My daughter, the fierce Original Pigtail Pal, has some pretty serious school and social anxiety. She loves learning but hates school, it is her kryptonite. She will do anything to avoid school and has been this way since preschool. Yet this past week when we were at the Field Museum my little learner walked up to a security guard and asked how much it would cost to buy the building because she would like to live there.
She is a mighty and wild girl who is reduced to tears at the thought of another day at school. She is a popular second grade girl with nice teachers in a nice school but she hates being in that building. Outside of that building, she is an entirely different person. Her courage returns.
She is different from me, my daughter. I am an outspoken person, daring, fearless. My courage is very clearly something I wear on the outside, it is always with me. My daughter is the opposite. She is outspoken, but not in the same way. She makes her point in quiet ways, she is more the steady pace of a river than the roar of a lion. She is daring, not in ways thousands can see but rather in ways that challenge her perception of herself. And it would seem odd to say a little girl who cries so often at school is fearless but she is. It takes courage to show up day after day, full of anxiety and fright you cannot control, and do it anyway. To be on display for everyone you know.
Courage is not the absence of fear, it is being scared and doing it anyway.
So I tell her stories of people just like her. I tell her stories of women of courage.
It took an hour to get Amelia adjusted to school this morning. We had no tears on a first-day-back-from-break which is a HUGE accomplishment for us. Amelia and I had made the plan the night before that we would read our Rosa Parks book in the Resource Room and ease into our day which really seemed to help her. For an hour we read about Rosa and her steady courage. We talked about how dangerous it was to fight oppression at that time and how bold Rosa and her friends were.
Take that, Anxiety! You fill my daughter with fear and I will fill her with stories of American heroines who defy authority and change the course of a nation. This morning we read about Rosa’s stand on the bus and her work through the NAACP registering scores of disenfranchised black voters so that their vote would give them a voice. We read about Rosa working for years for the Montgomery NAACP as their secretary and eventually taking over their youth group. We read a passage in the book about a young black boy being denied the privilege of checking out a book at a public library simply because of the color of his skin and Amelia gasped aloud.
Injustice is something that Amelia seems called to. She idolizes Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. In fact, rarely a day goes by when she does not mention one of them. When I was her age I idolized Amelia Earhart and Joan of Arc. I fancied dare devil history makers and legendary warriors, she prefers a minister and a lady who sat down on a bus.
I like to roar. Amelia likes steady. Two faces of courage.
Through parenting Amelia she has taught me a new face to courage, one very different from my own. From the time she was tiny I have filled her library bag and her bookshelf with stories of girls and women being smart, daring, and adventurous. We’ve intentionally avoided stories and characters that did not demonstrate these things. I have always felt it was important to tell her stories of women who are/were the type of woman I want her to become. I try to act mindfully every day and model for her the woman I want her to be. And from those stories Amelia has formed her own sense of courage.
So this morning when we read that one of Rosa Park’s colleagues from the Montgomery NAACP felt that black men should have equal rights but that a woman’s place was at home in the kitchen my eight year old put her hand out and exclaimed, “Oh. I. Am. Sorry. But. What. Did. You. Just. Say. To. Me? You did NOT just say that women are supposed to stay home in the kitchen. And what? Cook for the men and for their babies? No way. That is just rude. Women can be whatever they want to be.”
I sat there in shock for a moment and then said, “Right Smalls, equal rights means every person should be equal to another. ALL humans are equal, boys and girls, every color. If a woman chooses to stay home to care and cook for her family that is fine because that’s a big job. But….”
Amelia interjected with, “I would tell him if she chooses to love science instead of a husband or climb mountains or be a police officer or something then she has every right to do that and no one can tell her what to do with her body and her brain.”
We sat there for a moment, me looking at my little girl who was still feeling too nervous to go into her classroom, yet possessed a fire in her belly to take on the big challenges in life. The fire to call out injustice when she sees and hears it.
I don’t know if she’ll stand up or sit down when Life calls on her to demonstrate courage, but I do know my little girl knows how to follow her heart for what is right and how to use her voice.
And maybe that is the most important lesson she can ever learn, inside or outside of the classroom.
Image Source: Half The Sky Movement