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When the Oddball is . . . Yours

By Elizabeth Cranford Garcia

What do you tell your five-year-old daughter, who is enviably beautiful, and compassionate, and intelligent, and creative, and eager to please, when she tells you in a confused voice, “Mommy, Lucy told me I was strange.”

A. Well, what was happening? Were you being nice? Was she trying to talk to you? Were you talking to her, or being shy?

B. Well, she didn’t mean it that way sweetie. She was probably confused about what you were doing or saying.

C. Honey, sometimes people say things that feel mean, and it’s because they’re upset about something different, and it’s not your fault.

D. I have no idea, darling, because you are perfect.

Does any of these responses NOT lead to some kind of complex? I think I’ve got gas-lighting and sociopathy covered. Was there one I didn’t think of at the time? Because I said some version of all of these while I floundered for something to teach and comfort her, to prepare her for life without jading her. I never thought I’d have to face this so soon.

Scenario two: I’m watching her play with two of her friends, one her age, whom she adores, and another girl a couple of years older. And like most kids do, she says, “Jackie, watch me!” then proceeds to do her trick: jumping up and down and clapping at the same time.

The other two girls give each other: the look. The “smile and turn to see how they are supposed to respond without being rude” look, because this other little girl has done something silly and childish, and doesn’t realize it. She’s done something not cool. And my daughter has no idea.

They’re not even in school yet.

A big factor in this lack of awareness is that she is the oldest; she stills lives in her head, rather than in a world whose standards are set by older siblings, who provide her with constant exposure to what big kids do, who model language all day. Since all her friends her age are in Pre-K, she is the oldest one in playgroup, or at the Y, or at Chick-fil-A in the middle of the day– which she doesn’t mind a bit; everywhere she goes, she makes “friends,” and tells me about it later, and my heart swells with her goodness.

But in the fall, she’ll start kindergarten. And my heart is breaking for the inevitable day that she will come home in tears when some kid is actually mean to her, when she will see contempt on someone’s face and realize it’s directed at her.

This is my girl who cries when Mommy and Daddy laugh at jokes that she doesn’t understand. Who cries when her cousin (her BFF, who is the very antipathy of affectionate) doesn’t want to hug or kiss her when it’s time to go home. Who cried when the Mommy Lion in “Born in China” died. Who can squeeze out tears just remembering how sad she was when we “couldn’t find” her paci anymore two years ago.

To make it worse, this is my daughter who says things like, “My friends will like my dress,” or “My friends will like me with my new shoes.” Who asks how she looks. ALREADY.

And I think, What have I done?? Where did this concern for public opinion come from?? Did I do this to her??

If I brush her hair before leaving the house, am I teaching her to worry about her appearance? If I spend time myself putting on makeup (I’m not talking even 10 minutes here), is she absorbing some message about being “good enough” for the public eye?

I let her dress herself, I ooh and ahh at everything she colors, I tell her “good job” as much as possible. (According to this article, I could be in trouble!)  I tell her things don’t have to be perfect. I can count on one hand the number of Princess movies she’s watched: Little Mermaid (only once), Beauty and the Beast, Pocahantas, Swan Princess, Tangled, and Frozen. (Facepalm: That’s six! I have failed my daughter!! )

I’ve contemplated what tactics, if any, we could take to “toughen her up.” A few of these have helped. She’s become an expert at the “brush it off and keep playing” reaction to falling down (after I empathize and do triage), and knows how to get out from under little brother trying to pin her down (because “no means no” doesn’t quite sink in for a 2-year-old). Group swimming lessons a year ago built her confidence immensely; she is becoming more confident about participating in primary, as opposed to refusing to sit up on the stand during her first primary program last year (which I honestly didn’t mind). And she has become the Grand Master of ways to slide down the big inflatable slides at Catch Air.

But I just can’t imagine a strategy to prepare her for emotional heartbreak that won’t first wreck her worldview–that every other kid her age is a friend who will love her just because she’s nice.

