When we had Amelie, I knew we would have to deal with mean girls sometime. I just didn’t expect the first time to be at the age of four and a half.
We were driving home Friday evening, after a busy day of work and school and swimming lessons, and Amelie said from her carseat in the back, super casually, that Blah Blah and Blah Blah had told her that her pyjamas were yucky. (Their names aren’t actually Blah Blah and Blah Blah – I’ve heard some interesting names for children but that’s not one of them. I’m just being the adult here and protecting the identities of these little four year old demons, much as I’m raging and would totally love to reveal their names for judgement.)
I feel like I should go back and explain. Amelie chose, on Thursday, to wear her pyjamas to school underneath a dress, and we rolled with that, because Hayden and I tend to be of the ‘pick your battles’ mindset of parenting. Amelie is strongly opinionated, particularly when it comes to what she’s wearing, and we just figure that if it’s hurting nobody and she’s dressed appropriately for the weather, it’s no biggie. So we sent her off to school in summer pyjamas underneath a striped dress. And apparently, that led two little girls to be proactively mean to her. We’ve dealt with children saying unkind things to each other before – you’re not my friend anymore, etc – but this was different. Instead of being sparked by a disagreement, this was just a burst of meanness, for no reason at all.
Now Amelie, as well as being strongly opinionated, is loud, a natural leader, very bright, subversively hilarious, and wildly enthusiastic. I suspect I was the same as a small child (let’s be honest, I’m the same as an adult), and I remember more than one moment of feeling insecure and shamed when other children would mock me for those particular personality traits. I thought (or maybe hoped) that we were all just a touch cooler and more accepting these days, but I guess not – and as I say, having a daughter, I knew I would one day have to contend with a certain strain of bitchiness. But seriously, four? That’s so young! How do you have an attitude when you’re four?!
I would like to stress here that we did, in my opinion, all the ‘right’ things. We talked it through a bit with Amelie about whose opinions matter, and why, and about who else saw her pyjamas and liked them (her loyal posse. Love those girls). We discussed how sometimes, people who don’t feel good about themselves say mean things to other people. We let her know it’s okay that those girls didn’t like her pyjamas, because we’re all different and we don’t all have to like the same things, but that when you don’t like something that is a matter of taste, as long as it doesn’t affect you there’s no need to say so and risk making other people feel bad. We got to a point where we agreed that it definitely sounded like a Blah Blah and Blah Blah problem, not an Amelie problem. You know when a four year old is still thinking about something a day later, it’s affected them, but I think and hope we made her feel a bit better. We gave it the attention it needed, then moved on to other things, and Amelie hasn’t mentioned it since.
And then, when Amelie was in bed and out for the night, Hayden and I let rip.
Holy cathartism, Batman. There was swearing, there were jokes about confronting Blah Blah and Blah Blah, there were two very fired up parents vowing to forever protect their perfect, precious little girl and never let anyone make her feel less than for her spirit and creativity, and what the hell is wrong with those little bitches anyway?
(Sorry. But I did warn you).
Following that, we talked about times that other kids had said mean things to us, and when we said mean things to other kids. Memories of both bring with them feelings of shame for both of us. Funnily enough (or maybe not, maybe this is everyone’s experience) I don’t tend to remember any specifics of anything that was said to me. I know it happened, I remember the feelings. But the words themselves are gone. I do, however, remember with an agonisingly crystal clear recollection a number of times when I said something mean to someone else, something designed to make them feel bad, either right to their face or behind their back, but with the intention of them hearing it. Those memories bring the worst, most acute, most terrible feelings of shame I think I’ve ever had.
I didn’t say those things because I’m naturally a mean person. None of us are, right? I said those things because of insecurity. Every time, I can peel back the layers of the words and the sentiment and the intentions and there, lying at the core of it, is a glaring little raging red core of intense insecurity.
I would love to get in touch with the people I harmed with those words. Oddly, or again, maybe not, some of them I consider friends today, somehow, because I am luckier than I deserve to be and they found it in themselves to either forgive or forget (or they’re playing a super long game and retribution is coming). I never will, though. If they’re like me, the feelings those words engendered, but not the words themselves, remain with them. The last thing I would ever want to do is to make someone live through that again, just so I could try to make myself feel better in the most hamfisted, and potentially, cruel, way.
But know this. If I ever said anything to anyone who is reading this that made you feel shame, or embarrassment, or less than, it’s on me, not you. It was all about my insecurity and not about you. And that’s really selfish, I know, and not fair, but that’s how it is.
Coming full circle, I can see this in at least one of the Blah Blahs (I actually, amazingly, have never met the other one). This Blah Blah is an unhappy kid. I don’t know why, and I hasten to add that I don’t think she’s at risk of any harm or anything, but something is making her really unhappy and that’s heartbreaking. Nobody deserves that, especially at the age of four. I don’t know what’s the deal with the other Blah Blah, and maybe I never will, but I’m pretty certain that Hayden and I were spot on when we told Amelie it sounded like a problem with the Blah Blahs, not Amelie. It’s not okay, but I understand.
But that is not an invitation for any other kids to do the same. I meant what I said – I will forever ferociously protect Amelie, and nobody on my watch will ever make her feel less than. And you know I mean it because I will happily shame them on my blog, possibly without the Blah Blah pseudonyms next time. I’m no fan of Sarah Palin (remember her?) but I get the Mama Bear thing (although I am not a fan of the word Mama).
Mummy Bear out (ewwwwww. Gross. Sorry y’all).