Monday, February 20, 2012

Mean Girls

1990
The school bus smells like old rubber and smoky oil.  It is thick and damp inside, warmed by the elementary school bodies and their competing voices, while outside, the sky is gray and close.  Beads of mist have gathered into drops of water; they cling together on the far side of the windows. 

I am eight years old. 

Inexplicably, a fifth grade girl has chosen to sit beside me.  I am snugged up against the glass, watching the drops of water trek backwards from the force of the bus's forward motion.  She sits with her legs in the middle aisle, laughing with friends. 

I accidentally look her direction at the same time she looks mine.  She smiles, and although I know it is false, I can't help but smile back.  Maybe? I think.  Maybe she is nice?

But, no.  "I like your sweater vest," she says.  Her smile has turned to mockery. 

I clutch the hem of the vest, looking down quickly at its patterns.  Chevrons and hearts, pink and white and yellow and blue. 

Then, there is a fist in my stomach.  I curl around it, gasping. 

The older girl laughs as she withdraws.  Tears sting my eyes.

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1993
*ring, ring*

"Hello?"

"Hi, is Sarah there?"

"This is her..."

"Oh, hi!  This is Allie.  I was just talking to some friends about going shopping, and we were wondering if you wanted to come.  We'll be shopping for jeans, and my mom always just gives me her credit card."

"Allie?  Allie R.?  You want me to go shopping?"

"Sure.  I mean, if you can.  Or if you even need jeans.  How many pairs of jeans do you have?"

"Well...I don't know.  I mean..."

"How many pairs of Z Cavaricci Jeans do you have?"

"...I don't have any Z Cavaricci's."

"Oh. How many pairs of Pepe Jeans do you have?"

"None."

"Huh.  How many pairs of Calvin Klein Jeans do you have?"

"I don't have any."

"And how many pairs of Guess Jeans do you have?"

*click*


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1995
My brother and I are walking into school together.  He stops by a crowd of friends and I hang back, waiting.  I blend into the wall, dig in my backpack purposefully. 

A girl with shiny black hair moves to stand closer to him.  She is a cheerleader, her skin smooth and golden brown, her eyes glittery black.  He talks to her for a minute; she laughs.  He tosses his fist over his shoulder, pointing one thumb in my direction before glancing at me.  She follows his action and catches my eye.

I smile, hopefully.  What a beautiful girl -- talking to MY brother!

She narrows her eyes critically, then speaks to him without turning away.  Without even pretending to lower her voice.

"You're so much better looking than she is."  Her black hair grazes her shoulders in a curtain of silk as she looks back towards her friendly crowd.

My pale face blazes with heat, and I slink desperately to the nearest hallway.


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This is what frightens me about having daughters.  These are only a bare (and even mild) few of the memories that still cling to my insides, threatening to return me to low places.  It's only with age and time and love that I no longer believe the words and actions as truth -- but my daughters have yet to gain age and time and love enough to withstand such things.  It's all coming.

I worry about mean girls.  Do you?

17 comments:

  1. So give them confidence. Let them know how to deal with the mean girls, and assure them many ways and often that they are amazing, and beautiful, no matter what anyone else says. It's such an important thing, teaching our kids to be able to deal with the bullies in life because they will be there. it's what we do with that.

    memories still hurt though. ((hugs))

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  2. All. The. Time. And it's already starting, unfortunately. She's only in FIRST GRADE!!

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  3. Laura, I HOPE that all the words I speak will make a difference, because heaven knows I speak them often! I just remember my mom speaking the same words to me -- everything that you would need to hear -- but them not touching my self-awareness. I heard them but it didn't matter. Until now, when I can look back and say 'Oh! She was right!' But I'll still say it all :)

    Cortney - See? Too young to be so worried. Childhood is supposed to be FUN!

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  4. Oh Sarah, I just want to jump through time (and the computer screen!) and rush over there and protect you. Those jerks! How could they be so mean?

    I worry about mean girls, too, and I can already see K thinking about fitting in. We went shoe shopping the other day. I was just planning to buy her a new pair of basic tennis shoes for gym class, but as soon as we got to the store her eyes lit up and she asked for a pair of pink Converse, too, because "all the girls have them." (She even knew the shoe by brand!) I wasn't sure what to do. How far do you go to help your kids fit in?

    Do you think if you'd had the "right" clothes (since it seemed to be at least somewhat about clothes) it would've given you any protection from the mean girls at your school?

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  5. very, very much, Sarah. Oh, I worry. But we do our best. You do and I do.

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  6. Emily - I don't know for sure. I do feel like my hand-me-downs were targets for ridicule (which is stupid to begin with, but true) (and pepe jeans? how silly to feel worth based on your pants!), but I was also very shy and skinny. And in the orchestra :) It think it's just normal to pick on smaller -- lesser, lower -- people to make yourself feel bigger and more important. I understand that NOW, but then? I just let the meanness go to my heart and fester into long-lived feelings of inadequacy.

    And I, too, want to be able to help my kids fit in. If it's not complete protection, it's at least a chance at anonymity. I mean, if that's what they want. The other day, Lauren was mad because I kept calling her pretty; she wanted to be DIFFERENT. So anonymity might not be important to her at all!

    We'll see.

    And Robin, I know: we just have to trust that our best is good enough, right? Scary :)

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  7. Whew. I don't remember girls so mean. I think I was totally oblivious to everything all through school, with my head in books. I really don't remember this stuff.