When I taught college English, one of my students wrote an essay about the disadvantages of being pretty. She shared that her mother made it clear to her quite a few times that if she succeeded at something, it was because of her looks. That because society is superficial, she shouldn’t get cocky about her successes, because they’re being handed to her. The obvious take-away was that she believed her own mother doubted her intelligence and capability. In an effort to protect her daughter from some eventual possible unmerited recognition, this mom chiseled a pretty deep crack in her daughter’s self-esteem. I doubt I could forgive myself for something like that.

Brian Doyle wrote this lovely essay about the heart in 2004, and says: “When young we think there will come one person who will savor and sustain us always; when we are older we know this is the dream of a child, that all hearts finally are bruised and scarred, scored and torn, repaired by time and will, patched by force of character, yet fragile and rickety forevermore, no matter how ferocious the defense and how many bricks you bring to the wall.”

One day, probably this year, it’s going to happen. Her little heart cracked right in two. When it does, I hope I am paying close enough attention to see the signs, to listen in the right way, to love and pick up the pieces and help her rebuild. But as strong as I want her to be, I just can’t knowingly participate in any kind of breaking.

 

How do you help your child through emotional challenges that you haven’t witnessed? How do you ensure that they will share them with you?

 

 

About Elizabeth Cranford Garcia

Elizabeth Cranford Garcia is the current Poetry Editor for Dialogue: a Journal of Mormon Thought, previous Poetry Editor for Segullah, and a contributor to Fire in the Pasture: 21st Century Mormon Poets. Her work has appeared in a variety of journals and anthologies, and her first chapbook, Stunt Double, was published in 2015 through Finishing Line Press. Her three small children compete with her writing for attention, and usually win.

10 thoughts on “When the Oddball is . . . Yours”

  1. As I have raised my 5 kids and watched countless other children in my community grow to adulthood, I have had one lesson seared into my mind over & over: This moment is not forever!
    That has become my mantra when a toddler is having a meltdown (This moment is not forever – they will soon calm down), or when my 10-year old was caught stealing from my purse (This moment is not forever – she will not grow up to be a criminal), or when my teenager came home drunk (This moment is not forever – he will not end up on Skid Row)….. In every difficult patenting situation, I have repeated this mantra over & over in my head, and it has helped me approach the situation with patience, knowing that this too shall pass.

    Your daughter will be fine no matter what struggles & pain she may have to face. You will get some things right & some things wrong. I promise – she will pretty much only remember the right ones. The mistakes will be unnoticed or forgotten by her, and serve as a learning opportunity for you. Enjoy the journey! It passes all too quickly. (Ugh, I've become so cliché.)

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  2. Great questions to ponder! I think the way we handle challenges (including emotional ones) is probably the most influential thing we do as moms. When our kids watch us emerge victorious, it gives them hope (and ideas). When they see us respond to failure and hurt, they take note. I've been surprised over and over again in noticing how my children repeat what I've done (even when I thought they weren't watching), both negatively and positively.

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  3. I second what Brooke says, "They tend to remember the good moments"…my four girls are 41-31 in age and you'd think I was a model parent. I'm constantly shocked at the bad moments they've forgotten. And oh, how true it is that "this moment isn't forever".

    And Sherilyn's nailed it when she says that your modeling is the most powerful thing. Let your little one know when someone has hurt your feelings (no need to name names) and then model how you recover. I'll never forget when I messed up in a relationship with a girlfriend in my 40s and was in tears and my most sensitive teenage daughter, #3, said, "I'll finish breakfast, you go over right now and talk to her."

    I'm going to be teary all day thinking of your precious little one. But she will survive. I promise. Just keep the Spirit in your home!

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  4. The problem is that she is the oldest child and moms obsess about our oldest kids. She'll get through it all just fine. She might be sensitive. And those other girls that have older siblings might not be the right friends for her. But she'll find people she loves and who love her.

    I have five kids. I still obsess about the oldest. I think I'm actually a better mom to the younger ones because I'm NOT as involved.

