Alice is still the youngest kid in a lot of crowds. Small and soft and adorable – but past the fragility of babyhood – she seems to be the perfect age for attracting the motherly attention of slightly older children.
When David drops her off at day care, he tells me, little girls crowd around to fawn and coo.
Last week, we were running around the park when some girls arrived to play. One of them, 6- or 7-years-old, walked up to Alice.
Look at how beautiful her hair is, she said, and what a pretty bow.
She patted her on the head.
Alice looked up, crossed her arms over her chest, narrowed her eyes and said, “No, no, Little Girl. No touch Alice hair!”
The girl shrugged. I’m not sure she even understood. But to David and me, the words were unmistakable.
“No, no, Little Girl. No touch Alice hair!”
The girl skipped away.
David and I looked at each other.
Our thoughts – two of them, one right after the other – were the same.
The first was, “Alice…” (Oh my gosh, have some manners), checked quickly by the second, “Wait, no.” (If she doesn’t want her hair touched, shouldn’t she be able to say so?)
If you were to ask me whether I hope to raise an assertive girl – one who stands up for the people she loves, the ideas she cares about and, above all, herself – I would say, yes. Of course I do. Obviously.
And then my daughter stood up for herself. With as much confidence and clarity as you could want from a 2-year-old.
She didn’t stomp or scream.
She was unequivocal and unapologetic.
No, no, Little Girl.
She used her words.
And my first thought was, “But be nice.”
There isn’t anything wrong with nice. Nice isn’t the problem here. And if you were to ask me next whether I hope to raise a nice girl, I would tell you, yes.
Of course I do.
But nice is giving up your turn on the swing before you’re ready. Nice isn’t letting a strange child at the park – even a sweet and well-meaning one – touch your hair if you’d rather she didn’t.
But that anxiety – over frills and flounce, baseballs versus baby dolls – has never really resonated with me. Until I caught myself about to tell my daughter to be nice when nice had nothing to do with it: Firm and strong are not mean and rude. They are not the opposite of nice.
I know that she is watching and she is listening. Soaking and soaking. And that someday she will reflect the things I have shown and said to her.
So I am trying to pay better attention.
P.S. Maybe parents of boys have similar angst? I just don’t have a lot of experience as far as that goes.