Sunday Reflections: When the mean girl lives next door
As I write this I am crying the mom cry. Before the mom cry there was that fiery anger. But now we are in the mom cry stage. The mom cry occurs when you have to stand by and watch another person rip your child’s heart to shreds and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it but wonder if you’ll be able to find all the pieces on the ground and help her put it back together again. What happens if a piece gets lost in the process? What happens if the glue won’t hold? What happens if there are cracks in the seams?
Two years ago a new girl moved into the neighborhood. At first, it seemed like such a blessing. She was over 24/7 and my Tween and her were besties. But she made new friends and decided that my daughter was no longer worthy. So for the last year I have mom cried a lot as I watch this girl lie, manipulate, talk bad about, embarrass and just break my daughter’s heart in two. To sum up, this past year has sucked.
I have worked with teenagers long enough that of course I knew these types of things can happen. I have been a moderator, a listener, an adult who has tried to broker peace between warring teenaged clans. But watching it happen to someone that I love so deeply, now that is a whole other issue. I remember once reading that someone said having a child is like having your heart walk around outside your body. I have come to understand what that means. Deciding to have a child and really loving that child, it makes you vulnerable to pains you never would have imagined.
When I was in the 5th grade, the grade my Tween is in now, there was a girl. A bully. For whatever reason, she hated me. She made mornings at the bus stop a living hell. I remember that her mother was a nurse and one day she brought a needle she stole from her home and stabbed me repeatedly with it. I became desperate. I walked long distances through unsafe terrain to school in an effort to avoid her. I walked under highway overpasses where drunk me slept. I walked in wind and rain and sleet and hail. Well, probably not so much the sleet and hail as it was Southern California. And I walked alone on mornings when the radio station reminded everyone that if you had to walk somewhere definitely walk in a large group because of a serial rapist. Sometimes I was a horrible sister and made my younger brother walk with me. That was a horrible year for me. But watching it happen to my daughter feels 1 billion times worse.
I’d like to tell you that I handle it well and practice everything that I believe, the things you hear me say here about love and kindness. But the truth is, last night I cussed up a storm on the phone to a friend and as I lay in bed trying to pray about the situation sometimes an image of their house burning down came into my head. Obviously more prayer about the situation is needed because fantasizing about her house burning down, not really supposed to be my internal dialogue. But if I was a writer, I’d write this story and just like in the actual movie Mean Girls, I would have her character be standing there asking my daughter for forgiveness as a bus drove by and just smacked into her. Man, writers must get a lot of cathartic revenge against the people that hurt them and the people they love in their books.
The thing is, I have found, is that parents always make it worse. Not my kid, they think. So they defend. They cover for their kids. They lie, to everyone including themselves. Because in all of those years working with teens, I’ve also been working with parents. Parents too are flawed. For example, please note my revenge fantasies above.
This year I have had to have a lot of difficult conversations with my child because of the mean girl that lives next door. We’ve talked about forgiveness and kindness and compassion and grace and what it means to be neighborly. We’ve talked about what it means to love others. We’ve talked about what it means to be a friend. We’ve talked about what it means to be a decent human being extending basic respect and courtesy to others. We’ve talked about standing up for yourself, controlling yourself, and choosing happiness in the midst of great struggle. And we’ll keep talking about that because in my heart, I know that is the correct response. But I’m not going to lie, today my heart is full of the gut searing pain I call the mom cry and my mind is full of powerful revenge fantasies that I would never act on but I would like to pretend that just once, a little karma comes along to tip the universe in favor of those who are cast aside like yesterdays dirty socks.
When I am at my library, I have a longstanding rule, especially in my teen programs: This is a Safe Space. That’s my motto. I want my teens to know that when they come to my library programs, everyone gets to be safe. There are rules: Keep your hands to yourself, Don’t talk bad to or about others, Whatever you think is happening between you and another person you don’t get to bring it in here, Be kind. If only I could make my neighborhood a safe place as well. So if you need me today, I’ll be crying my mom cry tears. But let’s all do the world a favor shall we? Teach your children to be kind.
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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