Across the globe, there has been much discussion about the concept of dandelion versus orchid children. According to various studies, a dandelion child is one who manages to thrive regardless of her upbringing (picture a dandelion squeezing through a tiny crack in the concrete to present its shining yellow self to the world), while orchids are far more sensitive, withering in dysfunctional environments and blossoming in nurturing ones.
A woman I met at a writer’s conference introduced me to the idea of dandelion children. She told me, having lived in Sweden for a number of years, that the Swedes are fascinated by the subject and my description of Kate (my main character in When Red Is Blue) reminded her of a dandelion child.
But although on the outside, Kate appears to thrive by getting her master’s degree, holding down a job (albeit as a waitress) and having a relationship that is probably typical for someone in her twenties, she expends vast amounts of energy putting on a confident façade while battling a “suffocating feeling of unworthiness, of being less than everyone else.”
I have to wonder how children are determined to be dandelions. If researchers are simply judging them by what they’ve accomplished based on an average standard and how happy and confident they say they are, I suspect they are being misled by children who are experts at hiding their true selves from people. Based on my own experience and having spoken to many people who grew up in dysfunctional families, there is an overriding, almost obsessive, drive to appear “normal” to the rest of the world, and to hide any and all emotional weaknesses. I suppose it’s partly defiance: “In spite of my family and everything I went through, look – see? I’m just like everyone else!” and partly low self-esteem: “I’m ashamed of who I am so I’m just going to pretend I’m normal so people will like and accept me.”
One thing I do know is that life is complicated for pretty much everyone, not just “flower” children, so perhaps being assigned a single bloom to denote our inner and outer selves is simplistic beyond anything that could be considered real.
Taking Kate as an example, although from an emotional standpoint she possesses orchid-like tendencies, her inner self also has a determined side. So perhaps the iris is a better choice, as one of the hardier members of the orchid family. By contrast, her public self, the one she’s created in order to survive in the world, would be along the lines of the daisy – ubiquitous and ordinary.
We all have public and private selves that we periodically discard and change into like clothing. When I put on my editing hat for panicky graduate students, I’m the knowledgeable, reassuring thesis paper Nazi, while families looking to sort out their finances encounter the suit-wearing, calculator-packing, prying-into-their-finances me. And of course, the public writer me wants to be seen as helpful and positive, because that’s what I’d like to see in other writers. We even alter our public selves to suit our social media. I came across a quote on Twitter the other day that said: “Facebook is where we lie to our friends and Twitter is where we tell the truth to strangers.” It gave me a chuckle but I could see the point. While I’m happy to wax political and defend my beliefs on Twitter, I try to stay neutral and uncontroversial on Facebook because I know a few of my old acquaintances are polar opposites of me on subjects that can easily lead to cyber fist fights.
When I consider my private selves, I feel like there’s one overriding “flying spaghetti monster”* self whose noodly appendages are touching and influencing my sub-selves. So my private writer me combines the FSM me that is a glass-half-full, tree hugging, animal loving, math nerd workaholic with the desire to lock my pajamaed and unshowered self in an attic for a month to create worlds in peace. The elements that make up our private selves seem to be harder to change as well, like deeply-ingrained habits. Certainly not impossible, just more difficult.
So as we all walk the planet carrying our colorful bouquets, we offer different flowers to different people in an effort to make the best of the lives we’ve created. Long may we bloom!
*According to Wikipedia, the Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM) is a satirical deity used in the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster to promote Pastafarianism, a parody religious movement.