If Confidence Were a Balloon

Slumped beneath the weight of her backpack, my daughter slinked from the school bus steps. Her ocean-blue eyes had faded to stormy skies and her skin was muted.

“How was your day?” I asked. I was concerned. Most days she raced off the steps with a grin so wide her eyes were shut. This day, she didn’t even wave.

“Fine,” she said. The word pushed out of her lips unwillingly, like the last puff of air leaving a balloon. She was deflated.

“Are you sure?” I pressed.

“Yep.” I watched her kick an invisible rock across the driveway.

“You know what?” I said as I cupped my hand around her small shoulder. “I think we should get some ice cream.”

“Really?” she stopped and looked up to me, squinting her eyes against the sun. I realized, in that moment, how fragile she still was. “Before dinner?”

“Yep,” I winked. “Let me get my keys.”

Ten minutes later, we were sitting at the table with bowls of pink frozen yogurt in front of us and I asked again, “Is everything alright, Hun? Did you have a bad day?”

My daughter stuffed her spoon deep into her cardboard bowl and swallowed a mouthful of creamy treat. “Sorta,” she shrugged.

I lowered my eyes to meet hers, pushed my bowl aside, and whispered, “wanna tell me about it?”

She looked away and tears started to gush from her eyes. “Mama, they chased me,” she sobbed. “I wanted to collect rocks and they chased me.” Her chest heaved, catching breath in spurts, and every bit of my heart crumbled.

“Who chased you, Hun?” I scooted my chair closer and wrapped my arms around her. I prayed that somewhere in my embrace she’d find strength, and a that my arms would take her sadness so I could store it under my own skin.

“My friends at recess,” she pressed against my heart like she did as a baby and continued to bawl. “I just needed some alone time.”

“Aww Sweetie, I think you were so brave for standing up for yourself. It can be hard to not give into the pressure of our friends,” I encouraged my daughter and inflated her balloon.

“I don’t know,” she said, then looked down at her sparkle-covered sneakers.

“Trust me. Sometimes our friends don’t understand when we need personal space,” I explained. “We have to tell them when we need to be left alone.”

“I did that Mama, but they kept chasing me!” she stuffed a spoonful of frozen yogurt into her mouth and wiped her face with her shirtsleeve. The parent in me wanted to scold her for staining her shirt, but the mother in me couldn’t. Instead, I handed her a sticky napkin to wipe the tears beneath her eyes.

Conversation comes easy for my little girl when she’s with family, but sometimes large groups of people drain her batteries. An only child for the first five years of her life, my daughter recognized at an early age that alone time helps her recharge. It’s especially necessary during the flurry of a long school day, when staying focused is so important.

“I know it can be frustrating. I need my personal space, too.” I took her soft cheek into my hand. “I get grumpy if I don’t have time to just be quiet and write each day.”

“Really?” she asked.

It is my job, as a mother, to ensure my daughter has enough air in her balloon, enough confidence, to succeed.

“Really,” I said. “Just keep reminding them. And if they don’t get it, it will be okay. At least you know what’s best for you.” I half-hugged her shoulder, then took a bit of my melted yogurt. “Mmm! Is this tomato flavor?”

My daughter laughed and straightened the slump in her shoulders. “Mama, you’re so silly. It’s strawberry!”

Photo courtesy of Seabass Creatives/Unsplash

Bullying SUCKS.

The year was 1993, I was in fifth grade and I’d finally convinced them (you know the ones – they had perfectly poof-y hair, the best bodysuits, gem-colored jeans, the newest sneakers and BOYFRIENDS) that I was cool enough to be part of their group.  I was IN, which took some diligent work on my part because even though I wouldn’t say I came from a poor family, my parents definitely lived paycheck to measly paycheck, sometimes struggling to make ends meet.  They did their best to not let us feel the burden of being broke, but we had better luck getting a unicorn than clothes with labels.  That was difficult to explain while trying to fit in, but somehow I managed.

In any case, it was a cold, rainy day in good old blue-collar Toledo Ohio; a typical spring day in the Midwest.  It was pretty much completely miserable on all levels.  My “friends” and I arrived at school early, so we decided to take a stroll in the frigid, torrential rainstorm for some Jolt Cola at the local In-N-Out, situated across the street.  My brick behemoth of an elementary school was perched on top of a hill (which was lovely on a sunny day, but during rain it was like a slick pig, full of muddy bumps).  Instead of taking the stairs like any halfway intelligent person would have done, we decided to be total idiots and take the shortcut down the hill.  For some reason, I went first and (big surprise) I only got one K-mart sneaker on the hill before losing my footing.  One teensy-weensy tiny step and

DOWN

I

WENT.

I was sliding down a muddy hill wearing my only decent pair of blue jeans.

Crap.

As I was sliding (which felt like a freaking eternity, by the way), I managed to crane my neck to see “them,” my so-called friends.  I reached a pitiful hand out in a lame attempt at some help, but they just stared at me, wide-eyed with smirks painted on their pretty faces.  One laughed, then they were all laughing.  They pointed and giggled, then pointed and giggled some more.  When I finally came to a stop I was a brown, wet mess sitting on the sidewalk.  No one even helped me up.  So, with burning cheeks and an undeniable desire to crawl under the nearest rock, I got to my feet, found the closest set of stairs and went inside the school to call my mom. Rain water sloshed inside my no-label sneakers with each embarrassing step and brown water dripped from my even browner hair.  I hung my shoulders, not daring to glance at them.  I knew that I would officially be OUT and somehow, despite the chain of events, I still thought that mattered.

Bullying is a real problem.  I see it now even with my daughter, who is only six.  We, as parents, need to stop this starting at home.  We have to teach our children that bullying is wrong.  We have to help them learn that it’s important to include peers, and to be themselves, no matter what.

If you’d like more information on bullying, check out the government’s website found here.

 

Photo courtesy of Reza Shayestehpour on Unsplash

Webbed Toes.

My toes are webbed.   There,  I said it.  My toes are stuck together like the webbing on a duck’s foot (and no that doesn’t make me a better swimmer to all you smart asses out there).  This is something that was the bane of my existence for so long,  that even today it’s scary as hell to say it out loud or write it on paper.

When I was little,  my feet didn’t bother me.   In fact,  I didn’t even know that they were any different.   It wasn’t until grade school,  when one of my peers told me exactly how different they were.

‘Ugly’ was the word he used.  My feet were ugly and for some reason that word stuck and in my head it started to make sense.

So I did everything in my power to hide them, cover them or avoid them from that day forward until recently.  I wore socks in the summer, skipped slumber parties in middle school and never wore shoes to high school dances that exposed more than a tiny bit of my toes.   It took me years to allow some of my very best friends to see my feet because I was so afraid they would laugh or call them ugly.  People can be very mean.

My feet crippled and stifled my confidence,  which is something that, even today,  I am working to repair.

After my birthday last year,  I decided better myself so that I can be better for the people I care for around me.   I have decided to love myself,  and that means ALL of myself,  so that I may love those around me more completely.

It has been a challenge because there are definitely days that I still look at my toes with something resembling disgust,  but then I remind myself that they are mine and, although they may not be pretty or perfect, they are the only ones I’ll ever have.

I still get funny looks from people, occasionally, when they see my toes.   I can’t really blame them,  because I hated them for so long too,  but now I know that I definitely don’t need that negativity in my life.   I just move on, shrugging my shoulders,  because I deserve better.  I need to love myself unconditionally,  webbed toes and all.

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