I had a strange thought whilst walking around the park pondering things to my little self.
In third grade, our teacher (Mrs. Stewart – yes, she had a beehive) gave everyone in the class a list of each other’s names. Then, we went down the list and wrote two or three nice things about everyone. For Christmas, she pinned the compliments on little pretend gifts on the bulletin board Christmas tree (yes, back when Christmas trees were street legal in public school). Our Christmas gifts to each other were compliments.
I remember going to the tree for days and feeling disappointed. I was sad because all that I wanted was for someone to say that I was beautiful. I remember other girls getting compliments under the tree about how attractive they were. One girl was “cute” and another was “pretty.” However, I was sad when I got to my compliments, because they said that Stephanie Klomsten is “nice” and “smart” and “good at Math.” I can still remember rolling my eyes. I kept those compliments for years, staring at them in agony.
Nice, I thought, is a cookie cutter compliment. Grandmothers are nice.
Smart, I thought, did not matter if you didn’t have the looks to go with it. Ugly people are smart.
Good at Math, I thought, was worthless because no one cares about Math skills (you know, except bankers, and stock brokers, and scientists and EVERYONE).
Today, I take back all of the resentment I had about those compliments. The thought finally hit me… “What if all of those things are true, and they are good? What if I really am nice and smart and good at Math?”
So I thought a bit more about it.
Except for a stretch in ninth grade where I was a devil woman and a cruddy phase my junior year of college, I think I am pretty nice. I like being good to people and helping them. I care about how other people are doing. I genuinely want people to be happy. I am nice.
Perhaps I am smart. I feel guilty even saying or admitting that. Like saying you are smart is bad or cocky. I have been told I am smart quite a lot – at least once or twice a month. What if… it really is true? I know there are people smarter than me, I see that.
But on the IQ curve, I am closer to the top than the bottom. I am smart.
What if I am good at Math? I feel terrible saying that, like I am bragging. But I can’t say “It isn’t like I have never been in the top of my class” because I have been in the top. And I can’t say “It isn’t like I use Math every day of my life and get paid for it” because it wouldn’t be true. Sure, I am not sending rockets into space, but when I am in Math classes, I do well. And I do Math every single day of my life. A few hours ago I sent off a research project with no less than 100 Mathematical equations perfectly presented in a lovely chart. I am good at Math.
So I take back the resentment. I take it all back. Who cares if I am not pretty or beautiful or whatever?
I am Stephanie Klomsten. And I am nice. I am smart. And dang it, I am good at Math. I can even make you a chart to prove it, well, if you would like one.