(“Ninja Girl” by S)
The word “ninja” conjures up for me an image of economical and precise action. My daughter S is that way with words. Even when she was four-year-old, if I stopped in the middle of reading to ask her if she knew what a particular word meant, she could immediately fire back with a definition that would make Webster proud. I called her the Mozart of definitions: they were clear, precise, and she didn’t use a single extraneous word. What amazed me was that at age four she could already define words she knew with more precision than Jung or I could. Another talent she had from a very young age was a remarkably thorough understanding of her internal emotional landscape coupled with precise language with which to express it. It still takes me a while to process my emotions (which is one reason why yesterday’s planned post needed to be shelved) but not for my S. Whatever she’s feeling, she gives the play-by-play!
I think it’s her exceptionally-developed emotional intelligence that has made dealing with teasing at school so difficult for her. Over the years she has tried to communicate to her teachers just how hurtful it is for her, but all too often she has been told to “just ignore it.” Of course she can’t ignore it. She’s not designed to. She’s designed to be aware of the emotional landscape of others just as she’s aware of her own and it’s not an awareness that she can attenuate. What she’s learned to do instead, is to bottle up her response. I think you know where this is going.
Sometimes it takes only a small thing to provoke an emotional outburst from S. She’s been labeled “oversensitive” and naturally this has only exacerbated the teasing she gets from some of her less empathetic classmates. She has loyal friends who appreciate her easy smile, sense of humor, quick wit and skill with language as well as her giant-sized heart, but this doesn’t make the teasing sting any less. She’s also learned an unfortunate lesson: sometimes if an adult doesn’t want to hear the truth the victim (S herself) will be punished, rather than the perpetrator. So she keeps the truth to herself as well.
Home is different. Home is where she can be heard and believed. But we’ve also had to tell her that as she gets older she needs to begin to take care of these things herself and not try to rely on teachers to step in as much. We’ve tried to help her see that if she would feed the energy of her heart into her brain and channels that through her voice, nobody could stand up to her. Still, I think she was afraid. She didn’t want to try. She just wanted the teasing to stop.
I would like you to imagine a scene in a movie for a moment. There’s a woman walking across a nearly-empty parking lot late at night. Figures lope out of the shadows converging on her, surrounding her: four thugs with improvised clubs. The woman screams, hands over everything she has and begs them to leave her alone. That was how my daughter saw herself: alone, powerless, and surrounded.
Now imagine the same scene, the same woman and the same thugs converging on her. This time though, something’s different. The woman sees the thugs around her and her body relaxes almost imperceptibly into a stance. The corner of her mouth goes up ever-so-slightly and there’s a twinkle in her eye. The thugs laugh and chuckle, raise their clubs and there’s a whirlwind of movement. After the dust settles, you see the woman, still standing where she was, now surrounded by the thugs splayed out on the ground, unconscious. She steps over the one that’s lying in front of her and continues on her way.
I think S now knows she has the potential to be that woman with her words: a verbal ninja.
She was finally heard by someone in power; someone capable of making change in her environment and that helped her to find her power. The funny twist is, though, that nothing has actually been done for her yet. No perpetrator has yet been admonished, punished or talked to by the school. But as it turned out, she really didn’t need anyone to do anything for her after all. She just needed to be heard.
Being heard was like a scaffolding, a crutch, or a key for her. That one bit of support allowed her to unlock her own power. Being heard helped her to believe in herself just enough to begin to know who she really was. Now that she knows it, I hope she’s also aware that the same power is available to her at any time. She doesn’t need anyone to hear her anymore.
Yesterday, the verbal thugs went after her again, but yesterday they took on the wrong girl. This was a transformed S who brought her passion, her mad verbal ninja skills and yes, her giant heart to block, parry, and return fire against all the taunts they tried. Yesterday, those verbal thugs were out-matched.
When S told me the story of how she talked back to her tormentors I could hear that she did it as the strong, confident S that I know so well. I could also hear that she knew she had licked them good! I couldn’t have been more proud. Today, I shared her story with the head of the school and he told me that although the taunting was unacceptable, he was glad to hear what S had found the power to do. He knew that it must have boosted her confidence as well as sent her tormentors a clear message.
I made sure S knew that the head of her school supports what she did, and S was happy to hear that, but I’m not sure she needed to know that anymore. I could see on her face that she knew that using her verbal ninja skills was the most right thing she had ever done. It was empowering. Now she knows by experience what we had been telling her for years: when she feeds the energy of her giant-sized heart into her brain and channels that through her voice the world had better watch out!
Three days ago I wrote about the power of being heard. I think S’s story shows that an even greater power comes from knowing who you are. The SoulPlayFamily 365 Experiment is very much our public discovery process to learn who we are as individuals and as a family.
And remember, if you choose to engage my daughter S in verbal sparring, you have been warned.