Saturday, March 5, 2016

SOL #6: After the Birthday Party

"How was the party?" I ask cheerfully as we walk down her friend's driveway.

"I hated some of it," she answers in her clear voice, and I wince and shush her.

Once we're safely in the car, she tries telling me what she hated. Boyd said something, Olivia was doing something, Boyd is mean...she's not being very coherent, and I'm trying to move our ridiculously large pickup down a street lined with cars on both sides, then turn it around so we can head home.  I shush her again.

"Now," I saw briskly when we get onto the main road, "I can listen to your story."

She's still largely incoherent, stammering and restarting sentences.  I tell her to take a deep breath.  Do I say that reassuringly, or patronizingly?  I'm not sure myself.  I remind myself to listen.

"I told Olivia I would probably invite her to MY birthday party," she begins, and I cringe internally.  She can't just go around telling everyone that, because we can't afford to host every single kid she knows.  Also, I don't want her using it as some power play--bestowing and withdrawing phantom invitations to express people's current standing in her social circle.

She continues with her story.  "And then Boyd asked if I was going to invite him, and I said no, so he asked if I was going to invite Griffin, and I said no, because he's really loud, and he asked if I was going to invite Connor and I said no again--he's the one who's always talking about his nuts, Mom--so then Boyd asked if I was going to invite any boys at all and I said no and he said, 'Not even your dad?' and then he said, 'Not even your boyfriend?' and everybody LAUGHED."

I'm thinking how easily this could have been dealt with if she'd said the truth, that her parents had agreed to let her have a slumber party, but only would let her invite girls.  Or, the more obvious point, which I immediately brought up.

"How do you think it made Boyd feel when you started talking about your party in front of him, and then told him he wasn't invited?"

"Well, I didn't tell him that, he asked!"

"Okay, but if you start talking about a party in front of people that you already know you're not going to invite--isn't that just going to make them feel bad no matter what?  Why would you even do that, except to make people feel left out?"

"Oh.  I didn't think of that."

"But we've talked about this!  Remember last year when you wanted to bring invitations in to school and I talked to you about not making a big deal about it and keeping it private so other people didn't feel left out?"

Her head is dropped, her voice is tiny.  "I didn't think about it.  I wasn't trying to make him feel bad.  He's not the kind of person who gets hurt feelings, Mom."

"Oh really?  How do you know how someone else feels?  It doesn't even MATTER.   If you know it would make you feel bad to have people talking in front of you about a party you're not invited to, then you don't talk about your party in front of people you're not inviting!"  Dammit, I will NOT let her become a mean girl.

Her lip is trembling, her cheeks are flushed with shame.  "I just..." she whispers.  "I don't think he cared, but when he said that everyone laughed.  He knows I have sensitive feelings!"

It finally occurs to me that I might not be addressing the right teachable moment here.  Instead of getting her to think more carefully about how her words affect others, I might be teaching her that you sure don't come to Mom if someone has hurt your feelings.  For the first time since we left the party, I take a minute to really think about how she's feeling.

"I bet it didn't feel very good when people were laughing at you," I say.  Her face crumples.

"Even Olivia laughed!  Even Chloe!"

"Oh, honey.  You felt like none of your friends were sticking up for you."

She nods, leans into, me and starts crying.  I've finally admitted what she is feeling.

"I don't HAVE a boyfriend," she sobs.  I understand her well enough to know that unlike a teenager, she's not embarrassed about this fact--she's embarrassed that she's been accused of HAVING a boyfriend.  "They all laughed," she repeats.

I rub her back and hold her close.  "You were hoping at least one friend would say, 'Hey, knock it off. Leave her alone,'" and she nods vigorously through her tears.

Do I fully get it?  Well, I'm not a nine year old girl, so no, this seems like mild teasing and some friendly laughter about it.  It still seems like a situation she may have brought on herself by inflicting a certain amount of embarrassment and hurt feelings on someone else in the first place.  But I do at last understand that this is every bit as real to her as the kind of things that make my face burn and tears fill my eyes.  She doesn't need a lecture about what she did wrong, and she doesn't need my cheerful dismissal of it as no big deal.  She needs to know that she can trust me to care when she's feeling hurt, to listen without judging when she's admitting her embarrassment.

I get her a glass of ice water and sit with her for a few minutes.  She starts to perk up and tell me about the treasure hunt they did, the brownies they ate.  I marvel at how close I came to messing the entire thing up, to forcing her to keep her hurt locked away, and I'm relieved that I woke up in time to change my approach.  This will, heaven help us all, not be the last time she brings her drama home.

I was a staunchly anti-drama kid, remaining friends with my friends without all the fighting and making up other groups engaged in.  I'm an anti-drama colleague, preferring to stick with the teachers I know and like, but making an effort to not engage in easy gossip or backbiting about teachers outside my circle.  My daughter is, if third grade is any indication, going to be in the thick of it.  I will  certainly talk to her about not instigating and not getting sucked in, but I'll time those conversations for when she's not in the middle of emotional upheaval.  I will do my best not to shame her for being sensitive and emotional, and I will try to keep her trust so she keeps communicating with me.

