As I drop 10 off on her second to last day of school, I turn to the back seat. She is smiling and ready. The last day is almost here and this almost-done-with-fourth grade girl is ready for lazy days of summer, for sleeping in, for swimming, for playing with friends and her cousins. I lean in for her good-bye kiss. As she races to jump out, I yell, “I love you and remember… “ – she cuts me off – “I know mom, she says smiling, “be kind to everyone,” like she has heard this reminder every day since starting kindergarten. (Which she has.)
It started with her older sister, who is now 12, on her first day of school. A shy quiet 5 year old twin of my younger self. She would cling to me, not sure who to trust in this new world called school, and eventually with the help of her wonderful kindergarten teacher, she would let go of my skirt, but not before I leaned in with a goodbye kiss and hug, and a promise to be standing there to pick her up in exactly seven hours.
As she grew to love her teacher and her new surroundings, she was unsure of these new little people in her classroom. Where were her preschool friends? and who would she play with at recess? she worried. I told her what my mother told me: In order to have friends, you need to be a friend first. A tall order for a quiet shy five year old. (Something I had in common with my daughter.)
So I told her this as well… if you see someone who needs a friend, who is sitting there alone, or looks sad she should ask them to play. Be kind. Okay mama, she said. And thus started my “be kind to everyone” mantra. Every morning at school drop off.
I have said it to her every single morning at drop off for six years: kindergarten through fifth grade… and then again through sixth grade and seventh. For a total of 1,440 days.
Her younger sister, 10, has heard this for 900 days so far.
I have probably said it a few thousand times more in between.
Be kind. Be kind. Be kind. In a world where hate exists, I want to make sure my girls know what kindness is. We talk about stuff. Good stuff and not such good stuff. Stuff happening in the world, and stuff happening in school. In middle school, there is drama (I mean there always seems to be some girl drama), and as my younger daughter looks on at this, I continue to talk with both of them about being kind to others. Sometimes people are hurting inside, that is why they act like this, I tell them. So we need to always remember to be kind and take the road less traveled. The road which is always harder. The be kind to everyone road, because that is what matters.
Then it hit me. That second to last day of school, as I yelled I love you and be kind.
It shook me as I drove to work, and stayed with me all day.
I realized something. Something which I cannot believe I haven’t thought of before now.
As a mother I have been so focused on raising my girls to be kind to everyone, I forgot to tell them how to be kind to themselves. How to love themselves.
Even now as I am writing this, I am tearing up.
Seventh grade has had its ups and downs. (I feel like I am sometimes reliving my own middle school days.) There have been good days and bad days. I listen and try to help 12 navigate through these often murky and uncharted waters of what being an adolescent girl is all about and puberty and growing up and girl drama. I try to give her the tools to know what to say and do in situations so she can speak up for herself. So she can use her own voice when she doesn’t like how she is being treated. It’s not easy, I know.
I used to think loving my girls, and showing them how to be kind to others was all it took. They would learn right from wrong, and grow into these amazing human beings who would make us proud and make an impact in this world. A positive impact and give back to others.
As I drove into work that morning… I realized, I missed the boat.
I never told them.
My mother never told me.
And her mother never told her.
BE KIND TO YOURSELF! LOVE YOURSELF!!!
It’s so simple, and so easy. Why did we not hear this?
When you are five you will believe this. When you grow up hearing this over and over, how can you ever believe anything else?
That’s it. I think.
Growing up, I heard over and over from both my parents… “treat others like you want to be treated.” I was expected to be kind. I saw my father helping out in church and in the community, but it was my mother who I identified with. She was my role model. She was raising three daughters, while working at night, and volunteering on every committee imaginable. She helped everyone and was kind to everyone, even the neighbors who were shunned her for not fitting in. Even the moms at school who were not kind to her. I saw this over and over and it would make me sad, but there she was being kind to everyone.
Today I think maybe if loved herself more… maybe if she valued herself more she would have stood up for herself. She is still so hard on herself today.
Be kind to others, I tell my girls. All those mornings. When I should have saying be kind to yourself and others. Love yourself and others.
Maybe if they heard this more it would have made a difference.
Maybe if did, I wouldn’t feel the need to help everyone but myself. To realize that it’s okay to take timeout for myself. To make myself a priority every now and again.
Maybe my mother would love herself more and value herself.
Maybe 12 would feel more confident, more secure with who she is and wouldn’t let others make her feel less than she is.
Maybe 10 would learn that in order to love someone else, you need to love yourself first. You need to be kind to yourself, even if you don’t get the grade you wanted or the part in the play.
Maybe as girls we need to be taught how to be kind to ourselves and how to love ourselves.
As a mother, I want my girls to love and value themselves. Their entire self: body and mind. To know how to speak up for themselves so they can speak up for others.
But I realize, I need to show them how. I need to do this first. I need to show them that not only is it okay to be kind to yourself and love yourself. It’s a priority.
To lead by example.
To love yourself. Your whole self.
To be kind to yourself. So you can then be kind to others.
Hopefully it’s not too late.