I was having dinner with another Mother the other night. She is about a decade ahead of me on the Mommy path, her oldest, age 12. Dark sunglasses failed to hide her swollen eyes as she quickly swiped the tears that escaped from underneath them. Her daughter had spent the past two days crying over a party to which she was not invited. Her story struck a chord with me and its hard to say which one of them held more of my empathy. I have my own share of middle school “mean girls” memories, and it takes about a millisecond to reach back and re-live them as if I am sitting here in braces, Aquanet sprayed bangs, tight-rolled jeans and tretorns. Pardon me while I get a tissue.
But, going further, how much more will my heart break when one of my own babies is on the receiving end of such adolescent behavior? My chest literally tightens at the thought. Pardon me again while I go vomit.
I don’t know if I was raised with a different set of rules or an extra spoonful of awareness for people’s feelings, but even at age 8, I can remember being concerned about the inclusion of others. My home was always open to all, and holidays were overflowing with visitors. There was never a hierarchy of friends who did or didn’t make the cut for special events and gatherings. If you had no place to go, or ten places to go but wanted to drop in, you were welcome. ALWAYS, even if my father had to make a quick run to the elementary school to borrow folding chairs from his Art classroom.
Every May, when my birthday came around I was faced with the conundrum of making the guest list. And every May, we would toss the paper invitations in the trash, move the party outside and open it up to the whole grade….popular kids, not so popular kids, smart kids, odd kids, all kids. If my memory serves, all mingled together without cliqued boundaries and had a blast.
So, as I listened to my friend, I choked back my own tears over her 12 year old’s broken heart. She was pleading for advice and I came up short. What do you say? How do you instill in them the self-worth and steadfast security with who they are, so much so that the snobs of this world become nothing more than fleas they can easily swat off their proud shoulders?
I fumbled for these answers and realized I don’t have them. I’m almost 35 and still struggle with the ability to swat away such pests. There have been times that our family has not made the precious list for exclusive gatherings, and it continues to bring up self-doubt with every reminder.
So, it occurred to us, after a tuna melt, a turkey and brie sandwich, a brownie and 4 glasses of Chardonnay between the two of us, that maybe that ability isn’t one to aspire to have. Maybe it comes as a package deal with the very insensitivity we wish to protect ourselves from.
Perhaps part of being a caring human being is getting your feelings hurt, as hard as it is. Building up calluses that protect us might seem like a good idea and result in less hurt, but do we really want to become one of the mean girls? If that’s the alternative, I think I’ll take the hurt feelings. They build character, don’t you think?