I recognized it immediately, which is why the extra hugs and kisses before I left for work.
I used to look like that too. I was the rare child that started hating school in Kindergarten, and spent every school day of the next 13 years (K-12th grade) smiling on the outside (most of the time anyway), while inwardly counting the days until it was over. The difference between your experience of school and mine is that up until this year, you absolutely LOVED school. You liked doing your homework, and looked forward to challenges and writing reports. I started noticing a subtle shift the closer we got to Christmas break, though. Assignments would slip through the cracks, here and there. You quit putting in the same effort you did before, and getting you to work through things went from the breeze it was to a trying experience of tears and half-hearted effort.
Any inquiries as to what had changed were met with shrugs, and nearly whispered "I don't know"s. Up until last night, when comparing an F on a random assignment with a long list of A's and B's on tests given the same week, and I realized that the two pictures didn't mesh, and I called you on it. I told you that we could work this one of two ways: I could go the punitive route, and just punish you for the bad grade, or we could talk about what led up to that, and see if we could find a way to stop this from happening again. Much as I said yesterday, I can't help you fix it if you are not honest about what's going on. Even though, after it all came out in a low defeated voice while staring at the accumulated dust at the bottom on my dresser, I don't know if this is something that can be fixed.
At the ripe old age of ten, you have begun that trip into the realm of the girls that don't want to seem too smart, lest they not have any friends. I had so hoped you wouldn't have to go through this. But as I watched you develop anxiety about school (the likely source of the bathroom issues and the resulting taunting which only made everything worse), I knew at some point I would hear this one admission that I wanted you to avoid. That I thought women and girls had left behind in the 20+ years since I left school.
I purposely chose this semi-suburban environment because I wanted you to have a different academic experience than the one I had. Inner city schools were okay for smart girls, but a great deal of support was needed to keep girls from becoming socially isolated because the other kids weren't sure what to make of them. I aimed to not move while you went through elementary school so that you could make, and keep, the same friends, building up a set of social skills that I never really developed while we moved from place to place. I didn't expect that to develop into kids that knew your weaknesses, and took obscene delight in pointing them out to you at every opportunity. I figured because you were conventionally attractive, you wouldn't catch even 1/10th the hell I caught going through school for not being attractive enough. I didn't realize until other people started pointing it out that you have a lighter version of almost my exact same face, along with the same big, coarse just barely manageable hair that does exactly as it pleases, which is usually the one thing that you DON'T want it to do. How well I know that story.
You have many more days of school to go, my darling daughter, and I will do the best I can to teach you, guide you, and help you learn how to get through them. I can't guarantee you I will know all the right things to say and do to encourage you, and I know that as much as I would like to, I can never shield you from all of the negativity that will come your way. Nor should I attempt to keep you too sheltered, as you will need to learn how to deal with less than ideal people and situations. But know that I do love you, and I am always willing to try to do whatever I can to make your journey a bit smoother (short of doing everything FOR you, but you knew that already), or at the very least, help you make sense of whatever is going on around you. I think I can do that much.
I hope this helps.