Friday, May 11, 2007

The Brat

When I was growing up I had a nickname. I don't remember how I got it, nor how old I was when first anointed with its label, but it was the name my family used and I conformed to throughout my growing years. It wasn't until I was in my twenties and about to be married that my mother suggested it was perhaps time I quit signing my letters home with my nickname.

I happily did so. It wasn't a name I ever recalled asking for, nor was it one I felt proud of. It was just one of those carry-overs from childhood that I had dragged along with me into adulthood like a child clinging onto her security blanket when going to a sleep-over. I didn't think what life would be like without it, I simply believed it was part of my world, something I could not let go of because I believed it defined me, and didn't recognize I defined my life through the filter of its name.

I hadn't thought much about my nickname for a long time. But yesterday, while sitting having dinner with a couple of friends, my girlfriend mentioned the loving nickname her family called her while she was younger.

I laughed and said, "Mine was, The Brat."

My girlfriend looked at me and cried. "Seriously? That's awful."

I shrugged my shoulders. "I haven't thought of it in years. It was just the name everyone in my family called me. I even called myself The Brat."

I told her the story of my mother suggesting I quit using it. I remember her writing in a letter that "The Brat" wasn't an appropriate name for a married woman to use. At the time, I hadn't wondered much about what made it appropriate in my childhood to call me "The Brat", I'd simply quit signing my letter with the nickname, and started signing them as 'Louise'.

Ask my sisters and they will tell you as a child I was often called a 'spoiled little brat'. The youngest of four, I was always an inquisitive child, asking 'too many questions', and always wanting to know 'why'. At the time, I don't believe any of us consciously thought about the impact of those words on a child. In fact, until my mother suggested I quit calling myself, The Brat, I hadn't thought much about the power of the name to define me and my behaviour. I had been The Brat for so many years, it had become part of me, a name I conformed to within my family, a set of behaviours that didn't create a lot of peace in my life, but definitely allowed me to be irresponsible, unaccountable and immature for many years.

Being The Brat had its advantages. It gave me a lot of freedom to step outside the confines of my familial mould and explore the world without having to worry about the consequences of my words and actions. "Oh, that's just The Brat," my family would respond when I had done something embarrassing or unbecoming. "Yup, that's The Brat. She never thinks of anyone but herself."

I woke up this morning, and The Brat was on my mind. Funny how something that I haven't thought of in years can surface in a conversation one night and linger into dawn the next morning, pulling with it vestiges of a restless past.

I like to listen to my subconscious. When it speaks I know it's asking me a question. Where The Brat's concerned, the question is, how does being The Brat manifest itself in my life today? Am I still clinging to it's conflicting messages, roll-playing my way into being unaccountable, rebellious, defiant?

As I look at all I am, and all I do today, I still see areas of my life where being The Brat is an automatic response. A habit that undermines my goals, my dreams, my purpose.

Some weeks ago I was thinking about how being a rebel doesn't work for me anymore. The thoughts had started to formulate in my mind, but were still unclear. A gentle mist rising that as my thinking heated up began to turn into a fog of ill-defined thoughts that needed the heat of the morning sun to clear away the tendrils of their confusion. Thinking about my nickname and its impact on my psyche is just the bright light needed to clear away the fog around my rebellious nature.

One of the reasons I was given the name The Brat was because, as my mother often told me, I always had to do things my way. I couldn't just take her word for it, I had to find my own path.

Now, as an adult, seeking out my own path, mapping out my own journey is a strength -- but I can see that as a child it could be interpreted as stubborn, rebellious and disrespectful. As a child, my thinking was not that devious. I just always wanted to know how far I could push my thinking, expand my wings to determine for myself how high I could fly -- or fall.

Challenge is, The Brat still impinges on my relationship with my mother. I often revert into behaving like "The Brat" in my interactions with her. Quite possibly, she still thinks of me in terms of The Brat when looking at who I am today. I do not conform to her world view. I do not behave in ways she wants me to -- and thus the conflict continues. In my struggle to define myself beyond the confines of the past, I awaken her fears of being all that I am meant to be when I fly away from the nest that held me so securely and lovingly as I grew up. Yet, because our mother daughter balance of child/adult has never grown beyond the limits of our relationship from the past, we struggle with our adult/adult roles in the present.

This weekend is Mother's Day. A time when children, young and old, honour their mother's for their hard work, their unceasing commitment to their children, and their undying devotion.

I always have trouble with Mother's Day, at least where my mother is concerned. I hadn't really thought about it in the past, but The Brat has kept me stuck, reminding me of who I was; a rebellious teenager struggling to find her way in a world of confusion, defining her actions not by what she believed in or who she wanted to be or do, but rather through the filter of her rebellious eyes seeing her family as the cause of her pain and taking action that kept her stuck in being who they saw her as, The Brat.

Perhaps the gift my mother gave me in all of this was the day she wrote and told me it was time to quit calling myself, The Brat.

She was right.

When first employed The Brat was a name that fit the circumstances. Being The Brat was a comfortable shirt I stepped into that kept my arms pinnioned to my sides so that I would not fly free. Good, bad, or indifferent, it was a name no one spoke up against -- especially me. It wasn't a particularly nice name. It wasn't a name to proudly hold onto, nor one that lifted me up. Holding myself within its bonds today, I hold myself back from claiming my unique place under the sun. In lovingly accepting it was not a name given me with the intent of hurting me or holding me down, I set myself free from blaming the past for who I am today.

Time to take off the shirt of bratdom! Time to fly free of rebellious streaks that mar the purity of my journey when I travel consciously through being all that I am meant to be.

As a child I did not know my truth. I did not know I had a unique voice nor the power and the right to use it. Today I do.

Today I proudly claim my brat free life. I joyously step into my power to speak up for myself, to spread my wings and fly free of the bonds that tethered me unwittingly to the ground and kept me stuck in behaviours that do not reflect my journey today.

Here's to all the brats in the world and those who carry names they struggle to shed as they learn to step into their skin and claim their own unique place in the sun. And here's to the Mother's who give their children courage and strength to fly free.

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