The world is a funny place—literally. I love to laugh and I love making people laugh. Humor is cathartic for me and I try to find humor in most situations. I laugh at myself everyday, multiple times a day. So when I find something I can’t laugh at, I know there’s a problem.
The other day my daughter was playing with a friend in our backyard; I was sitting on the patio reading a book and enjoying the sunshine. I was just settling into a chapter when I noticed the tone of my daughter’s voice had changed so I looked up. My daughter’s friend was reprimanding my daughter the way a dysfunctional mother reprimands a child. Stunned, I listened intently.
“You didn’t let me throw your teddy bear into the mud; I’m the guest here and can do what I want. Do you think that is very nice of you? Do you?!” the girl said in the ugliest voice I have ever heard come from a child.
My daughter cowered and suddenly seemed a good three inches shorter than she had previously been as she shook her head sadly.
“No, it’s not nice! You better apologize to me, right now!” the girl demanded.
“I’m sorry,” my daughter was barely audible.
“For what?!” the girl roared at my daughter, a grin picking up the corners of her mouth as she watched my daughter’s shoulders slump and her head fall to her chest. My stomach turned as I realized this little girl was actually obtaining joy from being cruel.
“For whatever I did, I mean for not letting you put my teddy bear in the mud,” my daughter sputtered.
I froze; something deep within me shattered into a million tiny pieces; I’m pretty sure it was my heart. I knew I should step in and say something but while my heart was crumbling, my mind was busy transporting me back in time…
I was probably about seven-years-old, or maybe eight, but it doesn’t really matter because it was the same thing for most of my childhood. I grew up with a kid who took every opportunity to rob me of my self-confidence and self-respect. I endured years of being called horrific names that eventually became my identity. This kid hit me everyday of my life, so much that I developed the habit of flinching each time he passed by me; which only angered him more. But more than the hitting and name calling, was the fact that this kid derived pleasure from making my life miserable. Even as a kid, I could see that my anguish was making him happy. In my mind I was screaming, “Stop it!” but my voice was never strong enough to be heard so I was always left cowering. That kid took everything from me, until there was nothing left.
I believed the names he called me were true and I became unable to look people in the eyes, because I knew I wasn’t worthy. I ended up traveling down some dark paths to even darker places. Then one day when I was in college, a thought occurred to me, I have a neck for a reason and it’s to hold my head up; and I have a voice for a reason and it’s to be heard. I was suddenly able to lift my shoulders and raise my head; I left that class and looked everyone in the eyes as I passed by. I still have no idea why I became so aware right at that exact moment, but I was a new person that day. And no one has ever made me cower since.
I shook the cobwebs from that involuntary flashback and heard my daughter crying as her friend held her favorite teddy bear over a mud puddle and smiled with delight as she said, “I’m going to drop it right in the mud and it will be ruined!”
“No one is dropping anything,” I said without raising my voice. “Let’s go get your things because it’s time for you to leave,” I told the little girl.
After the girl’s mother picked her up, I sat down with my daughter and we had what I know is just the first in a long series of talks about people. I told her that she is a caring little girl and that I know she never likes to hurt anyone, but standing up for herself is not going to hurt anyone. I told her that she knows what is right and what is wrong; she told me she feels it in her heart and in her tummy. I told her that she must tell her friends, or anyone else, when she doesn’t like something. And then I taught her about finding her strong voice. A strong voice doesn’t have to be loud or mean, it simply needs to say, I am worth so much and no, you may not treat me this way.
I know there will be girls much worse than this one that my daughter will have to contend with in her lifetime. It makes me sad, but I also know it is simply part of life. I don’t want to live my daughter’s life for her nor do I think I can protect her from every hurt in this world, but I can arm her with knowledge and give her the tools she needs to navigate this world. I want her to always know her worth and understand that no one gets to take that away from her. I want her to know that her worth doesn’t suddenly diminish based on who she is friends with that day. Her worth is beyond measure, her worth is constant, her worth is not in someone else’s hands, her worth is not dependent upon someone’s else’s opinion, and her worth should never, ever be compromised.