Tiny-Small started attending school for 3-4 hours in the morning. She went three days this week, by the third day she was practicing her executive leadership skills with confidence and authority. She’s becoming quite good at standing up for herself and helping other people find direction. When I picked Tiny-Small up from “school” (I use the term loosely because it’s more like going to Grandma’s house and playing with kids than structured, formal learning) yesterday her teacher complained. Apparently, Tiny-Small wouldn’t listen to the teacher’s seven-year old grandson when he told Tiny-Small she had to stay outside. Her teacher seemed a little annoyed that Tiny-Small refused to take instructions from a seven-year old boy. I wasn’t surprised by this at all. I mean, seven-year old boys are not the boss of me either. They shouldn’t be the boss of anyone. I remember the power-hungry brutes I encountered in first and second grade. In short, some little kids are down right mean. That is just a little piece of truth people like to pretend doesn’t exist.
Last week when we were at a wedding in a local park, Tiny-Small was playing with a big group of kids. They were running wild as kids do. Tiny-Small came over to me crying and said a little boy wouldn’t let her go on the stairs. He was only allowing some kids to pass by him and she was not one of them. I told her to march back over to the little boy and tell him, “I am Tiny-Small (she used her real name of course) and I am allowed to go anywhere I want to.”
Yes, I know she needs to learn to follow the rules and listen to her teachers or other adults, but if adults insist on putting little boys in charge they probably aren’t going to get much respect from Tiny-Small or from me. Tiny-Small doesn’t listen to “bossy” little kids. She just practices her own executive leadership skills right back at them. I just keep picturing the two kids staring at each other in disbelief as they try to out-executive each other. I am pretty sure Tiny-Small is going to win any verbal matches she finds herself in. She’s a child who knows how to use her words. I feel sorry for the little boy at her school, well, almost sorry for him. He doesn’t have the verbal development to out-wit Tiny-Small, but, he is the grandson of the woman in charge so I am sure he gets a little special treatment and when he is snotty to the other kids he probably gets a pass.
I know I was informed of Tiny-Small’s executive leadership skills because the teacher feels they are a problem or inappropriate, but I don’t see them that way. I see a little girl who isn’t afraid to stand up to people. I see a little girl who witnesses injustice and refuses to accept it. I see a little girl who doesn’t automatically believe the boys know better or more than she does. I see a little girls who doesn’t follow the rules made up and enforced by a seven-year old boy. I give that little girl a high-five and a secret smile. I am proud of her. There is no way I am going to squash that confidence out of her and tell her she must listen to little boys telling her what to do. I am not going to set that precedent. Heck no. She’s going to be large and in charge one day. We live in an area of the country where having a penis means you are special. When I worked with kids and families I saw that preferential treatment based on sex in action. Little girls waited on their brothers. One mother spoon fed her almost three-year old boy (literally) while her five-year old daughter did chores. I was brought in to work with the little boy because he wasn’t hitting developmental milestones. That’s what happens when you are carried everywhere and never allowed to hold a spoon to feed yourself. Girls are not allowed to do things that boys are allowed to do…like go to college. That’s not the world I want Tiny-Small growing up in, but here we are. The only thing I can do is work hard to change the world we live in. I am starting with Tiny-Small.
I am teaching her that just having a specific body part does not make you special. You earn respect and greatness. It’s not handed to you based on something you have no control over (like being born with a penis or a vagina). If she wants to work hard and study and earn an executive leadership position, she should be able to. If she doesn’t want to take orders from other people she better start practicing those executive leadership skills now by honing her verbal skills and making convincing arguments that promote her position or idea. She needs to learn to be persuasive, and honest, and fair because that’s how good leaders behave. She needs to stand up to people who are mistreating others. She needs to be both brave and empathic. That’s something she can start learning today. She can practice on all of the seven-year old boys (and girls) who instinctively think they have a right to be in charge of her or in charge of her friends.
If she wants to do that while wearing a princess dress and carrying around a unicorn covered in glitter, well, she should be able to do that too. She is the director of her own life. She doesn’t have to listen to seven-year old boys. She doesn’t have to sit back while other people make decisions for her. She can change the world she lives in too.
I want to thank Sheryl Sandberg for sharing the descriptive words “Executive Leadership Skills” and for all of the bloggers attending Blogher for tweeting those words so the mothers and women at home could read them. I think we need those reminders sometimes. We need a way to frame our power in a positive context. It reminds me to embrace and nurture my daughter’s leadership skills instead of shaming them out of her. It reminds me to take a stand behind her and to defend her actions when I need to. These descriptive words will also allow me to verbally argue my point of view against the naysayers when the day I need to finally comes and it will come. I feel empowered to practice and exercise my own executive leadership skills too. I have an example to set. The eyes of little girls are always watching and I don’t want to disappoint them by speaking one thing and doing another.