Why I Wished for My Daughter’s Awkward Phase
You can’t forge steel without a little fire.
When my daughter was about eight years old, we went to have lunch at some local sandwich shop. These teenage girls walked in. They must have been about 14 or 15 years old. I could tell because they weren’t fully autonomous yet. They were still at the mercy of the middle-aged woman who was driving them around for food.
These girls had a certain look about them. There was disdain on their faces like nothing pleased them. It didn’t seem directed toward anything in particular. Just run of the mill discontent that the world exists and that they had to be part of it. I refer to these girls as “Ugh Girls.” You have to roll your eye after you say that or it doesn’t work. Ugh. Eye roll.
I never said anything to my daughter about the girls or what I sat there secretly wishing for her. I looked at my cute little girl with the sparkly shirt.
She was still young enough to have unruly hair and not really know or care. I hoped to God that she would go through an awkward phase. Please God, let her be a little weird, for just a little while.
I wanted my daughter to grow up joyful. I wanted her to have her youth about her. Innocence and frivolity aren’t always lengthy visitors. I hoped I would have the kind of child that people encountered and knew she was happy. They could see it. They could feel it. I didn’t want her to be an Ugh Girl.
I knew an awkward phase was inevitable. She has my genes. My awkward phase ran from age nine to age 19. For a good solid run of ten years, my most formative years, I was a complete disaster on the outside. But, on the inside, things were happening. Good things. It took a long time for those things to bubble to the surface, but they did.
Having navigated my own weirdness, I was ready for hers. I never wanted the world to be mean to her. But I know that time spent as an underdog creates resiliency. She would need it so the world didn’t drag her down.
I started preparing her early. I knew what she’d go through. It wouldn’t be easy. She’d need confidence and not the false kind. The kind that was real and earned properly. I encouraged her humor. I helped her find things she enjoyed. Art, the violin and then cello, track, choir. I encouraged every single thing that gave her pride in herself.
If there’s one thing I’ve found it’s those beautiful girls grow up differently than the awkward ones. They get accustomed to compliments. Their sense of self comes from outside of them. They’re bulletproof because other people have told them they are, not because they’ve made themselves that way.
When you have to struggle a little it makes you stronger. You endure more. You’re more empathetic. You can find kindness. I have no regrets in wishing a little struggle for my daughter.
My daughter is now on the cusp of 16. She’s 6' tall and athletic. Willowy and beautiful in a way that she understands is different. My god, she owns every bit of her self. Confidently.
She grew up with a solid amount of adversity. Her school is predominantly Hispanic. Her blond hair and blue eyes stick out like a sore thumb. She has no ability to use any white girl privilege at her school. No one cares.
Tonight, we went out for pizza and a young girl sat across the way from us. She was 9, maybe. We heard her say she was in 5th grade.
She was beautiful. The kind of beautiful that commands attention. The kind of beautiful that spurs compliments.
She was also bitchy. Exceptionally. To everyone. She walked into the pizza place as if she owned it. She refused to stand in line and order with her family and sat down at a table to play with her phone. There was hair flipping.
When her little brother got to the table, she dressed him down and rolled her eyes. She did the same thing to her mother who had taken to trying to redirect her through gritted teeth. The redirection was not working.
This fifth-grade beauty was a fledgling Ugh Girl. She was everything I didn’t want my daughter to be and everything that the world around her created.
This was when I realized the world had done my daughter a favor.
She’s learned to be kind and smart in order to get the attention of people. She doesn't use beauty even though she has that now. She is articulate and can carry a conversation with anyone. Most importantly, she’s humble.
Sometimes, I watch my daughter when she doesn’t realize I’m doing it. She’s happy. You can see the joy in her. She doesn't care what people think. She doesn’t expect anything from anyone and I’m proud of her. People adore her for who she is, not for her beauty. She’s earned every bit of that adoration. Lord knows I give it to her in abundance.