This is my daughter, Ramona Moon. Ramona, the Remarkable. Confident. Brave. Gregarious, Joyful. Proud. Free spirited. Innocent. Adored. I would give my life to safeguard these beautiful traits in her and protect her from anyone or anything that might rob her of this purity. But I know that it’s just a matter of time before insecurities will set in. There will be a day when she is too shy to say “Hi” to every stranger that walks by. Too embarrassed to stand at the top of the slide and sing loudly. A day is coming when she will be afraid her peers might not approve of her clothes, a day when she hates her precious wavy hair. A day when she comes home crying and heartbroken because somebody said something mean to her–chipping away at her innocence and confidence in who she was born to be. And as cynical as this sounds, I think that day is soon.
Last Sunday we were at the park. Ramona is just starting to learn to climb up all the stairs on her own, find her way to the slide and then tummy down. She usually climbs to the top of the slide, stretches her arms out (see image above) and squeals with pride. I usually clap and squeal with her, of course. She’s amazing! But on Sunday, I was sitting on the bench about 10 feet away, Jesse on another bench, while we took a breather and let Ramona taste some independence when something happened that astonished me. I mean, it rocked my world and scared me and broke my heart all at once. Three little girls about the age of 6 or 7 decided to sit on the steps of the stairs up to the slide. Ramona climbed as high as she could, stopped at their roadblock and beamed at them. She put her sandy little hand out and waved saying, “Hi”, “Hi”, “Hello” over and over again. The little girls just stared at her and didn’t say “Hi” back which was bad enough. I didn’t realize that I was a Mama Bear, but I wanted to jump in a scold those little girls for not saying “Hi” back. How rude. But it got worse. Instead of saying “Hi” to Ramona and moving over so she could get to the slide, they started whispering and giggling at her. At first, I thought–they must be laughing at how cute she is. But that wasn’t it. They were, in fact, maliciously ganging up and mocking a 15-month- old! I couldn’t believe it! And it stopped me in my tracks. What could I do? I don’t want to be the parent who steps in and scolds other people’s children. I don’t want to be Ramona’s voice. But in this instance, what I was most afraid of, was drawing attention to the fact that these girls were making fun of her. Ramona didn’t know they were sneering. But it hurt me, none the less. Jesse, who was on another side of the park, saw what was going on and said he could also feel the female “relational aggression” from 10 feet away.
We left the park and talked about it later, both astonished that this was a conversation we were having as parents of a 15 month old toddler! Jesse thought I should have said something or engaged the little girls. Maybe I should have. I just don’t know. I just know that I walked home from the park that day holding Ramona in my arms while Jesse pushed the stroller. I didn’t want to let her down. I wanted to squeeze her and kiss her and give her a surplus of affirmation to make up for any little bit that might have been taken.
And there is a lump in my throat as I write this because I know that there is little that I can do to protect my daughter from the cruel world out there. I know this because I, myself, was a mean little girl. I never knew why I was mean, but I bullied other kids in elementary school, taking a precious piece of their confidence away and breaking hearts (parents and children’s alike). Why? What is this all about? Why are kids sometimes so cruel? I’m not a mean person now. If I could go back and red0 those years, I would be the nicest girl in the world. Instead of mocking or tearing others down, I would praise them and build them up and encourage them to be their beautiful, fullest little selves. Unfortunately, as children, we don’t even begin to become self-aware until it’s much too late-so much damage has been done to so many little hearts. So I guess as I sit here and reel in my Karma and digest the inevitable and the ironic, I realize that the best way to protect Ramona is to help her protect others. I can teach her kindness, empathy and compassion rather than stepping in to protect her (although I will do that if necessary). I’ll send her off to school everyday with a note in her lunchbox reminding her that her name means “Wise Defender”, that she is deeply and fiercely loved and to remember to: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.” (Plato).
It’s a start…