Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Emulating the Mean Girl

“I’m glad I’m skinny,” Love Monster, my daughter, said to me. She stared at the mirror happily.

She’s six.

 My stomach dropped. Where did she get that?? Certainly not from me. Skinny was always an insulting word to me. And truthfully I wouldn’t call her skinny. She’s tall, but she’s not small. Athletically built. But the fact that she thinks she’s skinny and that that is a good thing to be worried me. It didn’t take long for me to figure out who she got this from. We’ll just call her GIRL X.

 “I hope GIRL X likes my outfit today,” She said still staring in the mirror, her happiness giving way to anxiety.

 I bit my tongue. I needed to think through what I was going to say. Saying “FUCK GIRL X!” was not appropriate or right in any way.

 GIRL X. The girl who made Love Monster think skinny is best body to have. GIRL X, the girl who Love Monster wanted to please, is also the girl who bullied her.

 I didn’t think I’d have to worry about any of this for years. But here we were in Kindergarten and the mean girl routine was starting on the playground.

 “I think GIRL X will like this dress.”

 “I thought you wanted to wear your favorite dress?” I asked her.

 “No. GIRL X thinks it looks like pajamas.”

 Again I was fuming, but calmed down. We needed to get to school.

 That day Love Monster had to bring in her 100 days of school project. And who did we see in the hallway as we walked into the school? GIRL X. Awesome. Love Monster ran up to her smiling in anticipation, poised for certain praise, angling her bright pink poster board covered in exactly 100 Cherrios in the shape of a heart just right. “Hi! Do you like my project?”

 I clutched LM’s shoulder wishing I could brace her for impact.

 GIRL X looked at it like it piece of shit smeared into the ground, shrugged and walked away. Love Monster was crushed.

 Mean girls. There’s no avoiding them. Maybe this type of Kindergarten bullying seems like nothing. The making fun of how someone is dressed, exclusion, the well used sentence “I won’t be your friend.” (If I hear a kid say that one more time.... ugh!)

 But I’m telling you at that age, it’s devastating. They don’t think it’s small. How others feel about you and how you feel about yourself is so easily intertwined. It starts so early. What scares me is the evolution of this bullying that is inevitable if we don’t stop it. Kindergartners don’t have Facebook. They don’t text horrible things about each other to the entire school. Yet. It’s the beginning. And it’s such a crucial time. They are making friends and learning their identity outside their family. And then they met the mean girl. And they want to be her. She is revered and feared. It seems safer maybe. It’s like Heathers all over again.

 I was bullied as a kid. Skinny. Glasses. A football helmet perm. I was an easy target. I brushed it off as teasing, but it sucked and hurt deeply. I also had awesome friends that made up for the enemies. And thank god it wasn’t the internet/cell phone age.. The thought makes me shudder. In 1988, yeah I might get teased at school, but when I got home, I was in the safety zone. It’s not the safety zone for kids anymore with computers and cell phones. Honestly because of those years it took a long time for me to get comfortable with my body. Not until just last year I think. I’m 37 years old.

 I don’t want that to be the case for my girls and I certainly don’t want worse. The stories in the news are heartbreaking. The only way out some of these kids see is death. It’s terrifying the power bullies seem to have. So the fear I have is not irrational.

 But then I had the most reassuring parent/teacher conference the other week.

 “Love Monster is a great self-advocate,” one of her teachers said. “If someone is being mean, she tells them she doesn’t like it. And if they apologize, she accepts, smiles and keeps on playing.”

She’s come a long way since last year and the GIRL X days of Kindergarten. I never really hated GIRL X. I think we all know the ones who hurt are probably hurting the most. I hope she’s not anymore.

I pray for Love Monster’s continued strength and confidence. The night of the “Skinny Incident,” I addressed it with LM. There’s something about bedtime, tucking them in, that is vulnerable. Love Monster put on her smile, but there was something anxious underneath it.

 “You know I’m so happy with how strong and healthy you are. Aren’t you?”

“Yes!” Love Monster said.

 “I’m strong too!” Smirker interjected showing us her muscles.

 “Yes you are! You know what matters most is how you feel about what you did today. Were you proud of you project?”

 “Yes,” she said tentatively, a “but” on the tip of her tongue.

 “That is what matters. She’s not your friend babe. Friends don’t make you feel that way.”

 “But I should still be nice to her?”

 “Yep. People are not always nice. And it probably has nothing to do with you. Be compassionate. Think of that person as you. How would you feel? Be kind.”

 “That’s easy.”

I laughed. Not always easy. But the concept sure is. I said quite a few cliché things. I didn’t know if it would stick. But it must have. Because the next day she wore her favorite “PJ” dress to school with a huge smile on her face.
 11/21/2013 UPDATE:
I feel strongly compelled to add something to this blog post. Love Monster came home the other day from school with a scratch on her face that was bleeding. It took two days of her dad and I asking about it for her to tell us what happened. Finally she admitted a boy did it on purpose. She didn’t tell a teacher about it because she was “being brave.” A little part of me broke inside. She really thought that was the right thing to do. When people are bullied, they become afraid to speak up.

Speak up.

Please speak up. Ask for help.

“Love Monster, there is NO shame in that. No shame in telling someone.”

She nodded clutching Bees her favorite bear once again tucked into her covers, cloaking her in the safe vulnerability of bedtime.

“Promise?” I asked.