Childhood memories have a funny way of teaching you remarkable life lessons. When I was little, I wanted to change my name to Jenny. You may have noticed the spelling of my name is somewhat complicated. Once you know how it’s pronounced (just “Zee”!), it’s the easiest, but it definitely takes some explaining. So imagine how I felt every year on the first day of school. All I desperately wanted was to be like every other all-American girl growing up in the 80s.
My mom was more open to the idea of a name change than my dad. She humored me and let me be Jenny when I visited the dentist. Every 6 months when I got my teeth cleaned, they would come to the waiting room and call out “Jenny?”. I would immediately hop up and skip happily to the dental chair. I didn’t even care what they were going to do as long as they called me by my normal American name. That same year I started 3rd grade at a new school. Once again, the teachers struggled to pronounce Di, and I thought, maybe just maybe, my mom and dad would let me be Jenny now. Then I met Kasie.
Kasie was a spunky ball of energy who had just the right amount of precociousness that adults considered charming yet remained cool to her friends. At the age of 8, Kasie knew precisely who she was. While most kids wanted to mask their unique characteristics, Kasie would shine a bright light on hers. Left-handed? That meant she was more creative. Thick hair? She could wear it however she wanted. And in 1984 when Madonna was making fake beauty marks all the rage, Kasie had the real deal above her right lip. Think that didn’t make her the envy of all the girls? It did.
Maybe it was because of dealing with all her own distinctive qualities that Kasie had the gift of seeing and accepting people for who they were. She didn’t care how you looked or dressed or if you were a boy or a girl, she wanted you to feel included. And she wanted to be your friend. Kasie took me under her wing. She said she remembered what it was like to be new and she wanted to take extra special care of me. We shared a love for Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Wham!, and of course, Madonna. We played together at recess along with the other girls, doing no-handed dismounts off the monkey bars and putting together double dutch and hopscotch tournaments. When we wanted to play football and the boys wouldn’t let us, we started our own team. Pretty soon the boys invited us to join them, because why wouldn’t you want to play with awesome girls like us? It was a perfect 3rd grade year, and as Kasie and I grew closer, I told her that I really wished my name was Jenny instead of Di. I remember so vividly how she turned and looked at me dumbfounded, “Why in the world would you want to be Jenny? You have the coolest name.”
“But no one can pronounce it,” I replied. “I want an easy name that everyone knows.”
“Do you think my name is easy? My parents spelled it K-A-S-I-E. Everyone thinks it’s “Cassie” not “K-C”. So who cares if people can’t get Di right? If I had your name, I would never change it. And you don’t look like a Jenny anyway.”
And I didn’t - look like a Jenny or change my name. Kasie’s matter-of-fact comment made me see myself and my name differently. From that point on, I took pride in who I was. Instead of sheepishly pronouncing my name, I took the time to share how lucky I was to have both Vietnamese Ds - the one that makes a “Z” sound and the the one that makes the “D” sound. So “Di Do” is “Zee Doe”. Having that confidence helped me as the years progressed, and as I grew to understand the history behind my full name (that’s for another post), it made me love it even more.
Our kindsets are shaped throughout our lives. The good (and not so good) moments transform our attitude and belief in ourselves, and ultimately, in the way we treat others. And these moments can last forever. Over 30 years later, I am still so grateful for Kasie’s bluntness. She may not have known it, but it’s one of the best things that has ever happened to me. An act that was so ordinary for her made an extraordinary impact on me. She helped me learn how to be proud of myself, accept who I am, and realize that I don’t have to make it easy on others to like me. I just need to be me. But her action also taught me the importance of acknowledging the good in others - bluntly and purposefully. Because Kasie saw what was special in me and made it a point to tell me, I have never forgotten to pay that gift forward. Letting people know what you love about them can make all the difference in the world - like not letting your friend change her name to Jenny.
Let kind ripple,