There are moments in our parenting career when Jack and I have been able to step outside the situation and say with conviction, “We are doing something right.” Moments when our children shine, and they shine because of our influence, because of how we choose to raise them.
Yesterday was not one of those moments.
Melinda and I met when she was 9 months pregnant with Marie and I was 4 months pregnant with Helen. Her oldest Emma was the same age as my oldest Amy. Jack and her husband Bill clicked. We weren’t best of friends, but we grew into it over the years of camping together, getting together for dinners, hanging out in the summer, always knowing that no matter what, we’d be there to help if we were needed. Emma and Amy parted ways a few years back as their paths diverged, but it wasn’t messy, and Marie and Helen soldiered on referring to each other as sisters. They’d planned to own property together and rescue strays. In fact, their first rescue is now a part of our family. I wonder if he knows his parents don’t love each other any more.
I came home yesterday to Jack standing over Helen as she held a strip of paper. “Read it,” he commanded in a voice he seldom uses. “You wrote it,” he said. “You were proud enough to show it to her. Now read it out loud to me.” My daughter looked miserable, but she did as she was ordered. Her voice was small and it shook as she read, “Marie is a bish [sic]. Oh yes. I hate her. I will hate her until I die. No one should like her. She is an ass.”
I’ve known for a month or so that Marie and Helen weren’t thriving. Marie had implied one too many times that she was better than Amelia: better with pets, better in school, just… better. They always played what Marie wanted to play. She always used that tone and had that attitude according to my girl. Marie got defensive and upset when Helen chose to play with the third member of their posse instead of her. “It will pass,” I’d tell Helen. “Don’t worry about it.” What Helen didn’t tell us was that when Marie got angry she would say, “I’m writing bad things about you in my journal.”
Which brings us to yesterday.
For whatever reason, perhaps Marie gave her a look or voiced an opposing opinion, or tried to get her way when clearly Helen’s way was better, I won’t know… anyway, yesterday on the bus my daughter decided that it would be a good idea to write that note and then say to Marie, “I wrote something mean about you in this note.” You know, paybacks.
“Let me see it,” Marie said.
“You won’t like it,” Helen warned. Marie insisted, Helen gave it to her. Marie burst into tears. My daughter’s internal response? I told you you wouldn’t like it.
Melinda called Jack. Marie is devastated. Helen has been telling people in their class that she hates Marie, and according to Marie, she’s been telling them that they shouldn’t like Marie either. I don’t want to believe that second part. I don’t want to believe that I’ve raised a mean girl. My girl wouldn’t do that. Would she? My happy, beautiful, smart, fun-loving girl is so insecure that she needs to build an army of hate? Is this the seed I’ve sewn? I can’t accept Helen’s argument that Marie is writing bad things about her in her journal.
“Yes,” I said this morning, trying not to cry. “In her journal. That she doesn’t show to anyone.”
“But she told me about it,” Helen cried. And, honey, yes. I know. I know that that hurt you. I know how far your imagination can take you in terms of implication.
“But did she go from table to table in class and tell people how much she hated you?” I asked. Helen looked away and shook her head.
“I didn’t tell people they shouldn’t like her,” she mumbled. But you did, Hel. You did. Even if you didn’t use those words, you totally did.
“Do you see how you’re the one who looks bad here?” I asked. “To anyone who hears this story, out of nowhere you wrote a nasty and mean note with the intention of showing it to her. With the sole intention of hurting her. You’re the one trying to turn people against her. And the only defense you can give me is that a few weeks ago she said she wrote something negative about you in her private journal.”
And there is the root of my parenting moment because I was poised to say, “If you hadn’t have waited so long, I would be able to build a better defense.”
This calls for some serious soul searching on both our parts. However, neither Jack nor I believe in letting a wrong go un-wronged so we packed up our family and paid a visit to Marie’s family and stood behind our daughter as she apologized for being… well… a bish. It was difficult. It was embarrassing. It was important.
What Helen wanted in return was for Marie to own up to her part of the conflict. “You can’t control what she does or doesn’t do,” we explained. “You can only control yourself.” And daughter, please, do control yourself. It will save you many many many moments of eating crow in the future.
** updated to add that it’s been a few years since “the incident of aught nine” and I’m happy to report that peace has been restored. Apologies were issued. The friendship was put in a time out, but with a lot of communication both girls were able to make it work again. And, most importantly to me, my daughter learned a life lesson about self-control, compassion, seeking forgiveness and giving it in return.