Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Half of what you say means nothing, and the other half means something else*

I pick Em up after school everyday about 30 minutes after school lets out, because i want to avoid the daily clusterfuck of cars right as school ends. Em tends to be about 5 minutes late, and i am usually there on time as i am an annoyingly punctual person. I can always tell when she is coming because of the clatter she makes as she runs down the hill towards the car, feet pounding and backpack bouncing. It makes me smile to hear that noise. She then jumps in the car and says "Hi Mommy!" in her cute little voice.

Today she ran down the hill, jumped into the car and burst into tears. Uh oh. "Why does she always have to be so mean?" Em wailed. A few minutes of sobbing and hugs, then she was ready to tell me about it.

Nicole was Em's best friend from the 2nd grade through the 7th. Which is a long time in girl land. But in the past few years, she has become increasingly mean to Em. Em is not as "cool" as Nicole, and that began to be apparent in 6th grade. This coolness matters mightily to Nicole, whereas Em is aware of it, but uninterested and couldn't pull it off if she was.

Nicole is not all that cool either, but she really wannabe. So she is mean. That's why they are no longer best friends, but they still hang out some and are in many of the same classes. Today Nicole, who is a pretty talented volleyball player, made fun of Em on the court for being a klutz. In front of the whole team. Em held it together until she got in the car and then lost it.

We had the conversation about mean people, about how they are mean because they are trying to improve their own standing in the herd, and they feel badly about themselves on the inside. But that conversation, while it is true, was less than satisfying to both Em and myself. Because really i just want to go and slap the bitch.

But violence is not the answer. Right! Right?

*a context free quote from The Thirteen Clocks by James Thurber


Bobealia... said...

Ok. So, sometimes I was a bitch in junior high. I thought I wasn't but I read my diary later and found out that I was. Anyway, Nicole might not have even realized that she was being such a mean bitch. I say Em should just go to sleep until college.

Anonymous said...

I can think of nothing worse than the loss and subsequent betrayal of someone for whom you have laid bare your soul. So much better for the friendship to end and Nicole to wither up, turn to dust, and blow away, instead of still being there.

Actually hitting people is not really that satisfying. A little creative visualization can do so much more.

I've let go of both anger and guilt with the precept "what goes around comes around." And an ice cream sundae.

Lynnea said...

Toughest thing really is that as adults, while we might have a hard time with someone being mean or bitchy to us, we know all those great Oprah-ish things to think and get over it. (Well plus we can fantasize about bitch-slapping with real relish). But for a 15/16 year old girl, it's not that easy or apparent. Especially with all those hormones running wild and wanting to fit in and so on. I remember. I'm the same kind of mom too, I'd want to hunt the little mouthy witch down. But, Dauferio's suggestion of ice cream sundae is a great start. And just think, with the confidence and self-respect your raising Em with, when she hits college, maybe even high school, she's going to shine as the brightest star and the little witchy girl will probably have shriveled under fake tanning skin and wicked attitude.

Marshamlow said...

My husband tells my daughter in those situations to just slap the girl, you then deal with the consequences but you never again have to deal with a nasty remark. He says you only have to slap one person and the whole school gets the messge. While that is not the approach I recommend and my Mandy has never taken the advice, somehow knowing that it is ok with her parents gives her a bit of confindence and less of a feeling of helplessness, and that attitude has helped her.

Mother of Invention said...

Some weaker people try to elevate themselves by tearing others down. We can all see that but Em might have difficulty accepting that her former friend has changed and seemingly has turned against her. If she only knew that this babe might feel worse than she (Em) does. Ego is so fragile and only partially formed at that age.

Mignon said...

Tell her to say, "Why you gotta hate?" It'll diffuse the situation, make Em look slightly cool, and make Nicole look silly for being negative. Other options, "Don't be a hater." or "Can't we all just get along, sweet cheeks?" Basically, teach/tell her to make light of what was said, while at the same time diffusing the power of the Passive Aggressive Insecure Bee-yahtch.

