The Tortoise is a peacemaker. She is what some would categorize as a Compliant First Born, rather than an Aggressive First Born. There is not a mean bone in her body, and typically does not complain about personal ailments or frustrations. She is the first to jump in and help her teachers, coaches and friends and she is the last to ask to be in charge. Her life’s desire is to be a Special Education Teacher, which is no surprise since she has an amazing ability to connect with special needs children and adults. I used to worry that her “people pleaser” mentality was a weakness, a lack of leadership, but over the years I realize that it is a quiet strength and that she leads by example.
The Tortoise has never been the center of attention in any circle. I think being on the fringes of social situations suited her just fine rather than being the superstar. Unfortunately, being on the fringes didn’t get her invited to birthday parties or play-dates. Her fear of engaging kept her from playing with the other girls on the playground or having someone to sit with at lunch. It made her an easy target for teasing and isolation. I spent many afternoons coming up to school to eat with her. It became such a regular occurrence that I started volunteering in the kitchen just to have a reason to eat with her more times a week. She was lonely.
When we changed from private to public school, I had a hope that she would finally make close friends. There would be many more personalities to choose from and connect with rather than the same six girls she had class-roomed with from kindergarten to fourth grade. The Tortoise has also played soccer since kindergarten, so it was natural for her to want to try-out for the travel team in our new town. She made the team and has played for the last three years as their goalie. I am amazed at how aggressive she is on the field. She is far more competitive and sure of herself dressed in a uniform than I had ever seen her off the field. But it wasn’t enough to transform her into a more confident young women in her every day life. So we put her in counseling to learn more social communication skills, how to read body language and how to pick friends. She and I also participated in Girls on the Run after school so that we could work on self-esteem and goal setting together. A year of that, and we finally started to see a smile on her face. The phone began ringing and girls started crossing our threshold on a more regular basis.
The Tortoise has always loved singing but never had thought about acting. Last summer she tried a theater camp for the first time. She flourished on the stage, as if someone had given her permission to be anything she wanted to be, dream bigger than she ever thought possible. Two weeks at camp every night gave her the confidence to audition for her first musical. Although she didn’t get a part, her response to me at the end of the summer was profound.
Maybe if I just pretend to be the person I want to be in real life, like I do on stage, I’ll start to believe that character is really me
And so we role-played and practiced our lines at home, rehearsing how she would engage in conversations at school during lunch or recess. She practiced what to say when inviting someone over for a sleepover. And she practiced what to say if someone was mean or hurt her feelings. We rehearsed so many times that the words started to come more easily, became part of her natural vocabulary.
This weekend we had the privilege of watching The Tortoise perform in her school musical, Twinderella, as one of the leads, Princess Petunia. Watching her on stage felt like a dream. She was vibrant and articulate. Her voice traveled pitch perfect over the audience, and the glow in her eyes as she smiled at us from stage made my body tingle. She didn’t look like my little girl anymore. This year has been the most amazing year of growth for my daughter. She not only has friends, but she has confidence, poise and enthusiasm about life. Her grades have gotten better and she has made some decisions about what she wants for herself. Not only did she try-out for the school musical, but also sang in the talent show and joined the winter swim team. The person she wanted to be is the young woman she has become. There is no more play acting, no stage performances, just life. And she isn’t lonely any more.
I have always loved her, and more days than not I really like her. Now, I am overwhelmed with pride and admiration for this beautiful creature I get to call my daughter.