All was quiet in the house, but I could hear the chorus of voices coming from the yard next door. A foot and a half of snow combined with a day off from school meant the biggest snowball fight of the season. From my kitchen window, it appeared that every child in the neighborhood between the ages of six and fourteen were wailing on each other with some of the largest balls of wet, icy snow I had seen since Christmas. Laughter, shouts, and cries of victory filled the crisp air and echoed off surrounding mountains.
Happiness prevailed until my daughter burst through the back door and collapsed in my arms. Water poured from her soggy snow pants almost as quickly as tears ran from her eyes. Her face shone with the redness that comes from below freezing temperatures; however, I could see the beginnings of a lumpy whitish mark forming on her cheek – the footprint of an ice-ball.
In between sobs, she told the tale of the older boys bringing the younger children to their knees with a snowball assault campaign that would make the United States Marine Corps proud.
“They kept hitting us in the face and they hurt me.” She managed to squeak out between sniffs, sobs, and wiping her slimy nose on my sweater.
Although I felt badly that my daughter’s cheek was swelling with a peer induced welt, I knew there was a lesson at stake. One she could learn in the snow and perfect on the playground; a lesson that could potentially shape the course of her life.
I looked into her eyes and asked the seemingly heartless question, “Did you tell them to stop throwing snow in your face and hurting the younger kids or did you just start crying and run inside?”
Her answer was a mixture of “Well, they…” and “I’m hurt…” and “They won’t listen.” The look on her face was pathetic enough to make my heart melt and want to protect her forever; however, I knew that even in the second grade, I am not always present to fight her battles. If she is to be heard in life, she needs to find her own voice.
“But did you tell them that they were hurting you and that they needed to stop?” I clarified.
I already knew the answer was no. My daughter is only learning the sound of her voice and faced with the challenges of snowball armed tweens, hers is weak at best.
“I’ll go outside and talk to them today, but next time you need to use your own voice and tell them to stop hurting you before you run inside to get me. Deal?” I offered.
She nodded her tear-stained face and her flower-power fleece cap fell over an eye. I went outside to exercise my voice, loud from years of overuse. The youngsters silently smiled at my tirade against the older kids.
Later that week while my daughter and I sat at the kitchen table with vanilla wafers and milk, she told me the tale of the playground.
“I stood up for myself today and for my friends too.” She proudly stated.
I encouraged her to elaborate. It seems a boy was being mean at lunch and my daughter told him that he wasn’t being nice and he needed to stop.
“And did he stop?” I asked hopefully.
“Yes! And he left us alone.” My daughter happily giggled. “Then my friends came over and gave me a big hug.”
My heart swelled with joy for my daughter’s small victory and pride at her courage. She found her voice near the swing set and with practice, I know it will become louder and stronger. She’ll come to love the sound of her voice and I’ll feel better knowing that she can stand up for herself.
Second grade playground problems may not be very important, but one day soon those same children will be seventeen, eighteen, and nineteen. Their problems will transform from snowball squabbles to decisions that can alter their future. The sound of a little girl’s voice may just save her from a lifetime of sorrow.
I don’t want to fix all my children’s problems, because I would be doing them a disservice. I want to equip them with the tools necessary to make good choices, stand up for themselves, and let their voice be heard and headed.