Although it will pass in the blink of an eye, I know that ten to thirteen to sixteen to twenty are very long slogs for kids and parents alike, and I have no way of predicting what it will really be like for us.    My hope is that she always can feel safe and heard when she talks to me, and that I will learn to listen without instantly rushing to judge and correct.

Written as part of the Slice of Life March writing challenge sponsored by Two Writing Teachers.





27 comments:

  1. Parenting. The hardest job ever. You think they are telling you about one thing and then the story takes a whole different turn and you are left trying to pick up the pieces of the mess you made/almost made. The key, I think, is to keep talking.

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  2. I am now a mom of a thirteen year old. It gets even more complicated. I think listening, talking, and spending time together is the key. It takes a keep-trying attitude. Thanks for giving us a snapshot view. I will take lesson from this. We have to listen for the real problems and not assume.

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  3. I agree with Carol--parenting is so hard. Sounds like you navigated an emotion-filled conversation really well. And I agree with the "keep talking" part, too. Got to keep the conversation open. The conversations are going to get even more serious as our girls (and boys) get older...

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  4. The lives of kids are complicated worlds, and finding the right words in the right moment as parents/teachers is just as complicated. I think we can try to honor their emotions and that goes a long way to honoring their hearts.
    Kevin

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    1. "Honoring their emotions"--that's a great way to describe what I finally figured out I should be doing for her.

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  5. Thank you for sharing this very honest and vulnerable slice. As the mom of an 11 year old, it resonated with me immediately. Every conversation with my 11 year old seems to be one that I get right or I can get wrong.
    Thank you for writing this.

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  6. I agree with the other parents above- no easy job! She is lucky to have you care so much and she will remember the "just right" understanding as she grows up before your eyes. You told the story beautifully and I felt like I was there (and I could have been- my boys-now men-were generally open at that age too).

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  7. I agree with the other parents above- no easy job! She is lucky to have you care so much and she will remember the "just right" understanding as she grows up before your eyes. You told the story beautifully and I felt like I was there (and I could have been- my boys-now men-were generally open at that age too).

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  8. Thank you for sharing this story. It reminds us all about what is important. It sounds to me like your daughter is very lucky to have you help guide her through challenging times. It must have been so hard to think of her having her feelings hurt.

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  9. Never easy but we do our best and try to get them through these years as best we can. I often remind myself that everything that is happening is part of my child's story and what is a story without drama, adventure, chaos, and disappointment? And just like in a book I read, I hope that my child's story brings character development and life change that will grow her into the adult she is supposed to be. Enjoy the journey!

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    1. This is such a great way of looking at it!

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  10. The reflection and vulnerability here bring this piece to life.

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  11. Being a mom is hard. Figuring out which teaching point you are going to address and getting it correct is a difficult task. I think you nailed it today. You taught your daughter some important life skills: that she can talk to mom, that mom can relate to her feelings, how to think about what you say before you say it, being empathetic, and the list goes on and on. Your daughter is a lucky girl to have a mom who understands her.

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  12. This resonated with me but from the other end - remembering what it was like to be bullied. I wish my own mother had been like you: reflective, a good listener, willing and able to think of how what she says will shape her daughter. I think you did a good job, and I felt like I was there in the conversation with you. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. I think my mom did some of both--I know I sounded like her when I was trying to minimize what she was saying, but I also felt like her when I was being empathetic.

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  13. It is so hard to figure out how to acknowledge your child's feelings while filtering out the lessons we believe they need to take away from the moment. Sometimes they just aren't emotionally ready to hear and process the lesson, and you wrote so beautifully about recognizing that and helping your daughter with her immediate needs to manage her feelings through empathy. Parenting is hard! Pretty wonderful too.

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  14. What a moment! I always say the Lord only gives you what you can handle, and that's why he didn't give me any girls. :) You are such a responsive mom. Bless you in your walk.

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  15. Don't be hard on yourself and have as much compassion for yourself as you have for your daughter. And, as others have said - kee.p the lines of communication open

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  16. Don't be hard on yourself and have as much compassion for yourself as you have for your daughter. And, as others have said - kee.p the lines of communication open

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    1. Thank you for that, Carol. I can certainly get caught up in berating myself sometimes.

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  17. I love how the layers of this piece keep unfolding. Just when I thought I had the crux of it, you unwrapped a new dimension into you, your daughter, and parenting. The dialogue really pulls me in and the reflection you go through as a mom is spot on. Thank you for sharing this layered slice!

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    1. I appreciate hearing what worked for you. It's been a long time since I've written this consciously.

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  18. Parenting is soooo difficult. We want to teach our children well so they grow up to be solid friends, productive citizens, generally good people. But we also want to protect them. We hurt when they hurt. And sometimes doing the right thing to help them develop into great people causes us to hurt too.

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    1. Love you too! And I'm finding that with this parenting thing, I understand Mom more and more. Doesn't mean I agree with everything she did, but I sure as hell know where she was coming from with some of her mean stuff now.

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