My daughter was incredibly excited about graduating from elementary school. A budding artist, she even drew a portrait of herself and her friends with the words "We're middle schoolers now!" above it in bold print. But the beginning of the year was a disaster.
The bus route confused her. The school pace was intimidating. And then, in gym, she hesitated before passing a sheet of paper to her partner. "Give it to me, you retard," the girl said. My daughter looked back to see the girl and her friends whispering. She was sure they were talking about her.
"I hate school," she told me that night. She cried herself to sleep. She wasn't the only one.
I woke up the next day, determined to make everything right. I'd go over to that school and I'd talk to the teachers and that bratty kid and ... then I realized what thousands of moms likely realized before me. You can't do it. You want to, but you can't. You can't always be there for your kid. My daughter, always academically brilliant but socially shy, had a tough row to hoe.
But I had to do something.I remembered a few years back, when I'd been a reporter, doing a story on a program called The Ophelia Project, www.opheliaproject.org which is all about creating safe social climates for students. The Web site had a section on increasing self-esteem for girls. It suggested tae kwon do. Tae kwon do?
My daughter is an artist, not a fighter. But on a whim, I suggested it to her. She agreed, tentatively, to try it. I chose carefully - a small studio with low-key instructors I liked. Amazingly, she loved it. And she's good at it. She's made friends. Accepted challenges. She's stronger, more independent. This past weekend, she graduated to a color belt.
I'm sure it's not all the tae kwon do, but her confidence is back. So's her smile. She's talking about starting clubs in school; she laughs off the girl drama she sees. I know there'll be more challenges down the road. But for now, I couldn't be happier. More importantly, neither could she.