My younger sister, Ellen, was an incredibly beautiful child. Aware of the sensitivity of her older ugly duckling, our Mother took great care to compliment me, constantly stressing I had perfect posture. It took a few years before I realized it was the only positive critique she could give me. Until that moment I truly believed good posture was as wonderful as being beautiful. I was wrong, but still I was happy with the dubious praise.
As I grew older, her compliments changed to studious, well read and even sometimes intelligent, but never beautiful. And I was still happy. My Mother was a wise woman.
Then one miraculous day, as all ugly ducklings do, I seemed to change. Certainly never to become as beautiful as my sister, but also able to attract some attention from the opposite sex. Suddenly, there were a few more compliments from those interested in currying my favor, pretty and tall were two of my favorites. And I was quite content. It truly was better than good posture. However, almost anything was, if I wished to be honest with myself.
As both I and the young men in my life grew older, the descriptions changed. Sometimes even the coveted word, sexy, was whispered, but not often. Once again I was happy.
The days marched by as effortlessly as I seemed to age. A quick blink and soon, I, too, was a Mother worrying about her own offspring and their self-esteem. There wasn't time to listen for compliments, but when they came, they were incredibly welcome.
Occasionally, I would hear the words well-dressed, or good neighbor, and that made me happy. On one rare occasion I was even told after a memorable dinner that I was a good cook. That was really lovely news because it wasn't always valid.
Again I blinked and once more found my world had changed. This time dramatically, and compliments meant little if anything. In reality, they seldom came. Of if they did, I wasn't listening. There were far more important things to think about.
Once during those frantic years I was described as a loyal wife Odd, I remember thinking, don't the two words mean the same. It was irrelevant then because I was far too busy with other more complicated concerns. During the next four years, I could probably only be described as distant or remote, and I truly didn't care. Then I blinked once more, and this time my life had changed permanently.
Yesterday after reading a routine questionnaire I had completed in a medical facility, the receptionist gave me a new and rather dubious compliment. For the first time I wondered about an evocative word applied to me Independent? Is that an accolade? It almost falls into the category of good posture, I thought. Perhaps I considered is it the lesser of two evils. If I weren't independent, then what would I be. Dependent, an albatross, clinging? Suddenly I recalled my Mother desperately trying to give her older daughter some self-esteem and confidence, and I wondered about this new language. Was it meant to lessen the obvious reality of age? Certainly there were other valid metaphors. Should I be flattered?
Then I paused and thought, so what? I have survived other words. I can surely learn to smile appropriately when the new-normal compliment to a woman of my vintage is applied. I realize I could have been described as aged or wrinkled (all valid) or perhaps even unpleasant, so I have decided once again to be happy. And smile thankfully, as any lady should when she received a well intentioned compliment.
C'est la vie!