Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Practicing Meanness (Deep thoughts)

I have a confession to make.

I did a lousy job getting my kids ready for the "real" world. I left small town America when my kids were little and somehow I never realized that big metropolitan areas were filled with mean kids. Tough kids. Worldly kids.

Oh, sure, I suspect our little area had lots of mean kids, too, but it was different when we moved from a little rural town of 12,000 to a major metropolitan area. Before that I think I simply embraced the June Cleaver way of life with supportive friends and great neighbors as a given and nasty kids as an anomaly.

It isn't.

After we moved things got rough for a long time.

And when we had our Granddaughters and I became "Daycare" I made a firm vow to add my two cents to preparing them for the world of "meanness".

My Granddaughters and I have a loving, open relationship and talk about a lot of things. If they ask, I do my best to answer. And when the oldest, Julia, was getting ready to start pre-school we had simple little talks about kids being mean and how their "meanness" reflects their unhappiness. We talked and talked about the fact that no matter how wonderful and smart and sweet you were, there would always be someone that didn't like you. And that you couldn't make people like you if they were determined not to.

We talked about bullies. We talked about name calling. We talked and talked. We role played. We talked about being non-reactive with bullies. We talked about sticks and stones and broken bones and how words can actually hurt you.

And some of that started to pay off a bit when she entered first grade. Sadly she entered a classroom without even one friend from Kindergarten in the same room. She was in a tough class with a harsh, un-loving teacher in a room full of little girls who ostracized her. She had a miserable year. She had no-one to play with and no-one to talk to and she just radiated stress almost every day of the school year. It made me sad and sick to my stomach.


But sometimes I would talk to her and she would say in a small, solemn voice "Grandma, I just tell myself they are unhappy and picking on me. There is nothing wrong with me. Right?"

And those little self-questioning "rights?" just ripped my heart out.

Being a Grandma can be tough sometimes because we want to intervene and go to school and demand the child be moved to a different teacher when it is that awful. But our hands are tied. So we shut up and do our best to be extra supportive of the child.

Second grade was a lot better for Julia.

She had friends. She had kids to play with at recess.

But now third grade is looming and the anxiety is starting to surface again.

Last week she told me we needed to practice the "mean stuff" just in case third grade is a repeat of first grade.

So we did.

"Julia, your hair is stupid and you are ugly," I told her.
"Thank you," Julia said and pretended to walk away.
"Julia, you are dumb and you can't play with us," I said in a mean voice.
"Thank you," said Julia.
"Julia! Red hair is ugly!" I said.
"Thank you," Julia replied, and pretended to walk away.

Finally Julia said, "Grandma, what about the girls that say I HATE YOU! What do I say to them?"

And I asked her, "What do you want to say?"

And she replied, "I want to say I HATE YOU MORE!"

I asked if she wanted to try it.

I said, "Julia, I hate you." The word came out of my mouth like poison.

Julia replied, "Grandma, I hate you MORE!"

And we looked at each other with horrified expressions on our faces and started crying.

We started hugging each other and telling each other we were sorry. It made me sick to even have said those words to her.

It hurts my heart even today, a week later.

She told me she was surprised how terrible those words made her feel and that she thinks she will just say "Thank you" if someone tells her they hate her.

I hope she doesn't have to.

I hope nobody tells her they hate her or that she is stupid or that she is a freak because she has red hair and freckles.

I hope they don't.

But I know someone will again...sometime.

And it will be someone that doesn't cry after she utters those horrific words because they are "practicing meanness" with her.

It will be someone who is actually mean. And small. And unkind.

Julia's first day in Third Grade is today. And I am excited for her and hopeful that she gets a good teacher this year with mostly nice kids in her room.

And I hope those mostly nice kids in her room have had someone that loves them "practicing meanness" with them, too.

Because maybe then they will be aware of how much it hurts to say ugly things in an ugly voice.

Maybe then they will learn that words cannot be undone and unsaid. And that words used as weapons can leave nothing but wounds behind.

And maybe then they will really find their way in practicing kindness.

I think what I am really hoping for is that today some little girl will say to Julia, "Wow, your hair is neat! Do you want to play with me at recess?"

post signature

58 comments:

Natasha said...

