You want your children to grow. And so you allow them to be who they are. You send them out into the world all tender and unscathed and raw and full of optimism and promise. You encourage them act on that optimism, knowing full well that one day the world will take some of it away from them. The most you can hope for is to delay the voice that says “maybe I shouldn’t.” To delay the possibility of hurt.
You assume when it comes, it will be a mean girl. A boy who breaks her heart. A coach who doesn’t let her play. You never think it will be some adult who should know better. Some pathetic, cowardly, asshole adult with a political agenda, misdirected anger, a lack of critical thinking skills, and far too much free time to spend leaving hateful comments about a child on a newspaper’s website.
Especially when that child is the sweetest, kindest, most loving, most empathetic child who ever walked the planet. The child who takes all her birthday money and asks if she can give it to Haiti or to girls in other countries who can’t go to school.
So then you beat yourself up. You second guess your decision to let her make her own choices. You wonder if you should have talked more about how standing up for what you believe in doesn’t mean everyone will be proud of you the way your parents are. You wonder if you should have said no to that newspaper. You wonder if you should have protected her that much longer.
You cry. You rage. You feel sick to your stomach for hours. You plot horrible revenge fantasies in your head. (Pick axes and letters to employers may or may not be involved. Your husband may or may not have used terms like “incurable, degenerative mouth herpes that rots away your face.”) You sleep restlessly.
And then, you wake up thinking, she doesn’t know about the bad people. Only you do.
She doesn’t know about adults who behave in ways that she has been taught never to behave herself. She doesn’t know about adults raised so pitifully, who are so morally bankrupt and out of touch with their own humanity that they would attack a child. What she does know, is that so many good people said kind, supportive things about her. And that every time she reads one of those things, she smiles that beautiful smile that can never be contained.
You wish with every ounce of your being that those are the people she will grow up to be like.
One day, of course, she will discover the hate. You can’t stop it. But when she does, you can only hope that it doesn’t break her spirit. You hope it will strengthen it. Just as it does for you.
You want your children to grow.