It helps to know who you are. Where your boundaries give, and where they don’t. What you’ll do and what you won’t. It helps to know, but sometimes it will hurt, too. Because you’re not always going to fit in, sometimes you’ll go it alone. But deep down? All that matters? Is that you know who you are.
My daughter rushed in from outside with red cheeks and rainstorm eyes. “They don’t want to play with me!” she shouted as the tears took full sail and tumbled headlong to her chin.
“Who?” I put my arm around her shoulder, not wanting to give the moment too much power, because downplaying the gut-rip of how people hurt you seemed sensible.
She threw herself face down on the couch and ignored my question. “What do I do?” she managed through muffled sobs.
“Tell me what happened.” I rubbed her shaking back. “Who doesn’t want to play with you?”
“Ah.” I couldn’t think of something other to say, so I continued to soothe with my hands.
She wasn’t having it.
“I have a Nerf gun and everything. They just told me I wasn’t old enough.”
I knew that wasn’t it. She was seven and so were many of them.
“Sometimes people aren’t nice, honey. I’m sorry. But you need to keep being you.”
I rolled my eyes at my insignificant words; words that were like band-aids on a missing leg. I suspected I was failing miserably at this whole “learning talk” endeavor.
“What do you mean?” She pushed the couch pillows out of the way and waited in a “tell me more” position.
I searched for the right thing.
“Not everyone is going to like everyone else. And sometimes it’s for silly reasons, like maybe because you’re a girl or you’re too young, and sometimes you just won’t know why, but it’s always important to stay who you are, and find people who love you for that.”
She remained dubious.
I tried again. “Who are you?”
The tears kept falling. “I don’t know.”
“You’re funny, smart, sweet, imaginative, and silly. You are a good friend. You like to read. You…”
She hugged me mid-sentence.
I pulled away for a brief second. “I want you to know who you are, OK? Because people might try to tell you different. But if you know who you are on the inside, it doesn’t matter what other people say. So…who are you?”
At that second, the doorbell rang. I heard giggling. I jumped up to open the door, not altogether surprised to find the boys at the threshold. The tallest one spoke up: “Can Toots play?”
My eyes narrowed. Was this a joke at her expense? I didn’t know if I could stand watching those tears again.
My daughter joined me at the door. “What do you want?” Her eyes weren’t even dry.
They looked a little sheepish, God bless them. “We want to play hide and seek and need a good counter and runner.”
She didn’t close the door behind her. “I am…” she shouted for me to hear. “A good counter and runner!” And off she went.
I followed her out to ensure everything was on the up and up; no one would tease, or lob hurtful words her way. I stayed on the fringes, watching carefully, feeling the full weight of parental responsibility and heartbreak at not being able to orchestrate happy endings for my daughter every time.
All the while certain I didn’t have control over every outcome, and hoping that if there were one thing — one! I could ingrain in her deepest deepest self, it would be to know who you are.