Ever build a FORT? Every Christmas Eve my four children build a Fort in the ‘ping pong room. They create something that takes most of the day to configure, but it gives them a place to reminisce. They bring out the notebook that illustrates last year’s design and their lists of who knows what. My daughter is the secretary and recorder of the information. My oldest is the engineer of the fort expansion project as they grow bigger, and my youngest two bring the bedding and help with the construction. The four of them give ideas and work together and laugh like nobody else. My Christmas present is their laughter.
I love Forts. Table forts, snow forts, tree forts. I was showing a scene from the movie Jack to a class of 8th graders in my Health class when something hit me. It was a powerful emotion I did not expect. The scene in the movie, starring Robin Williams, shows two boys climbing up the stairs to a treehouse fort one of their 5th grade classmates had built. They had been invited to spend the night. Innocent eyes look up to his friend, and Jack asks, “Do you think the other guys are gonna like me?” That line. That moment. A longing stronger than anything I had ever expected, took me back to my childhood.
Suddenly–in my mind– I was climbing up to the garage fort my brother built with his friends. Nobody was on the ladder with me. I had been invited to come up to see the finished place they had created in the rafters. I couldn’t wait. The only way I could be admitted was food. I had to bring food in order to get through the little entrance to that oh-so-private place.
Then my mind returned to health class. The only reason Jack was admitted to the fort was porn. Jack was welcomed, I was rejected. The boys in the video wanted to view the ‘dirty’ magazine. The boys with my brother only wanted to take the food I made and then lord their power over me. They grabbed the food and slammed the door. I thought I had forgotten all about it. Until the next day.
Health class, 8th grade students completely engaged in the lesson. I love this unit because they listen like no other time of the year. The information is so vital to where they are socially and emotionally at this stage of tween life. We started with the slide and video clip with the message on the screen: “You’re never good enough for yourself.” And that is the moment I knew. I remembered. That moment in the garage.
I heard the door slam. I felt the utter devastation of being alienated and laughed at. Then I saw the bottle. It was a plastic bottle that was used to feed my baby sister. The milk inside had gotten spoiled and someone had thrown it away. My brother must have dug it out of the garbage just so he could humiliate someone. That someone was me.
They were in the fort. It was a perfect place for young teen boys to gather. The garage “FORT” they built up in the rafters was a place to hang out and tell stories and make plans. The main four boys would steal old street signs and bring their treasure up the ladder. The two by four rungs were nailed to the studs of the garage walls. It was easy to climb up, but there was a small opening that could be closed by someone from the top. It was only a piece of plywood, maybe another street sign they had stolen, but once it was closed, you had to give the password to get in.
My brother refused to let me up in the fort. Then one day he made an exception. IF, and he emphasized IF, I baked them something like brownies or banana bread. I could do that! I was so excited when I saw the door was open and the friends were there. Maybe I would be accepted by the cute boys in the neighborhood when they saw what I had to give them. I was a good baker and they were sure to be impressed by the food I had made. I was wrong.
My brother told me to climb up slowly and hand up the food first. I was agile and did as I was told. As soon as someone grabbed the food, someone else threw something at me and the door to the Fort slammed shut. I remember jumping awkwardly down to the cement garage floor. The sound of those boys laughing at me still stings. It crushed me.
I looked at what they had thrown and saw the bottle. The sour milk inside had curdled and stuck to the pink plastic bottle in lumps. I turned to see the sticker that had been put there: FEED TWIGGY. Twiggy was a rather anorexic model from the 60’s. She weighed 92 pounds. I learned later that she was actually dubbed the world’s first Super Model. But to me, she represented a reason to be ashamed of my own body. Not sexy. Not curvy or worth looking at. FLAT chested and unattractive.
The LIE in BeLIEve…
That’s it. That’s WHY. I NEVER want someone to feel that EVER. You ARE good enough. YOU are a MIRACLE! You are a GENIUS! YOU are the only YOU in the UNIVERSE. The world needs YOU. Love YOURself, Be Thankful. Serve Others. That is my mission in life. NOBODY deserves to feel badly about themselves. People do NOT have the right to do that to your psyche. No matter what–Be YOU. YOU matter.
My self esteem took a big hit that day. I never realized how big until the emotional impact flared up in my teacher brain. People need the TRUTH. Nobody should make you believe the LIE that says you aren’t good enough. WE need TRUTH. We are all put in a physical shell that doesn’t last. The emotional case we have been given needs reinforcements. Realize that YOU can be the “reinforcer” of TRUTH. Never forget where the beginner began!
Restore the perfection of youth. Remember YOU as a beginner? What about the love and the FIRST steps, FIRST words, First love of your life? Share that with the one who has no idea what will hit them. Passion is powerful. Prevent those you love from being blindsided. It’s the least we can do. My Dad did that for me. Now I know. Now I can move on in confidence that what we all have is needed by someone, somewhere. Teens, parents, anyone who never has come full circle with their emotions–they can have what you give. It’s already theirs at some level. They just have to find it and call it out. EXIT ONLY. Let it OUT!