No matter what
Sierra walks up to me, her back straight, her leg bent in a way that suggests she’s trying out for ballet, her eyes expectant, and she asks me if I think she’s pretty.
This is not the first time. And it won’t be the last. But every time, the answer is the same: “You’re beautiful, Sierra. And you’d be beautiful even if you weren’t wearing that dress.”
It’s not always a dress. Sometimes it’s her hair. Sometimes it’s the way she’s dancing.
Every time, I struggle.
Sierra is nearly five, and Isaac has just turned three. They are both brilliant children, raised in a home filled with love, taught to understand empathy and responsibility. We fight against culture to prepare our children for disappointment, for the realization that some people don’t understand kindness and that kids can be cruel. We try to teach them that it’s not their fault if someone is mean to them. That there’s a world out there that we can’t help but be confused by, one that hoists trivial characters into the mainstream and often neglects true goodness.
We can teach. But we can’t shelter.
Our issues are more simple than those of others. My kids are young. They haven’t felt self-conscious because their friends are tormented for their weight. They haven’t learned about how rape culture still persists, and how it will always linger, unable to move forward because insensitivity toward the topic still serves as its most common defense.
But my kids have been excluded from games, or from groups, in the past. And that act alone has left them scarred; their introduction to cruelty clashing hard with their upbringing. They still have a hard time understanding that people can be horrible, even if they don’t mean it. Even if they don’t realize it. And they hold each insult and exclusion close to the heart.
Each insult is another lesson. Each exclusion is another callus.
I don’t want that to happen. Naturally. Obviously. But.
It breaks my heart that, somewhere, somehow, someone will suggest that these kids – kids who wouldn’t hurt a single living thing, who love humanity and trust too much – might not pass muster. It makes me want to pull out what hair I have left and swear and hit things.
All I can do is help prepare them. Build their confidence. Help them understand cruelty. Provide unconditional love. Help them be happy. Help them be good kids.
Sounds mushy. But I won’t prepare them for the worst, because I don’t even know what the worst might be. There’s still a sliver of a chance that the worst will never occur – that they’ll grow up to become smart and confident kids who don’t give a shit about weight and status and beauty and success and only care about what makes them and those they love happy.
Until then, I’ll just continue doing what I do.
“You’re beautiful, Sierra.” “You’re handsome, Isaac.”
“No matter what.”