Greetings, friends! I have taken a long hiatus while I adjusted to my full-time job. It was a huge transition for me to go from being a free-lancer to being away from home 40+ hours a week. Thank you for your patience. I now feel comfortable enough in this new skin to spend time writing and returning to transparency. Much love to everyone!
I was snuggling my daughter in my bed, breathing in her brown curls, stroking her cheeks, and reveling in the pleasure of a weekend morning with no set schedule. “You are so beautiful,” I tell her, because I mean it. She is beautiful to look at, a healthy, sturdy girl with pink cheeks, huge hazel eyes and sweet, partially toothless smile.
I remind myself that it’s important to tell girls good things about themselves that aren’t about their looks. I try to do that. I try to tell my daughter the truth. She is smart, funny, kind and nurturing. I decide to see how well my compliments have sunk in. “Hey,” I said, squeezing her tight. “Tell me five things about yourself.”
“Pretty,” She says instantly. “Yes, you are pretty but I just told you that. Can you think of five other things?” She ponders for a moment. “Do you think I am cute?" “Well, yes, but that’s not so different from being pretty. Let’s talk about something besides your looks.”
Then it comes. The gut punch.
“Forgetting.” (She means forgetful.)
This is what my daughter thinks of herself. An pretty shell, empty except for where fear fills in the spaces.
My daughter, who has been independent since the day she learned how to walk.
Who cares for everyone she meets like a mother.
Whose sense of humor is darkly sardonic at the age of 7.
Whose vocabulary and sensibilities are at once sophisticated and old fashioned.
Who loves opera and eating with chopsticks (did I mention she is 7?)
Who watched Food, Inc and Vegucated and said “In June, I will become a vegetarian.” It’s now June 3 and she hasn’t had a piece of meat in three days. “I don’t want to eat poor creatures.”
Who aspires to be a midwife, and to learn to dance ballet and play violin...at the same time!
I feel crushed and sad. I ask her if there is anything GOOD she can say about herself (not that being shy is inherently bad, but I worry that she is afraid to be BOLD.)
“I’m kind to animals…?” Yes. That’s good. What else?
“Smart?” She says it like a question. Yes. Yes. YOU ARE SMART. Why is this a question?
I worry sometimes that her bubbly personality, her inherent sweetness, and her speech impediment can make people forgetting they are talking to a girl who is fiercely smart, imaginative, and a real thinker. Her report cards were all about how she was eager to please and SO sweet, but said very little about her intellect. It’s true, she has trouble paying attention because she is so often lost in her thoughts, but that is because she is THINKING. She isn’t a terrific speller and her handwriting isn’t so great, but that’s true for a lot of creative people.
Just to experiment I decide to ask my sons the same question.
First I talked to Linus, who is 9 years old. He immediately said “Smart.” Right off the bat. Then “Friendly, Tall, Shy...I guess.” He couldn’t think of a fifth one. Now this kid has been called handsome his entire life and it wasn’t even on his RADAR. He didn’t mentioned physical attributes until the third one, and he thinks maybe he’s shy but it’s not too important.
Then I talked to Jarvis, age 11. He balked, because I asked him to talk to me, but he finally said “Geek. Awesome. Smart. Funny.” It’s important to note that for him, the word Geek is a high compliment and not at all pejorative. Jarvis is also very handsome, but his looks never came up. Not once.
It appears I have some work to do. I don’t know if it’s me, or or society at large, or what that is contributing to her narrow view of herself but it’s not ok with me. I’ve had enough similar experiences where my brain was dismissed, and where I dismissed my own brain, to know that this must be combated now.
So I held her close. And I told her I thought she was smart, and brave, and funny, and kind, and independent, and strong. “Really?” She asked.