I see my girl walking down the long hallway, an extra beat in her step and a smile on her face, excited to be going home early. Wait until she finds out it’s for the flu shot, I think to myself.
I take her in while I wait for her to cross the expanse. She doesn’t look like she did just a few short hours ago at drop off when she hastily kissed my cheek and hopped out of the car. Now, she’s a mess: her blond hair is no longer tucked neatly into her pony tail but wind blown and loose; her cheeks are flushed and ruddy from playing outside; her pants are ripped and grass stained at the knees. I am not surprised – this is the third pair of pants to bite the dust this week alone.
I smile despite, or more accurately, in spite of it all because that’s my girl. She’s tough and energetic and isn’t afraid to get dirty.
As I watch her, another parent steps into the hall. As with all small towns, I know this mom; her child and mine have crossed paths many times through the years in school, and soccer, and birthday parties. Before I can say hello, the receptionist hangs up the phone and turns to me. “I just have to tell you, I love your daughter,” she says. “She is out there on the playground every day running circles around those boys in soccer. She falls and she just gets back up and keeps playing. She really is amazing. Does she have girl scouts today?” I beam with pride and thank her and explain girl scouts was yesterday and boy would she be mad at me if I made her miss girl scouts for the flu shot.
I turn back to the hallway and see Madison has stopped to talk to a teacher. I see her say something, point to me, and smile. Oh man, how I am dreading bursting her bubble when I tell her the real reason for her early dismissal. Maybe a quick trip for a donut afterwards will soften the blow.
The woman next to me says hello and I smile and return the greeting. “I’m sorry but I just have to say this,” she says. Now, there are two things I know about people when they begin a sentence with I’m sorry: first of all, they are not sorry and secondly, I’m probably not going to like what they have to say.
“I’m sorry, but I just can’t see your daughter as a girl scout. I just can’t.” I turn to look at her, my smile frozen on my face while I take this in, momentarily taken aback. “Well, she likes playing with her friends, crafting, and going on trips, so yeah, she likes girls scouts,” I say and finish in my head with: just like every other kid I’ve ever met. I manage to suppress the accompanying eye roll. Just then, my girl presses her whole body against mine waiting for me to embrace her as she does every day at pick up, a smile on her face, relief on mine; she didn’t hear this woman’s comment about her.
We say goodbye to the receptionist and head out to our appointment. “Ok, now tell me the story of how you got these holes in your pants,” I ask her as we walk hand in hand to the car.
While cleaning up the kitchen after dinner, I begin to tell Mike of the lady and the girl scouts comment. But, I stop myself. Sometimes, when it hurts too much I can’t share it. I don’t want to give it oxygen, I just want it to suffocate and go away so that I don’t have to relive it or feel it or deal with it.
Despite suffocation, it continues to breathe in my mind. Why does this simple little comment bother me? It’s then that I realize it’s because this stranger has labeled my daughter. She has put her in a box and is now surprised when my daughter doesn’t fit into that box or any box for that matter.
My child does prefer sports and camo pants and playing in the dirt and building forts in the backyard. But, she also loves to craft, likes her hair braided, her jammies to have feet, and her mama to rub her back until she falls asleep. The only box she fits into is that of “kid” and even then only sometimes as she truly is an old soul.
Just when I can’t take the internal dialogue anymore and open my mouth to tell my husband, my younger daughter comes barging into the house with her princess dress on over her clothes, the tulle torn, wild hair barely contained by the crown, a football tucked under her arm, a smile on her dirty face. And now it all seems silly. How can a virtual stranger be so sure about my girl and I not be?
I know my girls and more importantly my girls know themselves. They are barely contained by the backyard let alone a little box. They hardly care what I think about their style choices let alone some stranger’s opinion. They aren’t and can’t be boxed in by anyone unless, of course, it’s a literal box in which they will play in it for hours.
I am no longer angry or even bothered by the comment. In fact, it’s broken me out of my own box. I’ve always known my girls to be strong willed and independent but now I see how self-assured they are, how they never even factor in what other people might think, while I regularly let those thoughts hinder me. I hope, one day, to be as confident as my girls, and I hope that they stay brilliant and always remain true to themselves. Their tulle wearing, football loving, grass stained selves.