A group of three year old girls dressed in princess costumes loped around the classroom, whispering and giggling to one another. They came to our table and laughed loudly and then ran away. I sat with my daughter at the art table, sticking heart stickers on paper, repeatedly telling her how beautiful her picture was. I was volunteering for her Valentines Day class and she was so thrilled that her mommy was helping in her classroom. The princesses continued to buzz around the room, loud high-pitched shrieks and giggles trailing them.
The social dynamics of preschool mirrors that of junior high and if the stakes just get higher, I am terrified. Each day after school I ask my daughter how her day was, what she learned, and with whom she played? The first several months the answer was good, followed by “I played by myself … no one wanted to play with me … Ellie is friends with Ellen, not me … Nora only plays with Sophia … Grace plays with Julia … and no-one plays with me.” Disturbingly, my reaction was, how do I help her make friends with these girls, how do I help her to fit in, how do I help her feel like part of the group? I do think it is important to try to connect with the other girls and socialize, but my clear insecurity about being an outsider was leading me to figure out ways for my daughter to conform to the social norms of her classroom, instead of applauding her ability to play on her own.
Parenthood is hard. It digs up the emotional trauma that we as parents have accumulated throughout our lives, highlights it in bold, and throws it back in our face. If I didn’t learn it the first time around, maybe I will learn it this time? My daughter’s experiences dig up my own hidden insecurities of being an outsider, and my childhood (sadly, maybe even adulthood) desires of wanting to belong in the “in crowd”. I conformed to those around me instead of just being me, but that is not the right way. It may be the easy way, but it is not the answer to happiness and security.
A year ago I was getting my haircut and talking to the stylist about my gray hair.
“Do you think I need to start dying it?” I asked.
“I only see one or two,”he said, “and my advice to you is let it go, let its freak flag fly.” I smiled, “let its freak flag fly,” I liked that expression; it struck a chord inside me. I do not need to be like everyone else, I’m not like everyone else, and neither are my daughters.
My daughter does not need to be a princess. My daughter loves hyenas, snakes, bugs, and reptiles; she especially loves hyenas. She will bring her stuffed hyena to show and share every week, no matter what the other children think, and will laugh telling you that his poop is white because he eats bones. I want her to let her freak flag fly (unlike her scared mama) and never conform to the princesses around her.