The Girl Child asked me yesterday if her daddy and I would listen to her read us a story.
As we sat up on the couch, she pulled out a book, titled “You’re Different, Jemima”, and started reading, in her beautifully clear, and expressive voice.
She told us the tale of a little girl, who despite her best efforts to please her teacher, just never seemed to do the right thing. She asked too many questions. She sang too loud. She got far too exuberant with her gymnastics routine, and she coloured her duck in rainbow colours, instead of yellow. At every turn, and every attempt, poor Jemima was corrected, shushed and frowned upon.
As I listened to the story progress, I felt my eyes prickle with indignant tears. Then, the Girl Child came to this sentence:
“….Jemima decided she would try very hard NOT to be different. Hopefully, that would impress Mrs. Smith”.
And my tears started to flow, freely and hotly down my face, enraged and furious that this beautiful and spirited girl had been chipped at and chipped at, until she had come to decide that she should be someone else altogether.
My Girl Child looked up at me from the page, and noticed me silently sobbing on the couch.
“Are you CRYING? Mum, what’s wrong?”
And because I couldn’t speak through the lump in my throat, I gestured for her to keep reading.
So, she did.
As she continued on, we discovered that dear little Jemima had a substitute teacher the very next day, who appreciated all of the enthusiasm and vigour that Jemima had to offer, ESPECIALLY her rainbow ducks. And at the end of the story, Jemima went home, feeling much happier to be different.
Now, because this was a 20-page children’s book, the story ended on that happy note.
The Girl Child was happy. Hot husband was happy.
But I was PISSED.
That lovely, accepting substitute teacher wouldn’t be there tomorrow. And I KNEW that bloody Mrs. Smith would return, just like she never left, continuing to destroy this child’s confidence and enthusiasm, piece by critical piece. I just knew it. (Unless of course she was on some school ordered Professional Development day covering the importance of celebrating diversity, but I doubt it…)
Now, you can tell me I’m overthinking a children’s story, and yes, you’re probably right.
And I don’t want you to think for a second that I am projecting the image of Mrs. Smith in any way onto our kid’s teachers, because I’m not (they are absolutely fabulous, and much more like the substitute teacher than cranky old Mrs. Smith!)
But think about it for a second.
When our children are born, we gaze lovingly into their newborn faces, dreaming of who they might become as they grow up, believing fully that they can be anything they want to be.
We marvel at the way their chubby toddler faces light up at every day sights and sounds, and we find so much joy in their delightful little chuckles as they see or try something new.
Yet, as they grow, somehow along the way, they’re taught that to do well in life, they simply need to fit in. Don’t stand out. Just colour the ducks yellow. Don’t ask too many questions. And don’t make a fuss.
I can’t tell you how sad this makes me.
Historically we know that the most fascinating and interesting people – artists, musicians, scientists, amongst many other things – are the people who thought OUTSIDE OF THE BOX.
These pioneers, these VISIONARIES, saw the world differently, asked big questions, and chose rainbows, even when everyone else thought they were too rowdy, too vocal, or just plain crazy.
Albert Einstein. Amelia Earhart. Benjamin Franklin. Leonardo da Vinci. Steve Jobs. Florence Nightingale. Helen Keller.
These are just a few names that spring to mind. These are names you probably know well, at least superficially, and I guarantee it’s not because they were the same as everyone else. These guys did NOT colour the ducks yellow.
Yet, they each, in their own way (along with so many other incredible pioneers), changed the fucking world.
THEY CHANGED HISTORY.
So, why do we insist on teaching our kids that being the same as everyone else, and fitting in anonymously to the crowd is the epitome of a successful life?
There is so much time ahead as an adult to figure out where we fit in the world, with experience and maturity on our side. Why should a child’s natural curiosity, creativity or charisma ever be squashed, under the premise of preparing them for the real world? Who are we to do that to them? Wouldn’t we be better to teach them to embrace the gifts that they each have? Imagine what these passionate little souls can bring to this big old world if given the chance!
Yesterday, as I listened to my creative, expressive, and unique little daughter read me this story book, it occurred to me that she could have been reading about herself. And I wanted to scoop her up, and tell her how much I love that she asks questions, adds flamboyant moves to her gymnastics routines, and chooses rainbows, no matter what she’s colouring. I wanted to tell her how much joy it brings me watching the effort and soul she puts into everything that she does. I wanted to tell her how much I love it when she sings and makes up songs, and how much I love the stories that she writes, and how much I adore watching her paint., and listening to her read.
I wanted to tell her that’s she’ll always be enough.
Given that I was in a full-blown ugly cry, and my words were all snotty and stunted, all I could say as I hugged her close was, “I love you”.
And she hugged me back, and you know, I think she got it, words or no words.
That’s it for today, team.
From my snotty, weepy heart to yours,