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Do You Know Your Child?

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Naila Culpepper: I think I do. On most days, that is.

She's beautiful, witty, athletic, outgoing, and super tenacious. She's exacting, punctual, and hates breakfast. She thinks there should be a moratorium on euthanizing animals. She quotes Kimora Lee Simmons and says thank-you to beggars and bums when they hold the door for her. But she's not popular. In fact, she avoids lunchtime by hanging out in the computer lab, so sitting alone won't be so obvious. She pretends the jokes made at her expense don't sting, although she can't help but listen to the discussions about birthday parties she wasn't invited to. It's happened for the last two years so continually that at times I have grown dull to her pain, because on most days, much like most preteens, she hides her hurt well.

sad teen girl

Last night was different, and sadly, I almost missed the window to comfort her. My day was less than stellar, and I was hoping to slink into the house and be bare-minimum mom for the night. Say hello, hug, cook, small talk, bed for her, some peace and rest for me. While I washed dishes, I saw that glance shifting in the silence, waiting for me to offer her space. I turned away, even as she asked me to come sit and talk to her. I wanted it, whatever it was, to wait another day.

She sensed my closed door and relented, picked up a book, and withdrew. The gleam in her eye gone, there she was, just my little girl who needed me more than I needed to be alone.

I wrapped her tall-as-me body in my arms and the tears started immediately, sobs caving her shoulders so much that I had to clench my own jaws to avoid crying.

"Why don't they like me, Mama? Everyone has at least one friend except me."

I rattle off a few names of girls that she occasionally mentions.

"They only like me sometimes."

"I think you are perfect, and strong, and wonderful," I say, knowing it's not enough.

"They act like I don't have feelings, Mom."

I let her share all her pain with more detail about her aloneness than I want to know. This is my firstborn and joy, and all I can do is hold her, wondering if the parents of the children who cause this hurt ... know who their child is.

Because in a flash, I almost lost sight of mine.

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4 comments so far | Post a comment now
meregoddess April 23, 2009, 5:12 PM

GREAT ARTICLE! I thought you were reviewing one of my days of late. I too have a 13 year old who has had her 8th grade year just ruined by the MEAN girls. thanks for sharing this. I identified so much.

fourxmom April 23, 2009, 5:35 PM

with 4 kids i encounter this often :( it is a shame that children are not taught acceptance and how not to judge

AM  April 23, 2009, 5:39 PM

Your story brought tears to my eyes. I know the pain you must feel watching your daughter suffer in this way. In elementary school my son went through something similar and wound up finding friends in the wrong crowd. Troublemakers who I tried to turn him away from but he felt they were better then having no friends at all. Eventually they turned on him. I pulled him out of that school and put him in a smaller charter school where they promote friendship and kindness and have a no bullying policy. I had to completely rearrange my life (went from full to part-time and eventually left my job for something more flexible) so I could drive him and pick him up because there was no bus service. Now five years later he’s still friends with all the kids he met at that school plus he’s made new friends from his middle school and high school. It was the best decision I ever made. It improved my son’s live tremendously and mine too! I hope you can consider changing the school that your daughter attends, even if that means making a change to your daily routine. It may improve your life as well as hers. I hope you both have better days!

ame i. April 24, 2009, 10:10 AM

Oh, Naila, beautiful writing!
Tween and teen girls can be horrible little creatures sometimes. I vividly remember hating my life at 10 I and 11. I was head & shoulders taller than my classmates, just started wearing glasses, had terrible acne, overweight, no fashion sense. Of course I would comfort myselff with food. I remember one evening my Mom told me I didn’t need to eat any more after I filled my plate for the third time. I looked forward to nightfall so I could go to bed, which was at 5:30 during winter.
I did have 1 great friend, a skinny lil girl with thick glasses, but we weren’t in the same class room that year. She’s been my best friend for 32 years now.
I pay close attention to my 2 daughters’ moods because I remember how it felt to be 9 & 11. I bet your daughter will “come into herself” as I eventually did, but I understand how much it hurts to watch her go through this time.

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