This is not news.
Even before we were married John and I talked about the high probability of the two of us spawning a child (children) who would be picked on in school. It seems inevitable. John and I currently would be considered above average when it comes to social classifiers such as athleticism, brains, wit, and appearance. Yet, we were both ostracized in school, from very young ages until, well, perhaps until some magical day in high school or college when we decided to just fully stop caring. When I say “ostracized,” weirdly, I don’t mean we were ignored or labeled “dorks,” and that was that.
I mean singled out.
Relentlessly teased, purposefully left out, and made to wonder, for most of our lives, what was wrong with us.
The magical happy ending of this story is that I really did get over it, and even believe I am better for it today. I can’t imagine who I would have turned out to be if I had been–gulp–popular in Jr. High. John agrees.
Okay so we aren’t like the richest most successful people we currently know. And truth be told, we probably have far fewer friends than average 30 somethings. But neither of us would have it any other way.
That is not to say, however, that I would wish the same fate on my own children.
But I don’t have to. It seems it has started.
Remember Kelsey? Well, she’s back. Please understand that my rendition of Eliott’s experience is built from the comments of a teacher who did not actually witness any of the following and translation of the perception of an almost five year old.
Facts may skewed.
I can hardly do the entire thing justice, except to invite you into the scene and allow you to hear things as I heard them.
The adult version:
Teacher: Well, we had a rough day.
Me: Is Eliott still having an issue with following directions?
Teacher: No. This was more a problem with getting along with the other kids in class. It seems she’s being picked on, and I think today it just really got to her.
Me: Ah. Is this the whole, “You’re not my best friend anymore,” thing? We’ve talked about it.
Teacher: Yes. I think it is that and also an issue with toys and sharing, and you how kids can be… we’re working on it. Please just keep talking to her about how she feels.
Eliott: Well, first Kelsey said, “No Eliott. You are not my best friend. And Lucy is not your best friend either. She’s my best friend.
Me: Well, Eliott, did you tell Kelsey and Lucy, ‘That’s okay. You can still be my friends?’ I mean, what did you say?
Eliott: I said (in a voice that I can only assume is mine, mimicked): That is not nice, Kelsey. You are not being nice to me, and you need to be nice to me.
Me: Wow. That was probably the best thing you could have said. What did she say?
Eliott: Well, she started singing, “Eliott is a poopy pants, Eliott is a poopy pants,” and everyone else was just singing it too.
I have to admit. From my eyes of experience, how do I explain to Eliott that this little song means she won? The story continued before bed, when Eliott confessed to John that all the kids were taking away her toy, and no one was being her friend. Part of me wonders if she simply felt so alone that she perceived the entire class to be ganging up on her.
I’m not surprised, and I’m not angry, and actually, in my all to pragmatic sense of reality, I’m sort of comforted in the ever so expectedness of this situation. I just really didn’t think it would start so soon. And like any other parent, I feel pretty confident that no matter what I say or do, ultimately this is something that might not get better, and might not have a solution.
For example, I didn’t immediately get on the phone and call Kelsey’s mom, so we could have a conflict-resolution session. I didn’t even push things with the teacher to make sure whatever strategy should be in place is being implemented properly. I didn’t suggest Eliott fight back, or anything like that. I know these are all things that people do, but somehow, none of them feel like the right step. Right now.
I am actually taking comfort in exactly two things Eliott has said, as a result of this recent issue. Amazingly, I’m not sure I distinctly taught her either of them, but her naturally keen sense of self seems to be protecting her just fine right now.
First, I wanted her to know the reality of the situation, because if I recall, my mother did the same thing with me. Granted, I was more likely in 4th grade at the time I was dealing with this, and not four, but it’s never really been my parenting technique to treat my children according to their height. I said to Eliott, “Listen. There’s something you need to know. Most girls are mean. I don’t know why, but they just are. In your life, you might only have a couple of really good girl friends, and probably one of them will be your sister. You need to be nice to Carter, because most girls don’t like people like you and me.” When she asked me why, I might have blurted a little too quickly, “Well, because we’re smart, and we’re pretty, and we don’t even care.” To this her face lit up and she exclaimed, “Yeah! Let’s just keep being pretty!” and then high-fived me. I took it as a success.
Then, today at breakfast, I was preparing her for her field trip today, explaining that she was going to be riding with somebody’s mom, and how fun it would be and blah blah blah. When she asked who was driving I said, “Actually, probably Adam’s mom and Kelsey’s mom. They drive for everything. And your teachers will drive too.” At the inclusion of ‘Kelsey’s mom’ Eliott said, again, in a voice that was far more grown up than I usually hear, “Kelsey’s mom? Well. I’m going to tell her that Kelsey was being mean to me on the other day. Yeah. And I’m going to say that she makes the other kids be mean to me too, and they taunt me, and take things from me.” To this, I threw in, “And exclude me, say that.”
I love that she recognizes taunting from her experience with doing it to her own sister. I also love her dork-level vocabulary.
It turns out, when I dropped her off at school, the plan had changed a bit and I ended up attending the field trip today. All the girls rode together in one car and all of them got along swimmingly. I didn’t seek vengeance and I didn’t even feel the need to discuss any of this with the other moms in attendance. I do actually like most of these kids and weirdly, I actually like most of their mothers. And deep down, I really do think Eliott is going to be okay. (All right, I admit to one or two vivid thoughts of accidentally kicking little Kelsey right in the head, but truly, that was my Mama Bear instinct more than any personal vendetta against a five year old.)
I realize I might be creating a monster here. I also realize there are plenty of things I could or should be doing and not doing. But the fact is, I’m not looking for advice, or sympathy, or even approval. Again. I really try not to be that annoying mom who praises and raises my children to unreachable pedestals of greatness. At least not publicly, anyway. (I said I try gimme a break here.) But this has been one of those weeks where I was unexpectedly transported back to a time in my life that, no matter how long ago it was or how much I’ve changed, the feeling of insecurity and loneliness is unmistakeable and universal.
And I just can’t explain how proud I am, that my daughter, who is three weeks away from her fifth birthday, has a very keen sense inside of her, of just how to say, “Go to hell,” to her adversaries in an appropriate way.
I’m sure my dad would say, “Yep. She’s a Paulus.”