Tag Archives: daughters

Assertiveness training

Every year, I go to parent-teacher conferences. Every year, I look forward to being told that the child in question, whichever one, is a genius, startling in their intellect and destined to go far. Increasingly, every year, I have a sneaking suspicion that I might hear something else instead, because my children are children, just like everyone else’s.

This morning I went along hoping to hear that Mabel has a prodigious vocabulary; that her teachers have noticed her propensity for metaphor, her facility with rhyming words, and her endearing imaginative play. I was slightly terrified that they’d tell me she was a horribly spoilt prima donna who couldn’t take no for an answer and that it was all my fault. (Obviously.)

They told me she needs to be more assertive.

I really wasn’t expecting that. I mean, I don’t know if you can tell from the blog, but Mabel isn’t exactly backward in coming forward, as my mother might say, when she’s at home. She tells us how she feels, loud and proud and repeatedly, often with emphatic gestures (let’s say) to drive home her point.

On the days when I help at school, she tends to act up, getting clingy or defiant sometimes, but I disregard that because I know the children often behave differently when a parent is there – it’s hard for them to have their two worlds clash. But I hadn’t realised just how different Mabel’s school persona is from her home one. At school when I’m not there, she is quiet and reserved, shy and compliant – and sometimes she lets other kids boss her around so much that her teachers have noticed it and want her to stand up for herself.

It feels strange to have to coach Mabel in standing up for herself when I see her do it so effectively every day with her brother. But that’s family, at home, and that’s different. I know she’s shy out in the world; she sometimes takes refuge in bad manners to shock away a stranger who makes an unwelcome friendly comment. She’s five, and five is not old, though it’s old enough to be very aware of who you are and how you’re different from everyone else, just because you’re you. I need to remember that my daughter’s confidence needs bolstering even though – maybe exactly because – she makes me think it doesn’t. I need to remember that it’s not enough for me to think she’s awesome: I have to tell her, early and often, just like the little girl in The Help, that she’s important.

Because she is smart and good and delightful and full of amazing potential and nobody should ever make her think that she is anything less than just as important as everyone else in the room. If I have to put up with a few tantrums in the post office and a few offended strangers while she figures out how to be herself in public, I’ll do that.

Mabel happy outdoors

Don’t call her cute

Don’t call my daughter cute.

I don’t mind. I think she’s cute too, sometimes. But she’ll have your guts for garters if she hears you.

A particularly chatty (and somewhat clueless) fellow customer in the supermarket made that mistake a week or so ago.

“You’re just so cute,” she said, in a cutesy-wutesy voice.

The five-year-old was unimpressed. “I’m not cute,” she countered, with a steely gaze.

I asked her later why she doesn’t like it – not because I disagreed with her stance, but just because I was interested in her reasoning.

“Cute means small. I’m not small. Babies are cute. I’m not a baby.”

Fair enough. Much like Thumbelina, in her heart she’s six feet tall. It’s not her fault that grownups are all still bigger than her.

On Friday, the dentist’s assistant tried to call her cute. Mabel was nervous about the visit, but I could tell this was galling her, so I came gallantly to her defense:

“She doesn’t like to be called cute, actually.”

“Oh? Well, what would she prefer?”

I took the opportunity to put some words in her mouth, since she wasn’t feeling quite as perky as she had been in the supermarket, and I suggested, “How about, I don’t know, smart?”

The dental assistant took that on board, though it’s not as easy to believably tell a child you just met and who won’t meet your eye, never mind talk to you, that she’s very smart.

But you know what, you wouldn’t tell a stranger you’d never met that she was very pretty. (Unless you were in a bar and trying to score, and bolstered by alcohol, and even then she might not appreciate it.) So how about you stop making superficial remarks about children in front of them, and instead, wait for them to talk to you first? That way, if they want to tell you about their new shoes or the fact that you’re buying their favourite snack because it’s their birthday next week, or that their favourite animal is the proboscis monkey, then you can legitimately have a conversation, at the end of which you might just be able to remark with sincerity that they are, indeed, a smart kid.

And then I will try to help them learn to take a compliment graciously, with a smile and a Thank you.

Another five

Mabel turned five on Monday, and I’m only now thinking to mention it on my blog. You can blame second-child syndrome, but it’s mostly to do with all the other posts that have been brewing while we’ve been away. And the way she defies description, this child. I can’t pin her down with a few choice words, because she is always so much more, so contrary that she’ll be the opposite of whatever I say, so impossible.

My impossible girl. Impossibly loving, defiant, demanding, thoughtful, intransigent, accommodating, everything.

I have a soft spot for four and seven and twelve. I don’t know why, but those ages hold magic. So I’m sorry to see my four-year-old grow up and on and become a five-year-old – or I would be, if it didn’t mean that I get a five-year-old who is so much easier to deal with in so many ways than her one-year-ago incarnation.

