Family

Debutante

(No one) knows what you go through because you portray to have it all together on the outside, that’s all (they) see.

Being vulnerable? Never that.

Lol even to our closest people…

Behind closed doors and alone only.

But I️ also think those are the pressures we’ve been put under.

From family and living up to certain expectations with so many people watching us closely.

This was a series of texts from my Sister (who, in real life, is very close family friend that I️ grew up with… who also happens to be a “Smith”).

They all immediately hit home.

The more I️ read them the more they explained the way I️ am now. I never felt that I was “allowed” to have problems or insecurities or any other mood than content/happy (in public), and that has since followed me into adulthood as the standard I️ feel I️ must keep at times.

I️ met my Sister in the lobby of an affluent black church in Minnesota (which I️ immediately thought of while reading those texts and therefore became my example for this post). Before I️ knew her well, I️ admired how she managed to balance “her world” and the world she made public in our church lobby. I️t was somewhat effortless. But, why would she (or anyone) need two worlds? Let me paint the picture of this church a little better. Imagine a place where the scene after every service was any networkers fantasy and the parking lot was a fashion/expensive car show. No pressure at all, right?

I️ always hated being there (sorry, Dad).

I️ felt like everyone was wearing a mask. I️ know I️ was never really myself. I kinda just played my part. I️ was surround by so much “excellence”, I️ felt there wasn’t room for anything else… and, I️ had a ton of “everything else”.

Nevertheless, head up, shoulders back, and smile.

I️t was the ideal environment to produce some of the finest debutantes (and beaus). We knew how to make an entrance and most of us could small talk better than our Lawyer, Doctor, and Engineer parents… but we were all secretly carrying the weight of our own private worlds under our white gowns (and tuxes).

I️ remember one day in that lobby my Dad was sharing that my AP US History project went to State and that I️ got a 33 on my ACT. However, all I️ could think of was the breakdown I️ had a few days earlier in a school bathroom. You see, I️ had also gotten my period that week for the first time (at 16). This wouldn’t normally be an issue, but little Loni had no idea what was going on because no one really had that conversation with her.

My stomach hurt so bad, I truly thought I️ was dying. After some time I️ tried to use one of those cardboard applicator tampons that they had in the bathrooms (and nearly passed out)… I️ cried for at least an hour in that stall… It seemed like everyone who was showing me how to be an intelligent, well put together, respectable lady conveniently skipped some of the most important parts.

(The how to be an actual adult parts.)

This created a decent amount of pressure… trying to (as a teenager) find the answers a mother-figure would typically provide. But, I️ would deal with the pressure and find the answers because I️ could never allow myself to feel that vulnerable again. So, it became another weight to carry with me. Another thing to smile through. Along with my anxieties, insecurities, and failures.

I️ taught myself a lot of things (let’s be real, I️ still teach myself a lot of things), messed up a lot, picked myself back up, and got a little strongerTo the point that I️ knew how to look at my best even when I️ felt at my worst. I️ mastered the nonchalant in times of distress… The problem now is that it’s a part of who I️ am and how I️ operate, and therefore people think I must have it all figured out because I’m so well “put together”. Which was why I️ was texting my Sister in the first place. Because I don’t.

Life has happened to everyone. We all have problems. We all have insecurities. We handle them differently. I️ don’t wear mine on my sleeve. I️ honestly don’t think I️ would even know how to at this point outside of the text on this page (Which is why this blog is important for me). I️ don’t have the world figured out and I️ am making the same stupid mistakes as the next 25 year old… you just wouldn’t know that if you weren’t reading this.

I mean, obviously I get angry, I can be sad, I have joy… There’s just few people who I️ tell my feelings to and/or who know what scares me the most or keeps me up at night.

I️ don’t know where I’m going here… I️ just know we all do life differently. And, I️ probably will struggle to understand those who need to be coddled or are super upfront with their emotions… and, they definitely won’t understand me at first.

I’m not sure how to end this, and my flight is landing… Don’t believe what you see on IG, kiddos.