This was a fabulous post today Jenny...I mean to say that all your posts are fabulous but this one was just really fabulous! Girls really are nasty aren't they? Sadly, they don't always grow out of it either...

Anyway, I hope that Julia's first day was wonderful and that she is in a beautiful class.

Best wishes,
Natasha.

Bonnie@Creative Decorating said...

Oh Jenny, they were mean to me, too. I have to say that after raising two boys, girls are much meaner. I always worked with the boys to make sure they understood you don't pick on people and to be nice to those who are being picked on. I tried to teach them that if you react to someone being mean, they will continue. If you just laugh it off, it isn't as fun to them and they will lay off some. It worked pretty good. My boys went to a small Catholic school where the school still had discipline and most of the parents were involved. However, there are always some that don't teach their kids manners and respect. Then they become mean. Then society puts mean girls on TV like it is an honor. Just makes my stomach turn. Girls can be mean. Girls can also be really bad. Then some girls can be just as sweet as pie with red hair and freckles!!!

Personalized Sketches and Sentiments said...

Oh Jenny! I have a lump in my throat and looking through tears as I write this! It is so heartbreaking to think of the hurt and sadness of little ones as they find themselves in situations and places such as a hostile, unfriendly school (or sadly even, home environment). No child should have to go through such lessons of "meanness". If only one of the many lessons learned at the beginning of each new school year, in every grade, in every class...was the value of being kind and the hurt resulting from hateful actions and words!

What a beautiful girl Julia is and what a wonderful grandma she has in you!!!!!

Blessings & Aloha!

Katharine said...

Someday, Julia will say that through the difficult school days... she was blessed to have someone walk with her, a safe place when things got fearful. You are giving her tools that last a lifetime...
Blessings on your Day.

Tracy said...

Well done Jenny you had to do it .

Wanda..... said...

Jenny, you are blessed with beautiful sweet grandchildren. I hope Julia's day is full of smiles, although your post brought tears to my eyes, but I forgive you. Tell Julia...her beauty stands out and that's why she's noticed by all!

noexcuses said...

Amazing post! And so very timely! I have one starting college who is very anxious for a similar reason.

You are doing everything perfectly! Julia is going to shine because of you!

Margaret (Peggy or Peg too) said...

Jen I sit here typing with tears streaming down my face. I want to hug you both.

The way you are helping her is clever and smart and filled with love. She will always remember this. I know I will.

Margaret (Peggy or Peg too) said...

Jen I sit here typing with tears streaming down my face. I want to hug you both.

The way you are helping her is clever and smart and filled with love. She will always remember this. I know I will.

ain't for city gals said...

Jenny what a wonderful relationship you have with your girls...reminds me of my niece and myself...it is special. I try never to say the word hate in any context..it is just a terrible word...

Kat said...

Jenny, this was such a wonderful post. It's easy to forget how mean some people can be. And the lesson of laughing it off, or saying Thank You, is priceless. It's very true, most bullies don't know how to react to kindness or manners, because they weren't taught those values. You just tell your beautiful granddaughter that there is at least one lady in Texas who would LOVE to have that red hair :) Kat

Jocelyn said...

Thank you for sharing this....I sometimes wonder where these children learn how to be so mean!!!

My Evan has had some problems with children in his class and now as school opening looms..I can see some of the anxiety again!!!

Last year a boy kept spitting on him and I know what you mean...I wanted to storm the school and rip this kid apart...but I too had to sit back and let my daughter handle it....

We practiced too...and Evan is so sensitive....he finds it hard to come back and the bullies....

I remember bullies even when I was going to school...but we have been blessed with the best teachers....

So may Julia have a wonderful school year and hoping that she makes some awesome friendships!!!!

Terry said...

It doesn't get any easier when they get older either. Emily starts junior high in a week and a half and Brian starts high school. There are so many more dangers out there when they get to this age too. It really is frightening sometimes.

Theresa said...

Keeping my fingers crossed for Julia and sending good vibes her way.

Terra said...

Oh I just cried with you! I love that you role play with her, I think that is fantastic! You are an amazing grandmother and those little grands are blessed to have you in their lives. My mom is wonderful as well, she is always there for the girls and leaves her hands tied behind her back when she is "supposed to" - therefore L and H are truly blessed as well. Perhaps, just maybe someday we can all have a meet and greet and spread the love just a little more.

