My daughter cut her finger on a "shatterproof" water bottle at school. I got the call late mid-afternoon. There's something about the school's phone number popping up onto my screen that makes me move and talk and be just a little bit faster, a little more hurried, a little less me. She had eaten lunch in the nurse's office; her bandage had bled through three times; she wasn't sure if she wanted to go home or stay at school. I decided to take her in to the doctor to make sure her finger was OK, and it was there that she blew me away with her assertion.
We fell in love with our pediatrician when my oldest, as a baby, had to go in for an appointment on Halloween, and our doctor was dressed up as a cat. She's warm and knowledgable and we all love talking to her. So, when she moved clinics, we followed her. And when, recently, she announced that she's moving clinics again, we planned on following her one more time. But when I got the phone call about the (shatterproof) water bottle and the (hurt) finger, I hadn't yet figured out exactly where our doctor would be, and that's how we ended up at our old clinic, which is close to home. They could get her in for an appointment right away, even though I hadn't been to it since my girl was really (really) little.
We walked into the instantly familiar office. A mobile hung above the exam table, and magazines were fanned on the desk. I remember reading books to her in the chair, coloring on the exam paper, wincing at her shots. All of these baby-toddler-preschooler memories flooded me as she sat on the table on her own, looking big and small all at once. I realized the number of appointments I'd get to be in exam room with her for were limited.
When the new-to-us doctor came in, she shook my hand, then turned straight to my girl. The way the room was set up, I was sitting and she was standing; her back was to me. The conversation was all theirs.
I listened (eavesdropped?), ready to step in as needed. "I think you're fine," the doctor said, patting Kayli's arm. "There's not much of a cut there at all." One heartbeat later, Kayli spoke up, showing her where the cut was, how deep it went, how much it had bled. The appointment continued just like that, with Kayli asking about wrapping her finger, whether or not she could play volleyball with it, what she could take or do if it hurt. I didn't say a word.
I'm not 100 percent sure how much time has passed since I began choosing to focus as much on my own kids' needs as I did on others' convenience -- clerks in a hurry, friends still figuring things out, teachers with a lot of homework to assign, doctors with limited time and (possibly) assumptions -- but I'll admit that it hasn't been all that long.
Somewhere along my parenting line, I realized that I can't always place possibly holding up the burrito line over giving my kids a chance to learn how to order; or how someone else feels about a young friendship not going well over what my own kids can learn about themselves, their hearts and how to treat others' hearts; or disappointing others over my kids' ability to know their limits and speak up for them.
In the midst of young motherhood, I believed that having well-behaved kids, ones who didn't make waves, meant that I was being a good mom. And while I think that polite words and gentle hearts make the world go round, what changes the world, what also matters, is confidence, assertiveness and the belief that you matter enough to take up space, to make a difference. These traits aren't inconveniences; they're gifts. Kindness and assertiveness can go hand in hand.
It was my daughter's teacher who gave me some of these words. She said them at what will be our last elementary school conference for Kayli. We were sitting in the middle of the classroom, beneath fluorescent lights, beside a pile of books and notebooks and binders. Kayli and her teacher were sitting across from each other; this, too, was a conversation I was listening in on. Looking directly into my girl's eyes, this (fabulous) teacher said, "I love how easy going you are, but I want you to remember that it's OK to ask for what you need and know that you matter enough to take up space."
I think it can be hard for people -- especially women and girls -- to speak up for what they need from adults, professionals, their peers. This is a skill, and it should be coveted.
So, I'm not telling my kids to be good anymore. Kind, thoughtful, sensitive to others, yes. But just as kind, sensitive and thoughtful about their own needs. Maybe we can swap Be good with ...
Take up space.
Ask for what you need.
Use your voice.
Louder and more than once if you need to.
These are the messages I'm choosing to send -- to all of my kids.
This post originally appeared on TheseLittleWaves.com
Galit's book, Kindness Wins, is a simple no-nonsense guide to teaching our kids how to be kind online. Assertiveness plays a big role in this. Learn more here.
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