I had a conversation with a friend today about how amazing it is to see my kids stick up for one another. As an only child, I never knew what that could be like. I relied entirely on my parents to have my back.
And, they always did. My heroes.
As a parent, I believe (as my parents do) our kids need to trust that we know what's really important. And, that when it comes down to it, we are on their team. If internal justice must prevail, then it shall. If someone is to put us in our place, it should be someone who truly loves us - not a principal or teacher or coach, but someone who will take the time to explain why.
Unless all of those happen to be the same person, which only happens on Girl Meets World - a top five favorite show these days.
This may not make sense to some, but helping my kids to be secure, confident and able to express themselves is the most important gift I can give them. They are allowed to be creative, challenge the world, say "no" and communicate their feelings freely without fear.
The road leading to this brand of self-confidence may be a messy one at times. There are temper tantrums, testing of boundaries and lots of words that could have been said better. But, in my world, it's better to get it all out there and fine tune it later. You can argue with me, but you won't change my mind.
I remember the time I got caught putting a nasty note I had written in the backpack of someone who had been mean to me. Nothing crazy, just your average second grade, Jodi-likes-me-better-than-you type shenanigans. The teacher, Miss L, made me take the note home to have my mom sign it after I explained what I had done.
Ahhh sweet Miss L. That teacher hated me. If there was anyone bullying me in second grade, it was Miss L. And, my parents were keen to it.
I forged my mom's signature, as horribly as any eight year-old would, and didn't think too much about the incident again for several weeks. When it came time for parent-teacher conferences, Miss L drew the letter from her desk drawer with a sly confidence. She said to my mom with a smirk, "I have been meaning to ask you - is this your signature?"
I sat there frozen. But, my mother, as calm as I have ever seen her, said without even blinking, "Yes. Yes it is. I signed it on the dash of the car when I dropped Jenny off that morning." She locked eyes with Miss L. "Sorry if it's a little sloppy," she said.
I can't even remember getting in real trouble, but there is NO WAY I didn't. In the car on the way home, I remember my mom saying, "Don't ever do that again. She's got it in for you. Don't give her a reason. I mean it. That will disappoint me more than you forging my signature on a note, which I know you will never do again either."
And that was that.
My dad, on the other hand, was a little more colorful when defending his daughter. There are a good handful of examples, but this one sticks out in my mind just slightly more than the debachle at the DMV. Another time perhaps.
I was in 4th grade and softball had just started. I attended practice at a park about a mile or so from my house. Coach assigned me the role of catcher. Oh yay. A bit of a right field daisy picker, I really only cared about hitting the ball. There was glory in crushing a bulky softball over the outfielder's head - watching the pitcher wave them back a few yards when I stepped up to the plate. Catching was thankless work in 4th grade.
As this was a Catholic school with a somewhat spare budget for sports equipment, the elastic on the ill-fitting mask coach gave me, was as loose as the waist band on my maternity underpants. The foam-padded, metal cage kept falling in my eyes. I couldn't see a damn thing.
To grab a tipped ball right in front of me, I pulled the mask up for a second. At precisely the same moment, the batter stepped back and drew the bat up behind her.
A piece of my beautiful (and relatively new) front tooth went flying. The remaining snaggle-tooth lacerated my lip and in an instant, I was a bloody, whimpering, ten year-old mess.
Coach said, “Don't worry. See. I have a chipped tooth too.” He pointed to his cockeyed, busted, piano keys and I cried even louder. He gave me a quarter and sent me about 120 yards to the pavilion to call my dad.
It was a loooooooong walk. I couldn't even figure out how to explain what had happened. Would I be in trouble? Half of one front tooth was clutched so hard in my left hand I could barely get the quarter into the pay phone slot.
This is the part of the story that will require explanation when I read this back to my kids later tonight. "What's a pay phone?"
"Daaaaad." That was all I could manage. My father, in typical fashion, responded to me through my sobs, “Calm down. What happened? Tell me again? Let me talk to the coach. Where is he? He said WHAAAAAT?”
I was still reliving my tale of woe (apparently to a dangling telephone) when I heard tires screech. By time I rounded the corner, I saw our car running in the middle of the road with the door open and my dad already three quarters of the way up the field to the coach.
I ran back toward my team to witness what was about to become something of a scene.
Dad walked square up to the coach and introduced himself. "I'm Rich, Jenny's dad," he said in a manner to suggest that coach might be thanked for loaning me that quarter. I will never forget the group expression of surprise and confusion when my dad flicked a handful of what I can only guess to be roughly five or so quarters into the coach’s face.
In a low and terrifying tone he said, “If you ever make a crying, injured child walk the length of a football field alone, again to call for help. I will break the rest of your fucking teeth. You have my word.”
And that was that.
Dad's heroism didn't end there. He also had to straighten mom out when we got home. She was sobbing uncontrollably when we walked in the front door. She dropped to her knees and (well, this is how I remembered it anyway) wailed loudly, "My baaaaby's peeeeerfect teeeeeeeth."
Dad gave her this you-cannot-be-serious look and said, "Shut the fuck up, dear. You're going to give her a complex. It's a tooth. It can be fixed. Call the dentist."
And that was that.