    That said, we have only boys. Boys can be sensitive yes, but they also know how to shrug things off.

    I wonder how I would help a girl navigate something I do not recall happening to me. They are lucky you remember so well.

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  8. Yes I worry! But most of the teasing in my direction came from boys. Nothing like being called "fat" and "not as attractive as your sister" from boys.

    So what do we arm our girls with when the teasing comes from mean boys??

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  9. I fear my reaction to the mean girls! That is my baby, I hope by the time I have to deal with that there will be enough laws in place to help. Just let them know they are loved and beautiful!

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  10. Girls can be so mean, can't they? I didn't have much in the way of direct attacks, but I had girl friends who did things that were back-stabbing and manipulative. The manipulation was the worst really, and all the more frustrating because it came from "friends." Most of the time, growing up, I just found guy friends much less complicated to hang out with. It wasn't until college that I found girl friends whose friendships I've learned to trust and hang on to.

    I read a fabulous book a couple of years ago (because I'm a nerd and like fantasizing about what kind of parent I might turn out to be - and also because I have nieces and a young sister-in-law), called "Queen Bees and Wannabees" by Rosalind Wiseman. (http://rosalindwiseman.com/publications/queen-bees-and-wannabes/.) I really like how it explained the nature of girl relationships and conflicts and shows ways to help a young girl express their feelings in a way that is both honest and empowered. Your girls might be a bit younger than what her book discusses, but it might prove useful in time...or you may even see some of it already. It's amazing how habits from the older kids can sometimes filter down.

    Good luck! :)

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  11. I worry about this often- with my daughter and my son. I can only hope and pray that I give them both the words, the confidence, and the strength to know there are so many people who love them just as they are. And although my parents and family gave me that same confidence, I still experienced judgement and pain.

    I hope to spare my children that pain, but I also know those "mean girls" of my past taught me how to treat others with kindness in a way I might not have learned without those experiences.

    It is tough being a parent, though. It's one thing to experience it yourself and another to watch your children suffer through.

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  12. I think I'm afraid of mean people. I used to be terrified of sending my kids to school, because they will encounter mean kids, mean teachers. But I've started to realize that mean people are everywhere. I never set foot in a school, and I was bullied by my parents, by siblings, and by the kids on our block who thought we were stupid for wearing dresses all the time. And my parents NEVER talked about any of it. I think the biggest thing I want my children to know, is that every person has power, and they can use their power to do nice things or they can use their power to do mean things, and even if someone is mean to you, that doesn't mean that you are a bad person. They are just using their power in bad way, it has nothing to do with you. Still figuring it all out, becuase it scares me too.

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  13. Sarah- I just had to post on this one. It surprises me to hear about such negative experiences because from my view you were well accepted. Granted, our years apart may have caused my view to be skewed by distance, I remember feeling jealousy over your ability to be you regardless of those that surrounded you and saw that as respect from your peers.

    That being said, I have all boys and they can also be mean. Why do kids do that?! We have just started to experience some things- the right shoes (what is it with shoes!) , the right sporting ability, the right parents to get you on the right ball team. I have no better answers than what you have already been given so I won't try to give you some.

    Maybe you could just sing the Sugarland song for them! I love that song!!

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  14. Amber - I have no idea! There were plenty of mean boys in my history as well, though. Sometimes I wonder if I was just too sensitive, you know? Harboring resentment until the event itself took on too much importance in my life. Maybe the trick will be teaching my children not to dwell on the naysayers -- of any gender.

    Jade - I've heard of that book; maybe I SHOULD read it!

    Leanne - I know: being treated badly has helped me treat others better (sometimes...). And it doesn't lessen the hope of NOT wanting our kids to go through those hardships. My mom always told me that I was building character by withstanding meanness from others. I'll probably recycle that with my kids, too :)

    Melissa - It's so prevalent, isn't it? People using their power in ways that hurts others. If we all taught our kids to NOT accept power -- money, status, looks -- as a useful merit without any other qualifiers like KINDNESS, maybe bullying wouldn't get so far. Peace on earth, and all that :)

    Emily - I think by high school I felt like I fit in a little bit better. I found friends who made me feel accepted and happy. It was hard, though, to shake the inner voices telling me I wasn't good enough for silly reasons. But I guess I still DID learn how to be myself, despite it all. I just wish those mean parts would skip over my children -- all our children!

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  15. I do worry about mean girls and I feel silly because right now-it's just preschool! But I wonder and worry if the girls that Savannah talks about so often and obviously admires are as wonderful to her. And I also worry about teaching her to treat others with respect....I don't want her to be on either side of the meanness!

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  16. Katie - That's another part of this whole thing. I can't ignore the fact that those mean girls were somebody's little sweetheart, you know? If anything good comes of those memories, it can be that I'll teach my girls compassion and empathy and hope that they learn it well.

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  17. I am so glad you posted this, Sarah! We were just talking about this at my mom's book club on Monday night because it starts SO YOUNG. One of the ladies has a kindergartner who is getting picked on by the other five year-olds. Five year-olds! How can this be?

    I have similar memories of school and bullies and now that I have a daughter of my own, I just pray that she is kind and that others are kind to her. I want to shield her from all of the mean girls and the mind games but I know that isn't possible. All I can do is be there and hope she feels supported when she needs to be.

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Hmm...And how did that make you FEEL?