never stops teaching.
Journaling for awareness. Growing for life.
There is some drama going on with the women at the barn. (There’s a sentence that I’m sure is as old as dirt.) Seriously, a couple ladies that ride where I used to take horseback riding lessons are dragging each other through the mud. (Figuratively speaking.) It’s a classic story of competition and differing opinions. I got an earful about it twice this week, and once from a woman I hardly even know in the general store just up the road from the stables. “It’s too tight of a community to go badmouthing someone,” she was saying, “but she’s bitter and jealous and… well, karma, ya know?” I just listened and nodded, as I handed her the money to buy Adeline some spurs. Then I heard myself say, “Women are so hard on each other. If we spent more time backing each other up and less time putting each other down, we could run the world.” I put that in my purse with the spurs.
We call it “high school” – you know, when two people are being petty, we say, “What is this? High school?” But I have to say, I’ve experienced “high school” in the work place, at the occasional family reunion and in random social situations. So I’m beginning to think this “high school” behavior has very little to do with high school. Granted, there are mean girls flicking their hair around countless school hallways, but the average petty fight seems to be less about aggressive meanness and more about insecurity. We’ve all said things to others that don’t settle right. Often it’s unintentional, or even unconscious. But think of the last time you said something that struck someone the wrong way. Or think of a time when someone seemed to zing you. In either case, chances are, the one doing the talking was either having an insecure moment and lashed out, or the one doing the receiving was having an insecure moment and mistook what was said. Insecurity is a plague to healthy relationships at any age. For women and men. If someone isn’t sure of himself/herself, they are likely to shy away from the self-assured… or worse, want to bring them to a place of self-doubt. But it’s obviously much more meaningful to celebrate what’s great about the people in our lives than it is to look for what’s wrong with them… and then passive aggressively (or directly) point it out. So why are women so hard on each other?
The day of the general store, Adeline came home from the third grade with a lot of thoughts in her head. I could tell because she was more quiet than usual. And I’m pretty sensitive to her feelings right now, because we’ve just moved into a new neighborhood, and she’s just started at a new school, and she’s walking up to girls she doesn’t know and trying to make friends. Watching this can be painful. (How do we help our daughters stay self-assured?) Mostly, the transition has been smooth. The girls have been kind and inclusive and the parents too. But when she came home quiet that day, my mama-radar went up a notch. I waited until she’d devoured a bowl of fruit and a blueberry muffin before I asked what was up. Then she told me: “I don’t want to wear the tootsie roll dress for Halloween anymore,”—she’s planning her costume and we’re barely in September—“because a girl at school said that it wasn’t a good idea, and that I’d probably get teased. She said that a girl was a tootsie roll back when she was in kindergarten and she got picked on even then.” (I can just hear it, “Tootsie rolls are so pre-kindergarten.”) Adeline seemed affected by the girl’s comment, and yet she seemed to have accepted it as good advice. I asked Adeline if she had any other costume ideas, and she came up with… a dog. Gulp. She explained, “I love animals, and I want to be something that is one of my things, like how I LOVE candy!” It was brilliant logic. So we’d moved on to animals. What’s a mama to do? Make Adeline a “cool” dog costume (and hope she doesn’t get nicknamed “dog girl” for the rest of the school year)? Because the alternatives don’t work for me… sexy cat or whatever. I mean, some of costumes that are supposedly for an eight-year-old are disturbing.
“We’ll find you an awesome costume, and we have plenty of time to come up with it,” I told her.
“OK.” She agreed.
That night I stayed up late dreaming up costume ideas.
Much like Adeline, the following day I walked up to a woman I didn’t know and tried to forge a friendship. Our boys are in an activity together, and they have taken a liking to each other. Keegan has been begging me to set up a play date. So I introduced myself to the boy’s mother and asked her if she’d be open to getting the boys together sometime. The response I got was quite brisk—something about having a lot going on right now. Then she shifted her attention and walked away. I was a bit stunned and certainly disappointed for Keegan. It was still bothering me later that afternoon when a good friend called me—the kind of friend who always embraces what ever I throw at her, even when I’m a scattered mess, and always tells me the truth—so I told her about the busy, brisk mother. And I asked her if she thought I might have mistook where this woman was coming from.
She said, “I don’t know. But she doesn’t want to play so, for now, you don’t get to play. You’ll just have to find another buddy for Keegan to invite over for play dates.”
But I hadn’t let it go yet. “I’ve met like 50 people in the last two weeks—all lovely. But this woman literally turned and walked away. Oh and I was so enthusiastic,” I groaned.
“Nah, you can never be too enthusiastic—that’s who you are. Besides, don’t make this personal. She doesn’t even know you.”
“Maybe she really does have something crazy going on.”
“Yeah, and if so, she could probably use a friend. But for now the door is shut, so you just keep doin’ your thing, baby.”
That was it. I loved how she completely diffused any drama from the situation, and with it, any self-doubt I might have had about how I handled the situation. I wanted to do that for Adeline. I wanted to give her the confidence to be what ever she wanted for Halloween. All we can do is try to give our kids the space to be who they want to be. So I had a plan. After school we would go for a smoothie and look at costume ideas and make it fun!
But at pick up, before Adeline even got into the car, she said, “Mom, some of the other girls at school are going to be ’80’s girls for Halloween.” (I like how my childhood is now a Halloween costume). She went on, “But I don’t think I’m an 80s girl kind of girl. It’s not my thing.” I love how she knows herself so well. “Animals are my thing. And sugar…” I rolled my eyes. She continued, “And music. So, I think I finally know what I want to be for Halloween. A singer. A pop star!”
And we had a winner.
A little while later Adeline said, “I’m really glad I gave this so much thought. Being a pop star will be so fun! I wonder if the girls will spray their hair up high for the 80s costumes—that would be awesome.”
That was it. No insecurity. No competition. Just enthusiasm. Beautiful.
I guess I don’t need to worry too much about Adeline right now. I know there will be lots of moments when she’ll feel hurt by other people’s comments, just like the rest of us. But I can hope to God that she will continue to know herself well, follow her heart, while celebrating other people’s ideas. Drama free. Because the minute she starts second guessing herself, or criticizing someone else because they’re going in a different direction, the vicious cycle begins.
Today I’m going to make a point of being really kind to that busy mother. Who knows, maybe things will end up being different. All we can do is “keep doin’ our thing.” And keep backing each other up—our complicated lives, our tender hearts, our exquisite hopes for who we want to be. If we do that… we could run the world. And make it nicer.
“Goodness is the only investment that never fails.”
– Henry David Thoreau