The other night, I was in my daughter’s talent show at her school. I played the voice of the dragon in the 8 stanza poem she recited, called, “I Have a Dozen Dragons.” I stayed hidden behind the stage curtain—assumed the role of the disembodied dragon, the mystical voice floating in from the imaginary world. She stood center stage, surrounded by a dozen dragon toys she’d arranged around her in a supportive semi-circle, and manipulated a dragon puppet seated on her shoulder. While she recited her portions of the poem rather quickly, she did it all from memory and, most importantly, was supremely confident. An eight-year old dynamo sure of herself, sure that she was, in fact, talented, sure that the 100+member audience would listen with rapt attention. No doubt in her mind that she was someone worth listening to.
I could learn a thing or two about self-confidence from my daughter. After all, she was the only solo act out of 20. Initially, I’d worried about hurt feelings—her friends had banded together to perform a skit: Herman the Worm. They hadn’t asked her to be a part of it. That sort of pre-teen, girl-girl, snarky exclusion had been happening a lot to her lately. She’d been coming home from school in frequent tears: “No one will play with me at recess! I ask my friends if I can play with them, but they just say, ‘no.’” So I tell her that I know how awful it is to be left out because I’d often been the one on my own at lunch and recess in elementary school. For an entire year, in fact, I was the selected victim of a ruthless assault of spiteful teasing by a group of former friends. Only I never said a word about it to my parents, to any adult for that matter because I assumed I deserved it—I believed I was worthless, unlikeable, strange, too smart for my own good, the obvious pariah.
My daughter, on the other hand, holds no such beliefs about herself. “They’re mean,” she says. “Besides, all they want to do is play stupid house. That’s why I need to bring my dragons to school, so I’ll have something to play with at recess.” Most importantly, my daughter has not felt the need to reshape herself to fit in with the pedestrian pseudo-imaginations of her compatriots.
Instead, she has found another friend, a girl one year older who goes to a different school, but who is equally enthralled with dragons and lizards and arts and crafts. (I am, in fact, in recovery from a sleepover they had at our house last night, up until all hours giggling and building pillow forts and dragon lairs.) And of equal importance, my daughter doesn’t feel it necessary to bury her feelings or hide her “failure” to fit in; she runs to me, leaps into my arms, and unloads all the emotional baggage of the day. Again, unlike me—I spent years blithely smiling, insisting all was well, hiding the intense shame I felt over rejection by my peers. I assumed my parents would blame me: it must have been something I did that earned me my status as outcast.
My daughter is resilient—headstrong, too. As I stood behind the curtain, watching her swagger out onto the stage, I felt proud, yes, immensely proud, but relieved, too. While she may be subject to some of the same growing pains as I, she is not decimated by them, does not believe she is deserving of such callous treatment. A deep sigh: it seems she is spared my agonies. After all, when I was just a year older than she is now, I swallowed several fistfuls of Flintstone vitamins in a silly (but really, not so silly was it?) attempt to put an end to my life, and never said a word about it to anyone. So even in these bleak days, flattened as I have been by having to resign from my job, go on disability, by my therapist abruptly cutting ties, I must acknowledge that I, too, have talent: even in my craziness and instability, I’ve managed to create a stable, safe world for my daughter—one in which she is the star of the show, one that is founded on creativity and imaginative daring, one in which she feels secure in my love.