We stopped periodically as our 7 year old companion plucked sprouting acorns from the grass. She is fascinated by this new life emanating from a lifeless shell no matter how many times she witnesses it. I felt remiss in hurrying her along, though the time came when I did. Still, even as we moved faster, my companions noticed life teeming all around them. As we moved into the home stretch, a short brush filled, sometimes muddy path leading to the school, the girls stopped to sniff the air. "It smells like ladybugs!" laughed the 7 year old. Through my own snickers, I asked what ladybugs smelled like. The two girls conferred, deciding it is earth, and leaves and flowers and grass. These girls are strong, filled with zest for life, and completely oblivious to fashion or to their bodies having a use beyond carrying them where they'd like to go.
We made it to school just before the bell rang. As I stepped up my pace for the walk back, I passed a girl who must have been 12 or 13. She was tall, and slouched to hide her height, crossing her arms and looking down as I waved and smiled good morning. I wanted to cup her chin in my hand and make her look up. I wanted her to remember what it was to be 7, or even 11. I wanted her to know her power. Instead, I looked away, lost in the advice I'd give to my walking companions about power. The walk home wasn't long enough to fully formulate my thoughts, the crux of them being the unfair expectations we put on little girls, the ways in which we dress them like little women, our tendency as a society to dole out compliments about their appearance like dog treats to ridiculously attired terriers. How often do we rave about a girl's hair, dress, etc? Do we remind them that they are smart, funny, talented and strong?
Here's what I would say to them:
1. You are powerful beyond measure. That strength you feel in your body is equal to the strength of your spirit. When you run and play and move to the best of your ability, you feed your spirit, and the byproduct is joy.
2. Your body is yours. Love it. Live in it. Wear what you want, and don't let anyone tell you you're less than perfect. More so, don't start finding imperfections with it yourself. Self depreciation is like ice cream. It's hard to stop once you dip the spoon in.
3. No matter who is pulling your arm, or reminding you you'll be late, don't lose your fascination with sprouting acorns. As you grow those acorns may present as ideas, as art or as time just to stop and remind yourself that growth happens when something cracks our hard outer shell.
4. In these next years, your laughter will save you. Whether you gain the ability to laugh at yourself, or can elicit a belly laugh from a friend - or both, you'll be happier if you remember that joy is your natural state. However, if you're sad, cry. If you're angry, slam a door or stomp your feet. Don't master the art of smiling to hide emotions that won't "please" others. That habit is the hot fudge on top of a self depreciation sundae.
5. No matter what fashions you're told are "in", which hairstyles are popular, how tall or short or large or small you become; no matter who tells you you're pretty, beautiful or sexy, don't get lost in the flattery. Save your affections, attention and friendship for those who notice you're also smart, funny, talented and strong. Surround yourself with people who make you laugh, and who will willingly witness your sadness. Above all else, please never, ever forget what ladybugs smell like.