Sorry if you just wanted to vent, but I'd love to hear that Em was able to stand up to this girl with humor and wit - it's a practice that could serve her well in so many situations through her teens, ya know?

Andrea Frazer said...

God, your posts are like a trainwreck. Written so well I can't help but read them. But so painful sometimes as it hits so close to home - especially the teenage stuff. Big hugs.

amusing said...

Going through the same thing here with the nine year old. He gets teased, his "best friend" punches him and throws him against the wall. I have to find out what that really means because he complains I've hit him if I pat him too strongly on the back.... But his tears and his pain are real so I've got to figure it out. And I can't help but think it's my fault -- haven't given him the whatever it is he needs to cope/deal/protect/diffuse. I didn't do playdates enough. I didn't take him out back and throw a ball. I..gulp...got divorced and it's tough to deal with his father and the Adulterous Slut. Sigh.

karmic said...

Oy it's a mean world out there. I liked how Em managed it though with class and grace. And no violence is nto the answer, but it is therapeutic to think of it me thinks.
School for me was different in a different country where uniforms were the norm and education was more important. Oh there were things like this but nothing as mean.

Bob said...

We (ahem, my wife) taught our daughter to do as mignon suggested - to respond with a pithy (or sarcastic) comment and to not let on that the taunt effected her. The others learned that it wasn't any fun to get it dished right back and my daughter eventually grew into believing what she said and the taunts no longer hurt so deeply. this worked especially well against guys who were showing off for their friends and got embarrased instead.

meno said...

bo, i would not be surprised if all of us girls were mean to someone at that age. The pecking order and all. That's what's so gross about it. It's like coming home and kicking the dog after the boss yells at you. Find something weaker and pick on it. Part of growing up is learning that not only will that not help, it will make you feel even worse.

de. it's been building for a long time. It started with little insults and has escalated from there. Em has done a good job of distancing herself gradually from Nicole. But, yeah, it still hurts.

maggie, actually, we did get cake and ice cream last night! Which is unusual around here. So i guess we did take the "Ice Cream Cure".

MOI, We will keep talking about that, how Nicole must feel, in the future. Truth is Em is not the only one that Nicole picks on, and so at some point the chickens will come home to roost.

mignon, i will suggest that to her. Those are good words. I would like her to stand up to Nicole as well, but i have to respect Em's understanding of the complexities of high school society.

mamap, a train wreck? :) thanks. and thanks for the hugs.

amusing, all the guilt and frustration of these little life battles for our kids really cuts up a mom. Because we always jump to the thought that somehow it's all our fault. We pottytrained them too early, we breast feed them too long, we took that bath that one time when they wanted to watch Aladdin ONE MORE TIME with us. But really, this IS life, in all it's glorious shittiness. The best we can do is be there and try to teach them how to cope as gracefully as possible. Sigh, it seems like so little.

sanjay, i was proud of her too! For not crying in class. That's what she would have done a few years ago, which always added to the humiliation and gave Nicole more ammo. Maybe i should send her to India for school?

thailandchani said...

Violence is not the answer but, yes, it is a temptation to lock middle school kids in a closet until they're civilized. I remember those days only too well. What a weird socialization process we have here! Not only is my sympathy with Em ~ but also kudos for having the courage to be who she is, even if it isn't "cool" this nanosecond. May she hold on to that!

Thailand Gal


urban-urchin said...

OMG- girls are so fucking MEAN. Boys hit each other and then it's over- girls wage psychological warfare. I totally remember the girls who tortured me from 2nd- mid-7th grade before I mercifully moved to the UK.

I am having some of the same issues with my 2nd grader. I want to go and slap the little bitches who are so mean and spiteful but I can't (duh). And you're right- even though you tell her what the deal is- it doesn't make you feel better.

My husband tells her to hit only if she needs to defend herself (he actually says hit first if you can see a fight coming). While I don't agree I see where he's coming from.

I tell her to use humor and wit to diffuse the situation and take the wind out the sails of the bitches. So far it's worked 50% of the time. And I can't help but give those mean kids the stink eye when I help at school. But as far as high school goes? I can't help, only commiserate and wring my hands in fear of what's in store for us. Good luck Em and Meno.

