oftentimes professional women. Never once did any of them ask me why I wasn’t aspiring to be more, to pursue a rewarding career. Not once.

By the time I discovered my potential I was remarried and had three more small children. I loved my family, loved my husband and loved my children. But my husband was a troglodyte. He thrived in an environment where he, the professional scientist (engineer) was married to an inferior female of lesser ability and intelligence. Oh my gosh! Here I was in my mid-30’s before I realized that I was above average in some way. I realize now that it was educating my children at home that inspired the possibility that I wasn’t so very average. As I was exposed to a classical education such as Latin, good literature, logic and even mathematics that I had failed to learn as a child, I was awakened from a dull slumber that had defined my life up to this point. I began to write. I created my own curriculum for my children at one point and loved it. Of course I had my ancient computer. Then my father gifted our family with a new computer and we had the internet. With those two at my disposal the world really opened up to me. It took more than a decade and a half before I was free of the troglodyte who worked very hard to keep me in check, to keep me under control (because I was told over and over that I was out of control — thank God I was out of control or I would have shriveled up and died).

Today I know I have lost many of those IQ points to neurological damage from Lyme disease but I refuse to allow that to define me, either. I know that I am an intelligent, capable woman. I was sidetracked and waylaid for much of my life, but the journey, the long and winding road that brought me to this place in time also brought me six amazing children, a brilliant daughter-in-law, and two amazing granddaughters. I am past being angry about the misdirection that was a big part of my life because today I can say that I am not average at all.

Today I am celebrating who I am, who I am becoming, and the fact that I am no longer defined by what others think of me. Yes, I am most certainly celebrating!

My gorgeous, smart, capable daughter at 16 years old on a trip to Texas.

My gorgeous, smart, capable daughter at 16 years old on a trip to Texas.

[Parents: Please, please, please encourage your daughters to be everything that they can be. Encourage them to go to college even if they work for a couple of years prior to starting. Help them any way you can to find themselves. Be open to possibilities and celebrate who your daughters are deep down inside. Finally, high school performance is never any indication of intelligence or potential. It is a tiny, little world full of biases and prejudices. That is why college is so important for women. There must be a time of going forth and discovering, or your (our) daughters may be doomed to a life of mediocrity and missed opportunities.]

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2 responses »

  1. among all the rest, that was a brilliant analysis of what happens to middle kids, especially those who are “good” (i.e., quiet and no trouble). i have wondered why the women in our lives didn’t encourage us too, and all i can think of is that female accomplishment wasn’t part of their generation’s (or their parents, the generation that influenced them) mindset, at all. so it wasn’t out of malevolence but rather ignorance.

    still, this is the best thing about aging. if we live long enough and stay awake while we’re living, we can get the things we want for ourselves. the trick is to do it without bitterness, as you are doing.

    and one comment about college and women. my middle child marnie is a crazy genius, equally left- and right-brained. in college she published 4 first-author articles in philosophy journals (on paraconsistent logic, i don’t even know what that means) and she’s a wildly successful artist. exceptional strengths in logic + creativity, in one wonderful person. she went to smith college — women only — and it was incredibly transformative for her. young women thrive in female-only colleges, and find themselves in such a profound way. so i tell everyone, don’t just put your daughters in college, encourage them to attend a women-only college. smith college in northampton is amazing.

    and you are anything but average, but i always knew that, even back when we were both secretaries.

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    • You are so right about the women in our lives just not being aware of their need to encourage us toward greater things. I just can’t believe that not even one person looked me in the eyes and told me I was smart and should be doing more with my life, though.

      One of the things I have done to encourage young men and women is to reiterate the fact that high school grades and success are in no way relative to real life after high school. Someone who got all D’s and barely graduated might go on to discover and invent the next renewable power source. So often we accept what others tell us about ourselves.

      I love the point about going to a women’s college. Oh, I would love to do that myself even if for just a semester or two. Great suggestion! And I love hearing about your brilliant daughter, Marnie. Just love it!

      Like

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