A little while ago, we took a walk with our daughter. Just a short jaunt down the street to check the mailbox while we enjoyed the weather and helped her practice pedaling on her bike. On the way back, two young boys from our street were sitting on the sidewalk, a large open box in front of them. They were stone cold quiet; unusual for small children, but especially for two fun-loving shirtless boys who had just been shooting at the fences with water guns the first time we walked by them.
As we approached, my stomach tightened. I squinted at them in the sun, then glanced ahead to my kid. She was struggling to get off to a start on the pedals, lurching all 24 pounds of herself forward. She still had a smile on her face, and looked at the boys. I was seized with these thoughts: are they going to make fun of her trying to ride her bike? Call her a baby? Shoot water at her? Throw something at her bike? What exactly are you up to here?
They shouted out: “Hey! Want an Otter Pop?” My kid walked her bike over and peered in the box.
“It’s a dollar,” the smaller boy said. McHubs and I looked at each other for money. No cash on hand.
“No, it’s not,” said the older boy. “It’s free for her ‘cuz she lives on our street. What flavor do you want?”
“What kind do you have?” I said.
“Green, yellow, blue…”
I asked, “Which one is your favorite?”
“Red is my favorite, toooooooo, Mom!” our girl piped up, grabbing for the icy tube. Perfect.
“Here you go!” said the older boy proudly, having just used scissors carefully to cut off the top. “Looks like she likes it.”
I’ve been wondering why I jumped to suspicion with those boys. They’ve never given us a reason to think they were mean. I’ve never seen either of them actually be mean. We’ve socialized with their families and seen the parents in action. Not only was there nothing to fear, but these boys had also gone out of their way to be kind to a fellow kid they recognized as one of their own. Had I actually flinched in their presence, or was my inner Mama Grizzly just on overdrive?
They say you get to relive your childhood with your own kids once you’re a parent. And to some of that, I would like to just say right now, “no thanks.” I’m not really sure I could say that I was bullied as a kid and teen – and certainly not by today’s standards. Teasing? Definitely. Gossip? Yep. Sexual harassment? Sure, later on. But what I remember most was being left out. By second grade, I remember crying my eyes out, not wanting to get into the car when Natasha and her mom picked me up for school in that old green Honda hatchback. I loved school, of course; that wasn’t the problem. I couldn’t really say what was, though – only that I wanted to stay home with my mom and brother. After awhile, even as a kid, I had fully bought in to the words and actions of those few kids who deemed me not “whatever” enough to have as a friend. I assumed they were right, and it took years for my parents’ words of truth to sink in.
We live in a world of Mean Girls gone Mean Moms, Mommy Wars, and mommies who are Scary and want to Punch People in the Throat. It’s a time of anonymous commenters and an “I’m not here to make friends” defiance. Snark is an automatic reflex for a lot of us, and I’ll admit it: I’ve relied on gossip and bitching to “bond” with friends way too much. Read enough articles like this (“Little Kids and Already Mean”), and it’s a wonder how any of us manage to grow up and develop any solid friendships.
Alas, just like the cheesy cliche, my kid is a living, breathing, walking and talking piece of my heart that is so vulnerable, I can hardly stand it. And like all other kids, my baby was born to go out into the world. How do I help make and keep friends worth having?