My daughter came home from school and told me something that caused my heart to slam into my chest and as the instinct born into me to fight for my own kicked in, my hands curled into fists under the table, fingernails biting into my palms. I lowered my head, took one calming deep breath, and prepared to simultaneously have my heart shattered while gently and firmly placing the pieces of my seven-year-old daughter’s back together.
About my daughter Tatym, she is an old soul, wise beyond her years and the kind of person who will drop everything to make another smile, because that is what Tatym does. I have often sat in awe of her; the carefree way she plays, climbing and tumbling, always trying to go higher or farther. She challenges herself, but if she doesn’t meet her expectations she understands that there is always another time to try again. She does not understand failure, or what we as adults perceive as failure. She is a child, and her only worries should be those of a child’s innocent mind … should be.
Tatym does not cry often. I think she got most of that out during her first few months here. She was a screamer, that one. For months, that child kept me awake, and nothing I could do would calm those cries, until one day she just stopped. Sure she has had her moments when she’s been injured where she has shed a few tears, but she gets back up, dusts herself off, and she gives it another go because that is what Tatym does.
Tatym was gifted with compassion the likes of which I have not seen in people who have lived rich and full lives, decades beyond her entire seven years. No, Tatym does not cry often, but when she does those tears are usually reserved for those she loves. When her sister was ill, Tatym was there. When her sister fell from the highest monkey bars and wound up in the medical room awaiting my arrival, Tatym refused to go back to class, tears cascading down her beautiful cheeks.
I will not leave my sister.
Today I raised my head and looked into her luminous grey eyes, pooled with unshed tears, my heart broke again.
She said, “He told me, maybe the reason I’m fat is because you put an iced tea juice box in my lunch. Do you know my thighs touch? My thighs aren’t supposed to touch. I feel really bad, please don’t say anything to him I don’t want him to get in trouble.”
The vilest thoughts coursed through my mind.
SHE IS SEVEN YEARS OLD, and she thinks she’s fat because some little puke at school said she was? Is my beautiful baby already fighting body image issues because of a little boy at school? Where did he get that? Who told a seven-year-old boy that it was okay to talk to others that way, to body shame another child? Because let’s get real, that’s exactly what he did.
No, this isn’t a ‘kids will be kids’ scenario; these are seven-year-old girls who are developing body image issues because seven-year-old boys are telling them that they aren’t skinny enough.
I quickly countered with how beautiful she is, how wrong this little boy was and how important it is for her to see, really see, what we all see when we look at Tatym. But, more importantly than that, I needed her to FEEL what I was saying.
As her tears turned to sobs and I rocked her in my arms, I could feel that I was losing this battle, the hit to her esteem was too great, and while I recounted my own experiences with cruel children and the lies we believe, it wasn’t enough. I kissed her forehead and felt my own tears well up and just when I knew I couldn’t get through to her on my own the Hero arrived.
He isn’t a white knight, and he didn’t show up on a noble steed; he is Daddy, and he rode up on his motorcycle, pipes loud as thunder.
We explained to him what happened and he gently scooped his precious child into his arms. He explained to her how sometimes people say cruel things that just aren’t true and that he wishes those kinds of people were more like Tatym. He asked her thoughtful questions, hard questions, engaging questions, and she answered them all. Her shattered esteem, crushed by the thoughtless remarks of a young boy, was lovingly stitched back together by the truth of a good man. A man who understands that his daughters will face pressure to be “perfect” by some bullshit standards that others will place on them.
I can relate to my beautiful daughter, and I can share my battles of self-esteem with her, but it took the love and encouragement of a strong man to seal her confidence again. While I am grateful for him, it still pains me that what a young boy said caused a ripple effect that, in her complex mind, only a strong, loving man could undo.
When I step back and look at the world and the message it sends to our girls, I thank my lucky stars for strong women, empowering women, and a few good men.
Heroes come in all forms, but the greatest one in our family is the man who goes to the wall for his daughters. This hero is aware of the battles that loom, the one where he will constantly be there to reinforce how amazing his girls are when society tells them they aren’t. This hero is ride or die all the way, and he’ll come out swinging every single time to make sure those two girls know that they are fierce, capable of anything, and loved beyond measure. Just to seal the deal, he’s more badass on that motorcycle than any white knight in any fairytale ever written.