Thursday, August 15, 2013

“Mom, I am glad I am one of a kind. I am unique.”

first day smiles

This week my girls headed back to school.  After all the drama and tears of the past couple years, I was prepared to be putting my older daughter on the bus with a lump in my throat, worrying about all the “what ifs” that came true in the past – kids teasing her for playing hockey or liking science, girls refusing to sit with her at lunch because she wasn’t girly enough, boys refusing to play with her because she is a girl, and on and on.  Imagine the relief I felt then when, the day before school started up again, she told me she was excited about the new year and said, “Mom, I am glad I am one of a kind.  I am unique.”

Where had this newfound strength come from?  This is the same girl who just a couple months ago was shyly snuggled next to me on a park bench saying she was afraid to approach the other kids because they might not accept her.  This is the same girl who cried after school on a regular basis because of how the other kids were treating her.  Somehow, seemingly overnight, she had changed.  After putting her on the bus and watching her eagerly wave good-bye to me, I had time to sit alone and think about it all.  Slowly, the pieces of the puzzle started to drift together.  She gained confidence in herself and an appreciation for her uniqueness because of the strength of others, because people spoke up when they saw her being her. 

At the start of the summer, she was still feeling very down about herself and hesitant to try to form relationships with other kids.  When we went to Ukraine, she stayed glued to my side at first.  We would sit at the playground and watch the other kids running around.  I would urge her to introduce herself, but she would bury her head under my arm and say, “what if they are mean to me?  What if they don’t like me? What if they are like the kids at school?”  

Thankfully, there was another person there.  My husband’s cousin quietly praised her.  She invited her to go places and then bragged about her to others.  That little nudge was enough to get my daughter off the park bench.  If a cool medical school student thought she was not all bad, maybe the kids at the park might be ok with her.  They were.  Of course, not all of them clicked with her, but a group did, and the ones who didn’t just left her alone.  The ones who did, the boys who bucked tradition and ran around playing with the little blond girl, gave her the next nudge of confidence.
This is what support looks like.

The adults we have been lucky enough to surround our daughters with are incredible.  Instead of calling her weird or ignoring her, they have been very vocal cheerleaders for her.  That is critically important because praise coming just from me, her mom, doesn’t mean as much as praise from other people.  My praise is important and necessary, but not the same.  I can rave about the virtues of being a geek and cover the fridge with Simon Pegg quotes until I am blue in the face, but that is just laying a foundation.  The powerful building up comes from others.  When someone else says she is amazing BECAUSE she loves science or BECAUSE she plays hockey, that is powerful.  When someone invites her to their wedding and praises her crazy dance skills, that is powerful. When someone sends her a video like this one and tells her she should stay true to herself because that is what will make her happy as an adult, that is powerful. 

As adults and as parents, we often want to heap praise on our own kids.  Of course we do.  They are our perfect babies.  It is important to also recognize the value of praise from other people, though, too.  We must be those other people.  We must remember to recognize the good in other children in addition our own.  Just by simply saying, “I like the way you do that,” we might be the person nudging them a little out of self doubt and onto the playground.

To all the people nudging my daughter, thank you.  Really.  Truly.  Sincerely.  Please stay in her life and watch her grow as a result.

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