Two weeks into school and my daughter has already had another layer of innocence scrubbed away. I worry she has donned a layer of protection in its place. Vulnerability leads to some of the greatest gifts of human existence, but it is not always rewarded thusly.
Boots (as I call her here) did not talk much the first couple years of her life. Friends and strangers alike commented on her silent, searching gaze. Everyone has always agreed that my daughter has a way of taking it all in, picking it apart, and examining the puzzle pieces of life. Now a precocious second grader, she continues to discern.
As parents, my husband and I have sought to avoid the grievances we endured as children. We have sought to teach our son and daughter how to think rather than what to think. We do not seek to indoctrinate. Daily life, as well as specific events, have led to several conversations about religion in our household, oftentimes regarding atheism. Sometimes Boots was around, and as always, she listened. She has asked what other people believe, what we think. Honesty and her own freedom of thought have always been paramount.
One day she will form a more informed worldview, but for now a lack of belief is all she knows. There has never been a reason for her to believe in a deity and she does not. Belief in the tooth fairy is still up in the air, though she’s leaning toward disbelief there too. When Santa came up with her classmates, she stood firmly among the non-believers. When church and God came up, she freely admitted her disbelief. This time she stood alone. When it came up again one of her closest friends told her that she would grow up to be a “bad guy” and that she would tell the whole school that Boots didn’t believe. How quickly a young mind can be narrowed…
My seven-year old daughter was shamed, insulted, and threatened with ostracization until she felt the need to lie. She feigned a belief in God to appease her friend. When she told us what had happened, her father and I told her that it was not a lie she should have to tell, but that we understood and respected her choice. In the past we have warned her about the potential reactions of others. How could she really comprehend what we meant? Why shouldn’t she trust her friend and peer? Why would one difference of thought jeopardize a friendship?
There’s no reason, no good reason at least.
We have encouraged her to be brave enough to be herself. Now she knows why being true to yourself requires courage.
Boots was bothered by her friend’s reaction, but in the end not all that upset. Her dishonesty ended the accost for the time being. This is not her fight. This is not ground she needs to stand on. Nonetheless, the social battles go on.
I can’t help but wonder how she will react to similar conversations in the future. Will she remember? Will she be able to trust and confide as freely as she did mere days ago? Has she built the founding layer of a wall to hide behind?
My daughter is being molded and layered by the words, emotions, and opinions of those around her. There are so many voices. There are so many hands.