“I used to run six miles every day!” she’d say. “My measurements were 34-24-36!”
I never knew how to respond to that. I could tell she was proud. Nothing I could have responded with would’ve changed that.
But there was something else in her tone besides pride. I have never been able to put my finger on it. I never could find the word for it.
One day, when I was around 14, I had a lot of energy. Have you ever felt that? Like you had to do something physical or all of your limbs might explode sparkle-dust energy everywhere? So before I exploded said dust everywhere, I put on some comfy clothes and shoes. I told my mom I was going to go for a run.
She beamed, “Oh! Great!” I almost wished I hadn’t told her.
A few days later, I overheard her telling someone with such pride, “I think we may have a runner in the family! Janae likes running. She’s going to take after her mommy.” I really wished I hadn’t told her.
Now there was this expectation. Running never had been my thing. It wasn’t going to just become my thing overnight.
I didn’t let it bother me too much—the guilt, I mean. From disappointing her.
I always felt in my heart that she wanted this hot, thin, model, athlete for a daughter.
I remember being seven and hearing her talk about how fat she was, in such a disgusted way. I knew in first grade that thinness was important to her: that someone couldn’t be beautiful unless they were slim, like she had been.
In third grade, I got a bunch of Lisa Frank stuff for my birthday. One of them was a diary with a penguin on the cover. The first page was a little survey for me to fill in about myself. It asked something about a goal for the year. I wrote, “To lose weight.”
In fifth grade, I drank Slim Fast shakes for lunch.
In seventh grade, I ate a banana for lunch.
Apparently, it was my goal for the next several years.
Looking back at pictures, I was not fat at all. I was perfectly average. And somehow I remember feeling less than appealing up until I was about nineteen years old. No, even at nineteen, I wasn’t a runner…
In my junior year of high school, I joined journalism. I had a knack for writing, and my mom started informing everyone, “Janae’s going to be a journalist!” She’d talk all about what a great writer I was, “like her mommy.” I loved this praise more than the short-lived “she’s a runner” praise. This was something I could latch onto, something I valued. Like my mommy or not, I knew I was good at this.
Even though I never wanted to be a journalist, that’s what I told everyone. “What are you going to major in?” “Journalism.” “Oh, that’s great! So you write?” “Yes, I write.”
Yes, I write. I write. I can write. I write essays. I write newspaper articles. I write editorials. I write personal pieces. I write letters. I write.
I even put “journalism” on all my standardized tests and college applications.
But do I interview? Do I get in people’s faces? Do I care about the news? No, no, and no. Even at eighteen, I wasn’t a journalist…
It wasn’t until I got to college that I actually realized it was my choice what I would go to school for. I could now decide who and what I wanted to be. And it came to me, not as a surprise, because it was always there: an English teacher.
I had had so many good ones in school. I love books. I love grammar. I love writing. All of it adds so much to my life. How could I not share this love with teenagers?
And there was my mother, telling everyone how she tried to convince me to do journalism, to help me avoid a life of impoverished enslavement. Reminding me how I’d never make any money.
But here I am at twenty-four, a self-accepting English teacher.
“I used to care what other people thought,” I tell my daughter. “But I don’t want you to make the same mistake.”