This morning we were having a hard time getting things moving, so rather than freak out and have everyone rushing and starting off the day feeling stressed and frazzled, I told Number 6 and 7 I would drive them to school.
That gave us an extra half hour.
As I was driving, Number 7 asked me a question.
First, it’s important to know a little bit about Number 7.
Number 7 is eight years old, and she has always marched to the beat of her own drum.
This can be frustrating at times — okay, a lot of the time — but it’s also something I find super admirable, and I think it’s a characteristic that will serve her well for the rest of her life.
About a year or so ago, Number 7 had a style evolution, and she decided she really only wanted to wear “boy” clothes.
She loves anything that is dry-fit and grey, white, or black. She’ll wear blue or red, too.
But pink and purple — her two favorite colors until very recently — are now off limits.
Okay. So back to the question Number 7 asked me in the car…
As we were driving to school, Number 7 said, “Mom, do you think it’s mean to call someone a half boy?
“A half boy?” I repeated.
“Yeah,” she said.
I thought about it for a minute.
“Did someone call you a half boy?” I asked her.
“Yeah,” she answered.
I asked her who said that to her. It was a girl in her class. Someone she wasn’t particularly good friends with, but not someone she ever had a problem with or anyone I’d heard about before.
“Did she say that recently?” I asked.
“What did she say?”
She explained that someone had drawn a picture and a group of girls were looking at it, and Number 7 said, “That’s pretty.”
And this little girl said to her, “Why did you say pretty? You’re a half boy.”
“She’s called me that a bunch of times,” Number 7 told me.
OH BOY DID I GO DIRECTLY INTO MAMA BEAR MODE.
I was ready to email the teacher and find that kid and contact her parents and start a school-wide anti bullying campaign.
But I didn’t say anything and I just let the information sit for a little bit.
I could have gone directly to the teacher.
But the reality is that Number 7 — and everyone else in the Universe — is going to have to know how to navigate many, many more of these situations. Situations where people say things that can be construed as hurtful.
And the truth of the matter is that those words mean nothing until Number 7 assigns a meaning to them.
So rather than teach her that when someone says something that could be described as offensive you immediately decide to be offended and hurt your own feelings, we talked about it.
First, I asked her if she was okay.
“How do you feel about what she said?” I asked her. “Are you alright?”
“I’m okay,” she said.
“Does it bother you?” I asked her.
“Nope,” she said. “Because I’m not a half boy. I’m a whole girl.”
The fact that she brought it up and asked if I thought it was mean led me to believe that it kind of bothered her a little bit. But she was okay.
So then I said to her,
“What Jenny* said to you is not about you. It’s about her. Jenny obviously thinks there are words only boys should use and words only girls should use. And she thinks there are clothes only boys should wear and clothes only girls should wear.
That’s too bad,” I said to Number 7. “Somewhere along the way, her parents or somebody in her life taught her that.
Lucky for you, you know anybody can wear anything. And anybody can like anything. And anybody can use any words they want to describe anything. And maybe you can be the person who shows other people that it’s okay to be yourself, and it’s okay to do stuff and wear stuff even if everybody else isn’t doing it.”
Number 7 smiled.
“There’s another girl in school who wears boy clothes,” Number 7 told me. “And Shannon* and Brooke* (two of Number 7’s best friends) are starting to wear boy clothes now too. Because of me.”
She said that last part extra proudly.
It was clear that she got it.
We had a really good conversation in the car.
School is only about 3 miles away, so it wasn’t a super long conversation.
But it was impactful. And it was important.
For both of us.
I think Number 7 is really beginning to understand that lesson. The lesson that what other people say to us means nothing until we give it a meaning.
Oh how I wish I had started learning this when I was eight years old and not forty-eight years old!
I may be 43 years behind Number 7, but that’s okay.
Because I learned something else today, too.
I learned to hold back. I learned to resist that instant and automatic physical response to rip the head off of any other human being that says or does something mean or hurtful to my kid.
Especially my baby.
This is for sure one of the hardest aspects of parenting.
But the more I practice it, the more my kids benefit and the easier it gets.
And the next time that little girl calls Number 7 a half boy, well, she’ll be armed with a whole bunch of ways to remind herself that the only thoughts and words about her that matter…
are the ones that come from her own brain.
*names have been changed