It’s never very obvious. There are no dramatic fist fights or pulling of hair. But it’s there. A subtle message of not being good enough because you fall outside what society has decided a 7-year-old girl should be like.
My daughter has arrived home from school upset on a number of occasions recently. She recites the same thing time and time again that the ‘popular gang’ don’t like her and won’t let her join in with them.
I respond with the usual textbook answers of, ‘Love that’s what girls can be like I’m afraid,’ and, ‘They’re just being typical girls, try to ignore them.’
However yesterday troubled me. I saw first hand the unkind looks, the ignoring of my daughter when she tried to speak. Once home, she rhymed off the usual list of unkind things the other girls had been saying. I found myself half listening, half resigning myself to having to break it to her that this is what the world is and she would just have to be brave to it.
Then she said, ‘Mummy, they don’t like me because my desk is a mess and my hair isn’t nice.’
I’d like to explain it away as a 7-year-old misjudging the situation. But actually, her perception of it all is entirely correct. That’s exactly why they don’t like her.
My daughter wears glasses, which are usually sitting crooked on her nose. Her hair is mousey brown and often matted with glitter glue. The lovely Cath Kidston pencil case I bought her at the start of term has been ruined because she keeps forgetting to replace the lids of pens before she put them back. She often forgets her P.E. kit, her library book, her snack money. She is one of the most scatterbrained and disorganised people I have ever met. She is left-handed and her handwriting is a scrawl. She talks too much and can be disruptive with her incessant wittering. She drops crumbs all over her homework. She doesn’t look like the girls in the Boden catalogue.
She doesn’t fit the mould. She is not a quiet, meek, neat, wholesome little girl who will play nice games about fairy princesses and hand in copperplate homework on time every week.
But that’s not where her story ends.
My daughter is brave and confident. She consistently places in the top 3 in all the local Speech and Drama festivals and thinks nothing of addressing a crowd, ordering her own food in restaurants or questioning a doctor. She was talking in sentences before her 1st birthday and has a vocabulary far beyond her 7 years. She constantly has her nose in a book. Not princess books. Gritty non-fiction books about the suffragette movement and the sinking of the Titanic are flavour of the month at the moment. She watches documentaries about the Second World War on the Yesterday channel and wants to visit Aushwitz one day. She loves fiercely and loyally. She makes mistakes. She says sorry. She admires iconic women in history and her favourite person ever is Rosa Parks.
My daughter does not fit your idea of a perfect child. My daughter does not fit her classmates or teachers’ idea of a perfect child. But my daughter deserves to take up her space. She has so much to give.
Last night I apologised to her. I told her I was sorry for telling her she had to ignore people being unkind at school. I told her I was sorry for scolding her for being disorganised and untidy. I told her to be herself. I told her to be kind but not if someone is unkind to her. I told her she was just as good as anyone else. I told her not to dim her beautiful bright light just because other people said she had to. I told her that it’s ok to speak up as loudly as she can if she believes what she is saying with all her heart.
Rosa Parks didn’t fit the mould. And thank goodness for that.
To my beautiful Tory – you make me so proud and I can’t wait to watch you change the world in your own wonderfully dysfunctional way.