When I was about 16, my fun Aunt JoAnn was my Laurel’s teacher in Church. She always liked those forward-backward sayings, like “Working hard or hardly working” or “the family that sweats together, sticks together.” Her lessons were filled with quips like this, and her wit was full speed all the time. This particular day, she looked us all straight in the eyes (one at a time, of course) and said, “You are NO better than anyone else. . .” (looking around the room) “And NO ONE is better than you!”
As a girl who spent most of her time feeling like the purple-shirt girl in the above picture, I was well aware that I was no better than anyone else. I felt that very keenly. But the second part of her forward-backward phrase elevated me immediately. It was a revelation. It became a mantra. Whenever I was feeling especially purple-shirted and insignificant, I would repeat those words to myself. It didn’t make me feel bigger; but it made me realize that everyone around me was just as shy, insecure or faulted as I was. Which makes everyone more approachable, and takes the fear away.
The other morning my daughter was excited to wear a new maxi dress to school, she chose out the shirt to go under it the night before, and popped right out of bed to get dressed in the morning. She put it on, and then went to the mirror and regarded herself very critically. I couldn’t believe that a second grader could be so hard on herself. The next time I saw her, she had changed into her personal uniform of jean shorts and t-shirt. I said, “What’s wrong with your dress? You looked beautiful!” No response. Just a sad glare. Later, I found out she was afraid she would get made fun of by her classmates for trying too hard to look nice.
But of course, she doesn’t listen to me. I’m her Mom, I have to tell her she’s beautiful. I wished my Aunt JoAnn was there to tease and teach her. Unfortunately, Aunt JoAnn’s funeral is today. She finally left her disabling dementia in the dust and shed her frail body. She was such a wonderful example and friend to me growing up. She could teach me the same things my mom was trying to teach me, but I was too critical to accept. Being a mom is wonderful, but often children respond better to “Aunt JoAnns”, because their mom is just so ordinary. And moms don’t even know all those awesome forward-backward phrases.
I challenge us all to be Aunt JoAnns today to someone else’s children. Encourage, tease, love. They will remember.