She was in tears and camp pickup was the usual chaos of any school or camp pickup. Her big blue eyes were clouded and her face was red. Mr. Safek, ever the protective papa bear, was already trying to find out who had made her cry. Having been a girl that age myself a few years ago, I instinctively knew it wasn’t going to be that simple. NOTHING is ever simple in the social lives of tween and teen girls!
“I’m so tired of being different. I feel like a freak.”
I kept gently digging, trying to find the roots of this weed of a problem, instead of just pulling at the leaves. Happily, no one had said anything mean or hurtful to her. She was just feeling that self-consciousness that is so acute at that age. I asked her if she would be more comfortable if she was dressed more like the other kids and she replied no, she wanted to be dressed modestly. She loved her pretty skirts and shirts and with boys around, she didn’t think she’d be comfortable running around in a swimsuit or just leggings. She just wanted to not be the only one her age.
6th grade is definitely a time when you don’t really want to stick out, at least not all the time and even though we’d been up here a while and I thought we were mostly used to the casual nature of Alaska, in my daughter’s mind, a Synagogue or Jewish event equals long skirts and elbows covered. We live in a place, though, where you barely need to remove your hip waders to enter even the fanciest restaurants, a place where function reigns over form and people are dressed for practicality in their busy, active outdoor lives.
I admire the way our daughter has adapted her skirts to almost anything she wants to do. She’s skied in them, snowshoed in them, ridden horses, ziplined…you name it and she has found a way to do it in a skirt. Even before we ever began conversion, she was my girly girl, always preferring dresses and skirts to jeans.
Now, though, it was different. She longed for a group that she could feel at home in and I had to admit that I’ve often shared that longing. I could relate.
We had a good long talk about tznius in general about how it’s about so much more than what a person wears and how a person can be tznius in their actions or speech even without dressing modestly or how a modestly dressed person might not be tznius at all beyond their hemlines. We talked about being kind to others instead of always needing the spotlight for ourselves, about being humble in our speech as well as modest in our dress. We talked about instead of focusing on external differences, maybe looking for what she had in common within. Perhaps she could find more common ground there to bridge that gap and make some friends?
And yet…and yet…she longs for other girls her age who are observant. She longs for that connection and that feeling of belonging.
Mr. Safek is more a fixer than a sympathetic ear, as many men are. His focus turned from protecting his “little miss” from some mean bully as he realized there was no bully here to instead looking at ways we might just be able to move a little sooner. I relaxed a bit and suggested she wear her favorite unicorn pajamas to pajama day, even though they are a one piece suit with legs. Happily, she is still excited to wear her new modest bathing suit for the water activities.
Sometimes I bet even a unicorn wishes all horses also had horns.
A little girl’s tears can be powerful motivation and I’ve heard it said that a woman’s tears bring blessings from Hashem. This summer, we seem to have had both and so it is time to begin sorting and packing in the hopes that we’ll be flying to a new home a few months earlier than planned.