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When we were pregnant with our first child, we chose to be “team green” and not find out the sex. We had done IVF to become pregnant and felt like we already knew so much about the baby. The whole process is terribly stressful and unromantic. There is nothing mystical about it; it’s all drugs, science and a few prayers. Choosing not to find out the sex added at least a little surprise to our journey.
But still, I was sure we were having a boy. Or rather, I convinced myself it was a boy because deep in my heart I really wanted a girl. When our doctor announced at birth that, “It’s a girl!” I blurted out, “Are you sure?” He handed her to me and sure enough, we had a daughter.
I was thrilled and terrified at the idea of raising a girl. On one hand, I’m a girl. I have some idea of what to expect. Right? Therein lies the problem; I expect it to be hard. I expect tween years and middle school. I expect times with hurt feelings, confusion and drama. Remembering my own trials and experiences sends a shiver up my spine. While I am lucky enough to have a close relationship with my own mother, I remember testing her limits when I was a kid.
As is often the case, your expectations of parenthood and the reality of it rarely converge. Our daughter is only six, but I find myself in awe of her. She is charismatic, opinionated, brave, brazen and caring (most of the time). At this stage in her life, she is not afraid of much. She makes friends easily and speaks her mind freely. In fact, the only real thing she gets in trouble with at school is for talking too much. (The apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree on that one.) I find myself searching for a way to bottle up this confidence and save it for a day in the not too distant future when she might need it.
Last year, my father-in-law told me, “Don’t send her to kindergarten; it will ruin her.” I knew what he meant. We wanted to stay in this bubble where our girl was brave and outspoken. We wanted protect her from the inevitable harshness of making (and losing) new friends in her first year of school.
Of course, you can’t do that. And despite all my fears, our kindergarten year was pretty successful. She learned some key academic stuff, sure. But at this age, they’re really learning how to manage relationships, how to deal with people not always liking you, managing peer pressure and balancing group dynamics. That saying “All I ever needed to know, I learned in kindergarten” resonates with me now more than ever. Kindergarten is the big leagues with kids of different backgrounds all learning how to get along. I wondered how my daughter would fare. Would she thrive or shrink away under this new pressure?
Finally, this summer, I got to see everything she learned in kindergarten put to the test.
One day, we arrived at our community pool before any of our regular friends. My daughter quickly formed a new friendship with an older girl and they played happily together for more than an hour. Friendships at this age intensify quickly. She declared that this was her new best friend and she wanted to be with her constantly. She even told the other mother thank you for coming to the pool today because she was having so much fun with her new friend. That was all fine and good until this girl’s other friends arrived.
My six-year-old immediately got ditched. Now, I am an adult. I get it. They were having fun and all, but the other girl was two years older. When her school friends arrived, she wanted to be with them. Plus, other people we knew had arrived at the pool. But my kid didn’t get it. She was crying. She was hurt. She overheard them talking about “pretending to be friends” with her. The group had shifted. She was left out and it stung.
These are the kinds of feelings that I know she has to learn how to manage and work though, but as a parent you hate seeing your kid struggle. I told her that getting left out sucks. I also told her that talking about people is unkind. She wouldn’t let it go. She asked me to talk to the other mom and intervene. Of course, I declined. She then switched tactics and became determined to let the other girl know how she felt.
I panicked. What was she thinking? It doesn’t seem worth it to tell a virtual stranger that your feelings are hurt. That would give this girl would have some kind of power over her! I just didn’t want her to open herself up to be hurt again. But I finally caved and let her go, and did some internal prep on what I was going to say when this all blew up.
She marched across the pool deck and declared, “You hurt my feelings.” The girl responded calmly with, “I will play with you next time.” (Thank goodness she was kind.)
In that moment of honesty, my little girl got some of her swagger back. Now, the other girl never came to play with her again that day and she was still upset when we went home, but she had some closure! After a bubble bath and one of her favorite dishes for dinner, she was back to herself.
In the middle of me trying to teach her about managing feelings, she gave me a lesson on the importance of personal truth. I am not sure at what stage we learn to keep our feelings hidden or to protect our hearts from being hurt. I am not sure why we think we are stronger if we don’t show emotions. There is probably a mountain of research on this social survival skill, but in that moment, I knew I was wrong to shut her down. She wasn’t being dramatic, she was just telling someone else how she felt in an attempt at connection and resolution. I was really impressed with her post-kindergarten maturity.
I know I won’t be able to protect her from heartache. It is part of growing up. I also know that at some point, she is going to be the one who hurts another person’s feelings. We will have to work on that too. But my new hope is that if she can conduct herself with the honesty and bravery she showed that afternoon, she might just get through the tough parts of life—like first grade!—okay. I hope she continues to remind me to do the same. I might need to go back to kindergarten for a refresher.
Photo Credit: Amanda Sorena
Originally published on Mommy Nearest.