Mighty M said...

The kids that are tormenting her are the same ones who will be drooling over her hair color in a few more years! I hate that there has to be bullying and teasing at school - it just breaks my heart. I am so glad you have worked so hard to prepare her for it - and I hope she doesn't have to use any of it this year!

Linda @ A La Carte said...

Kids are so mean to each other sometimes and I think Girls are the meanest! My youngest was popular but was kind and I am proud of her. She always understood and had empathy for the underdog! She still does! I hope Julia has the best 3rd grade ever! You are so loving and such a great Grandmother!

Jeanie said...

You are teaching her well, and these are lessons she will carry through her life.

Aging Mommy said...

Oh what a beautiful post. You are such a wonderful Grandma preparing Julia like this. You are so very right to tell her that it is the unhappiness of the other children that makes them behave unkindly. Unhappiness that in some cases is brought about by being treated unkindly and with mean things said to them at home, homes where the parents and Grandmas are not loving and kind. I hope I do as good a job of preparing my daughter when she gets ready to start school in a few years time.

Mumsy said...

This post brought tears to me.

There are so many that do not have a loving grandma to help them through the rough times, how blessed you both are. You are doing a beautiful but painful job preparing your sweet Julia for 3rd grade and giving her tools that she will use throughout her lifetime.

Wishing for Julia a terrific year in school with lots of friends and a great, caring teacher.

This was a wonderful post!

Hugs

Meri Wiley said...

Aw crap, now you've gone and done it.........you made me cry. God I'm so sorry Julia has to hurt like that, she's not even my daughter or granddaughter and my heart hurts for her. Life is so unfair sometimes, okay a lot, but thank God she has a grandma like you, with a huge heart of gold and the kind of human-ess that makes me love you more. I beg of parents everywhere......teach your children tolerance, teach them to respect others, teach them kindness and how to give a compliment instead of an insult. I work with my youngest, who just started high school, and we practice scenarios on reacting to meanness or disrespect. It's a big ole' world out there and unfortunately it's full of crappy people. Let's all unite and create the happy people club and teach the values that we all should really practice.......patience, respect, tolerance, kindness, and the biggie....self-respect.

Love ya'
Meri

summersundays-jw said...

My girls start 1st grade this year & I'm just hopeing they're in rooms where little girls have g'mas who have practiced "mean girls" with them. I remember struggling with mean girls when their mom was in school. Sometimes I see why parents homeschool. Hope all your g'daughters are having a wonderful day. Jan

Pondside said...

Thinking about your Julia and sending the best vibes possible for a good start.
This post took me back to many first days of school and my beautiful Lillypad who ended up in a mean class or two. It was so hard and I hate to think of it still going on in classrooms across the continent. Did all the mean girls give birth to mean girls?
What a wonderful grandma you are, Jenny.

Amy said...

Oh Jenny! I hope so too! How dare they be mean to our Julia!!!

My niece, Megan, starts 2nd grade in a new school this year (Collinsville actually). She is plump and I worry about MEAN girls. I think I'll be having a little talk with her before school starts on the 23rd!

Kristi Faith said...

I just can't stand it that little ones can be so mean to each other! My oldest has gone through this too, I love your explanation. Julia sure is lucky to have such a wise and wonderful grandma!!

Deb said...

Jenny that was a great post...it made me teary eyed on the I hate you part...hate is such a harsh word..and too many people use it...

~Kristen~ said...

Oh sweet Jenny, I *heart* you!!! And tell your sweet Julia that redheads ROCK!!! :-) xoxo

Red Couch Recipes said...

I also hope that Julia has a great year in third grade...I guess I thought that things didn't start to get ugly until the end of fifth grade. I remember my Tati coming home from school in tears because of the meanness of someone. Great to teach them how to cope with...as Julia says the "unhappy" or mean ones. A teacher can make a lot of difference too...just found out that my nine year old has a great teacher...what a relief! Great post! Joni

"Alone again.... naturally!" said...

Jenny, You are the best "grand" ever....I wish you were my grandmother when I was growing up, things might have been a whole lot easier. Hope Julia has a great day and finds all kinds of friends in her new class. I look forward to hearing about her great day. Hugs.

laterg8r said...

oh i hope she makes friends too :D

i am anxious about my little bug starting kindergarten too so i know how you feel :D

Cheryl said...

