I was 5 years old and just about to start kindergarten. It would be my first school experience. I was probably afraid, nervous and feeling insecure, but I didn’t say all that. Often times we don’t say what we feel, but rather behave how we feel. It was the end of summer and warm outside. I remember sitting on the edge of the bed I slept in, in the room I shared with my sisters, my feet and legs hanging over the side, while I waited anxiously for my mother to pull a “surprise” out of her shopping bag. It wasn’t my bed, or my room. Everything belonged to him, before we were there, while we were there, and after we left, and he could have it – all, except maybe a few memories, and even some of those are better left undisturbed by my greedy writing habits.
We had very little. Thinking back, my mother must have scraped together money to buy me that surprise. I can see her now digging in the bottom of her purse at the checkout counter. Not that I was there, but we did that so often, I can picture her , as if I was there. We often pulled change from couch cushions, and under car seats and never left a penny untouched in a parking lot. A nickel was a good find, a quarter was worth a verbal, “thank you God”, a dollar was like a weeks’ worth of lunches. (we were on the reduced plan).
I didn’t understand sacrifice, the one Mom made to buy me those size 5 jeans. In all my formative years, I only remember one other article of new clothing I received. A pale yellow, cotton, dress with white lace around the neck, and short sleeves. Cheryl, my dad’s girlfriend at the time, took me out a week before Easter, I was about 9. It was the last one of its kind on the rack and it had a stain on it, but I loved the color and had experience with stained clothes, so that was what I wore to the first and last Easter service I ever attended with Dad.
Sometimes we get comfortable in old clothes, and dirty can feel safe and secure. We need someone who loves us, to make a sacrifice, abandon the old, buffer the fear, storm the arena of change, and embrace new beginnings . Maybe that’s what moms are for.
My mother sat there on the bed opposite me, and enthusiastically presented her gift, a pair of light Pepto Bismo pink jeans. She held them up. I sat there with my arms crossed, behaving how I felt, demanding she, “take them back”, refusing to like them, rejecting the girlishness and loveliness I couldn’t and wouldn’t identify with.
I remember thinking, in little girl jargon, “about what others would think of me. how they would see me and what would they believe about how I saw myself.” A lot of big questions for my little mind. I didn’t want attention that I wasn’t skilled to manage. Now that I’m grown up I can interpret some of those thoughts, and understand it had nothing to do with the pants and everything to do with fearing the unknown, anxiety about the unfamiliar, and insecurities galore. So she took them back. She didn’t force me to wear them, although I knew how badly she wanted me to have something new.
I can’t remember what I wore that first day of kindergarten, I can’t remember how I felt, what the teachers name was, or the bus trip. But one thing I remember quite clear, as clear as the pain of true repentance; looking all around me, on that first day of school, I saw several pairs of little, pink legs that I had insisted were ugly, only days before. My first pang of conscience.
What was I so afraid of? Was it not being accepted or liked? I didn’t want to be defined by pink or new. I didn’t want to like something, without knowing someone else liked it first. I was afraid to be the first, I didn’t want to stick out as the only one wearing pink pants. But more than anything I didn’t know how to wear something new. It wasn’t really about the pants, it was more about the new social interaction they represented. New situations, new people, unpredictable outcomes and change.
If I rejected the pants perhaps I could delay a beginning I wasn’t yet prepared for, “take them back” actually meant, “I’m not ready”.
I don’t remember that year, but I’m inclined to believe I did not finish it at that school. Mid-year, we left Danny’s house. We left the bed that didn’t belong to me, the room that wasn’t mine, the toys that didn’t matter, the ideas about who we were, the cold, the dirtiness we all felt, and started over. Mom buffering and charging, absorbing the fear. She wore the pants for me.
We moved into a small apartment on the first floor of a two story house, across town. There’s a picture of me standing on the front steps of that apartment. Around my neck hangs a little sign that says, Kim Diesso, Grade K. I assume it was my first day at another new school. I wore a purple jogging suit with matching purple E.T. sneakers. On either side of me stood two girls, Chrissy and Laurie Boderi, new neighbors, they lost their home to a fire one day while we were at school. I wasn’t the only one who had to start over.
Life was in some ways shaping up to instill a belief in me that new things were proceeded by hard things, painful things, unknown difficult things, sometimes even dangerous things. When we feel danger we resist everything. So my initial reaction tends to be -take it back. I don’t always know how to be confident enough, to move forward, I wasn’t trained in that department. As children and sometimes as adults, when something is hard we forget that what’s ahead might hold hope and life, even when what’s behind holds things we want to forget. We reject everything because something at some point was new and horrible.
We might even let things in life-like a pair of new pants -become objects of distress instead of springboards of courage propelling us into new roles and relationships.
So the question remains, am I ready to wear the proverbial pink pants? To jump into the surprises and the new beginnings that remain just around the corner? Accept the unexplored friendships and adventures, failures and successes that await me like a new pair of pants that someone who dearly loves me picked out for such an occasion.