“See that face?” My grandmother said, showing me the photo above. “That’s the face of a girl who thinks she knows everything.”
Now that might sound like the beginning of a cautionary tale, in which the girl in said tale did not know everything. But if you knew my grandmother (Gram) at all, you’d understand that when she told me this, her tone of voice implied that she did, in fact, know everything. Or at least enough that such an attitude was deserved.
She told me this when I was a very impressionable young girl. And it certainly did leave an impression – I’ve never forgotten it.
I spent a lot of time with my grandmother when I was young. Being my parents’ first (and my dad’s only) child, my grandmother graciously watched me for the first two years of my life while my young parents re-entered the workforce. My dad often gives her the credit of helping raise me, and while I did have two (and later, four) very attentive and present parents in my life, she really did.
I learned a lot about being who I am from Gram. This was a woman who not only exuded confidence herself, but encouraged it in others as a regular part of her life. While the kindest of words may not have always been used, and it wasn’t necessarily the syrupy, Disney-esque way you’d expect confidence-boosting to happen, the message was always there: You are smart. You are strong. You can do anything, if you want to.
As a result, I’ve always had a confidence problem – for a long time without even realizing it. As a little kid, I was bossy. As a teenager, I knew everything. Fresh out of college, I was utterly confused as to why I wasn’t getting every job I applied for. Now, as a not-so-young adult, people sarcastically ask, “Ariel, are you competitive?” They think the answer is yes, but it’s really not that simple. I don’t have to be the best at something. I don’t have to always win. I just have to always face the challenge. Fighting it is the best part. I’d rather fight to figure out I’m wrong than just know that I’m right. Because when you stop making mistakes, you stop learning. I don’t need to know everything, I just need to keep learning. Knowing that I have this capability alone makes me confident as hell. And I owe that to Gram – she never let me forget that there’s nothing wrong with thinking you know everything, as long as you keep trying to.
Two years ago today, on Tax Day, Gram passed away. In just the span of a year, this anniversary has become infinitely happier. A year ago, I wrote about the impact Gram’s death had on me. But this year, I’m writing and thinking about the impact her life had on me. As many days as I could over the past year, instead of thinking of Gram and mourning her loss, I thought of her and was grateful for all the things she taught me. When you really get down to it, it’s hard to be sad that the life of a single person (in a tiny, 5’0 tall body, no less – as my dad would say, quoting my grandfather, quoting my great-grandfather, “Dynamite comes in small packages!”) inspired an army of confident, capable people that feel like they can do anything. Of course, I realize this is no doubt true of many people that have passed away, but that overly-confident part of me believes that in my Gram’s case, it’s different. All because of that look on her face.
As a side note, in my suburban maple syrup making adventures, a few weeks ago I finally finished the syrup I had started two years ago while Gram was in the hospital, but never filtered and canned because she passed away while I was in the middle of it. This incomplete syrup sat in my fridge for two years, created some accidental maple rock candy (delicious!), and was finally removed and finished at the beginning of this syrup season, when I started tapping my trees for 2015 syrup. I was rewarded with what I can’t help but think of as a vintage that pays tribute to Gram – an incredibly bold, vibrant syrup that of course, underneath it all, is very sweet.