role models.

I’ve finally reached a point in my life where I can firmly say, “Sorry, NO” when asked for my phone number. There are many wonderful things to be said about the Golden Rule, but when you’re an adult and you haven’t learned why you’ve had to change your cell phone number twice, then it’s time to realize that “being nice” is simply a cover for blind naivety. I know I don’t speak for everyone when I say this, but as a female, especially one who is “Iowa Nice,” it’s really hard for me to find a balance between polite and protective.

I was slowly working my way into being assertive with random men who think for some reason I would be interested in chatting on the phone with them, when one day I gave a man in an alley directions to Foster Avenue and he tried to repay me with a kiss. It wasn’t until a male friend of mine pointed out that it was my fault for giving him directions in the first place that I realized the Golden Rule is something we made up for children. Then you grow up. (Also, my friend was wrong, it wasn’t my fault).

While we were packing up after a performance at an elementary school in Leesburg, VA last week, I made eye contact with a little girl who was standing in line waiting for her class to be dismissed from the gym.

“Tory!” She waved me over. “Can I have your phone number?”

This child was not a taxi driver, a drunk, or a random man at the Dunkin Donuts in the Western brown line station who was looking for a wife. She had thick black glasses, sticks for legs and constellations of freckles spread across her tiny face. I had no idea how to respond in the moment, so I did what any nice idiot would do instead of simply saying “sorry, no.”

“Uhhh, I don’t know if that would be a good idea but maybe I can give you my email address?”

As I hurried over to grab a piece of paper I suddenly realized who the predator was in the situation. (ME).  I mean, that’s dramatic, but you just can’t be too careful when it comes to other people’s kids. So I grabbed a Bright Star business card and gave her that instead. And as I handed it off to her, I was flanked by MORE little girls asking me for my email address. This time I told them that I didn’t think it was a good idea, and how about I leave my contact information with the secretary. Which I thought was a good answer, even though I didn’t end up following through with that.

Doing this tour has made me realize the value of being a female mentor. Little boys don’t care much about these programs when they’re over. They’ve already moved on to the next spastic moment of their lives. But it seems to me like most of the girls who watch this show take it with them, so it’s important to me to be a good role model to all the students who could possibly be learning from my behavior. However, as much as I’d like to be a contact for these young women, I just didn’t think it would be appropriate.

One time though, I gave my phone number to someone with some hesitance, and so far it’s worked out. Maria is a woman with developmental disabilities who came to the Imagination Workshop program I taught last fall. I love talking with her on the phone. The other day she told me that she was sad about her new therapist being too “goofy.”

“She does goofy things to make me laugh. I don’t like it.”

“Well that’s very human, isn’t it? To try to make someone laugh when they’re feeling down?”

“Yeah, but I’m not ready to laugh. I told her I don’t feel like laughing yet, and she needs to respect that.”

And here we have a woman that knows the value of saying no. My hero.

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