My daughter came home looking worried the other day after school.
“What’s up?” I asked.
“Some kids ran past me on the playground and yelled that I had evil eyebrows,” she said. “They said, ‘Evil eyebrows girl, you have evil eyebrows!’”
My first instinct: justice.
“Who were they?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” she said. “They were older.”
“You have beautiful eyebrows,” I said. “They’re not evil at all. Besides, eyebrows can’t be evil.”
“I…know…” she said. But I could sense that thing knocking around inside her, that little thing that happens when someone says something shocking or mean or silly or random and we wonder how much weight to give it. Adults are generally more cordial with each other and don’t yell out stupid remarks just because they have a slight urge to do so. Kids have less of a filter.
“If that happens again,” I said, “Say, ‘Why are you running away, chickens? If you care so much about my eyebrows, let’s all go talk about them with the teacher.’” In a perfect world where comebacks come out in time, that would be a decent one, I think, to lob at the Pony Express Eyebrow Dissers.
“Kids used to make fun of my eyebrows when I was little,” I recalled,
Her eyes widened. “They did?”
“Yup. “But then grownups would say that I was lucky to have them, because they were like Brooke Shields’ eyebrows. Brooke Shields was a famous actress with very thick eyebrows.”
I also remember a red-haired boy on the school bus who turned around apropos of nothing and scornfully told me my lips were too big. As if he were the arbiter of middle school facial feature size. He had his own issues, but maybe he thought if he told me first, I wouldn’t wise off about his big white Chicklet teeth.
I related this eyebrow story to female friends my age and they all recalled some feature of theirs that had been ridiculed, although it tended to be their favorite feature as adults. We were sitting around a table in our thirties and forties, couldn’t remember piles of things from childhood, but the Thing We Got Picked On For, that popped right up to the surface in half a second. Susie remembered being called “Miss Piggy” because of her upturned nose. “And I love my nose now. It’s so youthful.”
I can’t control what fool thing comes out of someone’s mouth on the playground–I can’t even control what things come out of my kids’ mouths, although I can respond to what they say in a way that I hope guides them and teaches them about what effect it might have on others.
And, I can say, “I love your eyebrows. You are beautiful. I love you,” channel Tina Fey, and feed her some good response zingers for the next time the Pony Express Fill-in-the-Blank Dissers gallop through town.
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