Vulnerability and validation make strange partners and yet, all through my life, they seem to have held both my hands, at least this has been my perception.
Even as a small child I would look for accolades from my parents, usually my mother as she was the one that was tuned in to us. Weekends, in summer, meant that we would head to the beach on a hot day. Mum would pack sandwiches and drinks. We had a large, pale-blue Styrofoam drink container with a white plastic lid. It would be rattling with ice-cubes and we knew it was full to the brim with cordial. A treat for weekends. If we were lucky there’d be some Smith’s chips in little blue bags with an even smaller blue bag of salt inside. Chips came with a choice, to salt or not to salt.
We would all struggle into our bathers and then get dressed again over the top. I had a striped beach towel with a white fringe along the edge. Everything got packed into the ‘golden Holden’. Our dad loved that car, it was a yellow Holden station wagon. I would beg to be allowed to travel in the ‘very back’. No seat-belts, sandwiched between the Eski and the beach umbrella but I didn’t care. On the way we would sing silly car songs like ‘Ten green bottles’ or ‘There was an old woman’ or play ‘I spy’ until one of us cried. David, the eldest and Shan, the next eldest would have the whole back seat to themselves. Mum would have Daniel, the youngest by nine years, on her lap and we would be off. Down the ‘Dingo road’ [Warragul Road] to Black Rock beach. Someone had told my dad that Warragul meant Dingo in Aboriginal, so he never called it anything else. I looked it up, it is supposed to mean ‘Wild’ or ‘Wild Dog’ so there you go.
Once at the beach we would all be handed something to carry to a spot that mum would choose. We would pick our way through the crowds of people who had already set up until we found the perfect spot. Somewhere away from the soccer game and near enough to the water’s edge without being too close. Then dad would valiantly set up the brolly. This was quite a rigmarole as I remember. He didn’t usually think about weights to hold the umbrella down until we got there, and the wind picked up a bit. Then we would be looking for anything to hold it down. The blankets would be spread out and towels laid out carefully to avoid the sand getting into everything. Then we would peel off our outer layers and run headlong into the water. David would dive through the waves and swim out until we could hardly see him. Shan and I would splash each other until we fell laughing helplessly into the water, completely submerged by its salty goodness. Mum and Dad could still be seen so we were safe.
Then the Validation would be required.
“Mum look what I can do!” I’d yell as I duck-dived under the murky water. I’d open my eyes and look for shells or fish or anything that looked remotely interesting. No goggles. Then I’d pop back up and wave to mum who was no longer watching.
“Mum, watch this!” I’d swim along the surface like a dolphin and mum would wave and smile.
This went on for the entire time I was in the water. Somehow it wasn’t fun unless someone was seeing what it was you were doing and how brilliant you were at it.
Every sandcastle had to be seen and applauded, even burying ourselves in the sand… “Look mum.”
What drove that need for validation? To be seen, to be appreciated, to be applauded.
Then we would lie on our beach towels eating soggy, crunchy sandwiches. Soggy from tomatoes and crunchy from the sand that got into everything.
My grandchildren continue the tradition of validation seeking.
“Watch this Nannie!” Of course, I watch and clap and exclaim. “Wow, look at you go, well done.”
Where does it come from?
Are we all frustrated circus performers who have an urge to be applauded for every little trick?
Alongside this need for validation is its evil twin sister vulnerability. It was probably how my sister felt when she couldn’t master the duck dive to the standard I expected. The embarrassment of being seen, but not doing it quite right. That moment when you see that the person next to you can draw a million times better than you ever will and they’re only ten.
I recently wrote a sort of a memoir and I had four copies printed… it was expensive. I gave one to my husband and he loved reading the anecdotes. He finished reading it today and my feelings, while he was reading it, were very interesting. I wanted to hear that he enjoyed reading it, but I didn’t really believe him when he told me. I gave a copy to a dear friend, she loved it and gave me a sign for my wall. It says “I am a writer!”
I gave a copy to my mother, I was dreading her response, but to my surprise, she loved it and read it in a day. She said she couldn’t put it down. Since then she has read it through several times; she told me the other day she has practically memorized it. It is hard for me to accept that somehow. The validation I always craved as a child is being lavished on me and yet, it leaves me feeling vulnerable and undeserving.
I wonder if it’s just me, or do others feel this way when they write from their heart. Now I have shared this one collection of stories and had it printed into an actual book, I feel much braver to share what I have written. I am more determined. It may have taken a while, but I now finally believe that I am a writer.