Last night, Kate took my laptop to her room so she could watch YouTube videos and sing along. From the family room, I could hear her singing Kelly Clarkson's "Mr. Know It All." I could also hear Jacob stomping out of his room and pounding on Kate's door to tell her to turn it down. Some yelling and door slamming ensued.
After that, Kate turned it down, but I know now that she switched to watching people perform covers of Adele's Rolling in the Deep. I know because she came out to talk to me about the comments posted beneath one of the videos.
"Why do they even put a 'Dislike' button on here? People hit it just to be mean," she said. "Why are people so mean?"
"I don't know," I said. "I don't even read those comments. They're awful. You shouldn't read them."
"This girl is overweight and people are saying ugly things."
Frankly, YouTube comments make me wish someone would nuke humanity.
Kate said, "But some people say nice things. See, here's a nice one." Kate read a couple of comments out loud.
Kate is discovering what most of us already know: anonymous Internet comments bring out the worst in people.
I took the opportunity to talk to her about being kind, about how important it is not to make fun of people for being different. Of course, she already knows these things.
While she sat on the sofa talking to me about the comments, I thought about how beautiful she is, how she's growing into this gorgeous young woman. I thought about how grateful I am that she doesn't have to deal with a disability or obesity or some other physical trait that might invite hateful comments from anonymous trolls online or middle-school jerks at her school.
I'm grateful that she recognizes cruelty and that it prompts her to speak out with righteous indignation.
This morning, Kate was searching through the laundry basket looking for a shirt to wear. She pulled out a long-sleeved top she'd gotten for Christmas. "That's cute. Wear that," I said.
"It's not unique, Mom! Today is Wear Something Uniquely You Day. I have to wear something unique to me!"
She stormed off and I yelled at her not to unfold all the damn clothes when she's going through the basket. (We could put our clothes away, but, lately, I seem incapable of completing this chore.)
She said what she says every morning: "Bye, Mom! I gotta go. Love you!" Then I said the thing I say every morning: "I love you, too. Have a good day!"
Then Kate left for the bus stop.
Kate's kindness, her great capacity for empathy, her abhorrence of human cruelty and anonymous online bullying make me so proud. Her courage and willingness to be honest about her life and about the loss of her father to suicide inspire me. She is unashamed of the things that make her different, the things that make her "unique" in a sea of sixth-graders wandering the halls of the middle school.
Kate's heart has been broken, that is true, but, in the places where it is healing, it grows stronger every day.
"As great scientists have said and as all children know, it is above all by the imagination that we achieve perception, and compassion, and hope." -- Ursula K. LeGuin