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Sugar and Spice: On Raising Confident Girls

I had plans for today. Truly. Most of these plans involved laundry, so they were easy to dismiss in favor of sticking my nose in a book.

While Miss D. watched Finding Nemo and Belly slept, I read. While Miss D. played kitchen and Belly shrieked at her own reflection, I read. And while Miss D. ate her snack of strawberries dipped in ketchup (it’s really not worth arguing with her about this) and Belly nursed, I read.

I have gotten sucked into Prep, and I can’t decide whether it is complete YA trash or an incredibly insightful look at the inner-life of the self-conscious adolescent girl. In any case, I can’t stop reading it. Writing this blog post right now instead of finishing the book is, in fact, a sacrifice. (See how much I love you all?)

The main character in the book is certain no one will like her, and she goes about making herself pretty much invisible at her snooty New England prep school. I recognize many of her flavors of crazy as ones I had as an adolescent. It is the kind of thing that makes me concerned about the years ahead.

This is not a new topic of concern. Country-Fried Daddy and I often notice teenage girls in public, usually at the mall, and whisper to each other, “Miss D. will be grounded for life if she ever leaves the house in something like that,” or “How will we make sure that Belly never comes home with a tramp stamp?”

But more than bad clothes or bad ink, I fear bad self-esteem. It seems silly to do this now. Belly is just a baby, and a happy one. Miss D. is the most outgoing almost-pre-schooler I know. And yet …

We went to a birthday party for one of Miss D.’s school friends this weekend. I didn’t know any of the other parents, and on the way there, I stressed a bit about what I would say to them. By the time we walked into the party, I had a list of safe topics in mind. I had a very low level of the anxiety I remember having in middle school.

My daughter, on the other hand, had a great time. I love to watch her talk to other kids, older kids, and assume that everyone wants to play with her, wants to hear her stories, wants to hold hands with her.

But I dread the day when she notices this is not always the case. I thought about this when Miss D. tried to hug another little girl and did not notice that this child was trying to back away, and when she ran after the older boys and stood yelling after them when they scurried up some bleachers she could not climb.

I am often tempted to inflict my social cautiousness on her, but I know she needs to figure things out for herself. I don’t want her to be shy. I want her to be her outgoing, self-assured self forever. And I want those other kids to see how great she is and just love her as we do.

An hour into the party, I noticed Miss D. talking to the bounce house, which appeared to be empty. I went over to see what she was up to, and saw a little girl tucked into the corner of what Miss D. calls a “jump-jump,” not jumping, but crying. This child had come to the party with a friend and was sobbing for her mother. I pulled her out and sat her down at a little table to eat potato chips and cheese doodles with Miss D. I was so proud of my girl. Yes, a two-year-old can have empathy for another child. The two girls sat there together until they were both laughing, then they abandoned their junk food to go play with the hula-hoops.

Toddler diplomacy is hard, but I am getting my first inklings of how much harder things are going to be as the girls get older. I survived all the social slights of growing up, but oh, how much harder it will be to witness my children surviving them.

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