She walked with an air of assurance and the hint of superiority that middle school girls recognize as prestige right off the bat, even if it’s only the first day of school, and you don’t know who the older kids are yet.
Her jeans fit right, and her dark curls perfectly framed her thin face and mouth touched by a mole just like Cindy Crawford’s. She was a year older — a 7th grader — and I was a 6th grader, in a math class too hard for me, working hours every night with my mom to try to figure it out.
The girl sidled close to me smiling and asked if she could see how I got the answer for that equation, and then she wanted to make sure she “got the answers right” and then she was looking at the whole sheet of shown-work before the teacher arrived.
I knew she was using me and my hard work, and I felt small.
I gave up my voice. The one that would have said, do your own algebra, because I wanted her to like me. Desperately. And I wanted her powerful group of friends to like me, too.
I was scared that if I spoke, she would make me feel even smaller, and everyone would see it. That I wasn’t really old enough to be there and that I still wanted to be little, longed to play with Strawberry Shortcake and climb to the top of the jungle gym to giggle.
My big girl is entering sixth grade this fall (though she’ll remain at our K-8 and not head to middle school), and I see her as she gets the details of her school life in order, stacking and sorting her school supplies, checking them against the list, putting hands to something she can hold in the face of shifting emotions and passing periods between subjects and sharing classrooms with bigger kids.
I wonder if she’s feeling a little bit small.
At her age, my smallness felt such a scary thing, and it was always so close at hand, so I gave myself away in lots of little ways as I looked for approval and grades and relationships that told me I mattered, that I was big. In making my life about all them, I shrunk, and it took me years to grow to my actual size again.
Decades later, I’m thinking about all those on the cusp or in the dark or in the corner — those struggling to know their value and worth — that small would not be voicelessness or insignificance, but instead your place on the ground chosen for you. Where little toes dig into sand at mighty ocean’s edge, where a walk across forest floor lingers under the fresh air canopy of holy giants.
Yeah, not five minutes today (and I’m just getting started), but I am thankful to join with the community of Five Minute Friday where we share individual voices to create a chorus. All are welcome. Today began with the prompt: SMALL.
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