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Mean Girls: The Preschool Years

We went to a friend’s house for a
group playdate the other day, where Maddie got to hang out with
several of her favorite friends from the neighborhood. There were
costumes and muffins, making it really the perfect play date ever.

Except for the attitudes.

When dress-up time got going, the girls
began dancing around to music, having a grand time. Maddie saw two
friends holding hands and dancing together, and ran over to join
their circle, grabbing their hands and trying to get included. The
girls deliberately pushed her away and joined hands together again,
over and over as Maddie tried to get in. No words were said for the
longest time, just quiet, uncomprehending desperation on my
daughter’s part and deliberate exclusion from the others,
until one of the girls finally said, “No, Maddie! We
don’t want you!”

Maddie slunk over to the steps and sat down by herself, watching
silently. I wanted to pick her and Cora – happily oblivious
in the other room – up and run home, to protect her from ever
feeling the sting of purposeful back-turning. I could feel the red
heat coming over me, the anger at a world of unfairness being
capriciously inflicted upon my daughter, and I felt righteous rage
on her behalf that made me want to home school her and let her live
with us forever. But I knew this is only the start of a long road
that will be filled with such instances, so I went to sit next to
her instead.

“Honey, do you want to get up and dance? There’s some
fun music on right now,” I said casually. Maddie remained
still next to me, and said quietly, “I’m waiting for my
turn to dance.”

Believe it or not, this is not a blog about how mean those two
girls were. They’re both sweet girls who got wrapped up in
typical preschooler behavior, with little thought for how actions
may be perceived or felt. Because if what had just occured was bad,
then what happened next was even worse.

A mom of one of the other girls had seen the exchange and spoke
lovingly and firmly with her daughter, who then made an effort to
include Maddie. A few minutes later, Maddie was flying around with
the two other girls, laughing and giddy at the feeling of being
included, part of the group. They screamed and hid and squealed and
played, having a wonderful time, before returning to a familiar
game – Let’s Leave Someone Out.

By this time there was only one other girl there (other than Cora,
who was still happily oblivious and doing her own thing, which
involved a voluminous white petticoat, kitten ears, and sparkly
silver shoes) and moments later, this girl was slumped against the
wall by herself. Prodding from the moms revealed that the other
girls were refusing to share dolls with her, or toys of any kind,
really. A general conversation ensued with each of the girls
– “remember to include everyone, be nice to all your
friends,” that sort of thing – and I hoped the
situation would change.

Then I heard all the girls in the bedroom, Maddie’s distinct
voice floating out: “Cover her eyes! Don’t let her back
here! Don’t let her get in here!”

Yes, my daughter had turned around and done the very thing that had
hurt her so much a mere half-hour earlier – she’d
purposefully, and with great flourish, excluded someone.
Astonished, I called her out and had a very intense chat.

“Do you remember how you felt earlier when you were
excluded?” “Yes.” “Then why are you doing
it now to your other friend?”

“Because it’s fun.”

I know I don’t have a perfect child here, all the doting
blogs notwithstanding. But I’d still hoped I was raising the
girl who, at that point in the movie where everyone in the
cafeteria is ganging up on the new girl, climbs on the table and
says, “Hey, guys, that’s not cool. Be nice.” The
one whom everyone likes and respects, but who isn’t afraid to
stick up for the underdog, who smiles at the runt of the litter and
purposefully includes her in games.

Instead, I’ve raised a typical girl, longing for the feeling
of inclusion and experiencing the joy of being on the inside of a
clique, if only for one morning, and completely (hopefully) unaware
of how painful her actions are to another person.

Why are we like this? I don’t know. I like to think I was
different in high school, with my strong sense of righteous
indignation on so many issues, but I probably wasn’t. What is
there in shutting someone out that makes us feel so good? Why do we
long so much to be on the “right” side of the table, to
feel the acceptance and even admiration of our peers?

What do I do or say to make my daughter into that girl from the
made-for-t.v. movie?

I don’t have any answers here. And I don’t know which
makes my heart heavier as I sit here and type this – that she
still feels the sting from that morning’s rejection (which
she told me not half an hour ago); or that the pain she feels still
isn’t enough to keep her from turning around and stinging
someone else. I grieve for her hurt, and for her sin, and
don’t know how to fix either.


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