Here is your homework assignment: You are given a Lisa Frank-esque rainbow with six colors (unicorns optional); you are to cut out the rainbow, write your name on the fluffy smiling cloud end and then on each of the colors write one word that describes you. Oh, and by the way, you’re six.
Tonight as I sat in a childish chair with my knees tucked up to my chin and waited for my turn to talk with my son’s first grade teacher about the wonderful, talented, amazing and all-around-perfect child that he is, I got to check out the above-mentioned art project taped to the lockers of the class across the hall. Things were running late, as these things usually do, and so I got to read all 20 of the first grade rainbows. It was quite eye-opening. I even took notes! (You don’t have to say it, I know you’re grateful.)
You’d think that at six years old, the hardest part of that assignment would be managing the scissors around all those sharp curves or not poking your eye out with the day-glo marker because you’re trying to get a closer look at the tip to see if it’s one of the cool smelly kind. But judging from the words the kids wrote, it seems that even at six they have bigger issues than whether or not to dot their “i’s” with a heart.
First up was “Kenley” (of course I changed the names!) – a little girl whose very first self-descriptive word was… can you guess?… “Skinny!” And I’m pretty sure she didn’t mean in the knock-kneed self-conscious way. She had the exclamation point on the end and everything. (!!) It was obviously very important to her. So of course I had to check the rest of the rainbows. Three other girls had either used “skinny” or some permutation thereof to descibe themselves. The rest of Kenley’s list also intrigued me. After “skinny!”, she thought herself to be “cute”, “talkative”, “loud”, “funny” and “charming.” Seriously. If that doesn’t have future reality-show contestant written all over it, then Paula Abdul’s got great fashion sense. It bothered me that this being school she hadn’t put anything like “smart” or “interesting” or “good at math” or even “kind” on her list. Not to mention it reads rather narcissistic in a very uncharming way.
For the record, none of the boys in the class used any kind of physical descriptors at all except “Matt” who wrote “stron” (Pretty sure he means strong!) which really has less to do with how he looks and more with what he can do. Perhaps this is too nuanced for first graders but I had a long wait so shut up, but someone looks “athletic” but they are “strong.” Conversely, Kenley looks “skinny!” but it says nothing about what she could do. This depressed me.
But not as much as “Cabrielle’s” rainbow did. She too included “skinny” (sans exclamation point) on her list but it was accompanied by “doofus,” “goofball,” “crazy,” “funny,” and, the unexplained-yet-poignant, “loves.” It broke my heart that the first word this six-year-old girl could come up with to describe herself was “doofus” and that the last one was “loves.” (Not loving, not loved, just loves.) And unlike Kenley, she didn’t seem to see her skinniness as a prettiness. Perhaps she wrote it because she and Kenley are desk-buddies and they did their homework together or because she admires Kenley. Or perhaps they came up with skinny independently. I mean, heaven knows young girls get the adjective thrown at them with alarming frequency. Take Taylor Momsen, of Gossip Girls:
Do you know how old she is? She’s fifteen. She started the show at fourteen. And she is often lauded as having one of the best figures on the show, nevermind that she’s most likely prepubescent. Not only do elementary aged girls covet her figure but so do adult women! Nobody wins, especially not Taylor who is obviously growing up fast.
There was one girl’s rainbow who made my night though. Courtesy of “Tessa”: “Fast,” “funny,” “good hands,” “tough,” “good skater,” and “loves hockey.” Now that’s a Minnesota girl.