The next day she came home with a petition full of signatures. She also explained, "Some kids were scared to sign it because they did't want to get in trouble." I questioned, "Did you ask girls and boys from all grade levels to sign your petition?" Lydia's nose drifted toward the celling while a smile whipped across her face as she said confidently, "Yes I did!" I didn't even need to suggest this to her. She's got this! She started gathering her ideas about what she would like to present to her principal. She was careful to take time and gather confidence in her statements. She researched and saved pictures of her suggested acceptable and unacceptable tank tops to add into her PowerPoint presentation. She worked diligently on making it a very positive persuasive presentation instead of causing an argument and making the 'it's not fair' claims. She wanted to leave room for discussion and ask her principal how she could help. She knew that her quest may need to take this issue farther than the principal. She knew she may need to go to the school board and is willing to do it.
On Tuesday, May 16th, Lydia was sitting by the table playing a board game with her grandparents, who were in town for her band concert, when I noticed writing on her arm (I'm not a distraction, I'm a girl). I asked, "Lydia, tell me about your arm..." She looked down, wiped her hand across her forearm, and quietly gave a frustrated laugh, "All the girls are writing this on their arms. Yesterday, Mr. (lets call him 'Mr. John Doe') came in and went over the dress code with us. One girl asked, "why we can't wear tank tops?" and he sternly replied, "because they're disgusting and distracting to boys." The three adults in the room silently looked at one another with jaws dropped. I looked at Lydia and asked for clarification, "What did he say?" Said repeated, "Girls can't wear tank tops, because they're disgusting and distracting to boys. That's why we are writing this on our arms." I took a deep breath. We explained that tank tops are not disgusting or distracting, and that this is an adult matter that I will be talking to the principal about.
As we headed to play tennis with the kids, I quickly sent the principal an email regarding Mr. John Doe's comment. I didn't share the comment; however, I did tell her that there was a disturbing comment made by Mr. John Doe during his presentation yesterday regarding the dress code. I was off of work the following day and would happily meet with her at her convenience. She asked me to touch base with her at the band concert that night. I did, and I scheduled a meeting the following morning at 8:30. She was already scheduled to be at another meeting but she said said she would go late. I think she sensed it was an urgent matter that needed her attention immediately. I agree. It was urgent and these girls need to know that they should NEVER be told that what they are wearing is disgusting or a distraction to boys. She needed to know that these comments were very sexual in nature and totally unacceptable and inappropriate for anyone to talk to kids, or anyone for that matter, about. In my frustration, I wanted to SCREAM...Mr. John Doe should talk to the boys about having appropriate thoughts! This is not a girls issue but a man's issue! The crazy conservative that thinks girls should cover their body to protect boys thoughts! My daughter is NOT A DISTRACTION! My daughter is beautiful and should never be shamed from wearing whatever makes her feel pretty, confidant, and happy! I truly felt that this rivals telling the victim of rape that she was asking for it by what she was wearing or her body language. Nope, none of this is ok! He really shouldn't talk to any of the kids about any of this. It's totally out of line. And there you have it...I had enough time to calm down and write my thoughts for a positive meeting. I did a lot of deep breathing while preparing. I knew I needed to set the tone so Lydia, who was already in the middle of trying to change the dress code before any of this took place, would have a solid foundation. I also knew that her principal was a very strong woman. I knew we would have great support.
I asked Lydia several times throughout the night to repeat Mr. John Doe's comment. I wanted to make sure the story was consistent. Not that I didn't believe her, but I needed to make sure that the 'disgusting and distracting to boys' comment didn't waver one way or the other. Did the story grow as she sensed more concern? When I tucked her into bed that night, I sat next to her, smiled, and made sure to tell her that she is beautiful. We often talk about how strong her body is and how it's important to take good care of it by exercising, eating nourishing foods, cleaning it, and loving it, etc. She pointed to her knuckle and asked, "You see my knuckle?" then pointed to her shoulder and said, "My shoulder is just a larger joint than my knuckle. What's wrong with showing a larger joint? I have nice shoulders." You see, the sexual comment isn't understood by 12 and 13 year olds. She's concerned about making a point about her joints. These girls are not sexually distracting boys. Lets keep them innocent as long as possible. I asked her more questions about the presentation by Mr. John Doe. How did you feel by the comments? What friends are in your class? What is he normally like? How did he speak? What was his tone? Tell me again what exactly he said? She told me that she feels that Mr. John Doe thinks that girls are lesser than boys. Her story was consistent. She told me that he's normally a really nice teacher, but he seemed out of character and very stern during the presentation. She also questioned herself on what he said, "did he really just say that?!" She asked several girls after class to make sure she heard it right. Sure enough, they all heard the same thing. This is when they decided to write, 'I'm not a distraction, I'm a girl' on their arms. I love these girls!! They clearly know when it's important to take a stance. They clearly have great role models in their lives. They're in 7th grade, and they know right from wrong. I'm proud of all of them!
