We bring them home from the hospital wrapped up like a baby burrito.
They seem so fragile that we fear we will break them. We wrap those first-borns, especially, with cotton afraid of everything we encounter being a threat.
We sing them lullabies about how we will always protect them. We write them poems about how life will be hard, but we will be here to help guide them through it. We say “The world is big baby, the world is hard, but together we get through whatever comes our way.”
We acknowledge the brokenness in the world and in other people and we hope deep down to be able to keep them wrapped in that cotton and protect them from it.
My oldest is in first grade and it is now that I’m starting to feel that rubber meet the road. It is now that I’m coming to realize how high the cost is of trying to shepherd them through the things in the world that hurt them… The messiness of humanity. The truth that people hurt one another and it’s senseless and unfair when you are the target of that hurt.
I’m not talking about being a helicopter parent. I know I can’t walk with her through every trial and I’ve long ago stopped wrapping my kids in cotton. With three you just don’t have the energy.
There is a girl who lives down the road. She goes to school with C and sees her on the playground… A girl she wants desperately to be friends with. But every time she and this little girl play she comes home crying. She comes home feeling that she is less.
Sometimes the messages this little girl brings home make ME feel less, “My Dad says you are dirty all the time.” (What my kids look that bedraggled?). “My mom says I can’t play with you because you say bad words.” (Oh my… what did she say??? Did she hear it from me??? What must they think of me?)
At seven years old you expect pig tails and games of hop scotch and the world of friendship to be no more complicated than that.
People are messy and little girls are too.
I always imagined that bullies would look like pudgey-faced freckle laden boys with an ax to grind against the world. I imagined a surly-toned glaring mob of a kid intent on giving wedgies and stealing milk money.
I don’t know why I believed this notion. The children that hurt me most–that circled me round on the playground throwing taunts that made me sink down to the core of the earth–were always some of the most respected kids in my class. It’s why, even to this day, I hide from the pretty girls. It’s why even to this day I still feel whispers of what I felt on that playground and in those hallways and in those English classes.
Feelings that say that I’m less. Wrong. Weird. Not enough.
She comes home each day and I hold my breath waiting for the report. There seems to be almost a predictable cycle to things. I used to breathe a sigh of relief on the days she told me that she and the girl were ‘friends’ again, now I know that those will be the days when they’ll both end up being at the park to play at the same time and by the end of their time together my sweet freckle-faced girl who has always been so compassionate that she sensed the hurt of another’s heart even in the depths of baby-sleep will come in tearful, feeling small, and wondering why they wouldn’t want to play with her.
And no amount of my reassuring her that she is a wonderful kid that anyone would be lucky enough to have as a friend will help her erase the whisper of doubt that this little girl has planted.
You don’t expect seven-year olds to be so well versed in emotional manipulation. How do you tell your child not to play with the kid who can be so sweet to the grown ups around her and who can play nicely 70% of the time, but who can crush a spirit in the remaining 30%? How do you explain to the school that the little girl who speaks so articulately about her observations of the world, is always sent to school well dressed and put together and who colors inside the lines and isn’t a disruption in class, also has the remarkable ability of putting a knife in your little girl’s back and twisting it over and over with her words?
When my mama’s heart gets sad about it, I try to comfort myself by saying that this is an opportunity to show my child how to be loving even when it’s hard and how to use our words to build up and not tear down.
But the reality is that in many of our moments lately I’m trying hard to not go all mama bear on the defenseless seven-year old.
I’ve watched the situation long, wondering what my child’s part is in it. Watching to see if she throws out her own emotional barbs. I know she isn’t perfect, and in fact far too often I have gone into situations seeing her imperfections rather than her marvelous strengths, but still I know I must be objective. I must not cast her as the victim if she is complicit to the problem.
The cycle continues though and I can only conclude that for whatever reason this pairing of little girl elements is toxic and hurts my sweet girl more than it helps her.
Finally I conclude that they just shouldn’t play together anymore. But that’s not the ‘make nice with everyone’ first grade answer that you feel you should give to a kid. It’s not the answer I learned in all those ‘feel good about yourself’ classes that were given to me at similar ages about how everyone is our friend and we look for the best in everyone.
I tell her that we can’t invite them over to play from now on… That if they invite her out it would be best if she stayed home… That at school she MUST be kind and shouldn’t even mention that Mom said we’re not going to play with her anymore (as that has been one of her favorite things to say to my girl), but that she should focus on being around kids who build her up and not tear her down.
Still it seems it’s impossible thing to expect my child to abide by. When she is at home and the girl asks if she can play I can make an excuse and send her on her way. When she is at school and she is just kind enough for my daughter to want to try things again I can’t be there to divert her to another group of friends. All I can do is to encourage her to surround herself with kids who make her feel good about herself.
I remember the things I whispered over my babes–all born into stories so much bigger than themselves as it was. I remember how I swore to protect them and I told them that life would be hard and people would hurt them but we would get through it.
And I realize that when I said those things to my little baby burritos I didn’t really know what it would look like. I didn’t know how much it would make my mama heart ache in the mess of the rubble that would come when the foundations of their confidence was eroded bit by bit by children they were trying hard to love. That they desperately want to love them back.
I didn’t know the reality or the mess that I was walking myself into.
This is only the beginning of that mess.
In this situation, which should be so simple and full of sunshine–friendship issues of seven year old girls–I am at a complete loss. Every day.
And when I am at a loss I have to go to my own shepherd who told me that in this world I would have trouble. Who told me that I could take heart because He had overcome the world.
I try. I try to believe in the light overcoming the darkness and I try hard to figure out what loving your enemies looks like in the first grade classroom or in my back yard. How do you overcome darkness when it comes in the form of the hurtful words from a sweet looking girl with pigtails?
I come up so short. All I can do is try to choose love and to speak it over my girl. All I can do is try to encourage her to stand up for herself but to do it in as loving of a way as possible. All I can do is affirm her for the things I love in her and to call out those things at every opportunity. I can’t fix the bullies that come in pint-sized packages with pigtails who themselves need just as much love.
We’re learning together. This sweet little girl who can be fiery mad, and devastatingly sad, and firecracker happy by turns.
I think back to those nights when she was wrapped up like a burrito and those things I whispered over her and I try my best to live up to those words that I promised her.