When I was a kid I had a t-shirt that said ‘I’m #3, I don’t try at all’.
I got it at the sports shop while I was waiting for my skates to get sharpened aka twiddling my thumbs while my brother picked out more hockey equipment. I loved the sports shop. The owner was nice. He carried lots of cool Nikes, even for girls, and had an unparalleled wall of iron-on decals.
On a pretty regular basis my mom would throw me a bone for being the patient sister and let me pick out a t-shirt and decal combo. One of my favorite things was to watch the machine press that sucker onto the cotton while steam blew everywhere. Et voilà, your own customized shirt.
I’ll never forget the look on her face the day the owner asked which iron-on I wanted and I came back with, ‘I think I’ll get the I’m #3 one.’ My mom spun around to look at me, eyebrows raised so high they were almost off her forehead, ‘Oh you don’t want that one.’ Looking back at the guy with a nervous laugh, ‘She doesn’t want that one.’ And back to me again, ‘Right, you don’t want that? Why don’t you get I’m #1, why try harder? You always do your best.’
She was right, I did always do my best. But that wasn’t the point. At no more than seven or eight years of age and what was likely the first time ever, I stood up to my mother and said, ‘No, I think I’ll stick with #3. Everyone has #1 and I don’t want to be like everyone.’
And there you have it, the root of the issue.
I didn’t want to be like everyone else. I didn’t feel like everyone else and I wasn’t like everyone else. I was me and I wanted to just be me.
A flood of relief swept through me after I said those words. I remember exactly how I felt: brave, like I’d finally let the cat out of the bag.
image via but I swear my mom has a very similar one at home in a photo album
I consider myself a quiet rebel. I do my own thing and I don’t make a big scenario out of it. I just do it. That usually goes okay until other people’s expectations aren’t met. Then it’s game on, at least from their perspective.
This year for Thanksgiving I bowed out of all the family stuff. I wasn’t in the mood to be offended or unknowingly offend anyone else. The idea of the whole thing exhausted me. Instead I decided to go for dinner and see a movie. No lineups or food prep or cooking. No one breathing down my neck to be at a certain place at a certain time or looking at me sideways because I took a bite out of my dinner roll before each person finished piling every single item of (cold) food onto their plate. Macy’s Parade in my pj’s, here I come!
All I wanted was to bake an apple pie for home. Chris looked at me kind of funny, ‘No pumpkin? Well, I guess they’ll have pumpkin pie at the restaurant so yeah, apple. Apple will be good.’ Yes I know, oh ye of little faith.
When I stopped by the grocery store the day before Thanksgiving I grabbed apples, a pie crust in case mine bombed and, at the last second, some dried cranberries when I strolled down the baking aisle to see how strung out everyone was. Was it all in my head? As it turns out they were quite strung out seeing as the pumpkin mix was gone. Conundrum city! What about the pie, the cheesecake, the bread? You could feel the panic, women gritting their teeth glaring at the empty shelf. WHAT IS THANKSGIVING WITHOUT THE PUMPKIN?
Later that night while I was making my apple pie, I thought about my #3 t-shirt. You know, I rocked that thing. Even when I got funny looks and began to worry that people might think I was a slacker, I still wore it. It wasn’t about not believing in myself or questioning my scholastic capabilities, it was about not wanting to enter into a silent competition with all the other kids who were buying and wearing that other shirt. Who’s doing it best? Who really is number one? Who cares?
I never cared about that any of that. All throughout my life, even when I wasn’t fully aware of it, I’ve withdrawn from people who have tried to compete with or control me. Can’t they understand I’m not engaged in the battle? Can’t they see I’m only interested in being the best version of me?
It’s kind of like apple pie at Thanksgiving.
Chris wasn’t two feet in the door from the restaurant when he hollered, ‘Carrie, THAT PIE SMELLS AMAZING.’ And after he tasted it, not even one for sweets, went on to eat almost half before I dropped the hammer on him.
You see no one wants the apple pie at Thanksgiving, they want the pumpkin. Until they eat the apple and realize that apple pie is where it’s at. Apple pie is quiet; it’s unassuming and does its own thing. It’s a classic. It does not compete for front and center. It doesn’t want a latte named after it. It has confidence in who it is. It knows what it brings to the table.
And then it hit me: I am the apple pie.