“You take her.”
“No, we have too many – you take her.”
“I picked last – it’s your turn. You have to take her.”
My child turned and walked away without a word.
In the retelling, she tried to keep an air of bravado, but this child – she may act tough on the outside, but she has a creamy nougat center and I could tell that she was hurt by the exchange.
And now? She tells me she doesn’t really like kickball anyway.
In that story, she might have wished to be invisible.
What happened more recently, I was a first-hand witness to.
My two youngest wanted to sign up for the mini-cheer camp run by the high school cheerleaders. When the big day arrived, I dropped them off at 8 AM and went to run a few errands. I came back a couple hours later and sat on the bleachers watching the girls all learn how to cheer. My two were divided into separate groups – kindergarten through second grade in one group, and then third through fifth grade in the other.
It was the group with the older girls that caught my interest. I watched for a long time and couldn’t help but think that my child was deemed invisible out there. I watched a half dozen high school cheerleaders being playful and friendly with the adorable little girls and not even one interacted with my daughter.
Oh, sure – she’s got some culpability here. She might have been hanging back a little. She might have been anxiously chewing on her nails. But, see, that’s what you do when you’re too afraid to put yourself out there. When just last week, two team captains fought over who had to take you on one of their teams. When you’ve had experiences with other children where you were called fat and ugly to your face. You tend to start pulling away. You tend to not want to put yourself out there for fear of more rejection.
But she was there – she was present. She was learning the cheers and trying to be a part of the group.
I watched as the high school girls instructed the group to form a circle because they were going to play a game. I saw my daughter alone on one side of the circle while the other girls were clustered on the opposite side. I heard the older girls tell the grade-schoolers to spread out and form a full circle. I heard my daughter say “There’s plenty of room over here” and indicate with her arms that she had space on both sides of her. I watched how no one came over to fill those spaces until finally the high school girls did.
And then they played Little Sally Walker, a fun little game that girls often play. There is a subset of girls who skip around the inner circle while a song is sung. When the end of the verse arrives, the girls in the inner circle each stop in front of a girl of their choosing from the outer circle and do a little dance. The girl from the outer circle who was chosen now gets a turn skipping around the inner circle, and so it continues.
There were many rounds of the song and many girls got their turns skipping around the inner circle, some got multiple turns.
But not all of them. Some of them didn’t even get one.
Some of them were invisible. Some waited for their turns while they chewed nervously on their fingernails.
Or, more accurately – one. One little girl waited anxiously for her turn while she chewed nervously on her fingernails.
She was invisible today, and I sat on the bleachers swiping away the tears that kept forming without my permission.
I silently implored the high school girls to notice what was going on – to correct the situation. No one did, and the game ended.
At the end of the camp session, each of the groups put on a little performance for the parents. Cameras flashed and parents clapped wildly. The high school girls were looking up at the clock with the realization that they had 10 minutes to fill before they could go to Taco Bell or wherever they were planning to go.
The decision was made to play Little Sally Walker again, because the girls love it so much.
Well, most of them.
This time, it was both groups of girls forming a huge circle. There were at least a dozen girls skipping around the inner-circle.
If I were a religious person, I would have lifted my voice in prayer to whatever god I believed in and asked him to please, please let my child be picked once. I don’t know much about prayer, but it seems such an inconsequential thing to pray for, right? “Dear God, please make this pimple on my chin go away before prom.” I don’t know. Prayer seems to be for intensive-care-unit patients and lumps found on breasts; important stuff like that.
But my prayer (sent up to whom, I don’t know) was just that my child get a turn in Little Sally Walker.
It didn’t seem like too much to ask, really.
Frankly, though, I am not a religious person and I don’t believe there is a higher power who could intercede on this hard road my little girl is traveling. I believe that it is down to us human beings here on this earth to regulate ourselves. I believed that the only way my child would get chosen for Little Sally Walker would be because someone noticed her and realized that she may want to participate in the game.
One of the high school girls did just that – she stopped in front of Jadyn and did her little dance, thus choosing my baby girl to have a turn skipping around the inner circle. From across the gym, I saw my daughter’s face light up.
I’m glad it happened. I’m glad for Jadie that she was drawn in, even if it was just for a minute. Maybe next time the cheerleaders are having a mini-cheer camp, my child will want to sign up again. Maybe she’ll gather her courage and go back to the kickball field.
I am grateful to that girl for noticing my child. It’s not enough, though – one person, one time, one minute. It’s just not enough. I know that for Jadie to keep putting herself out there, she needs to have people include her and notice her and accept her. She needs more of these experiences that light up her face – they have to outnumber the other kind, the kind that make her put up walls and pull away.
I don’t believe there is a god who will help us with this. I believe it’s up to us – to you, to me, to your kids, to my kids, to teachers, to playground monitors, to camp counselors, to Girl Scout leaders and bus drivers and cheerleaders.
Will you accept the challenge? Will you keep an eye out for the child hanging back biting her nails and notice her and choose her? Will you look at and smile at the little boy in the wheelchair with drool coming out of his mouth? Will you teach your children to do the same?
For me? For her?
Linda Doty began blogging in 2005. Sometimes, she writes something serious and important, but mostly she writes about things like SpongeBob and red Skittles in an effort to ascertain whether the world thinks she is as funny as she believes herself to be.
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