M is taking Lego robotics this week. She’s been dying to take it for quite a while now; she loves Legos, and she loves robots. Her two other classes this summer, swimming and acting, have been primarily composed of girls, but this one wasn’t.
The first day, we went into the room, met by a throng of excitedly chattering boys and a female teacher. M stood outside their circle for a moment, twirling the hem of her pink dress with her finger, and then wedged her way into the circle. “What do you think we’ll make?” she asked. “I love Legos. I got a bunch for my birthday. Have you watched Ninjago?” The boys stepped back, turned to look at her, took in her dress and purple sparkly flip flops. They were quiet for a moment.
Then, one of them smiled and said, “I love Ninjago!”
Another: “Have you done this class before? You’ll like it! It’s a lot of fun.”
And yet another: “Wait–you’re a girl who likes Lego?”
“Yep,” M replied. “Robots too. And space, and chemistry.”
“That’s so cool,” he replied. “Come on, let’s go see what’s in the room.”
“She must go to School A,” one of the moms commented, “but I’ve never seen her before.”
“Actually, she’s at School B.” I said.
“Wow. All those other boys go to School A, and I thought they knew her. She just bellied right up, didn’t she? What a sweetie.”
I was so proud of her. At her age, had I come to a group of kids who all knew each other, I’d have been terrified. I don’t know where she got the ability to jump into any group, but I hope she keeps that skill forever.
After the first class, M climbed into the car and said, “My teacher says I should go to a nerd school when I grow up. She said we need lots of cool girls like me in science when we grow up.”
“Why do girls not go into science? Why do they give up?”
Well, there’s a question for you. I gave it my best. “Well, a lot of girls, when they get older, start to think that being smart is a bad thing. They start thinking that boys won’t like them, or they won’t have friends, or something. I don’t know, exactly, but I remember trying to pretend I wasn’t smart. It was the most miserable time of my life. I wish I’d just been myself the whole time. But…the women that are happiest, the ones that I know, are the ones who did what they loved and didn’t care what anyone else thought.”
“Why would boys not like you? That’s stupid.”
“Right. And honestly, it’s not even true. Those kids liked you, right? And I had male friends in high school, and they liked me for who I was. Promise me, M, that you’ll just keep being you.”
“Of course. Why would I want to hang out with people who wanted me to pretend all the time?”
Such an easy promise to make when you’re seven. She’s got all those years ahead, of school and proms and cliques, thinking if you just said the right thing, did the right thing, wore the right thing, everyone would love you the way you somehow knew they should, but didn’t. I don’t know how to steer her through it, other than to try to plant seeds now. She’s surrounded by strong, successful women in her life, as well as a strong sense of herself, and I hope she can use that to anchor herself in the storms ahead.