The Amazons vs. The Pixies

I drove Jane to school one recent morning. This was a rare event brought about by a disagreement over showering requirements that had her left behind when the Daddy Wagon departed. She was an emotional wreck, as is common with teenagers when they feel they aren’t in control of their lives, and indicated that there were other stressful things going on in her life beyond her father’s expectations on personal hygiene.

Namely, she said she has been doubting herself. On the one hand, this didn’t surprise me since that’s one thing the average teenager does quite well. On the other, she has always seemed to exude confidence and an impervious response to the harsh words of her peers.

When she was finally ready, I put my hands on her cheeks and said, “You are beautiful and smart and funny and outgoing and a great person. It’s our job to make sure you make good choices and sometimes you aren’t going to like the way we do that. Just know that we are always on your side. There are no more committed players on Team Jane than your Daddy and me, ok?”

And then her Daddy, who had just returned home, mangled one of our favorite lines from The Help and told her, “You is smart, you is pretty, and you is sweet.” She smiled and hugged him – peace restored – and then we headed to the car.

Once rolling, I asked what was going on. I was met with an explosive expression of frustration about the new boyfriend of one of her best friends. He had tagged her with a nickname the year before which had been intended as an insult about her muscular thighs. She had worn it as a badge of honor. Only, recently she had discovered that it wasn’t about her thighs after all. It was that he in general though she looked “manly.” And now other people had taken up calling her that and it was getting to her. Especially since she considered him to otherwise be a nice guy. I guess it would have been easier to take if she could have written him off as a jerk.

She had actually already mentioned the true intent of the nickname last week so I had been thinking about it quite a bit. I took a deep breath and jumped in.

My daughter is beautiful. She truly is. But she’s also a big girl. Now, I don’t mean that as a euphemism for someone overweight – she is not that. She’s just bigger than most. At 5’8″ and probably done, she won’t be considered tall by the time everyone catches up but she’s been the tallest person around until recently and still one of the tallest girls. Her feet are very long. As a women’s size 11, she frequently shops in the men’s section. Her bones are big – her wrist was bigger than mine when she was in the third grade. Her back is broad, her limbs are muscular, and her facial features are strong. I simply marvel at how splendidly made she is.

Add in her intelligence and tendency to put it front and center, and she’s not a girl for just anyone.

“Sweetheart,” I said. “You are a big fish and quite frankly, this is a pretty small pond.” I named some of her petite little friends and said, “Most of the boys are going to be drawn to girls like them. They are little pixie girls and they fit the role of what the boys think they are looking for. They can be the cute little side kick that hangs on the boy’s arm. I’m not saying that’s what they are but the boys that are looking for that can see them as that. You aren’t that. It’s going to take a special guy to appreciate what you have to offer, but trust me, that’s the kind of guy you want.

“Yeah, you are a big woman,” I continued, “but that doesn’t make you unattractive or manly. You are an Amazon woman. You are Wonder Woman.” This made her smile. “Seriously, girl. You are statuesque.”

“You are one of them.”

“One of who?”

“You are one of those pixie girls. Especially now with the short spiky hair.”

This derailed me for a minute. I’ve never once thought of myself in a similar vein to that of her smaller friends. True, I’m petite: not very tall and small boned, but I’ve never had the bubbly personality. My hips are too big and my face too strong featured to be a pixie. Nonetheless, in her eyes, I’m tiny, just like them.

Anyway, I pressed the issue regarding her friend’s boyfriend, who appeared to be the root of her problem. “You know,” I said, “his girlfriend is pretty much the same size you are. You guys trade clothes.”

“Yeah,” she said, “she’s just a little bit smaller in the waist and not quite as tall.”

“So the next time he calls you manly, just say, ‘You know, Marissa and I are the same build. We trade clothes with each other. So what does this mean you think about your girlfriend? Personally, I think she’s beautiful and so am I.”

Her face lit up. Sometimes all our kids need is some help with the witty comebacks when other kids are getting them down. I went on to talk about how hard the teen years are and how there’s pretty much “the cool crowd” and “everyone else.” I assured her that when she went away to college, there’d be a lot more people and it’d be easier to find her “people” – those folks who are interested in similar things and who appreciate her for who she is. Right now, she just has to hang on and survive Small Town USA.

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Truly Seeing What’s Before You

Jane couldn’t find the Chai Latte mix this morning. They had purchased some at the grocery store the day before. She came to our bedroom to ask her daddy where it was. When he told her it was in the big pantry, she said she had looked and it wasn’t there.

He clarified by telling her there were three boxes on the top shelf in the big pantry. She left to check again. When she returned, she insisted that there was no Chai Latte in the big pantry. Her dad said “I’m sorry” in that tone that I recognize to mean It’s not my fault you can’t see it. It’s there and if you can’t find it, then it’s your own problem. As usual, she took it to mean not an indictment on her search skills but an indication that her father didn’t care if she starved to death.

“What am I supposed to have for breakfast then?!”

“There’s boiled egss and cereal and milk and toast…” She left the room in irritation as I rattled off the list of breakfast choices.

The specificity of his description of the location intrigued me. He obviously knew exactly where he had put it, so why couldn’t she see it? Who was right? I dragged myself out of the warm bed to go investigate. I glanced up at the end of the top shelf as I walked into the laundry room, where the shelves we refer to as “the big pantry” are. There was nothing there. I turned the corner to face the shelves and scanned the top one. I immediately spotted the three boxes on the lefthand side and took one of them down.

Jane was standing on the porch, watching the dog use the bathroom. I opened the door just enough to show her the box and comment that she should be careful who she gets mad at – they were exactly where Daddy said they would be.

I’m assuming that Jane had developed tunnel vision, looking for that distinctive logo on the front of the carton. They were turned such that their unmarked sides were facing out. They were still obviously the Chai Latte boxes, but she couldn’t see them. If instead of scanning for the logo, she had deliberately looked at each item on the shelf and identified it in her mind, she would have found them.

When I returned to the bedroom, I remarked to my husband, “You know, if people would look at what is in front of them instead of for what they want, I bet they’d find what they are looking for.”

I meant it as a statement about people’s search skills when they can’t find an object. It seems that people frequently fail to see what they are looking for even though it’s in plain sight. I think it’s because they have an image in their heads and are blindly comparing the objects in front of them to that image without actually seeing the objects themselves. I soon realized that it was also a metaphor for much more significant things: jobs, friends, lovers, homes, life.

How often are people looking for that perfect mate they’ve envisioned, discarding everyone they come across, instead of taking a good look at what’s right in front of them? I’m not talking about settling for a poor match. I’m talking about actually taking the time to see the people around you instead of moving on when they don’t match the template in your mind.

How many men are looked over because they are too short? Women because they are too fat? Too dumb? Too poorly dressed? Too quiet? Too loud? Too tall? Too athletic? Too bookish? Too boring? Too plain?

Do we even see these people before we dismiss them as not matching that ideal image of the person we think we want to be with? Wouldn’t we be more successful if we started with getting to know the person and then examining the quality of the match instead of the other way around?

Maybe we should take a good look at that box of Chai Latte mix before we move on, claiming it was nowhere to be found.