Today, we attended a Girl Scout awards ceremony in which my middle daughter and her troop were awarded the Bronze Award, the highest honor a Junior Girl Scout can achieve. They joined other girls across the state receiving awards for community service projects ranging from collecting art supplies for the local children’s hospital to painting playground equipment to working with homeless shelters for Birthday Boxes. Now that they’ve moved on to become Cadette Girl Scouts, they’ll be working towards the Silver Award, and then before they leave high school, the Gold Award, akin to the Eagle Scout achievement. I love Girl Scouts as it allows girls to progress at their own rate, make differences in their communities using their unique skills and ambitions, and encourages girls to accept others no matter how different they may be from “the norm.”
My middle daughter is a “late bloomer”, and definitely not “the norm.” I can say this with certainty, looking at all the other little girls on the playground in their sassy pre-teeny bopper outfits. At 11 years old, she’s in middle school, a time that most of us look back at and shudder. Fifth grade was a rough one for both of us, but within a few weeks of the start of summer vacation away from the bullies, the happy-go-lucky girl she normally is resurfaced, and now she’s at a new school for artistically-minded children and loves it. Academically, she is leaps and bounds ahead of all her classmates, but “less mature, in a good way” than her classmates according to her 5th grade teacher, who got that my daughter doesn’t fit any mold, and thankfully accepted her for who she is. I don’t mean late bloomer in the physical sense, though the orthodontist wants to wait for her to “grow into her teeth” and she is thinner than my mother would like.
“Are you feeding her?” she asks me, forgetting that at her age, I was also all awkward skin and bones, and in desperate need of braces. Though she reminds me so much of myself at this age, in some ways we are very different. As a kid, I wanted so much to fit the mold. As an immigrant child with a very practical mother, I grew up wishing I didn’t have to have a bowl cut hair cut, noticing all the things others had that I did not. I made my own path and style, mainly because I had to embrace what I had (translation: I wore what my mom bought for me), but a little part of me always wished to have perfectly straight, well-behaved hair, Jordache jeans (yes, I know this dates me), and socks that matched my outfits.
My daughter has tons of cute outfits, socks in a rainbow of colors and a box full of hair bands and accoutrements, and leaves the house some mornings looking like a homeless child (as my husband laughingly says). He doesn’t get what I know to be true, that other mothers see her and judge me for letting her leave the house like that, that other kids judge her for not wearing the latest fashions, though she does not care one bit. I know I should not care, but I do–that others will see her and judge both her and I by the clothes that she wears, because that is the kind of world we live in, and I want to smooth the road ahead of her so growing up will be a little easier for my spirited little one. She has always been one to follow her own path, not caring and not understanding why others care so much about what she thinks or how she acts. She really just wants to be left alone to draw and write stories, though that doesn’t mean she will sit still and be quiet if she sees someone younger or more helpless being picked on. These are the things she knows to be true, though the bullies at her old school haven’t learned these lessons yet, and I am working on learning them, too.
1.What someone wears on the outside is much less important than how they look on the inside. She asked me once if there is a rule in our house that clothing has to match. The less fuss devoted to hair styling and brushing means more time to draw or write stories for her. She stopped wearing skirts and dresses except for church, because she discovered it gets in the way of running around on the playground. She notes that some of the best-dressed girls at her old school are those who tormented her the most. Point taken.
2. A person’s physical age is much less important than his or her mental age. She plays equally well with older and younger children and converses easily with adults, so long as they are willing to be kind and imaginative. Some of her closest friends are younger than her, and partly this is because they are much better at seeing her for who she is on the inside, and she does not really care, though others laugh at her for playing with “babies.” It is also because she never talks down to those younger than her, never thinking herself better than them just because she’s older.
3. Boys and girls can be friends, as long as they like the same things and are nice to each other. Some of her best friends are boys. They like to climb trees, play in the treehouse/fort, tell each other stories, and laugh over funny animal videos. They don’t overcomplicate friendship by asking “Are you my friend friend or my best friend?” They just hang out and have a good time chasing the dog around or having Nerf gun wars. She told me that the kids in her class with boyfriends and girlfriends are “precocious.” Wanting to make sure that she was using the word in the correct context, I asked her to explain what she meant by that. “They all think it’s weird that Dylan and I are just friends, but I think they are doing and thinking about things that are waaay too advanced for their age, so that’s why I called them precocious.” Thank God for that!
4. Labels are for packages, not people. In a world where marketing and spin is more important than content, packaging counts. Packaging makes it easier for us as people to categorize, label, and move on. In medicine, we have the same tendencies, to label people with diagnoses, and then forget they are not a diagnosis, but people with a story. My little girl has been given many labels in her life, some of them by kids and adults who couldn’t look past the outside to the beautiful old soul within. My little girl does not think like other people, so no surprise, she does not talk or act like others either, which instantly gets people’s attention. She can talk for hours (and does) about her favorite fan fiction art, and laughs at her own inside jokes. The less polite ones want to know if there is something wrong with her, some label that can make them feel better, so they can shove her in a category, and get comfortable again with their preconceptions about gifted kids. Sometimes, I wonder if I have done her a disservice, by not teaching her how to camouflage herself except to those who understand the difference between a label and a person. And then I think, maybe the world just needs to learn how to accept her. That doesn’t mean I think she’s the perfect kid or that we’re not continually working on manners and acceptable versus unacceptable behavior, because in the end, my job is to challenge her to get out of her comfort zone so she can become the best person that she can be.
5. It’s OK not to want to grow up. As the oldest in my family, I always wanted to hang out with the adults and figure out what they were doing and saying as I found it so fascinating. I wanted to be an adult way before my time, something my parents encouraged–I learned to cook, clean and be responsible for my siblings and grandmother from an early age. I thought that being adult-like would give me more control and more privileges, and traded believing in magic, Santa Claus, and fairy dust for worry, responsibility, and the lure of knowledge. That doesn’t mean that I’m not raising her to be responsible, to work hard or to seek knowledge, but my little girl (at least for a little while longer) is very happy being a little girl. She still believes in unicorns, still believes that good will always win in the end, and that being a kid is way more fun than being a grown-up. I think she may be right, but, I’m not telling her that.