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Children Need To Be Heard

Since my little Amelie was born, I always stressed the importance of her voice being heard. When she was a newborn, she absolutely owned me. In that stage, she cluster-fed for weeks on end and some individuals would chime in with their recommendations of putting her on a strict time schedule, but even through my exhaustion, I felt there was something else she needed. Perhaps closeness and I was totally fine giving that to her. As she got older, before she was able to formulate words, I taught her how to communicate her basic needs through sign language. I felt like a genius as she rarely had any meltdowns. The importance of her voice being heard continued as she grew older and now I absolutely love how confident and happy she has turned out to be.

I suppose it’s true that you learn most life lessons through experience and that’s probably why I stressed the importance for her, it was certainly something that was missing from my upbringing.

I remember growing up in Houston TX and every holiday season, the bane of my existence was the Sakowitz fashion show. Even before I could walk, I became one of their models. I had curly hair, a button nose, chubby thighs and I’ll admit the cutest smile. My mom’s friend crocheted beautiful baby dresses and with their entrepreneurial spirit, they decided to dress me up and use me as their model for selling the concept to Sakowitz, a high-end retailer in TX. It worked! Not only did she start selling her dresses but I was asked to be one of their runway models when I got older. The first show was more than a huge success, well for me at least. They dressed my brother and I in matching outfits and all we had to do was walk to the end, smile and do a curtsy or a spin and walk back. As soon as we got on stage, Jorge got stage fright and decided that wasn’t his type of gig, turned around and I ended up walking alone. There was little one-year-old Vanessa strutting her stuff down the catwalk. Everyone was so impressed that I wasn’t terrified that naturally I got a lot of oohs and awws. Well, at the end of the show when everyone was wrapping up, I climbed back on stage and gave them an encore. I loved the attention and that secured me on the call-back list for what felt like FOREVER. The job was fun in the beginning and the perks were wonderful- I was often dressed in Sakowitz clothes. However, at some point, I remember I started to dread going to the shows. I just wanted to play. I would ask why I had to continue. I had told them on several occasions I didn’t want to do it anymore. As I grew older I became more aware and I got tired of being treated like an object. I remember being so annoyed when people would touch my curls that one year I cut my hair. I must have been 5 or 6 years old and I can remember my thought process was if I cut what they loved the most, I wouldn’t have to do it anymore. That year I modeled with a hat. Nothing could make it stop and I started to accept that that was how life functioned. I just had to push my needs and uncomfortable feelings down and smile.

I hate to think back on how many Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas shows, etc. I had to participate over the span of 7 years. We moved to California when I was 7 and thankfully that was the end of my Sakowitz modeling career. Years of being conditioned by your family members to just push your needs down to fulfill theirs can really screw up your perception of how to navigate the world. At least now I understand why I used to put everyone’s needs over mine.

One way I’ve learned to heal is to go back to the memory and tell your inner child what it is you needed to hear. In this instance, I would’ve told myself to ditch the dress, put on the Punky Brewster outfit, and to go have ice cream with Pumpkin, my Pekingese mutt. 

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