– Loni

FJ Smith

I was tasked with writing something about you to share with the group today. As one of your more introverted grandchildren and a frequently reminded, non-member of the “Original 5”, I didn’t really expect to be here… But, since I am, what could I write to truly convey the man you were to everybody?

As I think back on my moments with you:

My oldest memory is one of your many attempts to cheer up the incredibly bratty child version of me one hot afternoon. Your peculiar blue-green eyes lit up even brighter as you shuffled across the floor with your signature tube socks pulled over the bottom of your khaki pants. You danced and sang your heart out about a small girl from Minnesota named Elon Nadeen… Just to put a smile back on my face.

My most visited memory is only a few seconds long, but I often replay it in my mind. It’s the quick flash of my Grandma’s shy smile as you sat at the table talking about courting a pretty brown-skinned girl with a coke-bottle shape. I’ve always secretly hoped to smile that same smile one day.

My most cherished memory is sitting on the couch watching my Mom listen to your stories for what felt like hours at a time. It was as if she was memorizing not only the words you said, but the way you spoke, because she knew that uncorroborated or not, those stories were filled with decades and decades of wisdom that no one else had… I’m glad you get to enjoy each other’s company once again.

Reflecting with others on what to say today made me realize that all of our favorite memories are quite different. Your actions and words stuck with each one of us here in a unique way and impacted the most important parts of our individual lives.

Regardless of the memory it’s evident that you were RESPECTED – there is one seat in the kitchen that we all knew better than to try and take.

You embodied what it means to LOVE – you unapologetically loved your wife for all of us to see and replicate in our future relationships, and no matter how full your house was we always knew there was room for one more of us…. But if we were gunna eat somewhere other than the table we had better put some paper towel or newspaper down…

You showed us how to WORK HARD – and although some of us only knew you after you were retired, that front porch was swept to perfection every single day, before you shared stories of your journeys years before.

And that you left a LEGACY – just look around. 9 children, 23 grandchildren, 20 great-grandchildren, 7 great-great-grandchildren, and counting. Doctors, business owners, pastors, chemists, teachers, engineers, artists, lawyers, nurses, and more.

It goes without saying, but we will miss you, Granddaddy. We will always remember that you love us, that you’re proud of us, and to “stay with the group.”

– Elon Nadeen

Law & Order 

You would think since I had a sister only “2 years 2 days and 2 hours” older than me, we’d be super inseparable. Not necessarily true. Growing up we weren’t actually that close. During my early life she was always the girl who was responsible for my missing front tooth in every school picture until 3rd grade due to a fateful game of Ring Around the Rosie, or the girl who caused me to split my head open on the kitchen counter in an effort to avoid the microwave door she swung at my face. Looking back now I think these were all secret plots to get rid of me.

We just didn’t get along. Not that it was really a problem… All siblings go through their ups, downs, and moments of “torture” from the bigger/older sibling. We were just two very different girls. She was a bubbly extrovert who always had a smile ready for anyone passing by. She always had more friends than me and had a date to all the school dances – both our school and those she didn’t attend. The only thing we had in common was playing on the same Varsity Tennis team my freshman and sophomore year of high school (the years we overlapped in school).

(Taking a slight detour here, but we could have been a dream team in all honesty. The Smith Girls. A dynamic duo. Imagine the things they would say! “Who all the girls wanted to be friends with and all the guys wanted to date.” Sorry girl, I kinda ruined that considering I only got attractive 30 minutes ago. Ha. Ok… back to the post.)

Despite all of this, she became a rock for me when our Mom died. How did that happen? I’m not really sure, considering she wanted to return me to the hospital years earlier. I’ve never said this publicly in an attempt to be as nice to those who tried to help me as possible, but I just appreciate (unlike most people) that she never tried to forcefully fill the void in my life. She never tried to be “a mom”. She just kept the law and order.

