Thursday, March 1, 2012

Bigger Picture Moments: Mean Girls Revisited

My mom and I had a winding, long conversation about Mean Girls the other day.  While she knew some of the stories I told, she hadn't been privy to all of them, and I could see the hurt on her face as we talked.  She felt like she'd let me down.  Like her reassurance and advice and consider the source, honey and this too, shall pass were all insignificant in the face of such adolescent heartbreak. 

I tried to explain: it wasn't something she could have fixed for me.  It was just, simply, the way life unfolds for some people.  And I suspect that some bit of cruel unfolding happens for more of us than not.  This is how humans operate, by and large, historically and emotionally: we need to feel bigger, better, and more important, which leads us, invariably, to crush those smaller than us under our heels as we stand taller.  We use each other to make ourselves feel more important. 

It is mind-blowingly easy to see now that the mean girls in my past had been used by someone bigger than themselves to augment status or self-importance.  Maybe an older sibling was hateful to them.  Maybe a trusted adult.  Maybe a group of self-conscious peers.  Whatever: they were made to feel small at some point and the only way they could, in their immaturity, find to grow stronger again was to repeat the cycle. 

Even I did it.  Knowing how badly it hurt to be hurt, I reciprocated in kind when I found someone who would fit easily under my heel.  I remember one sweet, slow girl...I'm too ashamed to spell it all out right now, but it happened.  Something I said made her face fall.  I can still see, exactly, the confusion when she creased her brow.  It was a first and a last for me, but I can never take it back.

I didn't have to explain to my mom how the meanness felt.  She knew already.  She was a junior high student once, too.  But more than that mere common denominator, she also had to wear a full-body cast for scoliosis.  She gets it.  Like I said, I don't believe many of us were immune to cruelty.

But what I tried to show her was that all of her words, her assurance and promises of character, they made a difference.

I might not have said the same thing when I was twelve.  I might have said, Thanks mom, but those words won't help the blaze recede from my face when a room full of 7th graders is laughing at me. 

Because her words weren't meant to make the meanness stop.  They were meant to bolster and enliven me over seasons and stages and years.  I doubt that even she knew her words were meant for the long-term.  (But maybe she did; she IS very wise.)  Her words did something better than solve the hurt-feelings problem at-hand. 

They burrowed deep into a secret shell and blossomed into truth that burned like fire in my self.  An unnoticed fire, a smolder, perhaps, but fire at any rate. 

The words -- the fire -- kept me. 

Though I was embarrassed about it, I still played the violin in the orchestra because I loved it.  Though I understood my habit of talking too much at awkward moments to be condemning, I didn't shut myself up because I had to speak.  Though I realized some of my friends would never catapult me into the cool crowd, I didn't abandon ship because they were my friends.  

What I mean is that my mom's words built themselves up like a shield around the person I was about to become.  Protecting me so I wouldn't forget who I was and what I loved about myself.

And today, I know who I am.  I am good.  I am worthwhile.  I am easily embarrassed.  I am compassionate.  I am awkward.  I am loved.  The mean girls didn't get the best of me, though I was sure at the time that they had.  Due in great measure to what my mother told me about myself and my worth,  I believe I got the best of me in the end.

I don't know what the mean girls got, if anything.  I kind of feel sorry for them.

So my daughters will enter this world of cruelty.  It's going to happen.  I fear it.  I won't know how to make it better.  I will speak words of encouragement and worth (and probably anger at the meanness of others) and it may fall on deaf, devastated ears.


my words will burrow deep, blossoming someday into truth that burns like fire in their hearts. 

I'm no angel.  I just play one with crayons.
We're seeing the Bigger Picture through simple moments -- moments that force us to stop and take notice of the ways our worlds are important, meaningful, and beautiful. Please join us here today! Grab the button, link up, and read a few others to encourage them as they walk this journey of intentional living.


