The Things I Thought We Could Avoid For at Least a Few More Years
I give her a hug and a kiss and turn and start to get up off the bed. I hear her little voice, almost inaudibly, whisper, “Mommy, why doesn’t my voice sound like a girl?”
I stop. Turn back around. “What do you mean honey, of course you sound like a girl!”
She bursts into tears and squeaks out, “No, my voice doesn’t sound like any of the other girls. It is so plain and not pretty at all like everyone else.”
I try not to burst into tears and take a deep breath. How is it possible that we are already having these conversations? She’s FIVE.
We talk about her voice and all of the things we use our voices for. We talk about how none of them have anything to do with being pretty or how we look. We talk about pretty and what it means and why there are so many other things that make us who we are beyond pretty and all of the things I love about her.
“Mama, there’s something else I want to tell you that happened.” I brace myself and nod and tell her that I’d love to hear. Tears start to seep out of her eyes and she says, “Emma* told me that she doesn’t want me to sit next to her anymore. She said I always sit next to her and she doesn’t want to sit next to me.” My heart breaks into a million little pieces and I frantically scramble in my head for the right words to say. What do I tell her? That if I were in kindergarten I’d want to sit next to her all the time and that this kid must be CRAZY to not want to sit with her because she’s the best kid in the history of the universe? That the little girl has the right to not want to sit next to certain people, even if it hurts my sweet girl’s feelings? I grab her in a big hug and let her cry into my chest. I tell her that that must have really hurt her feelings and it would have hurt mine, too. I ask her if she wants to tell me anymore about it before I start to talk more.
She talks more the next day, at the same time after we’ve snuggled and read books just before she’s supposed to go to sleep. “Mommy can I tell you another thing that happened at school?” I nod again and pull her into my lap and look into her eyes and see the tears start to pool again. “Sophia* who sits next to me at my table told me at circle time that I couldn’t sit next to her and she doesn’t like me. And Evan* who sits on the other side of me told me that his mom is going to hurt me!” And she just starts sobbing again. The red flags are up on this one, so I try to gently pry a bit more and ask why he would say that. “We were playing a game and I was done and I wanted to do something else so he told me that if I didn’t play his mom was going to come and hurt me really really bad and that she would sit on me, too, and it would really hurt. And now I’m so scared…” She trails off and just starts crying again.
What do you even say to that?? We started with reassurance that his mom is NOT going to hurt her. I asked her how she responded and she said that she didn’t. I’m surprised that she didn’t cry. (I would have!), but she said that she didn’t. We circled back to the conversation about her voice and that this is what her voice is for: telling people that it is NOT ok to tell her that they will hurt her and that it really hurts her feelings when they talk to her that way.
I lay with her as she falls asleep and stroke her hair. I think of the things that terrified me when I was pregnant and how nothing I thought of could have prepared me for these moments. I say it often in conversations with friends, “The things no one ever told you about parenting!” The things you could never prepare for because you’d never face it if you knew the way your heart would ache for them and the way you have to watch them hurt as they learn hard lessons. The way you know certain stuff will happen eventually, but you never expect it to be now – at five and in kindergarten worrying about her voice and being pretty and the things that I want so badly as a parent to shield her from.
I know she will be fine. I know that we will get through it and we’ll love her through it, but it’s so hard. A friend said to me last night in an email, “Why isn’t instilling confidence in kids as easy as it seems before we actually had kids??” Of all of the normal things that I want for my kids, this is so high on the list. It strikes me often how much the balance of nature versus nurture tips back and forth so precariously sometimes. My heart hurts for her because I can remember feeling the exact same things as a kid and I wish desperately that the genetic component that I can relate to had skipped her, but I know that it would also mean that she wouldn’t have the compassion and empathy that go along with the same gene so deeply – and I would never wish that away.
But I still wish she wasn’t dealing with all of this right now, so soon.
*Names have been changed to protect little ones, just in case:)