We were there for my 10-year-old daughter's perrenially-6-months-late annual check-up. What? I forgot to schedule it around her March birthday one year and now we are, thanks to insurance company policy, doomed to be forever off-schedule. My younger daughter, age 7, was there too, of course, a bystander. No shots. No look-see in her ears. We'd come straight from school, thanks to my wife securing a prime late-afternoon slot on our favorite pediatrician's calendar. No missed school, no excuse notes needed. Perfect.
At the end of the heartbeat/cough/tapped knee/blood pressure/weighing/eyesight protocol, my oldest daughter was offered the flu mist vaccine. Yes, please. In a surprisingly efficient twist, especially for a medical profession always looking to nab another co-pay, her younger sister was afforded the chance to receive her flu mist vaccine too. Yes, pl... but wait, she was cowering in fear... of mist? It's not a shot, darling, just some moist fog up your nosey nose. Easy peasy. Who wants a sticker?!
Right here is where this simple story takes a frustrating turn. Our pediatrician, the absolute best in the office of four kid-focused MDs, proceeded to make the most sexist case possible for vaccination as he attempted to convince my reluctant second-grader to accept the flu mist by saying, and I quote word for word here: "You know why you should get the flu mist, sweetie? Because all the boys at school will think you're cute." That's when I decked him.
No, not really, of course, but I'd be lying if I said the primal side of me wouldn't have liked to haul off and floor the old man. On hearing those words, "because all the boys at school will think you're cute," my fifth-grader's eyes got wider than all-night-diner pancakes and her mouth opened as if to say, "Did he just freakin' say that? He didn't just freakin' say that, right?" Yes, kiddo, he did, and I didn't say anything in response. And THAT might be the worst part of all. OK, the real worst parts are the illogical nature of his reasoning with her, the medical hooey of his case, the assumption she cares about what anyone thinks of her at age 7 and about what BOYS think of her in particular, and that fact that she's already hella cute (not that that matters one bit, thank you very much). My silence then was one of many worst parts of that late-afternoon.
My silence was deafening, to me at least. Do my girls have a dad who won't stand up to crap like that from archaic people who still believe a girl's chief purpose in life is to make themselves "cute" for boys? Could that now be what my two kids think of me for not at least offering up a whip-smart retort to the reason the pediatrician gave my daughter for getting the flu mist vaccine? I wouldn't blame them for a minute, because I didn't do what I encourage them to do when they witness or hear injustice or bullying in their circles: speak the F up. Cue feelings of fraudulence. I have failed them.
I'll have a conversation with both of my girls about what the doctor said, and it will fit in nicely with the ongoing dialogue we've been having about gender bias, the portrayal of girls in the media, and the glass ceilings still intact above the bright heads of so many young women. I will also apologize to my daughters for not speaking out against the pediatrician's sexist folly, on their behalf and for every other little girl he will see from that day forward. And I'll promise to do better.
The morning after the appointment, an email survey came asking us to rate the office visit with the pediatrician. I'll express my opinion there, in the most modern slacktivist way imaginable, which isn't NOTHING, but writing a few dozen words in a cold faceless text box won't help to vanquish the dense mist of failure still dripping off of me.