  1. HEre is my post:

  2. Your words went straight to my heart. A quiet girl outside the mean girl circle myself I totally understand that awful feeling of realizing I had sunk to the behavior I detested around me. Like you I only stung someone one time. I couldn't take the sick feeling in my stomach caused by my own behavior.
    Wonderful post, Sarah.

  3. Like Allison I had trouble finding the linky tool.
    My post is at

  4. I'm not sure why the linky isn't visible for you guys! I'll try to fix it again, but in the meantime, I added your links. Thanks for writing with us today!

  5. Fixed now! Thanks, Sarah.

  6. It seems to me, the hardest part of parenting is realizing that we can't solve our kid's problem (much as it pains us) but we can build them up, instill the fire in them, help them see their worth.
    Your mom is wise.

  7. I linked over to your Mean Girls post and found it heartbreaking, but could of course relate, as probably so many girls can. I find it hard to reconcile the cruelty of girls with the beautiful friendships I have with women today. I love the power of your mom's words, "protecting me so I wouldn't forget who I was and what I loved about myself." Like hers, your words will be that strength for your daughters someday too.

  8. I've been thinking about your Mean Girls post all week and I found this follow-up incredibly reassuring. We live so deeply in the moment when we're kids, we feel things so intensely, and sometimes it's impossible to find comfort when we're in that state, you know? So it's heartening to know that now, years later, you can sort through all that hurt and all those feelings and trace the subtle ways your mom's words were building you up and protecting you. Mothering is such an act of faith, guiding and protecting our children is such a mystery on so many levels; it's almost impossible to tell if they hear you, or if your words are working, so thanks for this testament. It's so reassuring!

  9. So I love this post, for so many reasons. I feel such a kindred with you now, I mean more than before! I played violin! My mom had scoliosis (although she talked her mom out of the cast and is paying for it now).

    You right, her words were not helpful then, and sometimes they were as hurtful as the mean girls. I wanted that make it feel all better after school special moment and never got it, but it has made me who I am and will make me a better mom.

  10. It's so true what you say about the words of our mothers falling on deaf and devastated ears (such a poignant turn of phrase, btw!). i wonder if it's because at the time, how our friends esteem us seems worth so much more than how we esteem ourselves...and it's only as you grow older that you see how much harder and worthwhile it is to love yourself and see your own self-worth than to please a crowd for a few transitory minutes.

    But I think the thing is, no matter where you stand on the spectrum, those growing up years are hard. The popular kids have it no easier - if anything, the spotlight on them increases social pressure exponentially. And the kids who DO know themselves and stand up for themselves don't have it so easy either. They're stronger in that aspect, but it doesn't make them less lonely. I don't think any of us can be spared the trials of adolescence: there's a lesson in there for all of us.

    But those lessons, make us that much stronger in the end, don't they?

    And deep down, though it may appear your daughters aren't listening, they are. It just may take a little while for your words to sink it and take root. Through it all, whether or not they choose to, they'll know they can always turn to you - and being a safe haven is more important than being a shield, IMO.

  11. I feel so lucky to know both you and your mom!

  12. Oh yes. Yes, I've had my fair share of mean girl moments (mostly in elementary school) and there was this one boy who continually beat up on me all through out my childhood. Emotional abuse is crippling, physical abuse is scarring, and somewhere in between we really must rise above it all, right? It is such a scary little world out there for our babies. I hate knowing that one day my bambinos are going to have to deal with bullies and mean kids. But you are so right- it is important to have quiet and firm strength at home so that we may build ourselves up from the whole experience. It is really what makes us. Maybe it is part of the ultimate plan? Who knows... Only God. I am the person I am today because of the things that I rose up from and you are, too.

    Great post!

  13. I've never thought about that this way before ... and I'm really glad I have. Because these words we speak in love are powerful. And even if they seem to fall on deaf ears, there's a soaking that happens when repeated often enough.

  14. I love this post, Sarah. You said it so well. I've been there - both as the victim and the bully. Neither was a fun role. I hope that my daughter can avoid both but I know that is probably not likely to happen. I just pray I can be as supportive to her as your mother was to you.


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