    Also, my kids are all different. My oldest super chill, youngest is funny. One of my middles is very sensitive and also gets angry about things. I'm not responsible for all the good nor all the bad things they do. They are their own people. I try to coach them through things proactively. But honestly just trying to respect others, not being victim laden is part of that.

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  5. Oh I know exactly what you are feeling and worrying about! I have done the same with all four or my kids – my youngest is a kindergartner right now! Here is what I've learned – all kids are the oddballs. Go eat lunch with your daughter sometime after school begins and you will see they are all a bunch of wierdos! Kindergarten in my experience has been an especially kind place with kind teachers and children who are all like deer in the headlights that first year of school, ready or cry or laugh or cheer at the drop of a hat. All of them. I was at our school field day yesterday and my kindergartner's group was at my station and one of her friends was looking sad and I asked him if he was okay and he said, "Only two people cheered for me in the race…" So I said, "Let's all cheer for E and give him a high five!" and everyone did and he was smiling after that. Those little heartbreaks are real, but they are easily mended at this age. Now my oldest is in middle school and I have a whole new set of worries….aaaah! 🙂 Big hug to you!

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  6. Brooke, I think you hit the nail on the head–we as parents get some things right and some things wrong. And what I think is ironic is that the things that worried me the most because of my experiences as a child aren't the one that matter most to our children! We used a similar mantra–"This is an 18 year training program, I can have patience as each goes through the current phase." If we are too quick to shield our children from hurts and failures and embarrassments they might grow up weaker for it. We need trials and tribulations to grow; and they seem to tailor made for us by a loving Heavenly Father.

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  7. Oh my goodness. Every single one of my kids is this kid. The empathetic kid, the kid who is perceived as strange, the kid other kids give the "weirdo" smile to. When my daughter was in fourth grade, a girl bullied her constantly, basic clique stuff, but so painful. Then, in sixth grade,the same girl told my daughter that she was "a normie" now. What had changed? Predominantly fashion. But whose? Yeah, in fourth grade, my daughter likes mismatched knee socks, and the other little girls were into matchy matchy bows and monograms, because that's what their mothers did. In sixth grade, the same little girl met up with my daughter, the day daughter was told she was now normal. Both were wearing cutoffs and mismatched knee socks.

    My daughter hadn't changed. Everybody else had caught up.

    I think many times it's like that, and they just can't figure out the free spirited ones, sometimes not for years. It took me three years of active work to convince my bright strongwilled freespirit that she was Ok in her current state, and didn't have to wear heels, or makeup, or whatever else just to please her peers….

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  8. Elizabeth, you have to feel great about the post. We are so engaged in it. You brought up important questions and great points that resonated with all of us. Thank you for a thought-provoking and inspiring discussion. Every one's thoughts were fabulous…I've shared with my daughters.

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  9. I have a similar situation, so I understand what you mean. We are all pretty nerdy in our house, but luckily my kids have all eventually found friends they can relate to that laugh at their jokes instead of thinking "weird!"
    In response to your first question, you might respond with, "Hmm, I wonder why she said that?" Your daughter may know, and then you can respond with,"Yeah, I guess some? people think that's weird, but I think it's awesome" or "That is kind of unusual, but there's certainly nothing wrong with it!" or "That's too bad she didn't appreciate your style/joke/cool trick" or "How do you feel about that?"
    And then move on. You not making it a big deal will help it not be a big deal for her!
    Good luck! You and your daughter are not alone in this oddball world. 🙂

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  10. Such a great post Elizabeth! It sounds like you're already doing a great job. I have my own household of sensitive kids and although they've all gone through tough times, your daughter's worldview does win in the end– just BE NICE. Over the years, my nerdy but nice kids have thrived, made friends, become school leaders and as my 18 year old says, "You'll regret being mean to people but you'll never regret being nice."

    Also, all the new articles about not complimenting your kids– ignore them. The world will be cruel to every one of us, home should be a haven of safety and love.

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