Fourth-grade Mallory cracks me up, you guys. I love her and I think she’s precious but, also, just so nerdy.
I can still see the layout of Mrs. Hermann’s fourth grade classroom. During this school year, I did a book report on Nevada, was sent to the principal’s office (for the first and last time, mind you), and began discovering that thing about the grass looking greener on the other side.
I had straight blonde hair, my face was peppered with freckles, and, oh my goodness, I [apparently] longed for vision and orthodontic problems.
Throughout fourth grade—and slightly beyond, I’m afraid—I would wear fake glasses and maneuver a paperclip to put over my teeth in an attempt to wear something resembling a retainer. I had perfect vision and never needed a retainer or braces, but the absence of the need only seemed to amplify my desire.
Around this time, my friends were getting braces with different colored rubber bands, or wearing glasses with pastel frames. I wanted in. Why did I get the dumb straight teeth and clear vision? Life can be so unfair.
Meanwhile, many of my friends were envying the gum I could freely chew while they were called “four eyes” on the playground. Maybe the grass just looks greener from where you stand, 4th grade Mallory.
It’s been over twenty years since I sat in Mrs. Hermann’s classroom. I no longer wear fake glasses or a paperclip on my teeth (Dentists everywhere breath a sigh of relief!), but sometimes I do still struggle with seeing my neighbor’s lawn as being lush and vibrant while mine seems brown and sparse. I want what they have—without even considering that what they have may be a burden of their own.
About five years ago, I was sitting in a Seattle café with two friends. As we shared about our lives, we came to find that all three of us were in different seasons but with a similar ache for something more—something other than our current reality.
One of us wanted a boyfriend, the other wanted her boyfriend to propose, and the third wanted a child with her husband. Maybe we were jealous because one scenarios seemed more fulfilling than the other, or less complicated. Whatever the case, it can be so easy to look away from our reality, complete with our own set of unmet desires, and focus on what the other kid on the playground or woman in the coffee shop has that we don’t.
Maybe we just need to stop making assumptions about how lush and perfect our neighbor’s yard is. I see it so often: one woman is aching to be pregnant while the other woman just discovered an unexpected pregnancy for which she fears her family doesn’t have the resources for. It’s easy for these women to look at one another with envy, without even knowing the intricacies of the other’s reality. So we need to stop staring at our perception of their lawn and we need to enter into their reality with them. In what feels like terrifying scarcity or terrifying abundance, we need others to be with us.
When I start peeking over at my neighbor’s yard so often, wishing my grass were as green or my flowers as bright, I’m probably not tending to my own yard, so to speak. So of course things will begin looking sparse and brown—I haven’t looked around at what I have and contributed to the growth of what is already there. When I’m only looking at what other people have, I lose focus on what I have.
What I’d tell 4th grade Mallory (and 33-year-old Mallory) is to quit trying to find a way out of her own reality. The need for glasses will arrive, dear one, so enjoy that clear vision before bright computer screens and inevitable aging taint it. New seasons will come and, with them, new desires. Love where you are now, love who you are now—you cannot buy back the time you spent trying to live someone else’s life. (And you’ll probably want to, especially if you’re spending your days walking around with a paperclip on your teeth.)
Desire is oh-so-tricky and ever-present. May we recognize our desires and honor them, while remaining aware and grateful of all that is sprouting up around us. New days will come—and, with them, new growth. So whatever your vision or orthodontic issues may be, I hope you can embrace them just a little bit tighter today. 4th grade Mallory is super jealous of you, and, don’t forget, new seasons are near.