In the wee hours of the morning of my meeting with the principal, I sat wide awake thinking about how to carefully discuss the matter at hand, and somehow break the ice about Lydia's quest to change the dress code. They go hand in hand. We have an urgent matter and I was also lying the foundation for Lydia. I felt that it was important for me to let her principal know that Lydia planned on setting up a meeting with her soon. I didn't think it would be a good idea to just let Lydia take care of it on her own when the comment was so discouraging to her quest. So, how does one do this...
I'm not a person that thinks Mr. John Doe should be ripped apart, fired, and spit on (metaphorically not literally). I do think that he needs to be open to having a discussion, admitting his faults, changing his ideas, and apologizing to the girls in Lydia's class. So I told her principal. I opened the meeting with a thank you. I truly appreciated that she rearranged her schedule to meet with me so quickly. I know her time is valuable. I also explained that we normally have our kids take care of any kind of matter of disagreement on their own. We think it's an important life lesson to be able to talk to kids, adults, or teachers, because eventually it will be spouses, friends, siblings, co-workers and bosses. Therefore, if they want to dispute a grade with a teacher or understand what was wrong, they need to do it on their own. They need to build that confidence now before they leave the nest. But this matter was an adult matter. This was a sexual comment that Lydia doesn't fully understand. She knows it was wrong, but she doesn't truly understand what Mr. John Doe was talking about. I needed to step in and take care of this one. I also told her that I had two discussion points to chat about.
She politely listened as I basically just read aloud a letter that I wrote to her. I wanted to make sure I hit all my points and made it a positive conversation instead of telling her what I wanted to scream the day before. We talked at length about Mr. John Doe's comment. She was obviously surprised and shocked that this was something Mr. John Doe said. She explained why she thought the distracting part was linked to fidget spinners, water bottle flipping, and so on. These are discussions that they had in preparing the dress code presentation. She was truly more concerned about the disgusting comment. I'm concerned about both comments. I'm concerned that these girls heard that they are lesser than boys, I'm concerned about equality, and I'm concerned that this man talked about sexual thoughts that boys might have to a class full of boys and girls. I'm concerned that my daughter was told that her tank top is disgusting. The principal reassured me that she would take care of the situation and would follow up with me about it.
I told her that this was an easy transition into my second point of discussion. I explained to her that Lydia has been working diligently, before any of this took place, on changing the dress code policy at school. I brought in Lydia's tank top and held it up and shared with her the questions Lydia had asked me about her tank top. Her principal agreed. There is nothing wrong with this tank top. Lydia should be allowed to wear something like this to school. She told me that the code is basically, "A tank, is a tank, is a tank." Perhaps we can find a happy middle ground. I explained everything Lydia had already been working on and how we hope the change can end with her, but Lydia is prepared to go to the school board if she needs to. Her principal said, "I would go to the school board with Lydia to support her if we need to." I felt a million pound lifted off my shoulders. I knew that I needed her principal to be on board and support Lydia. I knew that she could potentially be damaged for life if her quest was squashed. I also knew she would empower Lydia for life if her quest was successful. This is such a pivotal point for a young lady.
I felt really happy with our meeting. I left feeling at peace with everything we talked about. I'm deeply concerned about what was said to Lydia's class, but I felt as though it was almost more important to build a solid foundation for Lydia to be successful on her quest. I can do the damage control at home regarding the comment, but I can't change the rules at school. That's something that is totally out of my control. I genuinely left feeling like her principal will have her back in the coming weeks. I know Lydia will have to work hard, but I believe this little girl will move mountains.
Lydia set up a meeting with her principal for May 22, 2017. She was fully prepared with her PowerPoint presentation and seemed confident when she left that morning. I anxiously awaited to receive an email all day long to hear how it went. I waited, and waited, and waited. Around 2:00 in the afternoon this is what I got..."It went great! :)" So, I had to wait for all the details until I got home from work. She was beaming from ear to ear when I got home. She said that her principal supports her and she is planning on talking to two other staff members regarding the dress code and would get back to Lydia. She also asked Lydia if she, and maybe some of her friends, would be willing to make an iMovie to introduce the new dress code next year? Lydia said, "Of course, I would love to do that!". Later that evening, I received a priceless email from Lydia's Principal:
Lydia presented her powerpoint to me today; you should be so proud. She entered my office after prearranging her lunch plans with me (all on her own), asked to display her presentation on my screen via airplay and off she went. She had great posture, was well spoken/articulate and exuded great confidence. I look forward to meeting with her later in the week after I view her work with Mr. X (name removed) and Mr. X(name removed). She is truly an outstanding young lady who will make the change in the world. I am very proud of her! Have a great night.
(Signed by Her Principal)
And as the last few weeks of school have unfolded, Lydia was successful in her quest! She, along with several of her friends, will be getting together with the principal throughout the summer to prepare an iMovie to present the new dress code to the students in the fall. We are such proud parents who are in awe of our Lydia! This young lady is going to do some AMAZING things in her life. Who knows, she may be our first Madam President?!