Take Off Your Mask and Follow Me*

Statesboro

I live in a small Southern community and every day is a masquerade. When my husband and I moved here a little over two years ago, we were greeted with some very personal questions: “When do you think you’ll leave?” and “Wait, you bought a house?” Additionally, we received some unsettling advice: “You will never fit in here” and “Don’t raise your children here”.

When you are a first-generation college graduate at 20 years old, you develop a sense that you can overcome adversity. In higher education it matters less about where you have come from and more about how you think. One particular culture does not dominate over all others. This atmosphere of adult open-mindedness was only validated when my husband and I moved across the country to California. There was true freedom in living in an environment that valued creative problem solving. Needless to say, I was shocked when we moved to a region within the same country that still values appearances over intelligence.

I learned pretty quickly that a small Southern town exists as a series of social circles. You never really form a core group of friends, but, instead, maintain surface-level relationships with individuals from various spheres (work, church, your neighborhood, etc.). And, just as in those stereotypical movies, you hear the same four last names over and over and over again. This is the system, and you will be hardpressed to change it. As a result, if you do attempt to think differently, you will remain an outsider.

When you are a parent, the last thing you want is for your children to experience hardship that can be avoided. Thus, because no other option exists, you put on a mask: we no longer try to share about our rich experience in California; our lives are devoid of lively, informed debates outside of our jobs in academia; and I wear considerably more makeup. The truth is, if you were not born learning to wear the mask, it will never fit.

Every now and then, I look into the eyes of my children and remember the sweet life that I once knew beyond the mask. I am left with the conviction that my decision to hide my true self from others models an identity of sameness, an identity of fear. If we parents are part of the masquerade, so, too, are our children.

My body has grown weary from the weight of deception, and life is just too short for regret. I’m ready to shed the mask.

Will you follow me?

*Matthew 16:24

6 thoughts on “Take Off Your Mask and Follow Me*

  1. Leigh Ann Williams

    I’m from a small Southern town. I’ve lived in the Pacific NW and am now raising my kids in my hometown, something I questioned a lot before returning to Dublin, GA. Yes, I often miss the open-minded attitudes that seem to exist more fully outside of the South, but there are things about this place that I wouldn’t trade for anything. In other words, it’s a trade off. Will I be happy with the decision we made to raise our kids in Dublin? We’ll see, but so far, so good. Enjoyed reading your thoughts about this, which echo many of mine.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Trade-offs are important to consider, and I think the ones you referenced likely influenced our decision to move here. I’ve learned that you cannot truly know a place until you have lived in it.

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  2. Dear Lauren,

    I have been following your blog since day 1 due to my FB connection to your husband, and I am enjoying it a lot! Would you mind expounding on the manifestations of the “appearances over intelligence” mindset? I must admit that I am fortunate to never having experienced anxiety in that regard, although that is most likely due to being relatively introvert and not caring too much for social interaction. BTW, does your husband feel the same? I thought he also came from a small Southern town.

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    1. Hi, Pedro.

      Thank you for your thoughts. I’m glad you’ve been following the blog and hope that you will continue to do so. As for your question, I would love to share dozens of stories with you, but most would be better served in one-on-one dialogue. Personally, I think one drive through a city’s downtown can reveal its true character. There are few indications among the banks and boutiques, with the exception of some strategically placed school logos, that would lead one to believe a university exists here. I do hope the university presence, and the promise of new ideas it brings, only increases in the future.

      I can’t speak for my husband, but I will say that he holds an advantage over me: he learned how to live in Southern culture long before we moved here!

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  3. It is indeed surprising if the university is not given emphasis in street signage… Is the university recent? I teach at a small university (in Portugal) which has a very small offsite “extension” (with capacity for ca. 150 students) at a town 80km away. In that town, it is also hard to find the indications to the university,which has been there for 15 years…

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  4. Pingback: Embracing Discomfort (My First Year Blogging) – Unlearning

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