“There are three things Mommy that make me feel a little sad. The first one I may have told you before. The second you may think I’m a little crazy for saying. And the third, you’ll DEFINITELY think I’m crazy for. But don’t say anything until I’m done telling you all three. Okay?”
Hannah said all of this to me on Tuesday in the car as we left my parent’s house.
My first reaction to this was, “Do I really make her feel crazy for saying things? Ever?” Apparently, I do.
“Okay Hannah. I won’t say a word until you’re all done.”
“Number one.” she started, “On Fridays at school when everyone else is eating the pizza, I feel left out that I’m not. It’s just that I don’t like the pizza so I don’t want to eat it. But it makes me sad that I am different.”
I was about to immediately make her feel better for this one but remembered my promise. And kept my mouth shut.
“Number two.” she continued, “And remember, you’re going to think I’m a little crazy for saying this…I am one of the only, I can’t think of any other, there really isn’t anyone else, EVERYONE else in my class, I think, has their finger nails painted except me. And I really don’t understand what you think is so bad about it. And I feel sad about that.”
I bit my tongue.
“And number three. You definitely are going to think I’m NUTS for this one, the ears pierced thing.” We’d talked about this before.
“Okay mommy, Go.”
I took a deep breath realizing that this was going to be the most adult conversation I had had with her yet. I wished I wasn’t driving so that I could sit facing her. Her hand in mine. Looking her in the eyes. The few glances in the rearview mirror was going to make it harder for both of us. But it was important to have this discussion, in the moment.
“Well, let’s talk about the pizza first. Friday is your last pizza day. Your last day that you’ll have to feel sad that everyone else is eating pizza and you’re not. Ever. So there’s no reason to even think about it anymore, ok?”
She smiled with that realization and nodded, happily moving on.
“Now let’s talk about the fingernail painting.” she prompted.
To give a little background on this, it’s true, I have not let Hannah have her fingernails painted. I think it makes little girls look too grown up. It pushes them right out of being a little girl and into “tweenhood”. I’ve felt pretty VERY strongly about this, and have told her that when she’s eight, she can get her fingernails painted. I DO paint her toenails frequently but will not allow her to have them done at the nail salon. I have witnessed countless little girls sitting in the massage chairs next to me as I get my feet rubbed and moisturized and my toes painted and I always shake my head to myself that it’s just too much. Too much, too soon.
But I have been thinking a lot about it recently as I notice that EVERY four and five year old in her class has bright sparkling pink fingernails. Some with little butterflies painted on the corners, some with different colors on each finger. And they always run to me to show me their new pedicure and Hannah hears me say to them, “Oh how beautiful they are!”
How is THAT fair? How is it right that I praise her friend’s nails as looking so lovely when I won’t let her have it done herself?
I’ve been trying to understand what it is that makes me turn it into such a big deal. Are pink fingernails really a symbol of growing up? Or is it more just another way of enjoying “girlhood”. An easy way to feel special in a world of so much competition, even at such a young age. I’ve tossed this around in my head recently. Interesting that Hannah brought it up when it had been on my mind as well.
“Why don’t you tell me WHY you want your fingernails painted Hannah.”
“Well, because I think it’s pretty.”
I held my breath, HOPING she’d stop there.
“And because I want to fit in.”
My shoulders drooped a little as she uttered the second part of her thought. I had hoped fitting in wasn’t a part of her sadness.
“Hannah, I understand completely if love how it looks. It IS pretty. It’s fun to feel and look fancy. I would love to help you feel this way. For YOU. But I don’t want you to be concerned with Fitting In because of how you Look. You’ll always fit in because of who you Are. And how you Act. But if you’re concerned with Fitting In because of how you look or what you do… that’s not good. And this is going to come up over and over as you get older. And speaking of getting older, there are some things that I think make girls look older than they are and to me, that’s silly. There will be plenty of time to look older. You should enjoy looking YOUR age for now.”
Not surprisingly, I could tell she wasn’t really getting it.
I quickly gave her an example of doing something just to fit in by asking her what if all of her friends started using bad words at school and she felt left out for not using them. I asked her if she’d start using these words just to Fit In? She emphatically shook her head no. That she wouldn’t do something BAD just to fit in, but stated that having painted fingernails isn’t BAD.
She was right on that. But she got my point too. I think.
I went on to talk more about the “Looking older than you are” issue I have.
“Tell me something that makes a lady look old to you.” I asked her.
“Ok, let’s pretend you came home from school one day and saw me with my hair dyed gray. What would you say?”
“I’d say, ‘why did you do that mommy? you look like an old lady!'”
I smiled. This was going to work. “And what if I said, ‘Well, all of my mommy friends dyed their hair gray so I wanted to fit in with them!’. What would you think?”
“Hmmmm…. I guess I’d just think it was weird to want to look like an old lady.”
“Exactly. And that’s how I feel looking at girls with bright red fingernails. I wonder why they want to look so much older.”
“Oh.” she said understanding, but still looking sad.
I felt bad. She was five. Wanting to feel like a big girl. Wanting to feel special and fancy.
“Hannah, what if we compromised? What if we find a color for your nails that I won’t think makes you look to old but you think is fun? Would that make you happy?”
A look of elation brightened her face. “YES!” She paused. “As long as it doesn’t look like the same color as my fingernails are now.”
“Deal.” I said, and reached my arm back to shake her hand. She grabbed it and kissed it.
“Thank you.” she whispered to the back of my head.
I won’t bore you with the pierced ears conversation. I’ll just let you know that I think I convinced her a) that I don’t ever think she’s nuts and b) there’s no way in hell she’s getting her ears pierced before she’s 12.
I went to bed that night wondering if I swayed too easily. Thinking about how many other things in her life I’ll cave on because she looks so sad. Curious how often this conversation about Fitting In will arise.
But I also went to bed satisfied. Feeling like I did get through to her. That I did ok with this hurdle. That it is possible to find a happy medium. And that she now trusts me. That I’ll listen. That I’m there. And that I’m reasonable.
Her nails were painted this morning. Three different shades of pink in a pattern on her fingers. One shade name is “Hard to Get”. Luckily the conversation about what THAT means didn’t have to happen. She was too giddy from her nails to remember to ask.