Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Mean Girls and Life Lessons

Earlier this week when I picked the kids up from school, after their first cross country practice ever, M. Peevie's shoulders slumped and her feet dragged as she walked across the parking lot. I took her backpack, light with third-grade homework; and put my arm around her.

"You look tired and sad, M. Peevie," I said. "How did cross country practice go?"

"Terrible," she said, frowning. "I came in last every time."

"Aw, honey, I'm sorry," I said. "That must have been disappointing."

"And then MeanGirl said I was fat," M. Peevie continued, "And she told me I was slow, and I would never win a race."

"I will kick her third-grade ass!" I admirably refrained from saying. "Where is she? Let me at her!"

And then my baby angel peanut butter cup opened up a bit more about the MeanGirl encounter. "I'm really confused, though, Mom," she said. "First, MeanGirl said those mean things to me, and then later, when I was helping her with her shoe, she said I was a life saver! I don't know whether she's my friend or not!"

"Wait a minute, M. Peevie," I said. "First, MeanGirl said those mean things to you, and then later, you helped her with her shoe?"

"Yes," said my hero, "she had a bad knot, and I sat down and helped her get it out, and she told me I was a life saver." Oh, baby girl. You showed kindness to someone who treated you badly. You are living the Sermon on the Mount, and you are only eight. You convict me.

And then I kind of ruined the moment by attempting to convert it into a Life Lesson.

"You know, honey," I started, "sometimes kids say mean things because they..."

"I know, Mom," M. Peevie interrupted, rolling her eyes. "Because they are sad. Or to make themselves feel better. Or they're just having a bad day. I don't want to talk about it."

Well, then. Apparently those similar conversations over the past eight years have fallen on fertile soil.

I tried again a little later, because I want my girl to have the tools she needs to deal with MeanGirl today, not to mention tomorrow's mean girls. And mean boys. And mean grown-ups.

"M. Peevie," I said, "What did you say when MeanGirl said those mean things to you?"

"I didn't say anything, Mom," she said, "I just walked away." That's not a bad choice sometimes. Sometimes, you just have to walk away. I tell all three kids that all the time. You don't always need to reach detente. But it's good to have more than one arrow in your conflict resolution quiver, so I pursued the teachable moment.

"What do you think you could say if she says something mean to you tomorrow?" I asked.

Huge, irritated sigh. "I don't know, Mom," she said, going all teenager on me. "I really don't want to talk about it."

"Well, M. Peevie," I pushed, "I just want to make sure you know that it might be helpful for you to tell her, 'Hey, that hurts my feelings!'"

"Yeeeesss, Mom, I know," said Miss Please Stop Wasting My Time. "Can we be done now?" I dropped it.

I mentioned M. Peevie's MeanGirl situation, without naming her name or her gender, after track practice today. All three of the moms sitting on the bench with me immediately asked me if it was their kid who had been mean to M. Peevie, and I reassured them truthfully that it was not.

"Maybe you should talk to the mom," GirlScoutMom said. "I'd certainly want to know if it were my kid." I would, I told her, if M. Peevie had been unable to solve the problem on her own--but, I explained, she didn't even want to talk about it yet. I don't want to go jumping in to solve her problems when she's not even willing to talk to me about it and try to solve the problem by talking to MeanGirl herself.

It's troubling to me, but M. Peevie has moved right on with her life. Today she reported no incidents, and she also unabashedly reported that she did not run at all during cross country practice because her tailbone hurts from a recent fall.

"You didn't run at all during cross country practice?" I asked, slightly incredulous. "How did you manage that?"

"I walked the monster lap," she said, "but my tailbone still hurts, so I just sat on the sidelines for the rest of practice." OK, A) this is the first time I'm hearing about a tailbone injury and B) that's one way to avoid losing a race and C) could she be any more of a princess?

But she's my princess. And I think I might know where she gets her princess qualities from. Ahem.


Meg said...

I think M. provided the object lesson with her own kindness, so maybe the only thing necessary to say was:

"She was mean to you, and you were kind to her. I am so proud of you."

You could listen for MaybeNoLongerMeanGirl's name in future conversations, and if things turn out well, you could say now and again, "Remember when you helped her with her shoe?"

Then someday when M. encounters relevant Bible verses you could say, "That reminds me of the shoe!" And she'll never forget those verses, which will gain a richer meaning for her.

Of course, if Mean Girls remains mean, it's more complicated--but probably more profoundly teachable.

E. Peevie said...

Meg--Yes! Perfect! I wish you had been in my head at that moment.

I frequently over-talk things. Sometimes my kids humor me, and sometimes, like in this story, they let me know, "Enough, already! Enough talking!"

Kristen said...

I am so proud of M. and sad that happened to her. She's such a great kid-I'm going to miss teaching Sunday School with her this fall!

Anonymous said...

Any chance M Peevie will ever be put up for adoption? I would like to be first in queue for her, please.