Photo description: Young girl with braided pigtails, with the blue sky and clouds behind her, looking powerful, dressed as a superhero, standing in a power pose with her hands on her hips, wearing a purple mask that goes around her eyes, and a red cape blowing in the wind behind her.
My brother, sister and I went on a hike during a recent family trip to Sedona, Arizona. If you have never been, I highly recommend it. It is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. During our hike I had an enlightening interaction with a family that was also climbing Sugarloaf Butte.
While hiking through the red rocks along the trail and working our way towards the top of the butte we came upon a small family of a dad and his 2 young daughters, around the ages of 4 and 6. The family was taking a rest by the side of the trail as we passed. I wanted to say something to them about what a good job the girls were doing hiking up the butte. I said to them “You girls are good little hikers” as we passed them. I was feeling all warm and thinking “I am so supportive and friendly”. The older of the 2 girls confidently communicated the following to me, “I am not little. I am 6”. She was standing strongly and resolutely on the red rocks; her hands were planted on her hips in her best version of a Ted Talk presenter demonstrating a “power pose”. I felt her power pose. I felt her power. I also felt like an idiot. There is nothing more deeply unsettling and uncomfortable as an adult than being schooled by a kid. When we allow the wisdom of what kids say to really permeate through our tough, thick skulls it can set off a chain reaction of some supremely uncomfortable feelings. That little girl had quickly and powerfully schooled me in the dangers of underestimating her power. How cool is that?! “I am not little. I am 6.” She was polite but her message was crystal clear.” I will not be spoken down to.” “I will not be condescended to.” I thought about it and thought “Holy shit. She's fucking awesome. She's 6 years old and she's fucking awesome.”
I realized later that my calling her "little" was akin to me saying to someone else “you’re a good hiker for a female” or “you are doing a great job at hiking for an old person”. Often when I tell this story to people they laugh at the part where the girl tells me she isn’t little. I’m not telling the story because she was funny. I tell the story because of her strength as a 6-year-old and that she was letting me know that she is not to be trifled with. She was giving an impromptu master class on setting firm and unwavering boundaries. I thought about her comment until I reached the top of the butte. I sat on the cliff with my brother and sister and took in the view. We watched the ravens that were flying around. We marveled how the ravens were able to find the right air currents to fly upwards without flapping their wings. All the while I was thinking about the girl who had taught me a lesson.
The family with the dad and his daughters had also made their way to the top and were sitting behind us on the top of the butte and were taking a bit of a break as well.
When we were getting ready to leave, I decided to talk to them and to apologize to the girl. I spoke to the father first “When your daughter told me, ‘I’m not little, I’m six’, I realized that I was minimizing your daughter’s strengths and abilities. She helped me to realize that”. He said, "words are so important". I turned to his daughter and apologized and thanked her for correcting me. Then she says to me, this time without her hands on her hips, but still in a completely confident, grounded way like it was the most obvious things in the world, “Just tell me I’m a good hiker. I’m a good hiker because I’m Emma”. Holy shit. This kid just did it again.
Her father and I talked a little bit about what incredibly self-possessed and confident daughters he is raising. We discussed that if she could so effortlessly advocate for herself at 6, imagine what she would be like when she was older. Emma's father was beaming. He said that when he and his partner were planning on having kids he was hoping for boys, but instead he got these 2 amazing girls who were going to be powerful, confident women. His eyes were gleaming. I could feel his love and pride for his daughters. It was an amazing experience.
A 6-year-old teaching something to a 56-year-old, an adult apologizing and admitting she was wrong, and a father able to recognize and reflect the awesomeness of his 2 daughters and raising them to be strong and powerful; these are not things that happen every day. His younger daughter didn’t say anything, but you could tell she was really taking it all in. You could tell she was strong and powerful too.
Afterwards, when telling this story to friends and family we discussed how incredibly tragic it would have been if the father had reacted negatively to his daughter and told her not to be sassy or disrespectful to adults. I am certain that happens every day. If he had told her not to talk back to adults, he would have started the process that society inflicts on us of forcing us to hide our light, to not say the things that need to be said, to not advocate for ourselves, to become less confident and less powerful. I hope that Emma and her sister continue to be their amazing authentic and powerful selves.
I want to be just like Emma when I grow up.