GUEST BLOGGER: TIFFANY RUECKERT

Tiffany received her BS in Elementary Education from BYU and taught fifth and sixth grade for five years in Provo, Utah. She now resides in Maryland, making impromptu costumes and fighting dragons with her two sons. Her husband, David, works full time, is a student at Johns Hopkins, and is an LDS bishop (the unpaid minister/leader of an LDS congregation). Tiffany blogs about life as a mother and a bishop’s wife at Likely Stories, about things to do with your children at Likely Classroom, and with her friends about the LDS Code of Health, at Section 89.

When I was about in fifth grade I was asked to spend the night at a friend’s house. I packed my “next day” outfit carefully knowing that my best friend’s older really cute cousin was going to be visiting early the next morning.

Turquoise and white striped shorts made by my mother, a lavender T-shirt and my orangey pink flojos (flojos were the footwear of choice in the late 80’s in CA—a strappy rubberish sandal).

With my course brunette hair thrown up in a ponytail and carefully curated outfit on I sauntered out into the living room the next morning where the voice of cute older cousin could already be heard.

Butterflies in the stomach. Casual smile on the face.

As our eyes met, his mouth opened and the first words out of it were,

“You don’t match.”

I. was. crushed. I remember small tears welling up in my eyes and a big lump in my throat. I remember panicking and pacing in my thoughts—can I change? What do I have? Can I wear what I wore yesterday? What do I do? I wanted his approval so badly.

Fast forward three years to me standing in line at the school store of Greenfield Junior High. Aqua V-neck T-shirt, coral denim shorts, brown leather sandals, big yellow-gold crisscrossed hoopy earrings. The girl in front of me, in no context at all, buzzes around, looks right at me and says,

“I hope you know you don’t match.” Time and experience had afforded me more room for self-consciousness, and I was well aware of my peers. Never owning a pair of Guess Jeans, an Esprit Bag, Birkenstocks, Doc Martens, or a Gap hooded sweatshirt, I made my way through high school the best I could without too much fashion conflict.

It was ten years later that I became Mrs. Rueckert, classroom teacher of 27 sixth graders. I had gone through college, been recently married, and was starting a new chapter in my life.

One day I was standing in the back of the classroom, wearing a lime green floor length skirt and a maroon and white striped shirt, when a student approached me.

“Mrs. Rueckert, you don’t match.” she said.

Immediately I was taken back to that school store lunch line a decade earlier. I felt a tinge of sadness as I smiled back at her.

She continued, “but it’s so cool. No other teachers would wear a maroon shirt with a lime green skirt.”

I felt such satisfaction in her words. But it’s so cool. Me, cool. Finally.

It seems I found parts of myself again in college but even more so when I became a teacher. My daily audience was so much more permissive. I saw them be a little more daring in their own wardrobe as they broke free from the bonds of preteen fashion. I had a student wear all lime green from head to toe, simply because it was her favorite color. I had students wear crazy side ponytails and don items of clothing that they had made themselves. Paint each fingernail a different color. Wear your mom’s exercise leotard belt. Believe me, I am sooooooooo okay with it.

Outside of my classroom audience I wore a filter. A filter placed by me and created by my consciousness. Do my colors make you uncomfortable? Do gaudy grandma earrings make you wince? Are you embarrassed for me as I dance like my life depended on it? Are you afraid of my whistle in the hallway?

Not too long ago a good friend of mine told me that a neighbor was commenting to her how different she thought I was. “Tiffany’s different isn’t she?

Greenfield Junior High Student Store line again. I can smell the corn nuts and jumbo pickles.

Maybe she sees me running around the neighborhood barefooted, with barefooted kids in tow. Maybe she sees me chasing my toddler as we make rounds and rounds around the townhouses, screeching like birds and dinosaurs and lions. Maybe she sees us dancing through our front windows. Maybe it’s the colored paint on my back sliding glass door. Maybe it’s my son up in the front tree acting like a monkey and me furiously feeding him bananas to encourage his new obsession as we laugh and laugh till our sides split. Who knows.

Different.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, “Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?” Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

–Marianne Williamson

I don’t think there has been anything written that sums up my feelings more accurately. Why do we play small? Why don’t we let others see our brilliance? What are we so afraid of?

After reading this quote months ago it dawned on me the reason I felt most comfortable in the classroom: because children shine. They let their light shine so beautifully and brilliantly and they are not afraid to let you know how beautiful and brilliant they are. Why is it that when we are children it is okay to say “Watch me, look what I can do! Look what I learned! Don’t I look beautiful????” And then suddenly the years pass and we can no longer draw attention to ourselves. We are small. We are insecure. We start to match.

As I grow and find myself in new places and situations I find my filter fluctuating. Nonconformity can still, at the ripe age of 30, mean not fitting in. It can mean that you are misunderstood, it can mean that you are constantly fighting against the real you that hides behind the proverbial Guess jeans, when really you just wanted to wear the turquoise and white striped shorts that your mom had made you.

At our stake conference, a large church meeting, my eye caught a flash of brilliant green and yellow near the chapel doors. A woman, probably in her 60s, was wearing a flashy yellow dress, draped in a grass green shawl with intricate golden embroidery and handiwork. On her head was the largest and most elaborate hat/headpiece I have ever seen in my life. Made of the same radiant green as the shawl. She looked like the Queen of Kenya.

I smiled inside and out as I saw her standing there in our sea of conformity. She was not being small. She was brilliant and gorgeous and not in the least bit uncomfortable with herself.

I wanted to applaud. I wanted to cry.

I looked at my small self—a fraction of what I could be. I restrain myself constantly. Not just in wardrobe, but in nearly everything I do.

If your filter was gone, what would we see?

It’s time we all stopped trying to match.

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