Wednesday, July 27, 2011
The other day amongst other children, one of the mothers in the group was telling the children not to be too loud as to not upset the other adults in the public area. A reasonable request of course. My daughter M. was singled out to confirm that she heard these instructions. We have not known these people long, but adults that are use to control, order and obedience can spot M. like a pink donkey in a sea of brown. M. did respond with a "yes". But I am guessing this mother was not convinced as she proceeded to try to correct M. by responding with "How about a yes, MA'AM?"
This is when I felt my body tense, not because this woman was trying to correct my daughter, but because I had no idea how M. would respond. For some people this would not have been a big deal. The child would respond obediently "yes ma'am", or the child's parent would encourage the "yes, ma'am" and life goes on. But let's be honest, what this woman proposed to my daughter was a challenge in control and a demand for respect. I knew it, and M. knew it. She can smell it when someone asks her to lay down her own will, something she does not give up easily.
I watched and waited. I did not want to intervene yet I admit I don't think I took one breath at all. I truly had no idea what she would do. Her behavior is of the unpredictable sort driven by one thing, her own inner compass. She stared at the woman for a moment. I watched her body shift nervously from one foot to another. And with just a minute amount of hesitancy only I would notice, M. reinforced her own voice with a plain old "yes." I finally breathed, and turned to suppress my own smile.
Please understand, I have nothing against the use of "ma'am" and "sir". I believe they are terms of respect completely justified when deserved. What this was was a challenge of a child's own self respect versus an adult's need to know she was in control. What I will resist 'till I can no longer breath is the assumption that children mindlessly need to concede dominance to an adult (who is unquestionably stronger and more powerful) just because they are children. Children know every day that adults have more power, and everyday they are looking for the small opportunities to gain their own independence. We can control every last bit of them if we wanted to, but then when we do, how do they learn to trust and stand up for themselves? When do they learn that blind compliance is not necessarily the answer to self confidence and self respect?
I was proud of my daughter for asserting herself and standing her ground. To her, this little exchange probably didn't mean anything. But to me, it meant much more. It meant that my six year old has a greater undestanding of freedom than I ever did at six.
This won't be the last time this happens. I get comments on how hubs and I are going to have a tough time when she is older. "She just does whatever she wants doesn't she? She is so strong-willed!"
I nod, smile, and then say "Yes, she certainly is..."