8 Going On 28

I stride toward the elementary school’s front door and set my jaw.  I am wearing my usual jeans and blue oxford button down shirt.   Blue, gray and orange trail running shoes complete my outfit.  I’ve rehearsed all of my lines.  I will meet with the speech therapist and decline further services.  I will not whine or beg or complain.

“My daughter has had services for 5 years and I appreciate all that you’ve done for her, but she feels like a nerd when you pull her out of class.  Yes, I am sure.  Thank you so much for everything.”

She’s 8 gone on 28.  Then she is 8 again and I’m so confused.  I want to hold her tight and promise her, with all of my might, that it is all going to be alright.

My daughter, age 7

My image reflects back at me from the long, tall windows that line the lunchroom to my right and the office on my left.  I try not to pay attention to how I look because lately I have been feeling self-conscious.  Runners should be thin and I don’t think I look thin.  Instead, I gaze through the lunchroom windows and try not to gulp.

One year ago, a boy had said unspeakably inappropriate things to my little girl in that lunchroom and I’d gone into school to talk about it with her teacher.  With a helpless shrug, she had murmured, “I have no control over the lunchroom.   It’s not within my jurisdiction.”  We did not let this Lord of the Flies mentality stand; instead, we requested that my daughter switch to a teacher that did not shrug at bullies.  This whole incident, however, had shaken me to my core.

She’s 8 gone on 28.  Then she is 8 again and I’m so confused.  I want to hold her tight and promise her, with all of my might, that it is all going to be alright.

Last night, we were walking in the woods and Madeline whispered, “Gary and Joey told Lizzie that she sits at the loser table at lunch.”

I scowled as she continued, “And they tell me that too, because I always sit at that table.”

My scowl turned into a howl, “That is UNACCEPTABLE.”

Words strung into sentences and when I was finished, my bespectacled daughter remonstrated, “But Gary can’t help it Mom.  He’s popular.”

Photo by Ann Nguyen

So as I pass my daughter in the hallway, I wink at her and promise to swing by the lunchroom after meeting with her speech therapist.  A look that mixes anxiety with hope and unconditional love passes over her visage like a summer thunderstorm.  Then I pull her teacher aside and explain the “loser table” matter to her, and she nods with a sage, somewhat ironic, controlled expression of discontent.  I know she will take care of it, so I square my shoulders and rehearse my lines and walk into the speech therapist’s office.

She’s 8 gone on 28.  Then she is 8 again and I’m so confused.  I want to hold her tight and promise her, with all of my might, that it is all going to be alright. 

I am in the meeting now, and I deliver my lines right.  It’s hard.  I don’t do well in these situations, which is crazy weird for an ex-trial attorney, but the truth is, I deplore confrontations, so I usually avoid them.  It turns out that her speech therapy was going to end anyway, with just a few more classroom observations.  She will suffer through no more special pullouts that breed a sense of inferiority.

I keep my promise.  I amble down to the lunchroom and find my little 8-year old sitting with four other 8-year old girls at the “loser table.”  I do not glare at Gary and Joey.  They are children too, and at some point they will find the light or fall into the darkness.  No matter.

I sit beside my daughter and she pulls her hands up to her head and pushes her hair behind both ears and a question forms in the crease between her wide-set eyes.  This will turn into a vertical thinking wrinkle by the time she turns 28 and someone will love her vertical thinking wrinkle as much as my husband loves my three horizontal thinking wrinkles.  I don’t hear her question, so I lean toward her and ask her, “What did you say?”  She draws close to me and hugs me tight with all her might and I know it is going to be alright.

Do you identify with this conflicting need to hold on and let go, dear reader? She is my only daughter, and my eldest child of three.

22 comments on “8 Going On 28
  1. I can’t really respond properly, I have tears reading this! Oh, how I know that feeling. My son is nine and wears glasses and tends to be picked on (like I used to be) I dropped him off at school today and he walked away, a huge grin on his face, just loving life and everyone–he’s still so innocent and trusting– and I felt my heart in my throat just imagining if any one else ever tried to break that smile of his with teasing or bullying. I’m afraid the mama bear in me would come out.

    • I was almost in tears when I wrote this and then I read it to my daughter. She smiled at me, ran downstairs, drew a picture of me (made me thin lol) and wrote, “I love you Mom because you are awesome.” Wow.

      I am so sorry you were picked on, and your son is sometimes picked on too–that makes me wanna hit somebody. I’m right there with you as far as taming my mama bear. When I see the bullies at my kids’ school, I want to hurt them . . . but I remind myself that they are just children.

