My daughter…I just don’t even know where to begin half the time. In some ways, she’s the most unfavorable combinations of Donnie and I that could exist. She has his aggressiveness, competitiveness, and stubborness — but my sensitivity and insecurities. It makes for such an emotional windstorm some days, that we just hold on tight and hope we get by without major breakdowns. But, in other ways, these combinations could make her the kind of person that could really change the world. The confidence to get it done, but the sensitivity not to step on people along the way.
She likes to lay in bed with me at night, in the dark, and talk about all of the big issues that haunt her during the day. What should she do when a teacher talks about Jesus? (Nothing. Unless they tell you you’re going to hell if you don’t believe he was the son of God. Then we need to talk.) Why doesn’t [insert name here] think gay people should get married? (I don’t know. But if they knew the gay people we knew, and the love they share with their partners, they’d change their mind.) She asks me complicated questions and we often stay up way too late doing – what I like to call – emotion wrangling.
Last night was a tough one. Last night she was struggling with how to make friends at school. I guess there’s a couple of “pretty girls” she’s trying to be friends with. One of them openly makes fun of the mosquito bites and bruises on her legs. The other one looks at her legs and she knows she’s thinking ugly things about them. She also hates the freckles on her face. They make fun of her teeth. She just wishes she was pretty.
[insert sound of my heartbreaking HERE.]
Now, my daughter is BEAUTIFUL by any standards you use. That may not stick, in 2nd-3rd grade I went from “cute” to “awkward” and stayed there for…well…I think I might still be there. I have no idea if she’ll hold on to that conventional beauty as her body matures. Will she inherit my dreaded acne? Will her hair become unruly? Who knows. But right now? She’s gorgeous. Truly.
So…my first instinct was to tell her that. Nikki! You’re beautiful! I would have loved to look like you as a little girl! I would have been jealous of your cool clothes and your pretty face!
But…I stopped myself.
What message would that send? That she should scoff at these girls because she’s totally pretty and they don’t know what they’re talking about? That she should know she’s pretty even if they tell her she’s not?
I don’t know. I just felt like telling her she was pretty was probably not the best way to help her.
BUT I WANTED TO SO BAD.
I talked to her about choosing friends. About how, if these girls pick on their “friends” then maybe she needs to find new friends.
I talked to her about being proud of those bruises and mosquito bites. She has them because she plays soccer and she’s a total beast on the field.
I talked to her about remembering how that felt so she wouldn’t ever make fun of other kids.
I talked to her about being smart. And strong. And funny. And a good friend, daughter, sister. And how those things were way more important that whether or not she has freckles.
BUT I WANTED TO TELL HER THE FRECKLES ARE BEAUTIFUL.
I just don’t know.
I talked to her about learning to cope with being picked on because everyone gets picked on in their lives. Even the “pretty girls”. Pretty girls often get called dumb. Smart girls get called ugly. Pretty and Smart girls get called bitches. That no matter who you are, or what you look like, you’re going to have to deal with being picked on some day. So, the best thing is to learn how to deal with it.
I talked to her about making jokes of it. “I can’t help it if my blood tastes DELICIOUS.”
I talked to her about not caring…and the power of a well-time eyeroll.
But I don’t know.
I’m not going to turn this into a “How To Talk To Little Girls” type lecture and say that talking about a girl’s looks, or calling her a princess, is going to harm her in the long run.
I tell her she’s pretty all the time. I can’t help it. SHE IS. I’ll tell her I like her hair, or her outfit of the day. I’ll tell her she looks nice. But in that moment, I wanted her to think about the other things. Not just looks. Because we also tell her she’s strong. She’s damn funny. And she’s smart.
But when she just kept saying, “I wish I was pretty like them…” it was just so hard.
Because even if I told her she was pretty by my standards, she doesn’t look like the “pretty girls” look in her class. And those are the standards she was using.
So, I hope I did the right thing.
But, if not. I’m sure I’ll get plenty of other chances. We do still have the teenage years to look forward to. And if she keeps her grades up and gets scholarships, we’ll let her use her college money to pay for therapy.