Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Nanny, Nanny, Boo, Boo aka Words Can Hurt, Too

There are times when friendships struggle. Perhaps you and a friend have hit a bump in the road or you’re simply changing - moving in different directions. Maybe there was a disagreement too big to ignore. It’s possible you guys are too much alike. It could be any of these things – especially when you’re just 7 and still trying to figure out what friendship means.

Mini-me is blessed with some great friends. Her oldest friend Kooky lives far away but is rarely far from her thoughts.  Kindred is local and, though we don’t see her often enough, when they are together  they are truly two peas in a pod.  She’s got friends at school, in the ‘hood and at the barn.  They play in groups and one-on-one. There are organized activities and total chaos.  They sleepover, craft, bike and run in a pack.

Hoping grown-ups can set the example for the kids.
But, let’s face it – some kids are mean and I’m being polite here. Some are just asshats.  Yes, I know some are just insecure and some are the unwitting victims of poor parenting, but seriously, kids are way meaner – and at a younger age - than they used to be. I say this with complete confidence because I was bullied all through elementary and middle school.  I know this makes me more sensitive to watching her go through this but I’ll take my oversensitivity to parental apathy any day.

Watching mini-me struggle with the typical kid fights is usually no big deal. I’m a proponent of dust yourself off, say you’re sorry and move on.  I always assume she is partially – if not more – to blame and try to teach her that saying you’re sorry – and meaning it – is an important part of being a friend.  I know that sometimes, kids have to be kids and learn to stand up for themselves - but sometimes, I see in her what I remember feeling. She’s a little bit outside the group – not quite fitting in. It’s mostly unintentional and sometimes self-induced with little understanding as to why.

Last year, she shared that kids made fun of her hair.  This was her first experience with mean kids.  (I remember being teased about my hair and there is nothing I can say to make her believe that her hair is extraordinary and that she will cherish it as an adult.)  When she told my brother about this he was stunned. While I have never doubted his love for his niece, it filled my heart to see him pull her close and tell her what to say.  You see, he has the hair as does one of his sons. His was the compassionate voice of experience.

This is what I picture - and it breaks my heart.
This year,  a few things  have rattled her. Some involve random kids and other times, her friends. It’s likely all a passing phase.  I know I’m lucky that she opens up to me. That she shares the second-grade drama and I listen, empathize and give hugs. That is usually all that is needed and she moves on to the next topic. But sometimes, she keeps talking. Sometimes, one small incident that seems so innocuous really hits a nerve in her elementary psyche.  Honestly, it hits a nerve in my middle-aged psyche, too.

There is certainly a side of me that would love to tell mini-me exactly what to say to one of these gems.  You know, give her a real zinger to fire back. I know that is wrong – and I would never do it but really, what I wouldn’t give – just once - to see my sweet girl shut down one of these little bitches with a well honed phrase – except those little ninnies would then go crying about hurt feelings. If they only knew……

What I do tell her is that some people are just not nice and we may never know why, but  there is never a reason for bad manners. Don’t bully back and always treat people with respect. I have made sure to tell her that she doesn’t have to take it – that no one should have to take it.  I’ve told her that just sitting by and watching someone else get bullied is not okay. She can say stop, she can go get help, she can be the victim’s friend – but never sit idly by and watch one person hurt another either physically or with words. Both wounds run deep.

Most of the bullies mini-me has encountered these days remain distant classmates. Names on a page that won’t ever sleep over, celebrate her birthday or pass notes. Some of the bullies have moved on. Some are fine tuning their approach and disguising the meanness with a smile.  Mini-me is learning to tell the difference between someone who is just nice, pretending to be nice or someone who is her friend. 

I hope that as mini-me grows, she finds her Big Susans – those friends who are there no matter what. No matter if you’re part of the right crowd, the wrong crowd, rich, or poor.  No matter what neighborhood you live in, what sport or games you play – or don’t play – or where you buy your clothes. She doesn’t have to be the most popular, the prettiest or the smartest. I just want her to be appreciated for herself, to have good friends – to be a good friend. 

My Big Susan M aka the Geek always says that our girls are our square pegs.  I’m good with that.  When I talked to some moms at yet another horse show, they all said that their kids were square pegs, too.  Maybe that explains why a group of girls – ranging in age from 5 to 18 – can work together, be together for hours at a time with rarely a cross word. A barn full of square pegs who totally get what it means to not always fit in.  They readily open their arms and hearts and embrace.  She doesn’t have to always fit in completely, she can march to the beat of her own drummer – hell, I hope she dances to the music of her own band.  And, as long as she has good friends that will dance with her, I know she’ll be okay.

 I want to do a special shout out to fellow square peg and friend, Giddy-up.  She helped me edit this post and talked me off the ledge when I was nervous about posting it.  

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