My child works hard. Every day, she works as hard as she can to manage the world, all that’s in it, and her related reactions. At times, this is difficult for her; she feels things differently than others do. More heightened, more visceral. Sometimes it’s hard for her to control, but she’s learning.
At the same time, she’s working hard to become HER. She is learning what she likes and does not, what makes her comfortable and does not. She’s trying to find her space in her own skin. I see it in her choices and actions. Short, edgy haircut. Preference for blue clothes. Aversion to frills and dresses and pink. The request to be called by a name of her own choosing. She is diligently working to be individual.
She is also in the first year of junior high where, at times, ‘individual’ is often seen as: ‘different’, ‘strange’, ‘outlier’. And still she powers forward, making every effort to be who she so desperately wants to be. This causes a lot of internal conflict; I see it on her face and in her emotions. Working to be unique and true to herself, yet consistently hitting the wall of others’ expectations. It’s tough to watch, as her mother; I guide her as compassionately as I can. I also reinforce for her that whatever she chooses to do and whomever she chooses to be is HER choice. But a mother’s opinion only goes so far when you’re wading through an ocean of peer judgment.
This year she’s garnered some new friends at school. There have been some missteps, but for the most part it’s going well. Yesterday, however, she told me something amazing. Well, both not amazing, and amazing.
The not amazing part was that some of the kids at school were giving her a hard time. Because of her chosen moniker and her style of hair/dress, it seems some of the comments are that she’s “trying to be a boy”, instead of a girl. (This is compounded by the fact that last year, her core group of friends were all boys, and she’s still close with them.) You can imagine that this is a hurtful calling out for someone who’s just trying to be true to herself. I could see that this really bothered her when she shared it.
As adults, we know that hair, clothing style and friend choice don’t determine who you are in your core. And, for the record, I wouldn’t care if she chose to be a boy, a girl, or a frog, so long as she felt comfortable and happy in her heart. But kids her age aren’t often that seasoned, nor that open. So ‘difference’ carries a lot of weight.
Now here is the amazing part… When these comments were made, she was with one of her newer friends, also a girl. This friend – this amazing young lady – looked at the naysayers and said (per my daughter’s retelling), “Well, I don’t care. I like her anyway.”
That. THAT. You should have seen the look on my daughter’s face when she told me THAT. It was like joy and relief and gratefulness mixed all into one and lit up her being for the world to see. She told me that after her friend said that to the other kids, my daughter hugged her until she couldn’t breathe. I did my best to give her space to share without stepping on her story. But inside I was jumping and screaming with joy at the top of my own (silent) lungs, just to see her face in that moment.
These things are taught: Acceptance. Compassion. Inclusion. Yet they are so hard-won and fleeting, particularly in the maze of the junior high jungle. But when they appear, they shine so brightly as to provide a beacon for those who are struggling. They light the way. Teach them to your children; make them part of their world. In turn, they will teach others.