Mabel is direct, I can tell you that. She knows her mind, and she tells you about it. She doesn’t understand dissemblers; she’s not one for subtlety. And yet – sometimes she’ll pull my sleeve and bring my ear to her mouth and tell me something she can’t keep in, but she knows she shouldn’t say out loud. She’s learning, and she’s sharp like a knife, this girl.

And she’s funny and smart and inventive and can craft a pun or a metaphor or a rhyme that impresses, and she’s going places.

I can’t wait to see where those places will be.

Mabel posing

Mabel with Dash's wooden sword down the back of her shirt

Mabel on the phone

Blowing out candles on the birthday cake

Mabel with stuffed bunny and baby doll

Colouring while waiting at the airport


Mabel was feeling a bit off-colour on Monday, because she was about to come down with a stonking head cold. I didn’t know that, of course, and I was co-oping at her school. As far as I was concerned, she was just being ornery.

I tried hard to look at it from her side: when she’s at home she’s Home Mabel and when she’s at school she’s School Mabel, but when I’m at school too, she’s both, or neither, and she’s pulled in all directions. It’s got to be hard.

But she beats the Shakespearian Insult Generator for epithets, sometimes.

At playground time she told me, of her best friend, who was sweetly trying to help, “He’s a big lump of chocolate.”

This was meant to be an insult. I pointed out that it sounded quite delicious, so she came up with a few more choice phrases for him and then turned on me.

“You’re an egg that’s been boiled and cooked in the oven.”

 I was duly chastened.

Mabel sticks out her tongue at you

Perfect moment

As I put Mabel to bed tonight, she looked up at me and announced, “Mummy, you are very beautiful.”

“Thank you,” I said, doing my best to practice taking a compliment graciously. “So are you.”

“Some day I’ll be a very beautiful lady,” she said.

“Yes, you will.”

All I have to do is not mess with that perfect confidence.

Mabel in a hat

Life with Mabel

Life with Mabel has been really quite peaceful of late. I just wanted to acknowledge that, because sometimes when times are good you are still complaining about the little things that are bugging you, which are in fact mere buzzing mosquitoes rather than circling hyenas or angry tigers, so you forget how much worse things could be.

I happened across a blog entry from earlier this year and was really surprised by how far she’s come in a short time. Some random highlights might include the following:

  • She is outside right now and she has her shoes on. What’s more, she put them on herself, voluntarily and without being told, before she left the house.
  • She isn’t hitting people for fun and/or profit these days. She’s not even hitting them out of rage very often. She hasn’t bitten anyone for almost a year, so I think I can actually declare that horrible phase over. If you have a biter, take heart. And buy them a chew toy.
  • She sleeps all night some nights. When she wakes up she goes back to sleep quickly if someone just lies down beside her. She goes to sleep at bedtime with a story, not nursing. Okay, so 9:30 pm seems to be her natural bedtime right now, but I’ll take it. Begrudgingly. (That one’s a very buzzy mosquito.)
  • She walks places, for a reasonable distance, without demanding to be carried. As recently as last Christmas she was still very much not wanting to walk anywhere, but it changed like flicking a switch. I’m not saying we’ll take her on a three-mile hike any time soon, but there’s been a distinct improvement. I think, in fact, it might be time to sell the stroller, which is only being used to turn upside down and play rocketships with these days.
  • She puts the toothpaste on the toothbrush and brushes for herself before letting me take a turn, and then she rinses and spits and doesn’t swallow the toothpaste just to annoy me any more.

In two weeks she too will be back at school, and I should be savouring her last year of nursery school, before next year’s big upheaval of kindergarten. She’s worried about going back to school, for nebulous reasons that she refuses to pin down, but which all come down to the fact that it’s not at home with me. She probably doesn’t like being told what to do at certain times, she is not a big fan of cleaning up, and she is not the gregarious people-pleaser her brother is. School is not her natural element as it is his. I anticipate some difficult mornings, again, as usual; but I know that she’ll be fine, that the teachers love her and know her and will take care of her, and that overall she’ll thrive there.

She’s growing up, our baby girl.

Dash and Mabel at the playground


I would like to excise the words “fat” and “thin” from the English language.

Flashback: As we drove home with my tiny newborn daughter pinkly in the back seat, I allowed myself a few moments of fear about raising a girl: body image and self esteem were right there at the top of the list. But then I got over it and enjoyed my beautiful tiny snuggly baby.

Last night, my daughter – my four-and-a-half-year-old daughter – pulled me close to her and asked me in the whisper she uses when she’s being very serious, if she was a little bit too thin. She wanted to know if thin was good or fat was good.

My heart broke a tiny bit. Maybe more than a tiny bit.

“You are exactly perfect and beautiful,” I told her, perhaps a bit too fiercely. “Remember that always. Exactly perfect.”

And I told her that thin and fat are not bad and good things. Good is fresh air and exercise and being strong and healthy. Bad is, well, nothing, so long as you don’t overdo it. At least, I tried to tell her, but she probably went off at a tangent about something else entirely before I’d said even a quarter of all the important things I have to say – that it’s my duty as her mother and a woman who was a girl – to tell her.

