Yesterday presented another one of those parenting moments that required some pause and an exploratory conversation. The morning started with 3-on-3 hockey and what an exciting match. I swear this game could be the death of me. I cheer loud for Leila to encourage her. On our way to the car I asked if she can hear me and surprise she announces “Yes”. Another shocker, I am loud. Apparently, it can be distracting, so could I continue to cheer in a tone of voice that let’s her know I am in her corner, yet keeps her focused. Oh dear, we are heading into the playoffs!!
On the way home we stopped to pick up food for supper. At the cash Leila informed me she knows one of my passwords for one of my credit cards. She assured me she has no plan to use my credit card, except when I am older and will require her assistance. The dialogue amuses the individual at the cash, then true to Leila’s nature she engages her in the conversation. Leila reaches out to carry the bags and as she does, the person tells me what a helpful little boy I have. Leila and I exchange a look.
On the way out the door I ask her if she would like me to correct the person. She adamantly says no, so I ask her how does she feel when someone makes the statement. Her response, she is hot and cold inside. At that moment it took everything I had not to start crying, rather I paused to formulate the next question. When I asked why she didn’t want me to tell the person, her response was “I don’t want to make other people feel bad. When Auntie Terry told a person, the person felt bad.” So the upside, Leila cares about how other people feel; on the downside, she dismisses her feelings.
Before she closed the door in the car, I leaned in talk more about honouring her feelings. She informed me she didn’t know what to do with the feelings of being cold and hot inside. I told her I appreciated she cared about other people’s feelings. My job is to care about her feelings and help her to find her voice. We share many conversations about understanding with short hair and the comfortable clothes she chooses, people will assume she is a boy. Leila tells me she knows this, yet yesterday her expression told me a different story. It took all the inner strength I had not to shed tears while we conversed. And there are probably more conversations on the horizon. What I take away from these interactions if for me to be more aware of gender-neutral language when I engage in conversation with others and most importantly, to pay attention to Leila’s response, be her ally.
My heart grows with the myriad of emotional responses to the lessons Leila exposes me to every single day.
Anna Barsanti is raising her niece, Leila.