Note for those who make it through this (very long…my apologies!) post: The bottom line is that – despite a few rough moments described here – both girls are exceedingly happy with the end results of the stories. E loves, loves, her new backpack. And S had a wonderful day at her much-loved princess dance camp!
The actual post:
Over the past few years, many people have commented on how tired my husband and I must be, raising three very young children. It’s true, they don’t sleep well at night, they rise early in the morning, and it is physically exhausting to do almost everything (dressing, bathing, lifting into the car, etc.) for kids who are too little to fend for themselves.
But over the last few years, I have always felt and said that we are truly enjoying these years where we are physically exhausted, because that type of fatigue I know we can handle. What I have dreaded is (1) the emotional exhaustion that will come when they aren’t (almost always) with me – which will mean I can’t fully protect them, and (2) the psychological exhaustion as we try to help them make their way in a beautiful, but sometimes cruel, world.
Well, I thought we had a few more years before we got there, but this week, I am emotionally and psychologically tired. Unfortunately, I have been hit twice – and S has been hit once – with the idea of “mean girls”.
The first hit came when some wonderful girlfriends and I were comparing notes about shopping for school supplies. During the conversation, it came out that last year a 5th grader at E’s future elementary school targeted a Kindergartener, labeling her “the girl with the baby backpack” because her bag had a “Hello Kitty” theme. It was three months before the child’s parents were able to figure out why their Kindergartener no longer wanted to get on the bus.
My reaction to the story: sadness – incredible sadness – of course…
But also debate about how to balance protecting my children (i.e. helping them avoid conflict) with encouraging them to be who they are (i.e. wear what you love…it doesn’t matter what others do or think…don’t give a bully that power…)
I can spout educational and parenting theory all day, but in that moment it boiled down to the fact that E needed a backpack, would be happy with anything (so easygoing…), but would choose a “baby backpack” if presented with that option. So I had to decide: did I offer the “baby backpack” that she would love, knowing it might make her a target, then help her deal with whatever happened as best I could in that moment?
Or did I let her pick a wonderful, but generic, backpack – something safe that she would enjoy (even if it is not the character one she would have loved…)
The decision I made last week?
The generic backpack.
I feel a little strange about it. Those who know me know that I am not one to cowtow to pressure. And I am determined to encourage my kids to be – and to celebrate – exactly who they are, both at home and out in the world
But the reality is that this year, our goal is for E to be excited about school and feel safe in a bigger environment with new kids (not a single preschool or church friend will be in her class, though we are doing our best to meet some from the neighborhood…)
So Nana and I took E to a store with only generic backpacks (i.e. no characters) and generous Nana told her to pick whichever one she wanted, and an appreciative me bought the matching lunchbox. The result? (1) A blue backpack and lunchbox with pink and white flowers and (2) a very, very excited E.
I guess I believe that 5 is too young to put her in a tough situation when we know how to avoid it, especially when she is thrilled with her backpack and nervous enough about school.
But hearing about that bully was a minor hit. It made me sad to think about, and it influenced the backpack options we offered, but didn’t really affect any of my kids.
The second hit was a real, tear-inducing blow at one of the girls. That makes it a much bigger issue.
The girls are in camp this week. More details on that later, but for now, know that S is in a princess dance camp where you dress up like a princess, make crowns and twirl around every day. She has been excited about it all summer, and this week chose to wear her pink princess Aurora dress.
I wish you could have seen her jumping up and down and dancing in her costume – how excited she was to be a real princess and go to a place where lots of other princesses learn to dance. On the first day she jumped in a princess bouncy house, watched a clip of a Disney movie, colored a princess picture, decorated her crown and learned to jump like a frog. She was so happy.
On the second day, in her words, “I met a mean girl”.
Yesterday, after camp, S spent over half an hour sobbing, and I could not figure out the root of the problem. Finally, S revealed that (again, in her words) “a mean girl” told her she didn’t like her dress, and she didn’t like the princess who wore it.
