“Women, let us swoop down as great birds to rescue our little ones from the flounderings of this world. “ – Heather Rice
Artwork Credit: Sharon Harrell ( my mom) of New Wings Gallery
For the past 16 years I’ve taught music lessons. Much of the time I was teaching little ones how to count quarter notes and find middle ‘C”, but there were a lot of moments when more was asked of me. More times than I could ever count, I would welcome a young adolescent girl into my studio, seat her at the piano or next to it (if it were a vocal lesson) and she would promptly burst into tears. After some prodding I would hear her say “I got a bad grade”, or “my parents are disappointed in me”, or “Johnny asked another girl to the prom”, or “I’m not pretty or cool like the others”. Even though they’d never dream of telling a grownup that frequently checked in with parental units, “I’m being offered drugs and sex”, I figured that was happening, too.
I became so accustomed to the crying that I actually set aside certain soothing materials ahead of time that I could get them for immediate respite: tissue, hot tea in a cute teacup, and a piece of dark chocolate. Then they got a hug, and then we would take 4 long breaths before we chatted. I’m not a licensed counselor, and would never claim to be, but I do know that if you can get them singing, they’re usually on their way to feeling better.. I’m happy I knew, even when I was young myself, that it’s important work. I wanted them dry-eyed and making music by the end of the lesson, expressing their feelings through the instrument of their choice. If they were going through something serious that chocolate and tissues couldn’t help, I called their parent. I’ve worked with girls with disabilities, girls at “high risk” schools with drug issues, rich girls, and poor girls. One thing is for sure, they all just want to feel loved.
It’s so hard being a young lady today in this crazy, internet world. FaceBook, just like comparison, often seem like a real thief of joy. We didn’t have that pressure when we were 13. We might have had a rough time in the lunchroom figuring out where we fit in the food chain, but we weren’t reminded of that food chain at home, with our family, by getting a million FaceBook or Twitter notifications by bedtime. It’s hard out there for a young chick (you can read more about that here), but I want to say that in an era where grownups often mistakenly think that their teen is not listening… she is. Like to every word. And she’s combing the conversation for validation. She may say “I hate you.” but what she really wants is for you to say “I love you, you’re beautiful.” back. She needs to hear these words. If you need a conversation starter or the perfect gift… we’ve got you. Tell her she’s absolutely perfect in all of her imperfections, that she’s precious. Tell her who she really is.
When I was a kid… I struggled getting ready for school. I would come out in an outfit, wear it for a minute, measure my appearance by the impossible yardstick of what I’d seen in the magazines or what the coolest girls had been wearing to school. I was no fashionista, so this was actually pretty challenging for me. Actually I’m still terrible at dressing myself, but I care way less! I hated going shopping because I didn’t know how to put an outfit together… at least not the way that teen culture in the 90’s suggested that I should. In the end, I would change a hundred times and my mom would say for the hundredth time, “Honey, you would look beautiful in a paper bag.” That’s what she said. Every time. It took a couple of years for that statement to stick, but I did eventually grow to believe it. Self esteem and body image is shaped over time. It really helped me to hear my mom say the exact same thing every time my insecurity showed up. I believe that these 9 words have shaped my body image as an adult woman.
We love our girls and they need us now more than ever. Having the patience and the compassion to constantly remind them of their self worth is essential, even at the end of an impossibly hard day of laundry, cooking, cleaning, helping with schoolwork, picking up after the 7th after school activity, and managing the family’s accounting, medical needs, and perhaps having a career yourself! Slip in those little comments whenever you can, wherever there is dead air. Turn the radio off in the car just to tell her, “You’re so beautiful just the way you are. You are such a masterpiece. You are a sweet angel sent from heaven.” When she asks you, “Do I look ok?” try saying, “Honey, you would look beautiful in a paper bag.” Maybe she’ll even be confident enough to go play some music.