Liv said...

wow. The pearls of wisdom are flowing today. And I was just going to validate your desire to go slap that bitch. As we say in my house, "DON'T poke mama bear!" mainly in the context of how I, at age almost 30 still seem to take delicious pleasure in annoying the crap out of my own mom. My inner juvenile delinquent keeps popping up.

Mean girls suck.

Teri M. said...

(1st I LOL'd at MamaP's comment)
MEH, adolescence sucks.

Teri M. said...

I was going to go into a whole long story about a current adolescent girl situation and then suddenly just didn't have the strength.

meno said...

bob, nice call on your (your wife's) part. We'll have to have some sarcasm lessons, which i am WELL QUALIFIED to teach.

thailand gal, not even one little smack? Damn. You know, she'll be fine, it just stung right then.

u-u, they are mean in a different way than boys, that's the truth. 2nd grade? that is so sad, they are still so little and so sweet, that would break my heart.

liv, that's what this group does, offers pearls of wisdom, or sometimes humor. Ain't it grand? I still like to poke at my mother too, but it's kind of like shooting fish in a barrel because she makes it so easy.

teri, mamap is funny! And i get why you don't have the strength, it's just so stupid sometimes.

SUEB0B said...

I dunno, a slap sounds good to me at this point.

Girlplustwo said...

i heart em. i do not heart nicole. in fact, drop her off at the homeless shelter where i work and she can spend a night being cool there..and keeping it real.

i do not heart nicole at all.

Maya's Granny said...

There is a book that works wonders that I used to recommend to the parents I worked with who had kids having these problems. It is: How to Handle Bullies, Teasers, and Other Meanies, by Kate Cohen-Posey, M.S., LMHC, LMFT

Have your library get it on interlibrary loan if it doesn't have it. Em will find help and all sorts of good ideas in it.

Anonymous said...

I believe that most people do the best that they can with what they have: even bigots and mean girls like Nicole. Nicole doesn't behave as she does from a place of strength. Hers is a place of insecurity and smallness.

Truman Capote wrote through the lips of Holly Golightly: "Everyone likes to feel superior to someone. It's just customary to present proof before taking the privilege."

Thus, my moniker for that line.

And Nicole couldn't have said what she said to Em without the backing of the group. The group authorized Nicole to behave as she did. And in some way, Em authorized her too. The challenge for Em is to figure a way to withdraw that authorization without too great a penalty.

As far as girls being mean, that doesn't end when our boobs droop. We're just more circumspect. We wait to someone exits the room before we whisper. And even if we don't cackle, we do.

Anonymous said...

This was one reason I was glad to have a boy. Their cruelties are so much cruder and more short-lived. But even so, it's hard to stand back and watch someone hurt your baby. I think you handled it well. She'll remember what you said, and you'll hear it coming from her lips some day.

meno said...

suebob, it would sure feel good! At least until the lawsuits started.

jen, now THAT's a good idea. I'm sure it is easy to be cool at a homeless shelter. What's sad is that i have known Nicole since she was 6, and back then she was a chubby bundle of insecurities. It's sad to see her dealing with those by becoming a bully.

hi annie, sarcasm lessons are held here daily! I will come and check out your post. Thanks for coming by.

maya's granny, thank you for the trecommendation. We will look for the book.

holly, What? That's not your real name? :) You are correct, and although i wasn't there, i am pretty sure that some of the other girls enjoyed it and some of them were sorry. But all were silent. A microcosm of latter work life, and an opportunity to learn how to handle just such crap.

D-man. Do you think an Uzi would be overdoing it? Actually, i think i'll just break one of her fingernails.

marian, And think of all the money you saved on toilet paper by having a boy. :)

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't it be cool if "Holly Capote" were my real name?

Alas, it ain't.

Group dynamics is what I studied, so whereas I'm willing to qualify and modify most everything I write (and admit that I pull more out of my ass than one of those proctologists that specialize in blocked colons), when it comes to group dynamics, I am certain.