It is hard to convey how devastating this was to S – a three year old who was so excited to dress like real princess at a real princess camp for just one week. She didn’t want to wear the dress today and when asked what she wanted to wear instead, she decided it didn’t matter, as long as it was the same dress as her friend S. Even three year olds realize there is strength in numbers, I guess.
I don’t think the little girl who said this is a “mean girl”. I don’t like the label, especially on a kid that young. But her statement was hurtful, and my kid is the one who got hurt.
So we talked about how to handle those situations. We talked about how S gets to decide what dresses she likes; we don’t let people who say mean things decide for us. We talked about how that girl needed to learn to say things that are nice. We talked about what S would say if something like that happened in the future. We talked about how I would go to the first part of camp with her the next day – until she could identify a grown up among the counselors that she felt comfortable approaching if more hurtful things were done or said. We talked about how she could ask a counselor to call me anytime.
I also called the camp and discovered that – coincidentally – plans were already in the works to shuffle the kids into different groups the next day, and was able to make sure that S and the friend attending camp with her would be separated from the “mean girl” during that rearrangement.
The only issue left unresolved at this point is discussing the issue with the child’s mother. I don’t want to make too big a deal out of one statement, but if S was saying things that left other kids bawling, I would want to know. The camp director agrees that we should let the mom know and wants to speak to her, but she wants to do it on Friday when the mom will attend the closing ceremony. I still feel that if it were my child, I would prefer to know right away. Maybe her daughter didn’t realize how hurtful her words were? By Friday she may not even remember she said them. Also, waiting until Friday means the mom has no time to facilitate an apology (not sure I want S to have to stand there for that anyway…) or manage behavior in a way that protects other girls wearing the same dress for the rest of this week (there are several).
But I have given my opinion to the director, offered to talk to the mom (unidentified to me), and I guess now I’m going to let it go.
Anyway, back to the main point…
It seems I have again made the decision to help my kids avoid conflict (giving E a choice among generic backpacks, not encouraging S to put the same dress on again to head back into the same camp…) instead of teaching them the important life lesson that we don’t let others dictate our choices or our behavior. I have some angst about this, but I am ignoring (only for now, I promise) it in favor of making my kids feel safe in what are supposed to be fun environments. I can’t send them into Kindergarten and/or princess dance camp without doing all I can to make sure they feel secure, happy and that they’ll want to keep going back to places they need to go (school) and should be able to enjoy (princess dances!). In a very short while, I am sure we will have to adjust our goals and thinking to include other “we can’t protect them forever; we’ll celebrate them and encourage them to head into the fray while we’re here to help them manage the hits” kind of elements. I just don’t feel like we’re there quite yet. Did I mention these girls are 3 & 5 years old?!
Meanwhile, boo-hiss to any mean moments out there, and shout outs to all the nice ones.
For those keeping score this week, the nice ones are still leading 8-2 by my count.
– 1 backpack bully
– 1 princess-hater
– 1 amazing Aunt B who loaned us a new princess dress so S could match her friend…
– 1 fabulous Cousin G who heard what happened and generously gave the ok for her mom to loan the dress
– 1 wonderful Nana who drove the dress to our house
– 1 great friend of mine who encouraged her daughter (our co-camping 3 year old friend) to make a wardrobe choice that would match S’, making S excited about dressing up again
– 1 awesome kid (the 3 year old co-camper) who responded to her mama by making the choice that helped S
– 2 great friends who happened to encounter me right after all this happened, allowed me to vent, and asked me to keep them posted on how S was doing
– and 1 very excited S, who had a great (GREAT!!!) day at camp today and has all but forgotten the incident…
I guess my kid is more resilient than her mama. Because she is all excited about the magic wand she made at camp today and needs no reminder that the world is all glitter and wonder!
While I needed a blog reminder to myself that the nice girls are up 8 (way more than 8, really) to 2….