You know how girls are

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“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.

Grandma Pigtail Pals Has Something To Say To Girls Who Are Different

March 19, 2013

Dear Amelia,

I learned from your Mama today that some of your classmates have said some mean things recently. You were not looking forward to recess because of that. You wanted to play “wolves” and they did not think that is something girls should do. They wanted to be fairies, delicate, tiny, and almost invisible. They teased that maybe you wanted to be a boy. I felt very sad that your feelings were hurt. I also feel sad that those girls do not know how they are keeping their own awesomeness from growing bigger and stronger.

When I was little, my best friend Kathy and I used to pretend we were wild horses on the way to school. School was a mile away and much of that trip we would gallop and paw at the cement like real horses paw at the ground. Each street was a pretend river we had to cross and not drown. When we got to school, I am sure we were wind-blown and sweaty most days. She and I never, ever played beauty shop or princesses. We created pretend mysteries, a dog kennel, and school. We played explorers. Sometimes, but not very often we played dolls. We swam a lot and rode our bikes everywhere. We spent long days in the public library and art museum. She and I did not fit in with many of the other girls. She now teaches college classes and earned many college degrees. I work at a college and have many college degrees.  And I never turned into a boy!

Your imagination and strong spirit is different from many girls your age. You like to do art projects and play outside. You like to play pretend. There are many children who cannot play like that. You may act differently than some of the girls at school, but that does not mean you are bad or wrong. There are many ways to be a girl and many ways to be awesome. You may make some of the other girls uneasy because they might not have imaginations as strong as yours. They may have only been given certain kinds of toys because that is “what girls play with”. They may think girls can only be pretty, look nice for other people’s approval and get boys to like them. You know better. You know girls can get dirty, be noisy, be scared, be brave, take risks, be creative, and not care too much how they look every minute. Sometimes people can act mean when they feel uncertain or scared. They fight against any idea that suggests they might be in the wrong or need a new attitude.

Sometimes you will have to deal with mean people. Girls can be especially mean. Your mama had to face some mean girls. They did not like her because her hair was black, because she was very smart, because she moved to Kohler from somewhere else. She was different.  Sometimes your mama cried very hard and I held her tight. Sometimes I got very angry at those girls for hurting your mama. I had to remind myself that those girls were very unsure of themselves.

Look at your mama now. She is beautiful and strong. She graduated from college. She has traveled throughout the world. She has started her own company that is helping so many people. She is going to Boston this weekend because other people want to hear her ideas. I wonder what those mean girls would think now!

I hope you will be strong and be the Amelia you are meant to be. You are smart, creative, and very funny. You sometimes will not fit in because other people do not see the world like you do. That does not mean you are wrong. No other woman had flown an airplane across the Atlantic before Amelia Earhart.  I bet she lost many friends because she would not give up her plan. Rosa Parks took a stand for freedom of Black people to sit where they wanted to on buses and she did not care what the other women thought. She had to be herself. Sometimes the people, girls or boys, who do the most and explore and create the most, have to do things differently than the group who thinks it makes the rules. I hope you will remember that awesomeness is inside and no one can take it away. You know how to show it and you know how to make it quiet when you need to. I hope you remember that there is not just one way to be a girl or a first grader or a big sister. There are many ways. Amelia Joyce, remember you are amazing. We can only hope those other girls realize they can be amazing too, even while they let other girls be awesome in their own way. If I ever learn you have been a “mean girl”, you and I will have to have a very serious private talk. You need to show other children how to let their seed of awesomeness grow. Never, ever forget how much you are loved. You are my very first grandchild, my very first granddaughter, and I learn from you every week. I expect you will teach me many more ways to be awesome as I grow old!

I love you very much.

Gigi