The night before my daughter started her freshman year at a new high school where she knew no one, I stared at the ceiling and made a few wishes.
I hoped she’d like her teachers and make a new friend. Above all, I hoped she’d feel a little bit brave.
They were simple, modest wishes.
But after that first day of school, my 15-year-old came home in tears.
Although she said she liked her classes, she’d gone to the cafeteria at lunch alone, changed her mind about eating solo, and skipped lunch to sit in the library. I told her it would get better. It didn’t.
One day, she got up the courage to ask a couple of girls if she could join them for lunch. They said they had other plans. Most days, she spent lunch in the library. When I worried that she was spending the long day without eating, she confessed that sometimes she ate in a bathroom stall.
I wondered if race had something to do with it, and I asked her if there were other biracial girls who looked like her, with her gorgeous curly hair, light brown skin, and blue eyes.
“It’s not like that, Mom,” she said.
The thing is, my daughter is one of the kindest, sweetest, most loyal human beings I’ve ever met. At her eighth grade graduation, one of her teachers introduced her as “Everyone’s sister.” It’s true. And I’m not just saying that because I’m her mother.
This is also true: she’s painfully shy. I desperately wanted to blast a memo to all the kids at her school. Please give her a chance.
I emailed her school counselor and asked if she might help. The counselor met with my daughter and emailed me back that she’s “wise beyond her years.” Yet I couldn’t control the other kids’ actions. Or my daughter’s.
So I did my best to listen to her and hold her when she was upset. She stopped me when I tried to give her advice.
Summer came and I was so happy to hear her laughing again. She hiked, she swam, she backpacked in Yosemite.
Maybe she’d feel renewed. Maybe next year would be a new start. Sophomore year was about to begin and our family drove to the beach where I attempted to gauge how she was feeling. “Please stop with all the questions, Mom,” she told me.
When we got to the shore, she somehow convinced me to tug on a wet suit even though I’m terrified of the surf. I love to swim, just not in the ocean. Put me in a pool, where I can see the bottom and have something to hold onto, and I’ll take off.
But the ocean is unpredictable. I can’t control the waves, which will surely swallow me up.
My daughter dove into the water and swam away from me. She bounced her head up and called for my husband and me to come out. My stomach tightened.
“We’re waiting for you!” My husband flapped both hands in the air as a huge wave threatened to take him down. “Get out here!”
He can wait all he wants, I thought. I was fine where I was, waist-high. I didn’t want them to know how scared I was. “Watch out!” I pointed to another huge wave behind our daughter, bigger than the one before.
But she turned around and dove under it. Every time another wave came at her, she leapt under it. She was graceful and gutsy. “C’mon Mom! It’s so much fun.”
I shook my head and dug my toes into the sand.
She swam back and took my hand. Water dripped from her beautiful long curly hair. My heart raced as she pulled me out farther. I couldn’t touch the bottom. I tugged the other way, but she gripped tighter. “Just dive straight down,” she said. “Go under. Aim for the bottom. The wave will go right over you.”
She wanted me to be brave, but my body stiffened. Yet isn’t this what I’d been encouraging her to do, to face her fears headfirst?
She pulled me down under the water, and the wave swelled over us. I popped up and felt so giddy that I screamed with laughter.
With that genuine gleam in her eyes and up-for-any-adventure attitude, I knew my daughter would be fine heading off to school next year, and into her future.
After all, in the end, she’s the one who showed me what it means to be fearless.
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