My best friend in sixth grade was Jayleen Miller. Jayleen had moved to our town from Pittsburgh the previous year and had quickly become one of the popular girls at school. All of the boys flirted with her, all of the girls wanted to hang out at her house after school, and all of the teachers were impressed by her study habits, manners, and good grades. Her blonde ponytail had the habit of swinging in the wind whenever Jayleen turned her head to smile or laugh. And her perfectly placed dimples complemented perfectly white teeth - making her look as if she could be given away as a gift to some kid for their birthday.
But Jayleen was more than a dimple, a smile and a pretty face. She was not superficial in any way and her life was far from perfect. Number one, I learned that just because she looked perfect, it didn't mean she was. And number two, just because she was popular, smart and had manners like the Queen of England, it didn't mean that she was any less insecure than the rest of us. Jayleen always worried that her face would break out or that her split ends would ruin her ponytail. She also worried 24 hours a day about her grades, which was ironic since her parents never even glanced at her report card. But Jayleen was a full blown worry wart. She worried morning, noon and night about something, anything. Like maybe her mother Norma would run away with her boyfriend Ed who drove a yellow convertible. Or like maybe her father would move out of the state with his girlfriend Eileen who had false eyelashes and put tissues in her bra.
I always tried to reassure Jayleen that I had the exact fears as her (although I didn't). I actually did worry about looking less than perfect though, but that was because I always did look less than perfect. My face was always breaking out and I was constantly going to school with bandaids on my nose or forehead to cover up my pimples. Despite my own fears and anxieties though, I still felt that it was my job to calm Jayleen down. She became like a science project to me and I went to town trying to fix her. I applied a technique (and patted myself on the back for my success) with a strategy I had learned in the well known How To Win Friends and Influence People. Dale Carnegie was my father's hero and his books became like bibles we kept right in the kitchen next to the bread box. Whenever Jayleen went into one her her little fits of rages or bouts of self doubt, I was armed and ready. I usually diverted the conversation away from her troubles into mundane discussions about her interests. "What is your favorite game Jayleen?" Or "What was it like in Pittsburgh?" The "How is your mother's job going?" was always a sure winner though into getting Jayleen to forget everything and focus on Norma. Norma was a progressive thinker and an amazing teacher who really cared about her students. Sometimes her students came to dinner at Jayleen's house, and one time Mary Parker even stayed the entire weekend because her mom had just not come home one night after work. And while some of the students took up more of Norma's time than Jayleen would have liked, Jayleen was still always proud of her mother's self less ways and free spirit.
My own mother's personal hero was Wayne Dyer, whose Your Erroneous Zones went with her everywhere from art lessons with Mrs. Jones to bridge games with the ladies. My mother's mission was to end the trap of negative thinking and to take control of her life by speaking up, repeating positive affirmations that were written on index cards, and taking up hobbies which she enjoyed. Pain brushes filled tooth brush holders in the bathrooms, orchids filled the green house, and yoga mats replaced door mats when you entered our house and were greeted by chimes which sounded like the most famous church in the world. By the time she read Pulling Your Own Strings, we were all well on our way to watching my mother transform into someone with a voice and a collection of friends who rivaled the best of the women's consciousness groups in the whole state of California. Silva Mind Control replaced Dale Carnegie and while my father and his employees focused upon improving employee relations, my mother became hell bent on defining herself in a man's world. And frankly, I didn't blame her.