The Mermaid Tail and Other Stories About Being Different

(Illustration: Kat Borosky/

My 8-year-old daughter asks me if kids teased me at school when I was younger. When I ask her if she is being teased at school, all she will tell me is “sometimes.” Then I wonder: are her classmates teasing her because of her imagination?

My daughter has a beautiful and vivid fantasy life. The other day, she was waiting for her mermaid tail to grow because she followed all of the rituals she found in a video to turn herself into a mermaid. When the day her mermaid tail was due came and went, she was unfazed.

“We live in a dry climate here in Arizona and that makes it harder to grow a mermaid’s tail,” she explained. “If we lived in San Diego, I’d have one by now.”

I agree to buy her a mermaid tail online if her real one didn’t come in soon.

“Were you teased when you were in school, Mommy?”

“Sometimes I was,” I tell her. “Like people would call me Aliza Pizza.”

I don’t tell her about the times I was teased because of my own imagination.

In grade school, I wanted to be a witch. I read the book Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, by E.L. Konigsburg and followed the rituals spelled out in its pages to become one. I began to practice spells, most of them around making friends, but I discovered one that was a little more ominous — to hurt someone who hurt you.

For some reason, I mentioned this spell to someone else in my third grade class. That’s when the trouble began. The other girls in my class taunted me and chased me around in the schoolyard, threatening to burn me at the stake. The teasing continued until the school principal got involved, but even as it abated, I never felt like I belonged. I always believed I was the weird girl.

In middle school, I played a game with my best friend Patty. We were two girls from outer space trapped in a forest on Earth with nothing but our wits and a stick called Nimrod to guide us. We ran through the woods, evading imaginary enemies, totally immersed in our characters. We weren’t pretending. We were two girls from another planet on a mission.

Patty made me swear that I wouldn’t tell a soul about our game. I agreed, but couldn’t understand why other kids wouldn’t think our game was cool. Patty eventually began hanging out with other girls in our class, girls who didn’t want me as part of their clique. They stood behind her, smirking and suppressing giggles, as she explained in front of everyone that she no longer wanted to be my friend. I was the weird girl again.

“Were you teased when you were in school, Mommy?”

(Illustration: Kat Borosky/

I didn’t go into details about how in high school I felt like an outcast. I was in Drama Club so I was immediately a weirdo in the eyes of most of the other kids. But I didn’t even fit in with the Drama crowd. I went through my entire high school years feeling awkward and lonely.

Here’s what I want for my daughter:

I want her to feel safe in the world.

I want her to revel in a rich imaginary world and vow to show her every day how to channel it into creativity.

I want her to trust herself, believe in herself, to not be ashamed of being different than other kids.

I want her to fully embrace her imagination, her intelligence, her spirit.

Children move constantly between imagination and weird, and the tipping point where teasing becomes cruelty can be a moving target. I’m torn between protecting my daughter from the societal pitfalls of an active imagination and encouraging her to embrace her imaginary friends, Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and her mermaid aspirations with no fear.

“Do you think we were alive before this life, Mommy?”

“What do you mean?

“I think I lived before I was born to you and Daddy. But I can’t remember. Why can’t I remember my life before?”

“I don’t know, honey. That’s a good question.”

I watch my daughter walk to the schoolyard gate. I see her imaginary friends walking in a row behind her. They all turn to me, and wave.

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5 Responses

  1. Editor’s Note: Can I Sit Here? | Tue Night

    […] The Tale of the Mermaid Tail and Other Stories About Being Different […]

  2. LaurenYoung1

    Not sure if your daughter’s school uses The Morningside 4Rs program ( but it has created a landscape entirely different than the one I experienced as a child at my son’s elementary school. Kids at l explore conflict, feelings and come up with solutions to social problems. I SWEAR they are nicer as a result.

  3. Claudia Schmidt

    It’s so hard for creative and highly imaginary kids to grow up, I was one of those quirky grammar school girls and I can relate. Your daughter’s lucky to have someone like you around to help her through it. Lovely post.

  4. AmyVernon

    I was also one of those who joined the Drama Guild but still never really felt like I fit in there. I worry for my boys sometimes, but also realize that all my experiences made me who I am today – and I wouldn’t want to be anything other than who I am. And your lovely daughter has a lovely mother who will help shepherd her through the difficult times and blossom into her best self.

  5. Antone

    Hi there, just turned into aware of your blog through Google, and located that it is truly informative. I am going to be careful for brussels. I will appreciate when you continue this in future. A lot of other people will be benefited from your writing. Cheers!|


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