Yesterday my dramatic middle child, Audrey, had a long anticipated playdate at our house. Hand in hand her and a little boy she has a crush on, scurried off her afternoon bus the two of them whispering to each other. My little guy, surrounded by girls most of the time, was all over the cute and good-natured little guy asking him, “What’s up my man?” I refereed as I picked up my eldest daughter, kept them busy with shovels digging another tunnel in our snow drifts until I coaxed them all inside to remove their wet clothing. The playdate had begun!
As I fed and opened juice boxes while trying to catch crumbs of four ravenous little people I noticed something interesting. Audrey kept asking T. to do things for her. “T. Can you please open my straw wrapper? T. I can’t get this lid off, can you do it?” She would gaze at him with her brown eyes fluttering. He would sigh and gallantly hold out his little hand and do it for her. Now for the record, my cunning middle child does play the “I can’t!” card more often than the other two. She can’t possibly help clean up, she is too busy gazing out the window. She cannot possibly get dressed herself, it is just too hard.
The damsel in distress persona is one I am used to seeing from her and have learned to ignore for the most part urging her to try the task again. But viewing the whole thing in a social situation, it had this previous psychology grad fascinated. Where had she learned to act so, helpless? And I do mean act. She is nearly twice the size of her little playmate, is built like a female hockey player and can lift her brother without an extra breath. She is not helpless in any sense of the word. Had I unknowingly fixed in her psyche the need for a male to step in and “take care of stuff?” Each time I asked Mr. L to open a jar, was she watching and thinking I simply couldn’t do it? Did she not see that I tried (in vain sometimes) to open any jar before resorting to the pass-off to the only adult male in our household. Was she too busy doing other stuff when I shovelled the lane way for the fourth time lifting heavy snow?
Taking a breath I think back over the years since she started to toddle around and noticed the difference between boys and girls. She was always the one in a princess dress playing with barbies. She abhors the day I might cut her hair too short. She always had one eye open for the little boy in the neighbourhood who noticed her doll-like cheeks and curly hair and would ask her to play. We used to joke that if there was a boy around, Audrey would stop everything and coyly look sideways batting her eyelashes until he noticed her.
Now soon to be six years old, my fear as her mother is that she is turning out to be a little too concerned with making sure that the opposite sex pays adequate attention to her. Her days are filled with ups and downs depending on how many boyfriends she has or who paid attention to her that day. She came home in the late fall of last year announcing she had “four boyfriends!” When I asked her first, who they were, she ticked off two little boys in her kindergarten class and two older boys who had been lunch room monitors or bus buddies. When I then asked her “what does it mean to be your boyfriend?” She firmly stated because they paid attention to her that day and play with her.
Volunteering in her class one morning, a little voice asked me, “Mom, how does this look?”
Flipping around, there was my girl looking unsure of herself holding out a what looked like a card. “How does what look honey?”
“I made this for Josh (nine year old boy on her bus). Is the printing neat enough? Can you read it?”
There in her halting left-handed letters was her first love letter,
I love you.
It ended with hearts and two stick people standing side by side.
“What are they doing?”
“That’s me and Josh. We’re playing while we wait for the bus. He likes to help me make snowballs.”
“It’s perfect darling. He’ll really appreciate it.”
A mega-watt smile stretched across her features. I left her to finish her card with mixed feelings. The first was a warm feeling that she has so much love to give. The other worry. Worry that with putting herself out there and wanting the approval of a certain boy so badly was going to lead to her heart being broken one day.
She will be the teenager who lives or dies for her romantic notions. Life can sometimes be hard for people who depend on the approval of others so intensely. This need for attention although slightly slanted towards boys, extends to her girl friendships as well. I have seen her in tears off the bus because she believed a girl from her class ignored her. Realizing this, concern settles in. Concern that I had somehow unwillingly nudged her sensitive soul into believing she was only worthy when being noticed by someone else.
As I sat and watched her play “the damsel” with T. yesterday, I made a pact to let her know each day that she was capable and help build her confidence. To gently tell her to make lots of different friends and social connections and hope she remembers my advice somewhere on a hard day when someone stomps on her heart that there will be other friends and other boys. And lastly, that she is worthy all on her own. She does not need validation from anyone.
Let’s hope I can remember all of this myself.