As my daughter’s second birthday is getting nearer, I keep getting occasional glimpses of my very first memories around her age, fleeting impressions dominated by harshness, and the urge to protect myself against a big, unpredictable and threatening world.
Like most children I was afraid of wolves and of monsters under the bed, but unlike most children, I was also afraid of people with beards, or deeps voices, of being lost, of anger, of going down the slide by myself, of the sea, of my own emotions… Ok, so you get my drift, I was a sensitive soul, living a pretty normal life which felt like a series of agressions, with some good bits in between.
And then I remember feeling torn, disliking myself for being such a wimp and disappointing my parents, afraid of not being good enough. So I kept pushing through my fears, faking a confidence I didn’t feel, because in a two year old’s mind, not being good enough obviously led to being abandonned by yourself, in the woods, on a moonless night.
As I fly over the Alps and their endless mineral beauty some thirty six years later, I still haven’t been abandonned in the woods but I feel dizzy. Dizzy from a lifetime’s belief that I am not good enough, and that if I stop faking confidence, I will get found out. Crushed by the certainty that the real me is uninteresting, average-looking, average-thinking, bland and boring, and would therefore never elicit permanent attachment.
Now, I am aware that this must sound slightly mental to the people who know me in real life, and have seen me bear two children, pass a PhD shortly after having one of them, pass a very difficult senior civil service entry exam in my second language, build a small business from scratch, a changing table from bits of wood, paraglide, travel half-way around the world, been loved by smart, handsome, talented men, make unrivalled chocolate mousses, grow thriving plants and friendships everywhere I went…
But none of this seems to be enough to fill the void inside a terrified child.