“She said I stuck out like a sore thumb.”
I was sitting at my kitchen table with my 17-year-old daughter and her college counselor. We were working on her college essay. She was incorporating a story from when she was nine years old and in dance class. It was the first time I had heard about it. My mouth, as well as the counselor’s, hung open. How could a teacher say that to a child? To my child?
My heart was breaking. The incident happened in a dance class I encouraged my daughter to take when she was only in the fourth grade. The teacher had told her in front of the entire class that she stuck out like a sore thumb. She carried that with her for all of these years and never told me.
Where we live, kids’ sports are a priority. You play soccer. If you don’t like soccer, you play basketball. Or baseball, or hockey, or gymnastics. Or you dance. You play some sport, or you are made to think that something is wrong with you. I am not knocking sports. If you enjoy them and excel at one or more, that is fantastic. But not all kids do.
I didn’t when I was a kid. I was always a little klutzy and would have rather been home doing my nails. Back then it was okay. I never felt bad about not being part of a team; most of my friends were not. But things are different for our kids. I felt pressure to get both of my daughters involved.
My oldest started with soccer when she was in the first grade. She hated it, and looking back I don’t blame her. She was terrible at it. I remember putting her cleats on every Saturday while she cried that she didn’t want to go. But we were told: “You can’t let the team down. You have to finish out the season.”
I bought into this idea back then, and I made her go. Seriously, though, she was six years old and terrible at soccer. I think the team would have survived without her. But I tortured her every Saturday and forced her to play, praying she might get a little better.
After the season was over, she stopped playing soccer. We moved on to basketball, then ice skating, then gymnastics, then tennis, then that horrible dance school. Some of these choices were better than others, but she never excelled at any of them.
Eventually, we gave up, something we should have done much earlier. When we did, I felt judged. I judged myself. How could my daughter not be part of a team?
Meanwhile, my daughter, throughout all of those awkward years, also had an incredible sense of fashion. Yes, even back in first grade. While I was forcing those cleats on her, she wanted to bead a necklace or coordinate outfits. But I thought, “Those are not activities.” She couldn’t possibly spend her time doing something like that.
When my daughter was in the eighth grade, and we were shopping at a clothing store in town, the store manager offered her a job. The woman said she saw something in my daughter and knew she would be a great fit there.
The woman was right. My daughter has worked at the store for four years now and has never been happier. She loves what she does, and they love her. Excelling has given her confidence, something I naively took away from her during all those years I forced her to play sports.
Despite it taking a while, I am glad we did finally figure it out. I have learned a lot over the years. Not only is my daughter more self-assured, so am I. In fact, if I had it to do over again I would ignore all of the pressure around me and just let her be and do what she wanted.
If I could, I would also go back in time and tell that dance instructor where she could shove her sore thumb.