Last week Meredith and I started a Mom & Me journal, and it’s turning out to be the greatest thing we’ve ever done. Because it’s a secret from the rest of our family, we decided that our code word is Pancakes. When she is finished writing in the journal, she places it under my pillow and somehow works Pancakes into our conversation. When I’m done writing on my side, I place the journal under her pillow and do the same. My hope is that this will serve as a vehicle for conversations that might be too difficult to have in person, as well as ease the embarrassment of the tricky conversations that we need to have face to face. Obviously, I’m not going to share what we’ve written so far. All I’ll say is this: It’s Very Good.
On a related note, a monumental change has taken place in my parenting philosophy. (Read that sentence again while picturing this version of me. It’s much less wearisome that way, no?) I have always encouraged my girls to be friends with everyone. “It’s good to have some close friends, but it’s also good to be friendly! That’s how you learn about other kids! You don’t have to play with the same group every day. Shake it up! It helps you learn who you are!”
No more. NO MORE! Meredith is “friends” with a girl in her class whose main purpose seems to be making other girls feel badly about themselves. This girl (shall we call her Regina George?) repeatedly tells Meredith that she doesn’t like Meredith’s clothes. Yesterday Regina George made fun of Meredith’s clothes until Meredith reached the level of anxiety where she couldn’t wait to come home and change OUT of those clothes. Regina George has started a club called The Shady Girls, where she requires the girls to wear certain colors and devote their recess to playing tether ball. (I know. I don’t know.)
I asked Meredith if she knows what Shady means.
Meredith: Like when it’s sunny outside, and you make the choice to hang out under a tree?
Me: Metaphorically, yes. But I have a funny feeling The Shady Girls don’t prefer to actually hang out in the shade. It’s about maybe being a little dishonest. Maybe being a little mean. It’s not necessarily a good thing.
Meredith: Regina George is mean.
According to Meredith, if Regina George gets angry during class, she has been known to yell, throw things, and curl up into a ball.
Okay. Let me say that again. According to Meredith, if Regina George gets angry during class, she has been known to yell, throw things, and curl up into a ball. To me, this means Regina George has some issues, and probably really NEEDS a friend, right? If the girl has to create clubs to have other girls hang out with her, she has some stuff going on, right? Right? Because of that, it hurts my heart (figuratively!) to ask Meredith to leave The Shady Girls, but that’s exactly what I did. Meredith has had a terrible relationship with this girl for over three years. Meredith has come home crying more than once because of things this girl has said to her. The last thing Meredith needs is to feel badly about herself at age eight. (At age six? The girl broke Meredith’s glasses. Oh my goodness, people!)
I’m a bit conflicted, because as I mentioned earlier, I’ve always encouraged the girls to try and be friends with EVERYONE. BUT, at this stage, I would be much happier seeing Meredith make a connection with some girls who exhibit kindness and curiosity and intelligence, perhaps with a love of American Girl stuff and Big Time Rush sprinkled in. (I’m not saying that the girl in question is lacking in those areas. I’m just saying that Meredith has been fairly miserable striving to “turn things around” with Regina.)
I’m trying to remember what it was like for me in the third grade. It was the year that Mrs. Barker read “Island of the Blue Dolphins” to our class. I don’t recall anyone being mean. Then again, that was many many years ago (over thirty years ago! Holy crap!) — before hormones in milk and rude kids on television. And padded bras in kid clothing stores. And raunchy magazines in every checkout lane at the grocery store. Oh, internet. This is a tough one. Have any of you dealt with this? By encouraging Meredith to gently leave the group, am I encouraging her to turn her back on someone who probably needs some help? Then again, Meredith has been reaching out for three years, and it’s totally killing her joy.
Please know that I have never said anything bad about Regina George in front of Meredith. The closest I came was this morning when I said, “Meredith, sometimes people who are unhappy actually feel a bit happier when they make other people feel unhappy, too.”