Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Notes from Battlefield Playground--Head Games in First Grade?

For the past several weeks, it appears to be spreading like a virus.  Or I think it is.  It seems that everywhere I go, I hear moms lamenting the same problem.

"She came home crying."

"They just ignored her."

"She made faces at them because they teased her, and they went to the teacher and SHE got in trouble."

My daughter, 7 1/2 years old, is in the middle of a love/hate battle with her BFF.  And she's not the only one.  Yesterday at Starbucks, I overheard a group of 4 moms complaining about how mean girls are to each other, how they love each other one minute and give the silent treatment the next.  One of my closest friends has a strong-willed daughter like mine, who's in the same struggle.  My sister wrote a song about it.  It's universal.  We've all watched "Mean Girls" and, if you're old enough to remember, "Heathers."

I know this happens because I was a young girl once too.  When I was in junior high, my two best friends and I worked out a gymnastics routine to perform in the school talent show.  I loved being part of it.  They were much better that me, but I was included--and therefore, loved.  One day, I showed up to practice, and they said I was out.  They were going to make their own routine.  "But I can learn it," I say.  "No, you can't.," they say, "This one doesn't have you in it."  Instantly, unloved.  But this was junior high, not first grade.

My daughter is kind of feeling unloved now in the end of first grade.  The "hate" part of the love/hate war has lately manifested itself with physical ramifications.  BFF pulls T2's ponytail.  T2 hits her with a knotted up sweater.  Other girls in the BFF posse tell the teacher.  T2 is marched off to the principal's office and told not to play with BFF.  Cut to next day when T2 separates from BFF on the playground.  The other girls skip off with BFF.  T2 is left to play by herself--a kind of imposed ostracization.  She clandestinely moves close to the others. They tease her, say she's running too slow, or not supposed to play with them, or blah, blah, blah.  Whatever it is, it sets off T2 again.

I internalize all of this because I can't help but feel that it's my fault.  I put her in after school  care.  I'm only able to talk to her about navigating girlfriend relationships for 15 minutes at bed time.  Is that enough?  I gave her a talisman.  An ID bracelet from my childhood. (I don't know, maybe I should have thought about the fact that in 1975 ID bracelets may have been made with lead.....but that's a worry for another day.)

I say, "When you're feeling left out, look at the bracelet.  See my name, my birthdate; think of that phone number and address on that bracelet as home.  It's a little bit of home with you all the time.  Think of me, and know that you are loved, even when I'm not there."

I can't be on that playground.  I have to send her off to the psychological battlefield alone.  Here at home, the family can arm her with love, confidence, mutual respect.  But that's all we can do.  I hold my breath as she lets go of my hand and goes to join the line of other kids before school starts.  How will BFF react to her this morning?  Will it set her up for a good day, or not?  I exhale when the two friends embrace.  But who knows.  It could change with the wind.  At bedtime tonight, I'll hug her and smother her with kisses.  The home front is sweet.


notmytree said...

As terrible as it is, everyone without exceptions goes through it. I had elementary school girl drama, middle school girl drama, really awful high school girl (and boy) drama, and it turned out fine. So she's learning early, this stuff happens. She's a trooper, and armed with what you teach her and what she learns from experience, she'll turn out a strong, independent woman who doesn't take crap from anyone and doesn't dish it out either. Give her big hugs from me! xoxoxo

GratefulTwinMom said...

Thanks for the pep talk, Caitlin. I needed that. You're one of the most together young women I know. I hope she turns out like you.

LauraJean said...

She's lucky to have you both. BFFs who engage in snottiness are not worth it. She will realize that sooner or later. With the love and good guidance she gets from all those who care about her, it will hopefully be sooner! Give her big hugs from AL, too. xxx

Organic Motherhood with Cool Whip said...

I too want to chime in and say that I suffered from a lot of mean girl treatment as a kid. And it hurt. (And it tears my heart apart when I see it happening to by five year old son. Even boys tease and ostracize each other. Maybe not as wickedly as girls, but they do it too.)

But I guess when I think back to growing up and what made me into the person I am, some of that ostracizing made me grow stronger and more insightful. It made me realize that the people who were popular and in the cliques were not necessarily the nice kids. And usually not the nice kids.

And that the friends that really loved you didn't care if you wore the coolest clothes or had a trendy haircut or whatever. The real friends loved you no matter what.

Sometimes the hardest lessons of all are the ones that teach us the most. Your daughter has loving parents and strong family. She will do just fine in the world. I know she will!

Amy said...

Ugh. I hate mean girl crap. I was fortunately usually the outsider and didn't have to deal with bullying but when I hear about it I wanna get all Hand That Rocks The Cradle on the playground. Not that I actually would but, you know, it's my first inclination. Not looking forward to this part of parenting.

clueless but hopeful mama said...

Oh this gave me Nervous Tummy! I really wish I could skip over this part of parenting.

I love how you're giving her tools to protect her heart. Teaching her how to be strong AND kind is a challenge in the face of mean girl relationships.