It all began with the report card. Historically, making all A's was celebrated by my 13-year-old daughter, Hope. This time she threw the grades down with disgust.
"I'm the only one to make all A's," she lamented.
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"My friends, they all make B's and C's and a few A's. They think I'm weird."
That's how I learned that Hope was thinking about becoming dumb in order to be accepted by her group of friends.
"It feels like I belong nowhere," she said.
Belonging is important. We all need to feel that we fit in. Hope had always been content to find her niche, her oasis, her identity within our family. While that was still vital, it was not enough anymore.
"So, do you think if you started making bad grades you'd fit in?" I asked, wondering what my role was in all of this. I don't belong to any certain group, either, especially in this small town where women professionals are as rare as a silver dime.
"Maybe, but I like learning; I like knowing stuff."
"Sometimes life is hard, huh?"
"Yes, like right now."
Days, weeks passed. Hope and I talked endlessly about how girls tend to give in to the pressures to conform in order to fit in, to not stand out or threaten the "way things have always been."
She was the only girl selected for a math honors team. That didn't make her many friends, with either the girls or boys.
It was a time of reflection - of where she had been, where she was, and where she wanted to go.
I could walk beside her - listening, encouraging - but she had to make her own path. We continued to talk. I shared stories of my childhood, being the only girl to sign up for "boy" things such as sports, and being smarter than most boys in math and science.
After a few months of being on the margins socially, Hope decided it was not worth sacrificing herself and her values in order to be part of her former group of friends.
So she made friends with some older girls and a few boys, and tried to find within herself a sense of belonging. It has not been easy. I see her struggle with being different, and wanting to be like everyone else at the same time.
Family still is her anchor, her security, her place to be accepted unconditionally. Yet I know she also longs for a close friend, one with whom she can share her interests and her secrets.
Maybe that will come later. I hope so. For now, I am proud that she has chosen to be true to herself and value the gift of a brilliant mind.