      Thank you so much for your sweet comment!!

  2. mala says:

    I know exactly what you mean by wanting to hold on to your children for dear life. I feel the same way even though most of my children are 18 or older. There’s times when I look at them and see the child that they once were and it brings tears to my eyes because sometimes the world can be a cruel place and I hope that I’ve prepared my children well enough to handle it. Even now, when my kids are going through difficult times, I want to pull them into my lap and hold them like I once did not too long ago when they were little. My son, who’s six foot tall and about 250 lbs. tries to sit in my lap! I can still do it although not for very long! LOL! All we can do is to prepare them for the future the very best we can and always reinforce that we’ll be there for them no matter how near or far they are from us. When my daughter Laureen graduated from high school, I bought her a mother/daughter silver heart necklace and when I gave it to her, I told her that wherever she goes, my heart is always with her as well as my love. She’s had some bad things happen to her recently that I can do nothing about because of her life choices. All I can do is counsel her and she has to make decisions of her own regarding her life and sometimes it’s so hard! Thank you El for giving me something to think about and allowing me to share some things with you. Thank you for sharing bits of your life with us!

    • Aw Mala,
      Thank you so much for sharing such sweet parts of your life with me. I am grinning about your 250-ib son and also smiling about Laureen (an empathetic, sad smile–knowing she will be okay and that as a mom it is so hard to stand by and watch our children, especially as they grow, make their own mistakes). Aye, I hear you so well, re hoping our children can handle the cruel world they are entering. Much love to you!

  3. Judy Lee Ellis says:

    I COMPLETELY identify with this El! My 10year old “Fairy” is the BRIGHTEST light in any room!(I AM NOT biased!)lol. She’s 10 goin g on 35 and at times the most saged and logical person I know, then as if by magic her TOTAL innocence returns and she is my oh so sensitive, caring, incredible self. She has been bullied at school, on the bus and physically attacked by a much bigger, older boy after school(The Police were involved). Her Principal and Teachers simply ride the party line of bullying is NOT TOLERATED at our school(the focus here is on standardized testing. Don’t get me started!) I reassure her daily and fend off as many demons as I dare to keep her safe(letting her fight a battle or two for herself). Short of making myself insane with worry, I can only try to let things work themselves out. She goes to middle school next year and my worry quadruples(at the very least). I turned to my older daughter(8years her senior & in College) for advice on how to help her thrive in middle school. She simply stated “Stay out of it Mom, it only gets MORE embarrassing for her if you butt in.” Alas, I allay my fears by watching her sweet, naive face as she sleeps and know that NO MATTER WHAT I will always keep her heart safe with my own and the sun will rise and set tomorrow just as it has countless other times, and this too shall pass.

    • Dear Judy:
      ::Sigh:: Gosh, hun, that is so hard re your darling Fairy. OMG–re the police getting involved. Good on you for being proactive but gosh, it is so hard, this period between 10 years old and 35 years old, isn’t it? And I fear sometimes that standardized test scores matter more than zero tolerance bullying policies. Gah! I agree with your eldest daughter re intervening (until things get dangerous–sigh–I trust you will know how to handle everything).

      All I can add is my love. I know you will do everything in your power to keep that bright light shining.


  4. k8edid says:

    I am bawling my eyes out again. I miss being a mommy and all that it entails – even the endless stream of laundry, carpooling, homework and struggles. I miss it so much. I think with Mothers Day coming – missing my mom and being so far away from my grown children – has made me weepy this week.

    Their job is to grow away from you – your job is to prepare them and let them go. Neither is easy. I don’t have feelings of wishing I had done anything differently, i just wish it hadn’t gone so quickly. I never quite knew how tightly to hold on, or how much to let go, but it all worked out in the end.

    • k8edid: aw hun–thank you. And I WILL miss this (groaning after one of those nights all mothers have)–all of it. A big hug to you ((( ))) –I know that the stage you’re in is going to be hard when I get there. And I am sorry about your mom.

      Aye. Their job is to grow up and away . . . and we let them fly, but always give them a safe place to land. And yes–I probably will not know either. Big smiles at you. xo,


  5. Yes, I totally identify. My daughter had a bullying experience when she first changed schools this past year. I wanted to ring the little girls’ necks, truth be told, but I stuffed it and handled it with the teacher-in-charge. However, the next day, Maycee handled it even further on her own and confronted the girls with the mean things they had said to her and about her. They all backed down, denying everything, and that was that-has not happened again. Other things have, of course, that we discuss, and I continue to try to be objective about and offer my solutions. I was picked on as a kid, all the way into early high school, then I joined the drinkin’ crowd and my life became a tumultuous ride. I don’t want that for my daughter, so I stay vigilent and listen to everything she tells me! Good job, mama, and a wonderful, tear-jerking post. Hugs! XOXO-SWM

    • singleworkingmom: Good on you for stuffing it (OMG I have been in your shoes–gah!!) and good on Maycee for handling it even further on her own! I think the best outcome is when we can empower our children to stand up to bullies on their own, but man, it is so hard.

