Limits We Unknowingly Set for Others & Math Rockets to the Moon (Maybe)

Limits We Unknowingly Set for Others & Math Rockets to the Moon (Maybe)

What do you remember most from childhood about your perception of what you could achieve? I had this conversation with a friend the other day over lunch as we quickly discovered that each of us was raised in a home where we never felt limited in what we could accomplish. More specifically, my friend Nancy and I started to talk about our dads while we were growing up and how fortunate we felt that, although we were raised during an era when some dads (and moms!) may have narrowed the possibilities for their daughters in the professions or activities they chose to pursue, we did not run into that. Both of us beamed about how our dads were our cheerleaders and never once made us even question why we might zig instead of zag as other girls our age did. Gender simply wasn’t a consideration. At least not at home or with my dad.


It was only after I stepped out of my house and into my schools, into other friends’ homes and into other family conversations that I realized there were many in my society who saw me pursuing a particular silo of activities for personal or professional fulfillment as not being all that…girlie. A lot of my interests didn’t necessarily fit into that silo. I was never chided for it at home that I would rather go exploring on my bike in the neighborhood, study my baseball card collection and listen to adult comedy albums (like a stand-up comic apprentice) than take ballet lessons or play dress-up with heels, make-up and all of those girlie things.


One of my crowning achievements was first grade, Mrs. Anderson’s class. I zoomed to the top of the class with my math rocket. I’ll explain.


I remember sitting in a group of seniors at this place where my parents used to spend time on weekends playing tennis and shuffleboard, and they were talking about how boys were supposed to be good at math and girls could be good at English. I spoke up and insisted that I kicked ass at math (using other words, of course), and how I absolutely loved math even though I really enjoyed English, too. And I remember it like it happened last week. It was as if I had just deflated every dream in that room of every blue-haired lady within the group that I might one day grow up and be a princess or pageant queen. One even asked me if I was going to take dance lessons immediately after that revelation. Because a conversation about a girl’s math excellence naturally leads to jazz hands!


By simply sharing how much I enjoyed math and that — HOLY MOLY! —even though I was a mere girl, I was pretty damn good at math, too. In one innocent remark, I had single-handedly blown every belief about girls and their limitations (not capabilities) out of the water in that shuffle board clique.


So that brings us back to the rocket ship. I’m so glad now that I didn’t dwell on those little old ladies who wondered why I wanted to dip my dainty hands in dirty digits and messy mathematical operations. Instead, I approached this little contest in first grade the way I to this day still approach everything. If I really believe I can do something, I just go for it and I don’t let anybody tell me otherwise. So when Mrs. Anderson announced we were going to see who would advance the fastest up this mathematical achievement trek (and honestly, I can’t for the life of me remember what the heck she had us do…I am 45 years old after all!) but I tackled it the way I knew I should. I loved math then — I still do — and so I dove in headfirst, and by the end of that rocket contest, I was the first to reach the moon…or Mars…or the Sun…or wherever the hell we were aiming!


I probably won something. I have no idea what. But I was on a different kind of mission that day. And I’m just so thankful that I had the support behind me growing up so that no matter what I tried to do, I never ever even REMOTELY considered that one reason I might not succeed was because I was “just a girl.”  That thought never entered my mind then or since.


And I bring this up because you probably have some little girls in your orbits — maybe they aren’t your daughters but instead nieces or cousins, students or friends’ kids that you interact with sometimes. I’m glad I was a strong enough little girl that I didn’t take what those blue-haired ladies said to heart. Instead, what stuck with me the most was the confidence that I always felt my mom and dad had in me that there was nothing holding me back but my own fears and that if I wanted to do something, I’d have to invest the time, effort and commitment to learn it, but that nothing was out of reach.


If you wander into any little girl or boy’s orbit, think about the comments you make, the questions you ask and the limits you may be inadvertently setting to influence that still impressionable mind’s perspective of themselves and what they can achieve.


I don’t expect this will be the last time I talk about this subject. Far from it. I see this being the beginning of a lengthy conversation I hope to continue having with my friends out here now and going into the new year. Feel free to share your own comments on any childhood experiences you had that may have shaped or influenced your perceptions of your own capabilities or limits to what you could do — and please, I invite the fellas to take part just as well about any stereotypes or limitations laid upon us without our permission as children or teens.


The floor is yours. And thanks in advance for joining in the chat. ~ Chris  xo



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