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You Don't Want None Of This.

Denene Millner of MyBrownBaby

If you see me walking down the aisle at the local Target and my 34 C’s are sticking out just a little bit extra today, know that it’s because my Mari has done me proud. My 11-year-old, a reserved, kinda shy sixth grader who tends to mumble a little too much for her outspoken mother’s tastes, let a little bit of her attitude and sass slip out recently—enough to put some little precocious boy who clearly thinks highly of himself in his place. A recap:

Seems that The Boy, who kinda sucks at trumpet, thought that he could come for Mari’s Number 1 spot. See, Mari sits first chair—a spot she won for her controlled, warm affectation over her instrument. She practices hard, plays harder and deserves her place in her school’s band. This is widely respected, understood and acknowledged.

Even—and especially—by The Boy.

But recently, he decided to challenge, one by one, the trumpet players who sit in chairs ahead of him, knowing that if any of them showed up on challenge day sans their trumpets, he’d move on up the line. It worked on a few, and he got into some choice chairs on forfeits, not skill. Until, that is, he challenged my Mari.

On the morning she and The Boy were supposed to square off, Mari came stomping down the stairs with her trumpet, ticked. “I’m mad because I don’t feel like dragging my trumpet in to school,” she huffed, balancing her trumpet and her book bag as she bounded into our kitchen. “I know I’m going to win anyway and it’s a waste to have to carry it to school.”

Oh, say word? Confidence from my quiet baby girl. Love.

Of course, when Mari brought in her trumpet, The Boy, clearly unaware of the fact that my kid is a walking hard drive with the memory of an elephant, who would never have to forfeit her chair for something as simple as forgetting to bring her trumpet to the battle, backed out of the challenge. But later in the week, he tried again.

Bad move, homie.

 

The Boy: Mari, I challenge you again.

Mari: Seriously? 

The Boy: Yes. I’m going to win your seat.

Mari: You know what? The last time you challenged me, you forfeited the day it was supposed to happen. And I dragged my trumpet here for nothing. There is really no point to me doing that again. You can deal with second chair. Now do you still want to challenge me or what?

The Boy (mouth agape, jaw on the ground, really weak): Um. No.

 

Later, when Mari recounted the story, she added, “I didn’t tell him I’m better than him. He already knows.”

That’s right: Real G’s move—and threaten and insult—in silence.

And I couldn’t be more happy with baby girl’s trumpet gangsta. Because up until this very moment, my Mari was a mumble mouth—the kind of kid who is a tad reserved and can’t always summon up the perfect words for every conversation thrown her way. She’s a kid, still, and talking to people—especially grown-ups and the more outspoken peers—can be a little intimidating. But I’ve long been trying to get my extremely smart, well-spoken, thoughtful 11-year-old to start exercising her networking muscles—figure out how to start and hold a conversation, answer questions thoughtfully and use her communication skills to get comfortable in not-so-comfortable situations.

Knowing how to talk to others, after all—whether on the playground, at a birthday party, on a job interview or at the office soiree—is a part of etiquette 101—as important, in my book, as using the right fork at a fancy dinner table or saying “thank you” to the person serving you. It shows not only that you have manners and a firm grasp of the King’s English, but that you’re confident and in control of your own thoughts and opinions and quite capable of expressing yourself—things that serve the most successful among us well as we navigate everything from the workplace to our closest relationships.

Which is why Nick and I have been running Mari through the paces. She knows the drill: I introduce myself and offer my hand; she shakes it and introduces herself, says, “I’m pleased to meet you,” and then answers my questions with a clear voice, thoughtful words, and follow-up questions. Sometimes I ask her about camp, sometimes about her school, sometimes about her favorite food or music and if she would recommend any of them to other kids.

We’ve been practicing introductions and handshakes since she and her sister were old enough to replace the baby talk with a confident, “Hello, how are you?” But the Q&A piece was added more recently, when their dad and I realized that learning how to communicate AND be comfortable doing it is something that should be taught and learned, rather than picked up along the way.

Of course, we don’t advocate she put herself at risk talking to strangers just because we’ve said speaking when spoken to and being comfortable holding conversations is the polite thing to do in social settings. But we promise her that when she’s 25 and at a networking event and a potential boss or client or boyfriend comes strolling her way, she’ll thank us.

And now that Mari’s used her voice, attitude and confidence to punk down a kid who deserved a little “get right” for playing my daughter like she’s a weakling, her mom, a pretty attitudinal, straight-talk-no-chaser kinda lady, knows there’s hope for the girl.

There’s hope.

For more of Denene's stories about childrearing, check out her personal blog, MyBrownBaby.com.

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