“I’m lame,” Anya said out of the blue a few weeks back, in the car on the way home from school.
“What? Where did you get that idea?” I ask. This girl is a beacon of self-esteem and personal flair. She not only follows her own drummer — she’s the head of her own parade. A follower she is not, nor is she likely to ever be.
“Everyone says so.”
“The kids at school.” She names a handful.
I counter with names of kids she’s mentioned are her friends. “Do they say you’re lame?”
“No,” she admits.
“So it’s not ‘everyone.’ Did you tell the teacher these kids are calling you names?”
“No,” she says. “Anyway, nobody said it. I just am.”
I press her for a bit, but she’s clammed up. Either she is telling the truth when she says that nobody called her lame, or they did say it and she is covering so I won’t take the matter up with her teachers. She fights her own battles, this one.
I try a different tack. “Why do you think you are lame?”
“I’m so stupid,” she blurts. “Everyone can read and count and talk better than me.”
“First of all, I highly doubt that’s true.” And I do. She’s nearly a year older than a lot of those kids, and highly intelligent. Plus, she went to pre-K, and many of them did not. She may have speech issues, but in all other areas she has an advantage. “Secondly, you are great at reading and counting and letters and stuff. I couldn’t count as well as you at your age.”
“Really?” she asks, incredulous. She is intimidated by the fact that I could read when I was her age — not in the halting way she does, but fluidly. I could also write in cursive. (But not legibly. I still can’t.)
“Really,” I told her. “Words came easy to me, but numbers have always been hard. I have always had to work harder at math because of that. But that doesn’t mean I’m bad at math; I’m not. And just because you’re struggling doesn’t mean you’re bad at it, either.”
“Numbers are hard for you?”
“Still. I mix them up, and I have to double-check everything because I make mistakes really easily. I don’t like doing math because it is hard for me. But that doesn’t mean I’m bad at it.”
“Oh,” she says quietly, digesting this information.
“You’ve been working really hard at your speech, and you’ve come such a long way. I know that if you work that hard on your letters and numbers and reading, you’ll get those, too.”
I parked the car and looked at her in the rear view. “I am proud of how hard you work,” I told her. “It means more than if it came easy for you. If you work hard, you can do anything you put your mind to.”
I don’t know if she believes that. She says she does, but because I’ve been a child I know that her classmates’ words hold more weight than mine. It’s why I wanted to homeschool her. It’s why I wish I could have been homeschooled. Kids are mean. But she wants to go to school, so I will help her navigate as best I can.
I think some of the message sunk in, though. She’s brought home several worksheets with a WOW! on the top of them — her teacher’s version of a gold star. She’s really been applying herself lately, and has progressed in leaps and bounds. She’s reading and writing better than ever, and has moved on to a new speech sound for the first time since pre-K.
Lame. My girl? No way.