So, I can say with certainty that what played out in that gym isn't just about the corrupted Nicole versus the innocent Em. Victim is a role. Bully is a role. Both of these roles, as all roles are, are assigned by the group. We might not like our role, but there is always complicity. Always.

Nicole was the foil for the group. She embodied the bully that was in every girl in that gym. But we can deny our inner bully when we empower, albeit unconsciously and nonverbally, someone else to manifest "the bully."

But at the end of the day, I'd rather be a victim than a bully.

Geez, think about it. On an extreme level, as horrible as being an inmate at Auschwitz was, wouldn't you rather, at the end of the each day in 1943, crawl onto a wooden cot that you share with 2 others, than look into a mirror and see your chubby face and remove the shirt from your back: the one with the swastikas?

Even without Heaven and Hell to reward and punish us, the roles of Judas, Othella, Quisling, every Nazi, and every the itty-bitty Grade B bullies are the world's worst.

Ideally, the best thing that Em can navigate is to be neither bully nor victim, but a protector. A lioness.

Warning: there is nothing harder or more disorienting than switching roles. Most of us would rather live our lives as "the victim" or "the whiner" or "the put-upon one" than configure a new role. Whereas our familiar role might be repugnant, it's what we know.

The good news for Em is that her role isn't as ingrained, given her youth. And Nicole isn't as practiced and cocksure as a 30-year old bully.

That's a lot of jibber-jabber, eh?

But I do enjoy talking about group dynamics. I once taught it too.

Anonymous said...

Do you mind if I hijack the comments for a minute? Excuse me, Holly Capote? That was a FANTASTIC comment. Could you suggest what I should tell my seven year old son when he gets teased? He has a friend who every once in a while will start teasing him about something harmless (last night it was "Nathan eats worms, Nathan eats worms"), and Nathan completely falls apart. I need a phrase Nathan can use to diffuse the teasing and move the conversation to something else. Ideas?

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Elizabeth! Humor is a great diffuser.

For example, Nathan could say, "Not without mustard, I don't."

It shifts attention from Nathan's alleged worm-eating proclivities to his wit.

And if he isn't already witty, it can be learned. Give him opportunities to practice. Explain to him that every so often, you'll taunt him as his friend does. Tell him that you'll be giving him a chance to turn the attention from a lie to his wit. Coach him and encourage him as he responds.

For example, if you said, "Nathan is stinky, Nathan is stinky,"

And he said, "That's because I don't bathe,"

You could say, "But a better response might be a more ridiculous one, such as 'That's because I sleep with pigs. 9 of them. They all pile up on me at night. You'd stink too if pigs preferred your bed.'"

The story about the pig is not only wit-revealing and self-deprecating, which is a cool quality at any age, but it also shifts attention from a banal taunt to a cool tale.

meno said...

Holly, what you say is true, and we will spend more time talking about using humor to deflect bullying. Thank you for sharing your wisdom.

hijack away elizabeth, hijack away. I am all about passing on the teachings of the holly spirit. let us know how this works out.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, meno.

"The teachings of the holly spirit" is too cute.

I'm blushing, Babe.

meno said...

annie, Holly does not have a blog, and resists any attempts to tell her that she should have one claiming that she is too busy. But she spends time writing insighful comments on other's blogs. Since i am one of those people, i am happy.

Anonymous said...

Oh, Annie, you're such a doll! I do write...everyday. I do it professionally...and if I dared begin a blog, my editors would throttle me, for I'm perpetually late in submitting manuscripts! I mostly write for magazines, but the first of my 4 novels will be released next fall and my second picture book, "Pumpkin Town," was just released. But you can find things I've written on the web. I can be a bit of a provocateur and I'm always a word-ranger, for whereas I do straight-up journalism for business and travel magazines, I also do political writing and creative writing.

As far as meno, I linger here because I adore her, as is her due. She's kind and she's curious and can you think of two finer qualities? I can't and neither can anyone else I know.