When I was little, I did not play that kind of dress up. No, my memory is different and as fresh as if it was this morning. I used to like playing with paper dolls, in our driveway, under the overhang. I had a whole collection of paper dolls, with little matching paper outfits. I would spend many quiet hours playing and dreaming. I often imagined trading places with a paper doll or being someone else entirely. How would she sound? I kept those wishes to myself. No one would understand.
Sometimes we did play dress up, with my brother as an unwilling participant. For some inexplicable reason, my sisters and I loved to torture him and dress him up like a girl. We would corral him into the bathroom, and put make-up on him, do his hair, and usually made him wear one of my grandmother's old house coats. Oh, how he hated this. It was mean - we knew it and did it anyway.
Just like kids who made fun of me when I stuttered. It was mean. I hated it, just like my brother hated being teased by his sisters. Looking back, I regret being part of torturing him like that, because that's exactly how I felt when kids picked on me. Tortured. I still feel the sting now as an adult when someone makes a dumb comment about my stuttering. It makes me feel like a helpless little girl.
When I go back to that memory, I better understand what I sometimes do now with my adult stuttering. I can relate to the analogy of dressing up or dressing down. If I am really comfortable with whom I am with, I am dressed down and loose. Kind of like wearing an old ratty pair of jeans, ones that are so thread-bare that they should be thrown out, but which I can't bear to part with.
If I don't know the group very well or feel I have to make a really good impression, or that I will be judged on my "performance" I might put on my dress up clothes. Suit, blazer, dress shoes with heels, all the things that I am not entirely comfortable with. And I might try to dress up my stuttering too. This might mean avoiding or switching a word, or talking at a much slower rate.
These are some of the covert dress-up tricks that I have used for years, and that still show up from time to time. It is so easy to slip back into old habits, sometimes almost unknowingly.
I am most comfortable in my old pair of jeans that has a big tear in the back. They no longer get stiff after washing and drying. That is my goal - to no longer get stiff, and only dress up when I really want to, not because I feel I have to. We should always have a choice!
added August 2, 2009
Originally printed in the Times Union, Albany NY on 7/26/2009. (http://www.timesunion.com/AspStories/story.asp?storyID=823806&category=LIFESTORIES), added here with permission