Monday, February 1, 2010

When Mean Girls Grow Up (Oh Yeah, They Don't)

My third-grader has had to deal with several Mean Girls this year. There's one who calls her "Miss Know-It-All" for always raising her hand, one who tries to steal her snack, one who tells her she's stupid for making a mistake in math. (To this last one, I feel like saying, "Honey, you're NINE and she's SEVEN. And you're in the same grade. YOU do the math.")

So, in the interest of showing that I both acknowledge her feelings and understand her pain, I prepared a lovely Mother/Daughter conversation called "Dealing With Mean Girls: A How-To Handbook for Nice Girls", and cornered her in the car one afternoon when my youngest was on a playdate. (After all, studies show that kids are more likely to confide in parents during a non face-to-face conversation, and car rides are the preferred time to attempt such parent/child bonding. And besides, she can't run away from me with that "OH MY GOSH, MOM! You're so WEIRD!" attitude when in a moving vehicle doing 60 on the highway.)

Now, I don't really remember any mean girls in elementary school or even in junior high. I mean, there must have been some bitchy girls back then, but since I can't remember any, either they must not have been that bad, or they weren't important enough for me to remember. (And I have the memory of an elephant. Just ask my friend Nicola, who has known me since Kindergarten: I can remember who forgot free-dress days in first grade, who cried at the sleepover in second grade, and what we wore when our fourth grade teacher got married.) But I do have a few Mean Girl stories from my adult life.

Take, for example, my friend Lynn. She's a drop-dead gorgeous personal trainer with impeccable fashion sense. One summer day at the local pool, she was wearing a cute Target bikini. Not slutty in the least, mind you, just cute. It was from Target! How could it be slutty? But I noticed a group of women giving her the eye. You know, the eye - that look that says, "OH MY GOD, BECKY, LOOK AT HER BUTT!" like in that Baby Got Back song. There they sat, in their matronly one-pieces, not wanting to stand next to her and look bad by comparison. Jealous much, ladies? No one said anything, but I remember thinking, "She works damn hard for that body, so shut up! And the rest of us could take a page from her book and maybe slap on a little waterproof mascara and do a few sit-ups instead of eating Pringles with our kids!"

Or my former friend Jeanie. We met through our toddlers, who became fast friends. But one day, she bailed out on a playdate with no explanation. When I finally reached her, she said she fell asleep. The next week, she didn't show up for my annual Halloween party. Instead of calling me, she called a mutual friend and asked her to tell me that her garage door wouldn't open so she had to wait for the service guy to come. Now, call me crazy, but faced with a choice between a party and a "sometime between 8 and 5, Ma'am" type situation, I'm putting up the door manually and hauling myself on over to the party. She never once returned a call or an email. A year later, I ran into her at Starbucks. She looked right at me and walked past me without saying a word. I never found out what happened.

Or the current crop of Mean Mommies. Now, I'm no Queen Bee, but I am pretty involved in my children's school. I'm the room mom for both of my daughters, I volunteer in their classrooms, I chair a PTA committee, and, as a former teacher, I've got a good relationship with the teachers. I even do lessons with the girls' classes now and then. I like it; it's fun. (I spent 10 hours a day for 10 years in a classroom; of COURSE I'm a total school nerd!) But a couple of months ago, I found out that some of the moms in the class are more than a little nasty. One of my best friends was walking through the schoolyard to pick up her child from another class, and she overheard a conversation between a couple of mommies in my daughter's classroom. (Note to Mean Mommies: Don't assume that if I'm not there, I won't find out you're gossiping about me. Duh. I know a LOT of people. You might want to look around and make sure you're alone BEFORE you start the bitch fest. And don't actually name names! Morons.) So anyway, my girlfriend heard an earful about how I think I'm so great and I'm always in the classroom and I'm the only one who the teachers let do anything and how just because I used to be a teacher doesn't mean I should get to be room mother. (Which is, I think, the crux of the matter. I'm guessing SOMEONE wanted to be the room mom but SOMEONE wasn't asked.) Being a good friend, she struggled with the decision whether or not to tell me what she'd heard, but since these women are saccharine-sweet to my face, she figured she'd better tell me what was REALLY going on.

These Mean Mommies are old enough to know better. (And incidentally, none of them do a freakin' thing for the school or the teachers, claiming they're "too busy" to help out. Too busy, my ass. They have an hour to sit in the parking lot and bitch about everyone and everything, but they don't have an hour to make some copies? Yeah, right.) But that's not what bothered me about this Mean Mommy situation. What bothered me (briefly, before Slacker Mom got a clue and decided that it's kind of funny when you think about it, for grown women to spend part of their day talking about my decidedly unglamorous life) is that these women are super friendly to everyone's faces. What is that? If I don't like you, I will be perfectly polite, but I'm not going to pretend that we're friends. (There are many things you can say about me, but phony? Not since my fake-name giving, bar-hopping, "sure I'll call you" days. But that's another story.) Why ACT like you want to be my friend if you don't? Don't have an answer to that one yet.

So anyway, after I shared my Mean Girl stories with my very, very, un-mean daughter, she asked, "So it NEVER ends? I'll have to deal with this forever?" Oops. That wasn't really my point. But she did feel better. She felt understood, validated, heard. And she was able to look at her own Mean Girl issues in a new light: That girl who's always trying to steal her snack? She never remembers to bring her own, so she wants someone else's. The math girl? Turns out she's jealous because she didn't make it into the gifted program - and her mother is always telling her how much smarter she is than everyone else. (And the "Know-It-All" girl? She's just mean. What can I say? Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.) She also felt good knowing that, even though there will always be Mean Girls, she won't care so much as she gets older. She seemed to understand that Mean Girls are all about THEIR issues. After all, if someone is truly happy in her own life, she doesn't feel the need to go around trying to make other people feel bad about theirs. Happy people don't tear others down just for sport.

Slacker Mom Says...there will always be Mean Girls. Our daughters have to learn to cope with them, to find snappy comebacks that aren't rude, but convey the idea that "I just don't care what you think." And sadly, Mean Mommies are out there, too. Just don't be one of them. Be part of the solution, not the problem. If we'd all just refuse to engage in negative trash-talk about other moms, about other women, we'd have time for a nap, a manicure, a romantic dinner with our husbands. Mean Mommies need to be told: Take all that energy and time and put it into yourself, ladies! If you need to feel better about your situation, do something about it instead of trying to tear someone else down. Isn't this motherhood thing hard enough without having to worry about bitchy playground talk? Let's act like the smart, beautiful, responsible, capable women we want our daughters to become - and our sons to admire. Build each other up, don't tear each other down.

And if you really need to feel good about your life, turn on some reality TV. I guarantee you'll get a little self-esteem boost!

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