This is my daughter. At seven years old, she is precocious, brilliant and occasionally bombastic to her brothers. She is naive and innocent, yet has a scientifically attuned mind that occasionally floors her family. She’s a potent mix of potential, imagination, drive, whimsy, creativity, chaos, propriety, expression and innocence. She’s every girl, and she’s utterly unique.
A few days ago, she came home from school despondent, and curled herself into the big green chair in the corner of my room. Occasionally melancholy, she sometimes worries herself over things she perhaps shouldn’t— I was a little like that as a girl and can sympathize. I used to fret over the state of the world, what would happen if a nuclear bomb went off, and if the Tootsie Pop I had just enjoyed was in fact poisoned and I was about to die. (this was a recurring fear, along with the Kidnapper in The Van who would Follow Me Home From School- ah, yes, growing up in the 70’s and 80’s).
Of course I gently queried her, poked a bit, and finally prodded her out of the chair and back into socializing with her family. It doesn’t usually take much. She insisted she didn’t want to talk about school, and we distracted ourselves with fixing dinner together. I knew she would tell me when she was ready, and I kept a watchful eye on her.
This morning, wrapped in a warm towel and fresh from the shower, she curled up next to me. Handing me the brush and comb and two purple elastics, she nestled down while I began weaving her damp hair into thick, glossy braids.
“Mom, I don’t like PE anymore.”
Hmmmm… she loves PE. She loves moving and dancing and playing and running. She’s talked joyously about it, up until now. Still combing and weaving her hair, I ask her why, to tell me what happened that would make her stop enjoying something she loves.
She starts to tell me about her friend, a little girl who decided during dance time to mock my daughter, her dancing and her body, in front of the other little girls in the class. She was mortified, and since that day, she has sat by herself and refused to move or take part in the activities. The activity this month is dance. She sadly informs me that she cannot dance, and that she is afraid the other girls will laugh at her again, so she hides.
Hot tears spring to my eyes and my heart roars a mighty mama-roar in my chest, but I try and maintain my cool while I finish her braids. I say all the right things- directing her to remember that when people say things that are not nice, it doesn’t mean they are true. That unkind people are not really friends. That she is capable, and strong, and beautiful and that no one can take that from her. And it all feels so paltry before the castigation and cruelty of 2nd grade girls seeking an inroad to social acceptance by clicking against the odd girl out.
What do you do? You can build them up, make sure they have tools and a solid sense of self, a firm foundation of faith and family and belonging and being loved. And then some wretched cruelty casually flung their way causes them to doubt themselves and their value… and to hide.
Like so many moments in parenting, I fumbled through, wishing fervently for a manual, coupled with prayers for some magic words and soothing balm for her little heart. All I can do is hope I did enough. I kissed the top of head and pulled her hood up to keep her warm as I sent her off to the bus stop and to face her world. It’s still a small and fairly controlled world, but there are already so many from which I cannot protect her. I can only be here, waiting to help, soothe and nourish, when she returns home.
Also, I think some dance classes are in order. Reintroducing her to the joy of movement and of her body before this unkind seed takes root seems like a good idea. Any thoughts from more experienced mamas on dealing with peer rejection and body shaming in girls are most welcome.
Damn, this parenting gig is hard.