I was thinking the other day about my peer group of my youth – who I looked up to and wanted to be like, whose opinion of me mattered in my hollow little head back then. Without a doubt it would have to be, in order:
1) My siblings
2) My parents (I know, what a dork!)
3) My extended family (aunts/uncles/cousins)
I remember one of my older sisters (I will refer to her as “Kackaloodie” to protect her privacy) having the nicest clothes and the prettiest curly dark hair. I wanted to look just like her. Unfortunately I was built like a boy (no breasts, no hips, no butt), had stick straight hair that was very curl resistant and the start of a mustache that was the envy of pre- and post-pubescent males alike. Even more unfortunately, this remained the case well into my “adulthood”. At any rate, I thought “Kackaloodie” was far prettier and way more interesting than any of the kids at school. I wanted to be like, and more importantly, to be liked by her and all my siblings.
I recall standing in front of the bathroom mirror with my youngest sister. Her hair was very thick, light brown and she could actually get her hair to grow past her chin line. I would crouch down a little so that, as we both faced the mirror, she could put one side of her hair over my head to give me an idea of what I would look like with nice hair. It was fun and depressing at the same time. One of my brothers always included me in stuff when we were kids. I have no idea why but I remember always feeling so special and in awe that he did. He was VERY cool! My sibling are a major part of my childhood memories – happy and sad. I can’t believe they let me into the family!
My parents had a more profound effect on me than I realized at the time they were actively parenting me. Looking around my house I see books, art, music, food choices, etc… that I brought with me from childhood – the country where I was immersed in imagination-expanding stories, access to “art” produced by nature and man, music flowing from a reel-to-reel tape player inviting me to sing, dance or just sit and enjoy the sounds and the aroma of homemade foods to satisfy the growly belly. I hear myself telling a story and feel an internal reaction to something around me and think “Geez, that reminds me of mom/dad.” – sometimes that is a pleasant realization – sometimes sobering.
The first of my nearly 30 first cousins died recently and much too soon as far as I’m concerned. As a result, I have been taking stock of my life and coming to terms with the fact that life is pretty darn short even if it seems to drag on painfully at times. It was my good luck to have lots of access to aunt, uncles, cousins as I navigated childhood. Luckier still is that fact that these folks continue to be a significant part of my life in the form of invites to parties, cookouts, drop-in visits just because, spontaneous thrift store junkets, a much appreciated e-mail or text to say hello. They are part of my daily life and I hate to imagine my life without them in it.
There are too many memories of all my siblings to mention in this post and most would probably only interest me anyway. Yet, as these memories bounce around in my head, I can’t help but conclude that the term “role model” has become a bit of a joke – a meaningless phrase that people “in the know” use. I hear that kids (and discerning adults) should look up to this or that actor/singer/politician and strive to be like them (e.g., successful, rich, powerful, sexy, envied). I’m certainly not an expert, but the people in my immediate life – the people I know, can spend time with and talk to/the people I love who love me back – have been the best role models I could have possibly had. After all, who wants to play freeze tag or ghost in the graveyard with a politician or an actor?