Great post on a subject often forgotten by adults. I hope she has a fantabulous day. You rock, Grandma.

Busy Bee Suz said...

Oh Jenny, I do hope that those other kids have someone wonderful in their life too...encouraging them to be kind to everyone.
Saying 'hate' does hurt. I can't do it either.

Sue said...

From one grandma to another...

Rock on, Jenny.
You are one great grandma!

=)

PS. My grandkids are starting school today, too. Like you, I am hope, hope, hoping for some kindness.

June Freaking Cleaver said...

I needed this today. I need the reminder - to have a more in-depth talk with The Boy, before he heads off to school.

I also needed it for myself - since I think we all rode the train to DriveMeCrazyTown today at home - I need to be sure that I don't display meanness...so I imagine I won't be saying too much.

Aunt Amelia's Attic said...

Yeah, "mean girls." :-(

And I shouldn't say it but... Just wait till Middle School. :-(

Jennifer said...

Kudos on the "Mean Girls" picture. ;) I love that movie.

Growing up in this world as a girl is tough. And I can definitely relate to the redheaded thing. I've had to deal with that my whole life. It's never fun. Sometimes you've gotta' be mean back just to make it. But there is an art to it, being a mean girl isn't always just to be mean whenever you can like most kids are, it's just defense, say the right phrase that will make the person walk away stunned, surprised that you even had the guts to say anything at all, and then you are home free.

But a lot of people don't put their two cents in at all and so their kids (or grandkids) walk around doing whatever they want, and it is because of that that they go around never actually retaining the social skills that are polite and genuine. And you can't keep friends if you can't turn off the meanness.

As she gets older, people get over the redhead thing. About my junior year of high school all my friends wished they had my hair, it wasn't just older women and men that think it's great. They start to get jealous too. (I honestly think they always were, just didn't know how to express it in a friendly way.)

Rural Revival said...

Oh, you are a wonderful grandmother, I hope you know that, and I miss mine very, very much.

Jenny and Julia...I LOVE you!!

Ms. Anthropy said...

Ok, Lady... you know I've been trying to keep myself out of the blogworld lately, but I can't help commenting to this post! God bless Julia and God bless you, for understanding that mean people exist and trying to help her learn to cope. I fear my youngest grand is about to enter her first year of school, unprepared and unarmed. She is so immature and totally unaware of the real world and all the "unhappy" people in it.

Unprocessed1 said...

Awww, I cried, too.

5thsister said...

Words do hurt. They can leave long festering wounds after they are uttered. You are a wise and wonderful grandma. Please tell Julia that I would give anything for her naturally curly red hair and that she is so beautiful and smart and talented and has the best grandma in the whole wide world. Please let us know how her day went. (Our 1st day of school begins in 2 weeks)

Jo said...

I am so with you here .... i raised my daughter to be nice, considerate, respectful, caring. And there have been times through the years that i wish i had raised her to be a B**** instead. Girls/women can be so cruel ... and we see it all the time, just watch any reality tv show One of my highlights as a mother came when my daughter told me a girl who had bullied her since grade 3, was crying in the hallway at school during senior year ... and my daughter knew she had an abusive boyfriend, so daughter went to her and hugged her and got her to the washroom and and calmed her and settled her and was just there for her. Bravo for nice people ... compassion rules... tell you grandbaby to be strong, to believe in herself ... and that sometimes the most popular kids have lives that are terrible. Hang in there dear Jenny!

Cheryl D. said...

I love the role-playing you do with your granddaughters! As hurtful as it can be to say those things, it's still really great prep for her to have a bag of tricks when people are being mean. We do this all the time with our daughter--in fact, it's pretty standard when prepping a kid on the spectrum. But it works great for all kids. So sorry that the role playing hurt the two of you so much. Again, it's a great lesson for your granddaughter, so she won't stoop down to the level of those mean girls!

the thrifty ba said...

i hate means girls-who then become mean women. there just isnt enough time on this earth to go around being mean.
i wish your julia a friend filled year!

the thrifty ba said...

i hate means girls-who then become mean women. there just isnt enough time on this earth to go around being mean.
i wish your julia a friend filled year!

