It started with the pixie cut.
Rosie climbed up on the bathroom sink and cut her hair into a classic Dame Judi Dench pixie cut a few days after her birthday– and she did a tidier job of it than I’ve ever been able to do, when I trimmed her bowl cut. I gave her a lecture about not taking scissors to any body part without asking me first, but I didn’t object to the haircut. It suits her. I was careful to stare pointedly back at anybody who gave her a funny look for the first few days, and then I forgot that she’d ever looked any different.
The neighborhood children didn’t.
There’s a new family that moved into the weird house that doesn’t have a yard of its own, a few yards from the house of the people Rosie calls her “Corner Friends.” I have not seen them outside very often– there seems to be a mother and at least three girls. They were the ones who taunted Rosie as she biked by, calling her a boy even after she corrected them.
Rosie asked what to do about this. I said I’d come out and intervene if she wanted, but she could also choose to ignore them, or roll her eyes at them. She tried the ignoring trick and also the eye-roll, with limited success.
“I want to look like a boy,” she told me miserably, “But I want people to know I’m a girl.”
I repeated that she was a beautiful girl just as she was and that it didn’t matter what she looked like anyway.
The next day she came in from playing to say that the new girls were accusing her of breaking their trampoline, even though she’d been playing with someone else in a different yard when it happened. I said I would come out and intervene in a moment– but we were getting ready to leave for the evening. Rosie had her martial arts demonstration that night; she’s been practicing for this at the dojo since mid-summer. Michael and I were both going to go downtown and hang around while they did one final rehearsal, and then show up to the demonstration and applaud for her. So I lingered in my bedroom longer than I intended, fussing with my hair, adjusting my makeup, choosing one or another pair of dollar store earrings.
I finally came out to find Rosie running toward me, screaming in pain, while three girls chased after her. The biggest girl was a little taller and nearly twice as broad as Rosie, her hair up in pigtails, wearing a neon pink jumpsuit– and she was whipping Rosie hard with a jump rope. This was not a game. I could hear the cracks of the rope against my daughter’s back, over the sound of her screams.
I was screaming too– loud, in my deepest register. Rosie is passionate about martial arts, but as a child my passion was theater and voice. I know how to bellow at people in a nice loud stage voice. I ran down the sidewalk, earrings bouncing against my shoulders, my good skirt and freshly styled hair streaming behind me, screaming the first incoherent threat that came to mind. “I’LL CALL THE COPS! I SWEAR! I’M CALLING THE COPS! THEY’LL DRAG YOU AWAY FROM YOUR MOTHER AND TAKE YOU TO JUVVIE HALL! GET AWAY FROM HER OR I’LL CALL THE COPS TO TAKE YOU TO JUVVIE HALL!”
In retrospect, it wasn’t much of a threat. I don’t think the little girls understood what Juvvie Hall was. But they knew when they were in trouble, and they ran. They ran all the way back to their mother’s house. I heard them screaming a slanderous version of what had just happened back to her and the mother being totally taken in, as nasty little bullies and their gullible mothers have done for time immemorial.
I took Rosie in my arms and we panted together. I checked her for bruising, but there was none. It took several minutes for her to calm down.
I asked the nearest girl passing on her bike, for the names of the urchins who assaulted my daughter.
Then, before I could call the police or even decide in my mind whether calling the police would do any good, our ride came. Michael was going to meet us later, so Rosie and I went down together.
I took Rose down to the old Methodist church, and instead of leaving her for her rehearsal, I had a talk with her martial arts instructor. Rosie and I described the situation. Rose calmly opined that only the big girl was deliberately bad; the other two were too small to know what they were doing. Hers is a just soul.
I reminded her that she’s absolutely authorized to use the techniques she learned in class to defend herself, as often as she needed.
I asked the instructor to teach Rosie how to disarm a whip attack, in case this happens again. Apparently the maneuver is the opposite of running away. You’re supposed to shield your face and then head-butt, aiming for the chest, then grab the weapon away when the attacker is stunned. Something like that. He promised to have a whole class on the technique this Friday. He also told Rosie that the fact that she got to safety without a bad injury means she actually won that battle– even though it didn’t seem like she did.
I met Michael then; we had an abbreviated date, a few minutes together at the new coffee shop that sells gluten-free sweets.
Then we went to the demonstration, which was wonderful. Rosie knew her part perfectly; she and another girl tumbled around the stage while the instructor narrated. At the Grand Finale, her instructor smashed four boards in one sweeping maneuver; one of them flew out of his assistant’s hands and into the audience, nearly hitting the Methodist pastor in the face. I took the broken boards home for writing icons. I was planning to write Rosie an icon of a really strong and wonderful female saint who remained just in the face of deep injustice– Marina the Monk, perhaps, or Joan of Arc.
When my back was turned, she took the stash of boards to make furniture for her teddy bears.
She was still a little shaken from the attack that night, as she snuggled with me on the sofa.
“Imagine how awful it would be to be those girls,” I told her. “To have all that meanness inside must be even worse than being bullied. But like the instructor said, you won.”
She won just by being Rosie and not some other girl, some girl who thinks the measure of the feminine is in the length of hair or something else superficial. She won by being a girl who could get pursued and flogged by three miscreants and still have the sense of justice to say that two of them were innocent because they were too little to understand.
She won by not being conquered– by remaining herself, the person that God made, when other people tortured her for not being somebody else.
That’s the most important battle a person can win, after all.
(image via Pixabay)
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