I just have to keep telling her, don’t I?

Legitimately a little chubby, perhaps.

*She learned the word “chubby” from the movie Tangled. I wish she hadn’t.

Why on earth did I not try this before?

Scene: Yesterday, getting into the car to go to school. I open the passenger door to put something on the seat. Mabel takes her chance to jump in the “wrong” way.

Me: Don’t… oh, okay, fine, just don’t squash my stuff in the bag there.

Mabel notices the bag and purposely smushes a fist down on top of the carefully ironed and folded clothes I’m bringing to the consignment store.

Me: Sigh.

Mabel switches direction and heads for the driver’s seat instead of her own.

Me: [lightbulb moment] Mabel, don’t sit in your seat.

Mabel looks at me, confused.

Me, more clearly: Mabel, whatever you do, you’re not allowed to sit in your carseat. Don’t come over here.

Mabel gives me a tiny grin and clambers very purposefully towards her seat. She sits down beautifully.

Me, doing up her straps: Don’t sit here. You’d better not sit here.

We get to school and Mabel shows signs of reluctance.

Me, wondering if it can possibly keep working: You’re not to go to school today. You’ll be in big trouble if you go into that classroom.

She gets out of the car, eager to break a rule, and heads for the building, and down the corridor, having the time of her life as I call after her.

Me: Don’t go inside. You’d better not go through that door…

And so on. Her courage failed her when it was time for me to leave, and I did have to read a story and then have her teacher peel her off me and distract her with snacktime plans (muffins!), but it worked amazingly well. 

Just something to keep in my arsenal and pull out only ocassionally, I think, in the hopes that it might save us all a meltdown some other day.


(I can’t find a video clip, but here’s the audio for exactly what this calls to mind, just to save anyone from having to go and look for it.)

Homer Simpson

Happy families

Mabel is something of a girly girl, with her pink and her tutus and her babies, but she still likes to stick it to the patriarchy.

Ever since she was first talking – and she talked early and often – she has insisted that her toys are almost always “she”s. I’d take a small plastic kangaroo, or a plush puppy, or whatever the item of the moment was, out of her hands to help her out of her carseat and say “Here, give him to me,” and she’d always answer, exasperated, “It’s a her!”

Some children mix their pronouns until quite late on, but Mabel was always quite certain that most of her toys were of the female persuasion. It’s a convention of our language to use the masculine as a neutral, so I might ask her “What’s he doing?” about a clearly genderless rubber frog, perhaps. But Mabel didn’t get that particular lingustic memo, and as far as she’s concerned, everything defaults to female. More power to her, I say.


She always plays families with whatever is to hand: given one large and one small dinosaur, one is instantly the mommy and one the little girl. Given four, there will also be a daddy and a brother, or maybe two mommies and a little sister. (If one is actually a pony, that’s okay: it was adopted.) A box of crayons is just as likely to be sorted into a bunch of rainbow relatives as to be used for their given purpose. Wrenches, nails, pebbles, leaves, french fries: they’ve all been turned into family members by my daughter.

The extended crayon family

Dash has a half-size skateboard that we found at the thrift store a while ago. Last week I caught Mabel running across the road with it to reunite it with its mommy, the full-size skateboard at our neighbours’ house.

Right now she’s outside putting together a family of scooters belonging to all the kids on the street. 

At IKEA, reuniting all the mommies and babies
I promise you she hasn’t experienced any deeply sublimated family-separation trauma in her young life – but you’d be forgiven for thinking that she had.

Pretty cool

Dash is still pushing the envelope with his sister, and she’s still yanking his chain:

– I love you a million. But I love mummy and daddy and friend-across-the-road giant.
– So do you love me giant?
– No.
– Tell me the truth.
– I love you seven. That’s the truth.
– But do you love me infinity? I love you infinity.


Somehow, a dichotomy has been established in our house between cool and pretty. Cool things are boy things and pretty things are girl things. Every time I hear some variation on this being trotted out, I tell them “cool can be pretty” and “pretty can be cool” and “nothing is just for boys or just for girls” and I hope some day it makes it through and out the other side by osmosis because at the moment they are rigid in their definitions.


And I want to tell my daughter something:

Pretty is fine, but you don’t need to be pretty*.

I want you to be strong, I want you to be heard. I want you to stand up for yourself and for others. Polite is good, consideration is vital; but I want you to above all keep yourself safe and sane, which means demanding the respect that is due to you and no less, as a member of the human race and as a woman.

  • First, use common sense. You’re smart. Act smart.
  • Second, listen to your gut. Follow your spidey sense, never discredit a “feeling”.
  • Third, it’s never too late to make a change for the better.

Pretty is fine, and good is nice, but strong is beautiful. Be strong, my beautiful daughter, and you will rule the world.

*Inspired by this blog post I happened upon recently, which quotes (but doesn’t really attribute) a famous thing Diana Vreeland once said. And I have no idea who she was, but she seems cool.