      Ah–it sounds like we had similarly tumultuous rides in high school. Man, am I grateful I am off that rollercoaster.

      Good job to you too, mama, and thank you so very much for your kind comment!!



  6. Nina Badzin says:

    Oh my goodness–yes I completely relate. It’s so hard to let them go through the childhood stuff that they’ll have to go through to learn their own lessons and find their way. It’s our job to protect them but we can only do that to a certain point, right? I shudder to think of my kids as teenagers–with all those aches and pains they’re likely to feel at some point or another.

    Your daughter’s eyes are GORGEOUS by the way. I love that picture of her in the driver’s seat too. Perfect for this discussion. (and good job not clubbing Gary and Joey.)

    • Hello Nina!

      Thank you so much for stopping by! Aye, yes–gah! It is so hard, so hard to let them fly solo. Exciting, and it always makes me proud of them but it hurts so much when they crash. And you have 4 children, right? One of my friends (I think on my FB Page) was talking about her daughter, who is 15. The daughter just got her heart broken for the first time. Shudder-worthy indeed!

      Aw, you made my day re my daughter’s eyes! Thank you so much. I feel blessed to have her as my daughter. And grin (gulp) I was relieved I did not club “Gary and Joey” (not their real names).


  7. dmmacilroy says:

    Good fighters need good people in their corners. Your daughter has that in you. She feels it now and that’s good, but when she has daughters turning eight going on twenty-eight she’ll really know what steel was behind your love.



  8. My little dude was bullied Monday after school, while I was 10 feet away. He handled it like a champ, and the bully was in the disciplinarian’s office the next morning. I am so thankful that his school really practices their zero tolerance policy.

    The boy got off easy. Because if he’d met with me it would’ve been a whole different matter.

    • Hello Lisha,

      Groan–so sorry to hear what happened to your little dude on Monday. I am thankful, however, that the bully was disciplined and that your school really practices its zero tolerance policy!!

      Yes, fellow Mama Bear–I hear you!!



  9. You know Tech has been bullied on and off for years, but he is an old soul and seems to understand that the cruel people have something broken inside them. I identify with this. We all want everyone to love our children the way we do. It hurts when they don’t.

    This is a beautiful piece. And your daughter is like a mini-you! Genetics are amazing! Two gingers! 😉

  10. Your daughter is beautiful. This is a wonderful story about the struggles of being a mom. I struggle with thinking my daughter is older than she is and then remembering “she is only 7”. I hope our kids don’t have to deal with unkind people in school. However, my and my husband’s experience with unkindness turned us into genuinely good, empathetic, human beings. I love where being a “nerd” or a “geek” got me in life! (I always wish I had embraced it earlier.) Battles aren’t always fought on the front line. The love, comfort, and happiness she feels at home will form a protective shield around her. Just constantly reinforce that shield.

    • Just Keep Swimming: thank you so much my friend. And I share that hope, but I too grew into the kind, empathetic woman that I am through the struggles I faced with the darker side of humanity. Aye–I wish I had embraced my “inner blob,” which is what I call my younger, unloved, insecure self. She was lovely.

      And I love what you wrote about battles. Yes. I will take your advice. Much love. xoxo.

  11. pegoleg says:

    For me it was the science table. I was at the uncool girls science table duriing junior high. We all knew which table was which as clearly as if they were labeled, and of course it hurt like hell. But what was anybody supposed to do about it?

    That was almost 40 years ago and it was true 40 years before that and it will be true 40 years from now – kids can be mean and hurtful. I think all we can do as parents is what you are doing. Teach our kids how to cope with unpleasant realities, step in when we have to, and try to remember that those “monsters” are just other kids, and most of them will grow up some day.

    • Peg:

      The science table?! Gah! And I know–there really isn’t anything we can do about it. ::sigh:: We must keep them safe but we cannot isolate them from life, and all that it will bring them. Thank you so much for your wise comments above.


  12. thetwistingkaleidoscope says:

    I loved this–had a big long response written and my evil phone ate it before I could post it. Sigh. For now–it’s hard holding on and letting go at the same time, isn’t it? xo

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