And I never quite know how to handle it when she has that look in her eye, the one that hides her tender heart while she says things I know she doesn’t mean. My hair is a favourite one she reaches for- the colour of it. And then there’s my clothes, the size of my body etc. I always just let it slide and I see how she notices that- as if she knows my love for her trumps anything she could ever say to me in a careless moment.
Yesterday my daughter came home holding her body tight. She was trying to mask her upset, but I knew she wanted to tell me what happened- she simply needed time. And then, as we climbed the stairs up to her room that night, she told me that girls at school had been mean. They made fun of her clothes and called her names. As we rounded the corner to her doorway, she uttered under her breath: “Bitches.”
“Baby,” I said gently. “I’m so sorry you’re hurting. What they said to you was unkind. You deserve some time to lick your wounds.”
She gritted her teeth. “I’m not hurting,” she told me. “I’m fine. Those girls can go to hell. I don’t care what they say!”
I looked her square in the eye. “Clearly, you care. You’re using very colourful language. Like I said, it’s OK to feel hurt.”
And then she got mad. She yelled- at what I was doing, at what they had been saying and then began complaining about her brother being in the bathroom too long…
“OK,” I said. “We’ll talk when you’ve settled down.”
She panicked. She didn’t want me to leave her thinking I was upset with her. How could she sleep knowing I was mad? She needed to talk to me until she felt better!
Hurt people hurt people. And that’s what I told her.
These girls had attacked her body with their words. “Baby girl, that is the laziest insult in the world,” I said calmly. “It’s right behind calling someone stupid.”
She nodded thoughtfully. Her breathing slowed, her body relaxed. She was listening.
“You cannot take their words to heart. They are in pain. People don’t talk like that when they’re happy or at peace.”
“I’m just gonna starve myself and then they’ll shut up,” she said clutching her Storm Trooper pillow to her chest.
I shook my head, knowing that line of thinking all too well. “But they won’t, sweetheart. That’s what I’m saying. People who insult others in that way will use whatever they see. So you’ll be too skinny or your hair won’t be right or your shoes. Your only choice is to be yourself and try your best to love the girl you are.” I sat down on the bed beside her. “You want to do big things in this world?” I asked.
“You cannot do great things if you’re worrying about your butt or your thighs all the time. I obsessed about food and my body for years and it suppressed my gifts and talents- starved them out. I ignored my intuitive and creative abilities in favour of worrying about being thinner. It was a complete and total waste.”
She buried her face in her pillow. “Middle school is hard, mom.”
“Yes, I know it is. But sweetheart, the only thing that matters in this world is kindness. So be upset, let it hurt, then pray to feel better about it. And pray for those girls. Pray that all your hearts be healed.”
She rolled her eyes, but I could tell she was hearing me. At the very least, I was planting seeds. “Kindness isn’t going to get me a good job, mom. I need good grades.”
“Kindness will carry you further in life than good grades ever will. You do have good grades and as long as you try your best, you’ll be just fine. I have full faith in your talents. I also know your sweet soul. In order to be kind, you have to keep going into your heart over and over. That’s where the wisdom is. When you’re dealing with difficult people, when you don’t know what to say or what to do: your heart knows.”
“I guess…” she said dubiously.
“We live in a world of relationships. Compassion and understanding are everything. So while I understand why you want to call these girls ‘bitches’…”
She pouted, “They are,” she said, under her breath.
“…it’s not going to get you anywhere- it certainly won’t heal you. Negativity attracts negativity. That kind of talk has to stop with you. Not because it’s ‘bad’, but because it only causes more suffering. We are always either offering our love or calling out for it. Those girls were most definitely calling out for it.”
“I’ll just ignore them,” she said with a yawn. “I love you, mom.”
I hugged her and kissed her goodnight knowing full well this wouldn’t be the last incident, but feeling like maybe she’d remember my words- maybe they made sense to her somehow.
I turned out her light and closed the door and thought of how I felt when I cut someone with criticism because kindness seemed unreachable and weak. I felt the disconnection and the dis-ease of that- how hard that can be to navigate sometimes, how it can take a while.
And I thought of the girl who mentions my hair- I said a prayer: For her, for me, for all of us.