A letter to my daughter who won’t change

My little nine year old,

Watching you go to bed every night, reluctant and full of imagined illnesses, I have often wondered who would win this battle eventually. I also ready myself for the next morning when you’ve tried to tell me how everything from your toenail to your eyelash hurts. We fight every day about you waking up and finding your way to school and I think you are just resistant to the morning arriving. That was the easier explanation to cling to; because the harder one to accept and work on is that you are unhappy at school or you’re unhappy at home. It took me a while to accept that we had to get to the truth but last evening, as we sat in the balcony and you told me about how school was difficult, how you were being bullied and how you were feeling left out, crying silently, with tears running down your cheeks, once again I found my heart breaking for you.

I’d like you to grow up and read this letter, my lovely one, because it will tell you, that way before you understood the concepts of integrity and being yourself, you were employing those in full capacity. As you sat there and told me about how it was your personality that they resented, the fact that you wouldn’t follow the pack, that you found most joy in doing things your way, it occurred to me not to soothe you, but to smile with pride and joy, that you, so young and tender, knew that you didn’t have to follow the pack to be liked. That you preferred your integrity to being accepted. I know it hurts, my tender little monkey-unicorn, to be singled out, to not have friends swarm after you, asking if you are alright, when you remove yourself from the group because you’re upset. I know it hurts to be called names that you are not. I know it hurts to be the one child in class who didn’t have a best friend. I know how these things hurt. Because, you see, I used to be that girl too. The one who was left out, the one who never found her group, the one who dealt with name-calling perfectly fine in school but came home and felt intensely miserable. I know how it hurts. And I hope you’ll do better than me with it as you grow up.

I more than hope, actually. I am pretty sure you will do better. I knew the moment you said, (on my asking you, if you’d like to change yourself so you can make friends), “No, I won’t change myself for anyone but you. I like to be myself.” I don’t think you can imagine in your wildest dreams the slow but immense swelling of pride and oneness that I felt in my heart when I heard those words from you. Even for me, my big, bright little girl, there is no need to change unless you will it. Unless you want it. I worry about you being bullied and feeling left out; I let it bother me to a point of projecting into the future when you’re, say, 18 years old. But all I have to think about is you resolutely, quietly telling me that you like being yourself and I know that you will be fine. You will hurt, and you will be confused and tempted to be someone else. Teenage will come and you will find the “yourself” that you liked so much is no longer enough. You will be tempted to be someone who fits in — into clothes that others are wearing, into ideas that the alpha in your group believes in, into situations that make you seem cool. It’s a very seductive thing — to feel liked, accepted, part of the group. I know intimately what it means to be ignored and one fine day, to find that you are popular, liked and exciting. And I hope it never happens to you. I hope you will always find your little underground movement, goofy little geeks who, like you, enjoy the fringes and laugh at jokes no one else will get. I hope you will find that your weirdness is what will be your rescue when you grow up, when you will be expected to the thing everyone else does, where you’ll be just another green leaf in a large tree. I hope you’ll hold on to your “yourself” so hard and so often, I hope that this “I like to be myself” becomes a place of rescue and rest for you. Where you feel strengthened and where you feel rejuvenated when the expectations of a cookie-cutter world get to you. I hope, then, you are able to find this person you are, this yourself — bright, questioning, someone with strength of character, who says unpopular things because it is the right/kind/gentle thing to say — deep within and take on the world that is far too numb, blind and deaf to see the shining pearlescent beauty of who you are. Go forth, my yourself child, and let your Shyama-coloured flag fly high.

With deep love and admiration for who you are, and perhaps who you will become,

Amma.

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