Insecurities And Exchanges


My smile was too big for my face. This created a quiet nervousness and uncertainty in my psyche.  If you watch closely, you will see that it lingers still.  As a child in school, I would have absolutely wanted to wear a mask.  It would have protected me from developing the low self-esteem that I carried inwardly for most of my life.  My self-perceived ugliness would have been hidden. The anxiety I had about my overbite may have been squelched if my classmates couldn’t see it, and perhaps I would not have been a target for bullying. I spent many hours in the nurse’s office in third grade to sixth grade.  There I found a safe place where I could be alone long enough to calm myself when the teasing at recess felt overwhelming. I told the nurse that I had a headache or a tummy ache, but in reality, it was my heart that was wounded. The thoughts and emotions floating in my young head were on overdrive.  How could my classmates be so mean? Why am I so ugly? I hate them.  I want to be friends.  I hate myself.  You see, not only did I have an overbite, my two front teeth had been chipped when I flew over my handlebars in a bike accident.  I knew I was ugly; my teeth were pointy.   My classmates merely confirmed this fact.  During those few years I had three new schools bringing three new sets of classmates. Looking back on those years now, I wonder that if had I only had one school perhaps the teasing wouldn’t have been as prolonged during my formative years. 

One cold day in particular, I felt completely surrounded by the name calling at lunch recess. “Bucky Beaver” or “Snaggletooth”.  Everyone was against me, even my handful of friends didn’t come to my defense. I quickly yanked my knitted hat over my face so that they wouldn’t see my tears as I ran to the nurse’s office.  She was sympathetic as always and asked me what had upset me so much, and I told her.  She allowed me to recover on the cot, however a little while later she breezed in and said the principal would like to see me. Most kids would be mortified by that sentence being directed at them. Not me, I just knew that he would want names of the bullies, to punish them.  I sat timidly in front of his desk, and he began by asking if I knew who Eleanor Roosevelt was. He then went on to tell me that she had overcome sadness in her life, that people did not consider her a beauty, but she had become a well-respected and important woman who was loved worldwide. At my young age I didn’t grasp the significance of what he was telling me.  I heard only that it was okay to not be pretty. I do not know if my classmates were reprimanded.  I did not feel any better about myself.  It wasn’t until many years later, when looking back, I realized he had attempted to make me feel better by telling me looks are not everything, that what we have inside us, is what is vital to a happy life.   

When my dad found out what had happened that day, he was calm but with an undercurrent of annoyance directed at the principal.   “Don’t worry about your looks, you’re going to grow into your teeth.” And “You will be beautiful like your mother.” And “Some people consider Eleanor Roosevelt to be attractive.”  Or “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”  My dad has always known what to say to make me feel better about myself.  He still does to this day.

Shortly after, we moved to Shiloh and a new school.  I was older, my face filled out, and I eventually had porcelain caps put on my chipped teeth. I still had that overbite, but the teasing wasn’t mean, it was good natured.  I was a novelty, new girl in the school and it seemed like everyone wanted to get to know me. There were only five girls in my classroom and the boys gave us all nicknames.   I was Feather Head because of my last name, Heatherly.   Shiloh was a turning point in my childhood, as I formed close friendships in that small town that have lasted my lifetime. However, to this day I cringe and squirm inside anytime I hear the word bucktooth.   

Maneuvering in a Covid era has all of us feeling insecure and uncertain.  With all the inane debating about masking at school this coming fall, these memories of my childhood have been on the forefront.  I guess the reason I write this is twofold:  Firstly, for the parents:  Stop creating stress for your children with your anti-masking stance.  Stop confusing mask wearing with an infringement on your rights.   Change your mind set about YOUR rights.  Having rights comes with responsibility to YOUR community.  I understand your distrust with the government, but this pandemic has NOTHING to do with politics.  Our government is not attempting to manipulate you. Continuing the anti-vax, anti-mask stance makes you out to be a whiner.  Pick your battles. Be an activist in a fight that is worthy (environmental, poverty, healthcare, taxes… there are so many), instead of this self-entitled, fear of vaccine/disbelief of the seriousness of Covid. You look foolish. Variants don’t care about your opinion.  Is this the lesson you want to teach your children? You are adding to their fear and confusion.  Your children have no problems with wearing a mask, in fact, some of them may prefer it. It may even help them concentrate on their studies instead of worrying about what others think of them. All for one, one for all.

 Secondly, for the kids:  The United States of America was created to insure the people have a right to their own opinions, ideas, and lifestyle.  You have won the geographical lottery to be living in this great country.  But be sure your principles, beliefs, rights are on the right side of history.  We all know that wearing a mask is uncomfortable, but it is the right thing to do to destroy a virus, which will continue to replicate and become stronger, unless society uses its tools to combat it.    Your mask is your weapon.  Also, for the kids who are struggling with their self-esteem, remember to love who you are, flaws and all, and know that everyone has them.  Remain aware that your looks will change as you grow. Keep in mind that nobody is scrutinizing you as closely as you criticize yourself.  They, too, are all wrapped up in their own insecurities. You will always appear stronger when you are open minded, kind and accepting rather than bullying and judgmental.

AGE 10 Donna J. Heatherly – Jefferson School, Belleville, Illinois