She stops me in the hall as we leave.
“Are you Vivian’s Mom?”
I’ll admit that, considering my scholastic history, these words have a tendency to stop me in my tracks, recalling that the only points in which these types of words were asked tended to be ones also including the words “suspension” or “detention”. Vivian also recently managed to break the collarbone of a friend so bad that the radiologists questioned the parents about abuse, so I’m a little on edge at the school.
“All day long!” I crowed, patting Vivian on the head.
At this point the teacher grinned and stopped walking. She stretched a soft hand out to me, and smiled wider.
“I’m her french teacher. And I just have to talk to you about how smart she is! She’s so brilliant-she has an ear for the french! She’s picking it up quickly. Smart as a whip this one.”
I know these things so I smile, feeling that warm glow inside that roughly translates to “holyshitmykidissoawesome!Ihaven’tscrewedherupthatbad!WOO!”.
“You really need to think about immersion in Grade 3.” she tells me “She’s pretty far ahead of a lot of the other kids anyway-it would be good for her. ”
She bends at the knee next to Viv. “Can you show your Mom how good you are? Comment ca va? Vivian?”
Viv turns her face into me, suddenly shy. I laugh.
“Vivian, you have an audience, and I totally want to see! What gives.”
“I’m too shy.” she states, blushing.
I smile at the teacher, tell her we’ll spend some extra time with the french english dictionary this week, thank her. We walk outside as I ask Vivian why she’s afraid to show me she’s good at something.
“Cause it embarrasses me.”
I can’t help it. From my mouth flies
“If you were a boy, you would not be ashamed to be good at something. And this world you’re growing up into, you NEED to be proud of what you do. You SHOULD be proud of being good at things. Don’t ever be ashamed of being good at something.”
She tries to shrug my words off.
“Vivian. This matters more than I can explain. Be proud of you.”
She mumbles yes, and runs off to the playground, leaving me holding her bag.
I can’t take a compliment. Never could.
Someone says they like my writing, I feel conflicted. Should I acknowledge it? Should I ignore it? Does it mean anything?
Someone tells me I look pretty. I blush and feel perplexed.
Maybe they like my cooking. I downplay it, say it’s easy.
I do not want this for my daughters. I want them to feel pride in themselves. I want them to be proud when their abilities are acknowledged. I want them to never, ever be afraid to say “Yes, I AM good at something.”
But how, in a world where she’s already internalized that pride is something to be ashamed of, that talent should be hidden, do I teach her this? I am slowly learning to be able to say sometimes that yes, I am able and good. I can turn a phrase, occasionally. I can good a mean tagine or puff pastry dinner. I can learn quickly new skills. I am unafraid to try. I will push myself to try new things, past that burning in my belly of worry.
But how do I make sure she knows that a little ego, a little fire in her own belly is a good thing?
She runs through the school yard, unfettered by any of my worries. In her world, she’s the fastest runner, well, except for Josh she might tell me. She’s a great reader, but she won’t lord it over any other kid. She yells when I ask about boyfriends, becomes quiet when I ask about girls. She runs through the house in her new black boots, kicking ass and taking names. Her grin is like a new moon rising over the countryside.
I can’t trap her here, but dammit if I don’t want to try.