Chatty Crone said...

Glad those days are over! For both me and my daughter.

Let me tell you that boys - can be mean too.

sandie

La said...

My mother taught me that "hate" is a curse word. To this day, I use it sparingly.

This post touched me deeply. I hope Julia has a wonderful school year. She's lucky to have you for a grandma. La

ChristiS said...

This brings tears to my eyes. I'm so sorry that Julia had to learn that such cruelty exists at such a young age! As a teacher, I wish I could say that the adults will protect her, but I know that unfortunately, that is not always the case. She will be in my thoughts ad prayers!

Country Dreaming said...

Julia is lucky to have such a wonderful Grandma. One who cares and wants everything to be alright
for her grandchildren.
I'm sure your childern appreciate that you aren't pushy with the raising of the grandchidren but you are THERE when everyone needs you.
Talking things out with Julia is a great way to handle things, she
remembered the talk from first grade and now wants to use it for this year.
Super job Grandma!
I hope Julia's day went well and I hope her school year it the best.
Keep us posted.

Melinda

Anita said...

Prayers and best wishes for Julia. Give us an update soon.
I'm thinking positively - that she will love third grade and have some awesome friends.

Lourie said...

I hope her day was a good one. I got picked on a lot. I got called "Casper the Ugly Ghost" and my last name was made fun of horribly. Mean kids are just that...mean.

Rebecca S. said...

I had my fair share of experience with mean girls and found boys much less complicated to play with. My youngest daughter is finding the same truth as she gets ready for grade 4. I wouldn't encourage her to say 'thank you' if someone insulted her, though. I would coach her to say, "well, I'm sorry you think that." I found it best with all my children to encourage a good sense of humour when dealing with the human race in its miniature form, and would often remind them that not all kids come from a loving home - so they might take it out on their classmates.
Oh these things are so difficult, and I completely related to you and your grandaughter crying after saying those awful words. I hope her first day was good and her year a very positive one.

Julie Schuler said...

That is so sad! I have been lucky that Matthew has had such good teachers so far, they would never allow that to happen. And I think boys are just different. Little girls can be so mean and bratty.

Sue (Someone's Mom) said...

This almost made me cry. I was lucky with my kids. We did live in a small town (but there were mean kids there too) and luckily I had one popular kid and one really smart kid...so, they didn't get bullied. People wanted to be their friends. My daughter had it a little tougher in high school because she wasn't interested in the party stuff that was going on, so she was left out often...but, still well liked.

I think kids are meaner now. I think this generation of parents have less respect for each other and the world in general...so their children don't learn to respect others.

I miss June Cleaver.

VictoriaS said...

Dear sweet little Julia and grandma too. My heart broke reading this.
Julia is gorgeous and sweet and precious...........
children ARE the cruelest people in the world.
Thank goodness for Grandmas!

Holly said...

I love this post. I'd love every parent to read it...unfortunately those who need to hear this message don;t realize they are breeding little turkeys. I always tells my son you do not need to be everyone's friend but you must treat them with respect and you will not be mean.

We live in a smallish community where people think if you are not from here you are nothing - seriously ridiculous...so I may have once or twice told him that when someone says something awful to tell them "thank you...when you work for me one day..." or "when you are stuck here for your whole life doing (insert awful profession) I will be out exploring the world. Get me while you can."

I know I am mom of the year.

Amy said...

Just the thought of anyone speaking like that to my children rips my heart out. I hope there aren't anymore bullies in her class. I really wish children could be happier and thus kinder.

Rella said...

I am just crying over this, because I know it's true.....children that are not taught better can be SO mean and do such damage. My heart just melted over the role playing and what a wonderful grandmother to do this and prepare and nurture. I could just hug you for this amazing gift. My son married a beautiful redhead, Irish as the day is long and I think of her as I read this. and hope that if I am ever blessed with grandchildren I can take a page or two from your book. xox Rella

The Words Crafter said...

When I taught in the older two/younger three's classroom, we had to separate girls who would be mean to others who weren't in their little click. Amazing. I'm glad you are teaching her about meanness, though it's sad. I hope that she has a wonderful year. I have strawberry blonde hair and was picked on all the way through high school. Of course now, everyone dyes their hair red and it used to make me angry...