At the beginning of the school year, Anna, our 2nd grader, started coming home with all of these little notes in her folder.

As a mom who is constantly cleaning out papers from her backpack, I didn’t think much of them.  Then one day Anna mentioned the notes in her bucket.

“Your bucket?” I asked.

“In our class, we each have a bucket that hangs on the wall. We write compliments to each other and put the notes in each other’s buckets.”

I really liked this idea and enjoyed reading some of the notes that were coming home with her.

One day after school, I picked up my girls to go to gymnastics. In the car on the way there, Anna said, “Mom, I have to tell you something, but I don’t want to tell you while Viva and Tessa are listening.”

Whenever Anna says something about needing to talk in private, I get a little nervous about what she’s about to say or ask, because probably the conversation is going to be about sex, Santa not being real, or stranger danger. After Viva ran inside to gymnastics and Tessa was distracted, Anna told me what was on her mind.

“Mom, I got an inappropriate note in my bucket today.”

“What did it say?” I braced myself for all sorts of inappropriate sexual references.

“I don’t want to tell you,” she said while looking me straight in the face. I knew she wanted to tell me, but she wasn’t sure how to go about it.

“It’s okay, Honey, you didn’t do anything wrong. You can always tell me anything.”

“Okay…” She took a deep breath and then blurted out, “It said… ‘Anna, you’re one hot mama.'”

I almost laughed out of relief. I could handle “one hot mama.”

“Oh, sweetie, I’m sorry he said that.”

“Ms. Weston said that from now on, our notes have to be checked to make sure they are appropriate.”

“I think that sounds like a good idea.”

Then Anna said something that really made me think.

“Ms. Weston also said that that comment didn’t fill my bucket, it emptied it.”

In all honesty, my first thought was, Well, it didn’t really empty your bucket. He was trying to give you a compliment.

I stopped short of saying this aloud and looked down at my sweet, wonderful, smart, and amazing seven-year-old daughter’s face and instantly realized the error in my thinking. In fact, years of incorrect thinking were corrected in that moment as I thought of comments like “Hey babe! You’re hot!” through the eyes of a mother.

I knew in that moment that I would never want my daughter’s self esteem to come from some kid telling her she’s a hot mama. Her self esteem, her bucket, should not be filled by derogatory, objectifying, compliments that don’t acknowledge who she really is as a person. I want her self esteem to come from the fact that she is kind, considerate, intelligent, and a hard worker–among so many other things. Those are attributes that she can take credit for because she strives hard to obtain and keep those qualities.

There was a girl in my high school who was gorgeous. She was thin, tan, blond, had straight teeth, and a perfect face. She was also not very kind. One day I told my mom that I wanted to be like her. My mom immediately said, “Why? Because she’s pretty. She’s also mean. You know she can’t take credit for that beautiful face. She was just born with it. You, however, are one of the nicest girls I have ever met. That is something worth aspiring to.” That concept has stuck with me.

My daughter is so much more than her looks. In the future, when a guy drives by her and whistles at her from his truck, I want her to know that that means absolutely nothing. Good or bad. When a guy tells her she’s hot, that’s not a compliment. Because that guy knows doesn’t know who she is. However, when her husband looks at her, covered in sweat and exhausted, with a flabby tummy after having delivered their first baby and he tells her she’s beautiful, that will be a compliment.

I want my daughter to know that if someday she were to lose all of her hair, or gain 40 lbs, or get acne all over her face, it won’t change who she is as a person. She will always be my amazing Anna!

Anna’s bucket.

So, I would like to thank Ms. Weston for teaching my children while they are young what really fills a person’s bucket. It’s a lesson my girls need to hear, and a lesson I needed to hear as well.