Because I visit Monkey Man and Gorilla Girl so frequently in their classroom, the other kids are starting to pay more attention to me. They wanted to know my name, and as I explained in a previous post, I allowed that I was “Peggy.” One small girl with a mop of curly hair called out that first day as I was leaving, “Bye, CC’s mom.” Gorilla Girl was upset, insisting that I was her mom, not CC’s. Curly-haired KO shrugged it off, chanting, “CC’s mommy, CC’s mommy.”
On subsequent days, curly haired KO continued to shout out a welcome or a departing salutation: “Hello, CC’s mommy!” or “Bye, bye CC’s mommy.” Each time this happened, Gorilla Girl would burst into tears, protesting that I was her mommy, not CC’s. KO, of course, was clearly pursuing this line of address in order to garner just such a reaction from Gorilla Girl. After a week of this, and after I had exhausted my good–natured responses to KO while trying to calm Gorilla Girl, I reacted without thinking. Truthfully, I was thinking, but not about whether it would be right to hurt young KO’s feelings in order to protect Gorilla Girl’s.
“Bye, bye KG,” I smiled as I walked out, naming KO’s classmate instead of her, in my address. Gorilla Girl’s tears dried and giggles emerged. She got the joke. KO’s face fell, and the look of dismay and consternation provided me with a moment of guilt. (KG is another girl in the class, with the same first name as KO.) Had I just hurt KO’s feelings? Perhaps, but KO’s teasing and deliberate attempt to force Gorilla Girl to tears upon my arrival or departure has ended. Perhaps KO will find another avenue for her teasing, but at least Gorilla Girl has been given a tool to stem the early tide of mean girl behavior.
Is this when mean girls become mean? Do they develop their understanding of what it takes to hurt other kids this early in development? Part of the reason it took me so long to step in to defend Gorilla Girl was that I wasn’t prepared for the teasing. I wasn’t ready to believe that the kids said things yet with intent to hurt. It was a riveting realization.
I have plenty of experience with mean girls, going back to my own days a middle schooler (we were in junior high in those days, not middle school – different name, same mean stuff). I am not sure when I can first put a finger on the meanness and teasing, but I know for sure that by 8th grade, one of the popular girls felt confident enough in her status to say something like, “Why don’t you ask Hugh to sign your yearbook? Maybe he can make time for you now that he’ll never bother to see you again.” Hugh was the boy I had a crush on, and mean girl was his ostensible “girlfriend.” I was a skinny, dorky and oddly tomboyish girl and she had curves, make-up and no brain. I guess in the end, I won, but back then, it sure felt like I was losing.
I don’t want Gorilla Girl to suffer those slings and arrows, but I know that it is inevitable, so maybe my turn about on KO will give her a tool—humor and quick wit – to fend off the worst of it.
I wonder when mean girls become just plain awful human beings? My reaction to the kinds of self-congratulatory, popular girl crap that emerges in 7th grade is sometimes too visceral.
Recently, I fumed on the inside as a student in my class talked, giggled and otherwise disrupted our school’s annual Martin Luther King Assembly. Because she was sitting across the aisle and several rows in from of me, I could only stew and simmer as I watched her complete disregard of the speakers performing and the message of the carefully planned and executed assembly. I didn’t confront her at the conclusion of the assembly because I didn’t want to embarrass her in from of her classmates.
However, later that afternoon in class, as we were discussing the assembly, she mentioned that it was “boring” and “the same every year.” I let it go for a moment, but then when she made one more comment, under her breath, to a friend, I didn’t hold my tongue. She was preparing for her Bat Mitzvah the following weekend, and I asked, “How would you feel if someone you invited to your service laughed giggled and joked throughout?”
She looked at me wide-eyed, and asked, “What do you mean?
I responded, “I watched you during the assembly and you were disruptive the whole time.”
The girl said, “Well, it was boring.”
I responded again, asking her how she would feel if someone were to act that way at her Bat Mitzvah service if they found it “boring.” She finally looked humbled, and she was unusually quiet for the remainder of the class period.
Later, I wondered if my questions had embarrassed and hurt her. I felt guilty. On the other hand, I thought it was important for her to learn a lesson about showing respect for others. In the end, I probably could have taught that lesson in a different way. Was it too Amy Chua-like to put her on the spot, as I put KO on the spot when she teased Gorilla Girl one too many times?
I don’t know the answer. I suppose, all I can do is own up.