Sticks and Stones May Break Bones, but Words…

“I’m garbage, I’m worthless, I’m stupid, I’m a blockhead.  I’m bad luck; I’m a one-leaf clover. I’m only worth a penny.  I’m ugly.  I don’t make good decisions.  It’s so hard.  You deserve a perfect child.  I’m not perfect.  I’m garbage.”

My daughter has had a full meltdown tonight, and a terrifying jumble of dark, frightening words spilled out of her.  She is right.  She does not make good decisions because it is so hard for her.  She is wrong. About everything else. After I accused her of treating me unkindly, she agreed too readily after a day of crossed arms and haughtily practiced glares.  But her repentance is so broken and sincere, her sobs so wrenching, that I felt I had stumbled over a trip wire, leaving an explosion in my wake.  Her despair at feeling so broken, so imperfect, spill out of her in almost poetic self-hatred.

My daughter’s attitude, like many a pre-adolescent, is frequently less than lovely, but she herself is worryingly beautiful. Her words, repeated like a sick mantra, tell me something darker is amiss: “I’m ugly, I’m stupid, I’m dumb, I’m ugly, I’m stupid…” They scare me.  I grab her, pull her in and try rocking her ever expanding frame.

“Baby, you are NOT ugly, you are NOT stupid.  You are BEAUTIFUL, you are SMART, you passed tests in two languages!  You are fun and funny, friendly and good at so many things.  Who TOLD you such wicked lies?” Because I know they did not come from home.

And she spills the well-guarded beans.  The kids, at school.

“Which kid baby, which kid said such a terrible thing?

“Not the kid, the KIDS,” she corrects me, so clear on the topic.  “They told me, twice a week, twice a day.  That I’m ugly. That I’m stupid.”

But baby!  You don’t BELIEVE such terrible lies?

“I do, yes I do,” she saws with raw feeling.

“Why didn’t you ever tell me before?” I ask, feeling like a failure.

“Because I was embarrassed,” she admits.  I try to erase the ugly words that have accumulated in her ribcage, reaching her heart.  I want a psychic eraser.  I want to squeeze my hands slowly around a few puny necks, and set fire to the school breeding them.  My beautiful, brave child.  Who has been dragged through 3 countries, gone to 4 schools, and tried so bravely to get along in all of them, in spite of focus and impulse problems.

The wicked wickedness of cruel words.  They are scratched into her psyche.  They are splashed across the mirror, so that she cannot see her own beautiful face.  They are voices in her ear, so she cannot believe in her own intelligence.  It will take so, so many more kind words and hours of scrubbing to cover and clean the graffiti they have scrawled across her soul.  Who said words will never break me?  What foolishness.  What can cause more permanent damage than a few well-placed serpent words? Image

We spent the day today with a little boy who has apparently gotten a paper route to save money, so he cross continents and propose one day when H is 19.  He has been planning this for about 3 years, so the kid has staying power.  And even after a day spent with such an ardent admirer, she will not believe that she is a treasure.  I happened to make the comment to this little boy’s mother just today that H threw me off, because she was my only good luck in a long string of bad luck.  She is the fairy tale that came true. But a pack of dwarves offered her a poisonous apple, and she took a few bites.  I am so afraid for her.  I know what caused the symptoms, but I’m not very confident I can expel it from her system.  Sticks and stones may break bones, but words will break hearts.  So much harder to heal.  I am reminded of a poster I have that cautions “speak words of kindness.  Every word matters.” So do me a favor this week, and tell a kid you know that she’s beautiful, that she’s smart, that she’s marvelous for just being her.  That he’s kind, that he’s funny, that he’s marvelous for just being him.  Maybe even after a bad attitude.  Maybe it’s an S.O.S. for redeeming a scratched up soul. As a lyric I have had on repeat the last few days goes, “Who will love me for me? Not for what I’ll do or what I’ll become?” Paint a mural on someone’s heart that says “you, wonderful you, no matter what you do or become.” Let me be the first.

You, wonderful you!  Fearfully and wonderfully made.  Knit together in (someone’s!) womb.  God knows you full well. You are a marvelous, unreproducible original work of art. Your lifelines, your earlobes, your wonky pinky’s and funny toes. The shape of your lips and the way you walk, recognizable even in a dim light.  You fill a niche in your friend and family ecology that makes you valuable and beloved. You were born with an innate intelligence.  It may be for finding nests or describing sunsets, for laughter that breaks into a hundred pieces of happiness, rocking babies or planning parties. It may be for accosting strangers with your brand of warmth and kindness just when they needed it, or discovering a star.  And you are beautiful.  Not, of course, as beautiful as my daughter! But as beautiful as your sister’s sister, or you mother’s son, or your husband’s wife. You are most beautiful when you’re kind.

As Miss Piggy once sang for Kermit the Frog, insecure about being green:

“I like your eyes, I like your nose.  I like your mouth, your ears, your hands, your toes. I like your face, it’s really you. I like the things you say and do.  There’s not a single soul who sees the skies the way you see them through your eyes.  And aren’t you glad? I’m really glad there’s no one, no one, exactly like you.”

And really, what would the world be like without loveable Kermie?  We love him, not for what he did or became (he was once a tadpole;), but for being him. For being green.

And to my daughter, I quote our new favorite, the boat song, by J.J. Heller:

If you were a boat, my darling
A boat, my darling
I’d be the wind at your back
If you were afraid, my darling
Afraid, my darling
I’d be the courage you lack

If you were a bird, then I’d be a tree
And you would come home, my darling, to me
If you were asleep, then I’d be a dream
Wherever you are, that’s where my heart will be
Oh, do you know we belong together?
Oh, do you know my heart is yours?

If you were the ocean, I’d be the sand
If you were a song, I’d be the band
If you were the stars, then I’d be the moon
A light in the dark, my darling, for you

Oh, do you know we belong together?
Oh, do you know my heart is yours?

Oh, do you know we belong together?
Oh, do you know my heart is yours?
Oh, do you know we belong together?
Oh, do you know my heart is yours?

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