Not long ago, I picked Alexa up at school and she was with her friend Annie. They were looking at class photos hanging on the hallway walls, laughing and pointing, when Alexa said to Annie, “Come on down here and I’ll show you a picture of Vampire Boy.”
My heart sank when I heard my daughter say those words. I followed them down the hallway, flooded with disappointment and anger. “I don’t like that you’re calling somebody a name based on the way they look,” I told Alexa. “We’re leaving and we’re leaving now!”
Almost instantly she hung her head and walked behind me out to the car. “Look, did I embarrass you?” I asked.
In a very quiet, subdued, maybe scared voice, she said, “Yes.”
“Well, it’s just not OK for you to describe someone by the way they look,” I said with some anger in my voice.
And with anger in her voice, Alexa responded, “I don’t even feel like being in the same car with you right now, Dad.”
So I started the car and turned to drive home. A few blocks away, it suddenly hit me that I didn’t want to crush my daughter’s spirit. I really wanted her to understand what this meant to me—that my heart sank at hearing her say the words “vampire boy.”
When I was in grade school, kids would flip-flop the way they said my name and call me “Spary Girly.” And I would cry about that at night because it hurt; I couldn’t change my name. Also, I have very white skin, and I got teased a lot in high school and college. Kids called my “Whitey,” and I cried about that, very privately.
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