“Maybe you should write about how hard it is to be a kid going to middle school, and having to listen to name-calling, and other kids making fun of things you have no control over.”
Those are the words of my daughter, Ally, who spoke this to me on the way home from piano lessons. She is twelve. I had mentioned that I wanted to write a post tonight, and she asked what I would write about. When I answered that I didn't know, she was puzzled, and asked, "How can you blog if you don't know what to write about?" I told her not to worry, that was pretty much how I always approach writing. Then, I asked her if I should write about her tonight. I guess you could say she gave me her answer.
Ally jumps in puddles of water, and laughs when she does. She slides across the ice, completely oblivious to the chance of slipping and splitting her head open. She sings, and when she sings, God smiles, and so does her daddy. Her voice is truly a gift from God.
Ally plays video games with great enthusiasm, and reads books at a pace that would put many adults to shame. Yet when she reads, she does it for the pure enjoyment of reading.
Ally works hard in school, and plays every bit as hard, and when I watch her, I keep wondering, will God help her to live this joy forever? Will she always be free enough to walk barefoot through the grass, without a care in the world, to squish it between her toes, and giggle?
Ally jumps on her trampoline, sometimes for hours, but she doesn’t do it to get exercise. She does it because she loves it. As far as I can see, Ally doesn’t do anything in her life that is a ritual. She does it… because she loves it.
After she got in the car tonight, I could see by the expression on her face that she had not loved school today. I asked her about it, but she was all “one-syllable” toward me. I began to fear I had upset her. However, I left her alone with it, trying my best to give her time to work through whatever was bothering her.
When we arrived home, she immediately began practicing piano. I had a run to make to the store, so I went to the piano room to let her know. The look on her face, even now, breaks my heart. I asked again if something was bothering her. She said no, and went back to practicing.
But as I made to leave the room, she sighed, and said, “Well, I guess I am mad at someone.” Immediately I thought it was me. Why am I so worried about that?
She made sure I knew it wasn’t me, though. She began telling me that a friend of hers had made fun of her lisp, and laughed at her. Yes, Ally has a slight lisp. She has a little trouble making the sound, “s”. My brave little girl wouldn’t allow herself to cry in front of her daddy, though. But I did get to give her a long hug.
She told me that her friend had already apologized, but Ally feels like she didn’t mean it. I understand that feeling really, really well.
We talked about this for a while, and although I know she is still thinking about it, she knows her daddy loves her, and loves her lisp. That’s right. I think it’s the cutest thing I have ever heard. When she sings with it, it softens every song she sings, in a way that no one else can. Some people might have a better voice, although she is young, so we just don’t know. But with that lisp, she rends hearts when she sings. At least, she does mine. The first time I heard her sing “Silent Night”, I almost cried, it was so tender, as if the song had been written for her voice alone. And when I hear her talk, the sound of her lisp is music to my ears. Daddies are like that.
Ally sang freely, and spoke freely, with joy.
Yet, because of this, Ally is going to be aware of her lisp in a way she never was before. She always knew she had it, but no one ever gave her crap about it. Now, someone did, and the sheer joy of just talking has, for a little while, if not longer, been stolen away. This all because of a thoughtless comment.
I never thought I could love someone so much as I love my daughter. To think of how she is feeling, to know what she is thinking about, well, it’s making me cry.
Ally jumps in puddles, as I said, and laughs. But the next time she says “nurse”, will she say it as freely as she used to? Or will she try to alter it, to make it sound “right”, so that no one will ever be able to tease her again?
Her freedom has been ripped away. I am sure the little girl who is her friend did not mean to do all of this. I am sure none of us, when we make fun of someone else, or pick at someone’s habits, mean to steal their freedom. But that is what I have seen happen today, and so often in the past, that any attempt to count it would be ridiculous.
Ally, I want you to know that I love you. I love that little lisp you have, and I don’t ever want you to change it. But if you do, I hope it’s because it just happened naturally. I want you to forget about what your friend said, and talk freely. Your voice melts ice. Break the ice around other people’s hearts, as you always do with me, and if there is a lisp, well, you know I’ll smile in love.
There is more to life than “fitting in”. You already have it. Don’t lose it. It’s called freedom, and whenever I see you jump in a puddle, I think of that joy I wish I had never lost.