One cold and unforgiving day, my oldest daughter ran (because she never stops running) down the concrete steps of a neighbor’s front porch, stumbled, and then belly flopped directly onto her face.
Needless to say, there was a lot of crying and blood, and later some significant bruising, swelling and scrapes. This is all a part of childhood, and after ascertaining that her nose wasn’t broken, I wasn’t too worried.
But getting ready for school the next day, she was complaining about the pain, saying she didn’t feel good, and generally hemming and hawing about having to go to school, which was unusual for her. In the car when we were just a few minutes from drop-off she quietly admitted, “I’m afraid the other kids will say I look ugly.”
And my heart sank a little, because kids do say things like that. And she did look a little busted-up. And my mother’s love desperately wanted to protect her fragile little heart.
I wanted to tell her that anyone who would make fun of her for getting hurt was not worth a moment of her time or an ounce of her attention. I wanted to help her see herself as I see her – filled with limitless beauty inside and out, regardless of any bumps and bruises. I wanted to tell her the things that matter – that she is brave and kind and smart and funny and creative – are so much more important than having a flawless face.
I even wanted to tell her that it doesn’t matter what people think of her, or that they won’t care what she looks like. Except it does matter, and they do care. Being both liked and respected are actually quite important in terms of making life easier and having influence in the world, but neither should be based on a person’s appearance. Though sometimes, even in childhood, they are.
But I couldn’t quite find the words in that brief moment to help a newly-turned six year old understand the depth of love that she will always have, no matter what she looks like or what anyone says about her, or the importance of character over appearance. All I could do was pray that her face and her feelings wouldn’t hurt that day, and offer her the reassurance that she’s still lovely and shouldn’t pay attention to anyone who said otherwise.
It is so hard to send them out into the world some days, isn’t it? The fear of our little ones hurting is real, whether it’s due to a new virus that damages lungs, the raw anger of our current political climate, national unrest and racism, stormy weather, accidents, or just a little bit of bruising and a few mean kids. The world can be a scary place.
My daughter came home that day and told me that one little boy pointed at her, but her friends asked her what happened and expressed sympathy. And so it is with the world – it’s filled with opportunities for kindness and connection, even in between all these big tragedies.
So when our schools reopen, I will be glad for the opportunity for our children to make those connections big and small that pull us through adversity and help us grow into who we are meant to be. And as we wait for that day, I’ll be glad for the opportunity we have right now to help them sift through what is important in the grand scheme of things and how to nurture those things. I’ll be glad to have them safe and close, until it’s time to send them back out into the world.