There’s a mean girl in my daughter’s class. She’s super cute, wears great clothes, and alienates my daughter. Oh – and she’s in kindergarten.
As a mother of two daughters, I expected – no I dreaded – that this day would come. The day one of my girls came home dejected because another girl, for no apparent reason, decided that, not only would she not be friends with my daughter, but that others should not be either. This is why I have already begun to create a stockpile of liquor that I thought I would be delving into in six years when they enter middle school. Apparently, I’ll be dipping into it a lot sooner than I expected, as well figuring out how to get my hands on some Xanax.
As much as it pains my heart to think about anyone not treating my child with kindness, I am realistic enough to know that not everyone in the world can be as charming as my family and I. There are jerks in the world, even in kindergarten. I knew school would bring arguments over line budging and squabbles over crayons. I knew there would be kids my daughter didn’t quite connect with and vice versa. What I did not expect was the sneaky, calculated moves that I thought only came from a seasoned mean girl.
I had a bad feeling about this girl from the first day I met her. Let’s call her Mean Girl (I’m nothing if not creative). It was the Friday after the first week of school, and our family was attending a lovely community event. It made my heart burst with joy to see my spunky, hilarious, beautiful daughter beam and wave when she saw new friends. When she saw Mean Girl, she excitedly approached her and Mean Girl acted like she had no. idea. who. my. daughter. was. My daughter, nonplussed, attempted to convince her that they attended the same school, in the same grade, and were, as a matter of fact, in the same class. That’s when Mean Girl actually pulled an “I’ve never seen you before.” I’ve never seen you before? That’s some A-level bitch burn right there! Any other eavesdropper could have thought the entire exchange was an innocuous, perhaps even charming conversation between two innocent, naive little kindergartners, still getting their feet wet at the big school. Call it mother’s intuition, call it being well-versed in the language of bitch, but I was not so fooled.
I kept my mouth shut and hoped that I was wrong. I wasn’t. As predicted, my daughter started coming home and telling me about a girl who wasn’t very nice. At first she could not qualify this with any further detail, but eventually the details came. “Mean Girl doesn’t talk to me.” “Mean Girl was so rude today.” “Mean Girl would only talk to so-and-so today.” “Mean Girl told so-and-so that I was gross.” We were at a school event and my daughter was happily playing with a classmate. Mean Girl showed up and neither she, nor the classmate, said boo to my daughter for the rest of the evening. Tonight during dinner, my daughter told me that, at recess today, Mean Girl would not let my daughter play with her and her friends.
I wanted to cry at the dinner table. I also wanted to drive to Mean Girl’s house and burn it to the ground. Mama Bear instincts came out in full force and I wanted this girl destroyed. Did I mention she’s five? What the hell is wrong with me? Why was Mean Girl causing me to feel such an intense, fiery rage? Why is Mean Girl trying to destroy my daughter’s life?
Because, as a mean girl, that’s the power she has. When I reflect on my own life, I can recall countless times when I held my true self back for fear of what a mean girl would say. In middle school, I remember proudly sporting a dress, that I had picked out and bought myself, as a shirt. I had channeled my inner Blossom and I felt my tucking skills were chic and trendsetting and I felt fabulous as I helped pass back papers in Social Studies class. Then a mean girl, her voice dripping with sarcasm, announced, “I love your shirt,” as her gaggle of followers laughed. I never wore it again.
What is perhaps worse, is that I longed for this wretched girl to like me. Worse still, I got my wish, and she became one of my “best friends” a year later. Now the cutting down of me was constant, always said with a laugh, or followed with a “I’m just joking!” It wasn’t long until my own inner mean girl started to rear her ugly head. Was it a matter of survival? Did I feel like this was the only way to keep any sort of social status? Did I need someone else to be the victim, lest I return to that role? Was I so insecure that I needed to belittle others in order to make myself seem more important? Or was this simply some sort of tween rite of passage? Looking back, I can’t pinpoint just one particular reason as to why a year of my life was spent making snide remarks to other girls or feeling powerful as a member of a gaggle of girls who laughed at someone else. I do know that, at thirteen, this reprehensible behavior had a bizarre allure. There was an intoxicating power that came with intimidation and it gave me, a girl desperate to find myself, some sort of identity.
And so I panic with my own daughter, who loves to sing songs she’s made up herself. Who loves to pick out her own outfits and does not like to brush her hair. Who could care less that she has yogurt all over her face because she is too busy creating a colorful art project. Because I know these glorious days when her happiness is determined, not by the crowd, but by herself, are fleeting. I know that there will come a day when she spends far too long scrutinizing herself in the mirror. A day when her feelings will be affected more by how she’s perceived by others than by simply following her heart. A day when she has to decide whether to be the victim or the victimizer. A day that I did not expect to come so soon.
But that’s the thing. Has the day actually come? Yes, my daughter reports these incidents to me, but she does it so casually. In fact, there’s almost a sense of bewilderment when I ask her what Mean Girl does after she’s rejected my daughter’s offer to play. My daughter shakes her head, puzzled, and replies, “She doesn’t do anything. She and [her friend] just stand around. It’s so weird!” It doesn’t quite seem to bother her. That night at the school event, after Mean Girl ushered away my daughter’s playmate, my daughter went and danced her heart out, squealing and giggling with another group of kids.
Could she truly not care? Could I really have a five-year-old who is so confident and self-assured that a mean girl leaves her unfazed? Or, perhaps, at five-years-old, she’s just completely unaware that these girls are a potential problem. Realistically, that is the case. Which is all well and good if I lived a life of realism, rather than lunacy. So I just can’t leave it at that. All worst case scenarios must be contemplated. What if Mean Girl is making my daughter feel so alienated and uncertain of herself that she feels ashamed to express her true feelings to me? Why is Mean Girl destroying MY life??
Because that’s the other thing. Do I despise Mean Girl only because of how I think she may make my daughter feel somewhere down the road? Or do I resent the fact that she is a stark reminder that it is up to me to show my children how to navigate this world, when I can hardly navigate it myself? Mean Girl brought me to one of those horrific parenting moments when you fear the absolute worst – – that you are ruining your child’s entire life with one conversation. Do I tell my daughter to just keep her distance from Mean Girl? Or is that teaching her to be a timid pushover? Do I tell her that the next time Mean Girl announces that my daughter cannot play with the group that my daughter should rally the others and says, “You are rude (the kindergarten equivalent of “bitch”), so I don’t want to play with YOU!” Or is that just seasoning my daughter for a takeover as future class mean girl? Mean Girl is causing me to have an existential crisis. The question loomed: would I rather have my child be a victim or a victimizer?
I went with both. I told my daughter that she should stay away from Mean Girl, and if Mean Girl ever said something nasty to her again, she should tell her that she is being rude. And then my daughter, just as casually as she’d told me about Mean Girl on the playground today, asked me, “What if Mean Girl turns herself around? Can I play with her then?” A punch to my gut. These girls are five. “Mommy, maybe she’s nice and she just doesn’t realize that she’s being rude.” These girls are five. Mean Girl is five. I am… older. I am crazy. Most importantly, my sweet, sweet daughter’s words helped me realize that, at least right now, she is neither victim nor victimizer.
Because she doesn’t see herself as either. She sees the good in people. She sees the good in herself.
That little jerk is such a better person than I am. God I hope I don’t ruin her life.