Imagine all the things your mom does or has done for you and your family. Now, take it all away. Crazy to think about right? It’s like a black hole appears in the middle of your household. Thank goodness that while I was mid-downward spiral into the nothingness, my Sister was calming the chaos for herself, for me, for our Brother, for our Dad… for all of us really. She was always doing the dishes or laundry, kindly suggesting (yelling at) us kids to pick up after ourselves, and reminding us of all the family events and birthdays. Her goal was simply to restore the closest feeling of “normal” as possible.

Everyone always talks about how much my Mom is seen in me. From her looks to her mannerisms, it’s all there. But, they don’t give enough credit to what she left behind with my Sister. She got my Mom’s law (it only makes sense that she’s a lawyer now). It’s like she wrote everything down on her little kid heart; detailing the instructions on how to keep things running. To be the same big sister she always was (I also appreciate that we never got “fake close” because “that’s what should happen”… News flash, that’s not how it works people!), to constantly be thinking of our dad and his happiness when the rest of us may not have been, to maybe worry a little too much, and to keep things in order. So, she did.

Why is this even on my mind? 

It’s random, I’ll admit. But, I was thinking that sometimes I forget you’re only in your mid-twenties… I actually think sometimes you forget it too. I find myself holding you to this super adult standard, which isn’t fair. Even though you may have been a person who grew up fast and spent years holding things together for others, doesn’t mean that you should have everything in your life figured out. There’s still time to grow towards all of your goals. You’ll get there. Don’t give up on them.

I also think we get caught up in measuring ourselves by our degrees and salaries that we forget to look at the other parts… The parts that matter. The impact we’ve had on the world around us. The example we’ve set for others. The care we have shown. I’m pretty sure you have me beat on all of that.

…Well, now you do. For a minute there I was questioning if I’d make it to college without some permanent reminder of your dominance.

– Loni

Sister-Cousin

She was perfect and I absolutely hated the way I looked…. We were both skinny, spoiled brats, but when it came time to “grow up” her legs got longer and her chest got bigger and I didn’t change at all. High school junior… still without a period, 98lbs, flat chested, with an overbite my braces did not cure. And, it was all I thought about. Constantly, I had to ensure my legs and arms were covered (I reluctantly gave in to my Dad buying a uniform skirt my senior year of high school, I preferred to hide behind the other school uniform options of khaki or black pants), I always crossed my legs when standing to try to hide their size, and most importantly I always needed a new way to make my chest appear larger. I was so unhappy. 

Luckily, she was my best friend. 

It was a weird dichotomy of feelings to have. She was asked to school dances, I wasn’t. She needed to go shopping for bras and tampons, I didn’t. Her self-esteem was always through the roof, mine wasn’t. She still had her mom… I didn’t… I wanted to hate her for being given the life she had, but I just loved her so much. 

Now, since we’ve graduated high school and college, she constantly reminds me how proud she is of me and how much she has always looked up to me. It was something at the time I never would have understood. She had everything I wanted and all the while she saw things in me that she wanted as well. I always thank her and tell her that she doesn’t need to look up to me and that she’s doing just fine, but I’ve always been too ashamed to tell her that she was someone I wanted to be just like all my life. After all, I was the older cousin, I was supposed to be helping her through life. But, it just didn’t go that way in my mind.

Talking to you yesterday briefly on snapchat brought me here. 

In your early teenage years you became beautiful, yes, but you were confident even before that. Confident during the braces and the baggy jeans that you always had to take in at the waist. I looked up to you for that.

You were an extrovert with ease. You did solos at dance recitals, talked to anyone without being awkward seconds after meeting them, and never had to force a smile. I looked up to you for that.

Boys were crazy for you! But… you paid them no attention if they didn’t know your worth. If you only knew how much I looked up to you for that. 

You weren’t afraid of anything. You lived life to the fullest everyday, you accepted things that happened to us with grace, and you could see the beauty in all situations… I needed to look up to you for that. 

Truth is, Monie… you had your life together hours and days and weeks and months and years before I could even stand to look in the mirror and like anything that I saw. You’re not just my sister-cousin and PIC, but my confidence and a shoulder to cry on when I didn’t have any “good things” inside to have for my own… The role model I always needed. 

So, thank you

Love, 

Loni.