“Thank goodness I don’t have girls” is the only comment that makes me more irate than “You know how girls are.” How are girls, exactly?
Earlier this week I accompanied my daughter’s third grade field trip to a fire safety house. As our group of sixty kids waited in a second story mock bedroom for the fire simulation activity to begin the anticipation of what was to come upset several of the students. One of my daughter’s classmates began crying, her sharp intakes of breath signaling she was beginning to panic. The house was filling up with (theater) smoke and the children were dropping to the floor as instructed. There were several adults throughout the room to reassure the students they were safe and that this was important practice for saving themselves from a real fire. A lot of nervous energy filled the room. The children were to leave the room in small groups, find the fire fighter at the top of the staircase and crawl their way out of the house.
As the smoke got thicker (and it got thick!) the tears of the little girl near me became larger. I bent down to be eye level with the girl and said it was okay to be scared. I asked her to take slow, deep breaths with me and to think about the steps she needed to do to get out of the house safely. My thoughts went to my own daughter who was across the room from me. I was watching her closely as I was unsure how she would handle this exercise given her anxiety. I could see her taking deep breaths and trying to calm herself down. I could also see her two best friends standing on either side of her, their arms linked through my daughter’s arm, reassuring her it would be over soon and they’d make it out okay. The trio with my daughter moved to the front of the room and was one of the first groups out. The girls stuck together the entire time and her friends refused to be separated from her.
I turned my attention back to the little girl near me, but now she was flanked by two girls from her class who had their arms wrapped tightly around her waist. They were saying reassuring things to her and telling her she could do this. I told the two friends I was so proud of them for being good buddies and for being so kind to someone in a moment of need.
The two friends continued to hold the upset girl tightly and as the smoke got even thicker, one of the girls said to me, “Mrs. Wardy, we’ve got this. We need you to find Friend, she was upset and we lost her in the smoke. We’re going to stick together and get out together.”
I found the fourth girl they were looking for and brought her to the group, wiping away her tears and giving her a hug. The girls moved forward and took their places waiting to leave the mock bedroom and go out into the smoke-engulfed house.
There was no teasing.
There was no cattiness.
There was no bitchy mean-girl attitudes.
There was no looking out for Number 1 and leaving the others behind.
But there was empathy. And leadership. And courage, kindness, listening and friendship.
You know how girls are.
When we stop selling girls short and discounting them with stereotypes based on their gender, our eyes might be opened to some really beautiful moments.
Thank goodness for these girls.