My in-laws and I were recently reminiscing about the good old days when Andy and I began dating. It wasn't the first time we joked about how I didn't exactly make the most sparkling first impression. Andy's mom told me that, after one of my first visits, his dad referred to me as "rough around the edges".
According to www.thefreedictonary.com, if a person has rough edges it means she does not behave well or politely. You may be thinking that this isn't something a woman wants to be called by her in-laws but you have to understand that my joke to Andy is that his parents love me more than him; that I'm the daughter they never had. Over the years, my tough exterior has won them over and we can laugh about our early relationship. In short, I agree with them. The definition seems consistent with my own perception of my younger self. It was partially nature, partially nurture, which gave me a prickly exterior. I was raised in a rural area by blue collar parents. My mom used to tell me some people referred to our neck of the woods as "Tobacco Road". We didn't spend dinners learning where to put our napkins and practicing how not to put our elbows on the table. Instead we spent our dinners having animated conversations and telling one another we could stick our utensils where the sun don't shine. I was raised around a table of people shouting, swearing, drinking and smoking. We were a wild bunch who worked hard, knew how to have a good time, and always put family first.
You'd think attending an all girls' school would have helped me develop some polish, but, oh yes, I attended an all-women's college, not a finishing school where I learned the waltz in preparation for Cotillion. College educated me but nobody in my four years encouraged me to be anything other than me. Being surrounded by women from all over the globe, with varied and vocal ideas, only made me edgier. College sharpened me, and while being there enhanced my understanding of the world, and increased my vocabulary, I wouldn't let go of where I came from. Of all words the F Word remained my favorite. I became prouder, and definitely passionate, about my roots. I was smart, yes, but no, I wasn't very polite, nor was I well behaved. I drank and swore and said things to get a rise out of people. I enjoyed arguing and pushing buttons. I wasn't interested in being a follower or a pleaser. When in Rome, I wasn't going to be a Roman. I was more like the horrible European with chicken pox blankets invading what was once a peaceful place. Now, this is where the nature comes in. My mom was always telling me to mind my manners and stop being so hot headed. This was my choice. I felt comfortable being this person. I've said it before: I wasn't the kind of girl to be taken home to someone else's mom.
Andy, who was either very brave, or very stupid, decided to bring me home to his mom, and to the chagrin of his parents, I was there to stay. I continued to be the fiery, bad girl for the first several years of marriage. My edges were rough and sometimes I scratched people with them, occasionally unintentionally, but mostly on purpose. While most daughters-in-law might bite their tongues when with their spouse's parents, or do their best to mind their manners, I acted the same way with Andy's family as I did with my own. Except Andy's parents weren't drinking, smoking truck drivers and lumberman with a penchant for dropping f-bombs.
Something happened over the last 15 years. I've changed. Like a piece of sea glass that's been pushed into the sand bar over and over again, now, my edges are smoother and I'm much softer. Life has been my ocean and the waves of experience have tossed me around and refined my edges. After talking to Andy's mom, I thought about what exactly in my life has made me the way I am now.
I credit several people, and events, for changing me. My first boss, at my first real professional gig, taught me a lot about the importance of letting oneself shine by being diplomatic and soft spoken. Right after college, a mentor pulled me aside. I was being my usual Tazmanian devil self and she said I was a natural leader and it was my choice how to lead, either destructively and positively. I wasn't ready, then, to hear her words but I heard them several years later from my boss. I admired his gentle qualities and clean cut nature. (Anyone who is reading this, who knows him, is laughing because clean cut is an understatement.)I learned through my work that it was beneficial to "speak softly and carry a big stick" and that one's actions and words can distract others from our true best qualities and job performance. This sentiment about work has carried through my professional career and it almost seems crazy that I'm known at work to be very even-tempered and many don't even know that I swear. As a matter of fact, my whole career is centered around teaching students how they can smooth their edges in order to put their best foot forward in the professional world.
Having kids also wore me down- in so many ways. Physically, my body softened. When I was pregnant I was so mellow and happy- qualities my mom noted over and over again. No matter how much you work out after having kids, that softness stays with you. I think there's a reason for that. Our motherly bodies remind us not to be too hard on ourselves or our children. I lost a lot of my anger once I had kids because I realized I had the greatest gift in the world and I experienced pure joy and love. They have taught me about compassion and patience and hope.
General life perspective, aka getting older, aka growing up, also smoothed my edges. I listen more than I used to. I understand others more than I used to. I've written about this before, but at some point, I realized I was brought up in a life of privilege and not hardship. I let go of pain and things that used to make me really angry. I looked around and saw so many people- family and friends- who loved me unconditionally. It's hard to fight against that.
You might think that I attribute some of this change to Andy. On one hand, I don't because my most favorite thing about Andy is that he is the only person in the world who accepts me for everything that I am. He never passes judgement (ok, he wants me to stop swearing so much)on what I look like, or what I say. I can tell him the most insane things and he goes with the flow, over and over again. He stands by my side and has a very good sense of humor about my crazy ways. I think, a long time ago, he saw the roughness as a protective façade. I've never needed to protect myself around him. So, in that way, he has softened me. He sees me as a diamond in the rough. As a collector of oddities, he sees me as would other sea glass collectors-a reverse gem.
Shortly after the rough around the edges conversation with my mother-in-law, someone called me plucky. I like to think this word suits me best for where I am in life right now. The desire, from my youth, to be defiant and different is now channeled into being strong and dauntless. I aspire to be brave and courageous and bold. Fifteen years ago a mentor challenged me to lead with positivity, and thanks to all those in my life who have believed in me, and challenged me, and loved me, I have accepted that challenge.
Yet, while I whole heartedly accept this change and I may now know what to say when, how to be diplomatic, polite and well behaved, I still love to go home to my family, have a drink, and swear a ton.