The end of the day is a busy time for my family. I leave work around four, pick up one kid from daycare, the other from school, and start dinner as soon as we arrive home. In the bustle of our busy routine, I try to use our commute to talk with the kids about their day. I always ask specific questions, like: What was your favorite part of today? or Who did you play with at recess?
Today was no different. My four-year-old son told me all about his outdoor time, how he and a boy named Joseph got in trouble for wrestling on the playground, and then raced each other on tricycles.
My daughter is normally on the edge of her seat, waiting for her brother to finish talking so she can share about her today, but today was different. Today, she sat quietly in her car seat looking out the window. As he wrapped up the story about the tricycle race, I caught her eye in the review mirror.
“How about you? Who did you play with at recess, sis?” I asked.
“No one,” she responded, her voice barely a whisper.
My heart sank. It was clear this wasn’t her choice. Unlike me, my daughter is a social butterfly who loves to engage with everyone around her. She is my sweet, sensitive soul whose heart has a place for everyone. It was honestly surprising that she spent recess alone.
“Did something happen?” I inquired further.
“Well, I tried to play with Violet, but she was playing with another girl, and she told me that girl didn’t like me, so I couldn’t play with them.” She turned her head from me, peering out the window again.
“Oh honey,” I started. “I’m so sorry that happened.”
At this point, she turned back to me, tears brimming in her eyes. I wished I hadn’t started this conversation in the car. I wanted to hug her and tell her it was going to be OK, reassure her that tomorrow would be better, things would improve. But I didn’t know if that was true, and I wasn’t about to lie to her. So, instead, I told her about a time that something similar happened to me. Together we talked about how it made us feel. Together we discussed how we would handle the situation if roles were reversed.
Violet had been my daughter’s best friend in Kindergarten, so this was a particularly hard pill for her to swallow. Not because my daughter didn’t want Violet to have other friends, but because she felt unwelcome to play with her and her new friends.
“I tried to just play on the monkey bars and act happy,” she said.
Hearing her say that killed me. This conversation made me acutely aware that I am unprepared for what’s to come. I remembered my own childhood, the mean girls here and there, and the gauntlet known as middle school. I didn’t want experiences like this to shape my baby girl. I wanted to say the right words, the words that would show her how loved and valued she is, but I had no idea what those words were.
So, like any mom, I did my best. I validated her feelings, I was honest with her. I listened to her, and when we got home, I gave her the biggest hug, told her I loved her and I would always be there to help her navigate the tough parts of life.
I don’t know what will happen tomorrow at school. I know my daughter is a kind, sensitive soul, and these experiences are all part of growing up, but it still sucks. A great big bucket of suck, to be more specific. I would take her place in a heartbeat if I could. But I can’t, so my job as her mother is to prepare her the best I can for things like this. To teach her empathy, how to treat others, and most importantly how to treat herself. I want her to always love herself, even when others don’t—because she is so worth loving.
As her mother, I will always be her soft place to land. I will be the safe place she can come to when the world hurts her heart. Whether it’s a big hurt or a small hurt, I will always be here to remind her how amazing she is, and that her value is never measured by another person. She will always be beautiful and perfect, even on the days that others don’t see it.
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