Under my skin

In which we meet Version 1.0

Rationally, I accept that most kids go through a phase of being selfish, whiny, demanding bastards. 

Somewhat irrationally, I find it really hard not to hate them for it – quite possibly because it’s like looking Past Isla in the eye. 

Past Isla was what polite company might call, ‘head-strong’, and what people behind closed doors might call, ‘a pig-headed, smart-mouthed, amoral princess.’ She was determinedly unwilling to accept that she might not be the centre-point of the universe’s orbit (she was, after all, much more right than anyone else), and she made sure to correct anyone who failed to recognise her supremacy. 

Backing down was for lesser beings. Lies would escalate, piling on top of one another like teetering blocks held only in place by steely belligerence. The universe fell into line with a whimper when she demanded that it be just so. And when something failed to align with her plan, her wrath was terrible to behold. Eardrums shuddered at her rage, skin burned under laser stares, and smoke crept from beneath doors as she smouldered. 

It didn’t take her long to learn that there were other ways to force the universe into line. Sweetness and light was a new one, all wide eyes and shy smiles, obedience that went beyond the letter of instruction, liberally slathered in butter that made it all the more likely that she’d win. She continued to smoulder underneath, of course, but learned to tuck the smoke inside and stop it from pouring down her nostrils. 

The sheer humiliation of being told off sent rolling waves of scorch down her face and along her arms, blew deafening white noise into her ears. This was unacceptable. She adapted, it was imperative that no-one find out things that would lead to a bollocking. Instead, she hid those infringements, honed her lies, and began to work in earnest on her outward facade. She needed to appear perfect from every angle, no gap to reveal the complex calculations and mechanisms that clicked and clunked beneath.

Eventually, the facade was perfected and the smouldering child lived wholly within its walls. As that facade grew more familiar and those actions and reactions became second nature, her fires banked and her hackles gradually lay smooth against her spine. 

I remember her when I watch another child give the world a hard kick in groin, reptilian eyes showing only satisfaction and menace. And I wonder if Past Isla’s still in here somewhere, if I’m unwittingly carrying Versuvius within my skin. 

Maybe she waits there.

Maybe one day she’ll get tired of waiting. 

2 Comments

  1. I decided I’d reframe the narrative with my own kids – sure, I could say they’re stubborn and strong-willed, but the flip side of that is persistence and a desire to stand up for themselves, both good and necessary qualities that just need to be tempered with wisdom and kindness. The ability to be angry is good, too – how else would we feel inspired to stand up against injustice on our behalf, but also on others’ behalf? Is it extraordinarily frustrating trying to temper those qualities into the positive version that will be best for them and those around them? Yes, but I’d rather adopt that method than the one that results in repression or a broken, compliant spirit.

    If young Isla felt the need to lie and manipulate and repress, I think I’d be giving a hard stare at how the adults in her life were treating her, rather than picture her as a monster in need of taming.

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. It sounds like your kids are really lucky to have you ❤

      I think you're absolutely right about how we frame things, particularly our gendered expectations. I think I was a bit of a shock for the people around me, given that my brother had been quiet and serious and completely lacking in rebellious impulses!

      Liked by 1 person

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