The other day I went on a homeschool field trip with some of my kids. There were a few friendly faces there, moms I’ve seen at one homeschool event or another over the years and a few new faces too. I remember what it used to feel like when I would attend events as a new homeschooler and not know anyone, so I always try to reach out and make others feel welcome, whether it’s a just a friendly smile or a small attempt at making conversation. I asked one of the new moms how old her daughter was and she smiled when giving her response and I could almost feel her exhale of relief at someone having made the effort to talk to her.
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I had noticed a mom earlier who was perfect put-together, hair and make-up done, with seemingly perfectly behaved children and THEIR hair was combed neatly. All of them, mom included had outfits. Not clothes like my thrown together look of old runners, worn-thin-long-sleeved t-shirt and jeans, but outfits. They all looked like they had stepped off the pages of a magazine. And I was intimidated. Because I don’t have outfits, don’t even own any, wouldn’t know how to put one together.
My kids used to have outfits and neatly combed hair but that was years ago and now my only goal is to get them out the door fed. I don’t even check to see that they aren’t still wearing their pyjamas because frankly, I’m pretty ok if they are seen in public in their pyjamas. Over the years I’ve discovered that there are worse things than your kids being in their pyjamas or a Princess costume in public.
As for my kids’ behaviour, it’s pretty unpredictable even in public and I couldn’t guarantee that there wouldn’t be a meltdown right there in that lobby, so I didn’t really want to approach that mom with the seemingly perfectly behaved children with the lovely coordinating outfits and recently combed hair.
I felt like I would be judged for my appearance or for my kids’ appearance. I took a quick glance over at one of my daughters whose hair looked like it hadn’t been combed in a few days (to be clear, it probably looked that way because it hadn’t) and started noticing the “outfits” my kids had seen fit to put together for themselves that morning and kind of wanted to shrink into the floor.
Then I reminded myself of all the wonderful friends I’ve met over the years at homeschool events because I walked up and started talking to someone who looked a bit lonely or like they felt out of place. I took a breath and walked over to say ‘hello’ and it wasn’t well received. She really did look at me in a disapproving way and gave signals that there was to be no further conversation. It brought up my insecurities.
I felt like I did the time in high school when everyone owned a Club Monaco sweatshirt and the yearbook committee was taking a photo in the gym in a Where’s Waldo style of everyone wearing their Club Monaco sweatshirt except that I didn’t own one.
I stayed at the field trip for awhile and felt awkward and silly and halfway through, I quietly excused myself and went to the library to work on my computer and try to stop feeling like I had made a mistake by talking to the put-together lady.
The thing is, she wasn’t mean to me. She wasn’t nice either, but she wasn’t overtly mean. For all I know, she was having a bad day or is an extreme introvert or is very shy. I’m not the least bit upset with her but it made me think about the times in my life when people have been mean.
I was bullied by a girl all throughout my elementary and junior high years. It started in Kindergarten. I wasn’t her only target but she was relentless. I had great friends and good teachers but this girl’s bullying made me dread going to school to the point of sometimes feeling physically ill. She had a couple of sidekicks in junior high that helped her spread rumours and call me names and it couldn’t help but affect how I saw myself.
High school was an overall great experience for me without the bullying I had encountered up to that point and with a great group of friends, but I still saw mean girls there and saw how they could be to others. I accepted it as “girls are just like that” and “there’s nothing more vicious than a hormonal teen girl”. I thought that once I got out of school and into the real world, there would not be any more mean girls because surely women would be respectful of each other.
As an adult, I discovered that women can be rude and gossipy and backstabbing and cliquey and just plain old mean. They can spread rumours about you or tell you that your bum is getting wider or not invite you to events that everyone else in your friend circle is invited to. They can bash your parenting behind your back or straight to your face.
Someone you considered a close friend can tell you that your choice to adopt is going to ruin your ‘real’ children. Someone who may have once been a family member can try to sabotage your marriage (true story). People can try to get you to take sides in their ‘fights’ with mutual friends. They can put you down in an attempt to build themselves up. They can be jealous and catty and cruel.
but…There are women who are so kind and loyal and beautiful, who help each other and give of their hearts and their time and their talents. There are women who I am so blessed to know that I have met in all kinds of strange ways, including taking the risk and going up and talking to a stranger. These women have my back. They are encouraging and inspiring and real. They make me prayerfully consider my important choices and call me on my missteps when needed, but can also make me laugh until I cry. I feel so privileged to have them in my life. Their generosity and kindness far outweighs any negative experiences I’ve had in the past.
As an adult though, I have choices that as a child confined to a classroom I did not. I can choose to surround myself with people who accept me for who I am, fashion cluelessness and all. I have sometimes had to make the difficult decision to remove a toxic person from my life. I tried to do so as gracefully as I could, but my life is better for it. I can choose to assume that the lady at the homeschool field trip was judging me or I can assume that she has her own issues which may just be that she is shy and that her reaction had nothing to do with me.
I can choose to be a good friend and model what being a good friend means for my children. When my kids encounter a “mean girl”, I help them discover if it’s really a character issue as in the case with my childhood bully or simply someone who is socially awkward or shy. Above all, I have the opportunity to teach them that there are many people in the world who enrich our lives and I can help them to seek those kinds of people out. I can teach my girls (and boys) to surround themselves by the givers, and above all, to be givers themselves.