"Mommy," Makani said, tears in her eyes, "Brandy (name changed of course) said I'm not as smart as she is."
How on earth Makani's intelligence ever came into question is beyond me. The girl was reading chapter books at the age of six and can recite science books about everything from bugs to extinct birds. I once caught her trying to memorize the astronomy facts from a CD that went with a slide show that she had. Anyone who knows Makani sees just how inquisitive and energetic about learning she is.
But ever since school started, Brandy, the girl who lives across the cul-de-sac, has been saying mean things. I'm not sure what is going on in school, but it seems to me that Brandy is feeling insecure. And as a result, she's bringing home an attitude problem. So Makani was reading this nature book instead of playing, and I guess Brandy felt left out.
"That really hurts, doesn't it?" I said.
"I feel like I don't matter," she said. "She was teasing me, and that's not nice."
I gave her a hug.
"Mommy, am I smart?" she asked.
This was one of those moments in a mother's life when everything hinges on what would next be said. Her security, her sense of self-worth, her motivation to learn, her connection to her friend--I held that in my hands.
"It doesn't matter who is smarter," I said. "It doesn't matter whether Brandy is smarter than you or not. What Brandy does has nothing to do with you. What matters is how you love to learn. I admire your inquisitive mind, how you love to explore and read, how you ask questions."
I was having a bad week, feeling really depressed, and here I was giving my daughter the pep talk I needed to hear. Every word I said seemed to slap me in the face. My mistakes, my failures, my misunderstandings don't matter. What matters is my inquisitive mind, my love of learning, my exploration of new things. And most importantly, my ability to get up and try again.
There are times as a writer when I have thought I could never achieve what others have. I'd think I could never fix my mistakes, never get to the point where my writing was good enough to be published, to please an audience. But I am certain that my worth is not in my accomplishments, but rather in who I am. My efforts in writing are for my enjoyment, not to prove my worth.