Monday, December 21, 2009

"You're Ugly"

She's sitting on my lap, facing me as we rock. I pull my face close to hers, her big blue eyes filling my vision, my fingers wrapped up in her wet hair, one hand on her bare back. I'm crying, a little, which is really surprising me and upsetting me.

"Tell me more about Kathy and Patti," she asks.

Kathy and Patti used to bully me when I was a kid. They were the cool girls, and I wanted to be their friend, but they were cruel to me. "You're not our friend," they would taunt, spitting their words in my face. "You're ugly." I cried a lot, then. And I'm crying about it now, in this desperate context of trying to teach Munchkin ... something. Empathy? Kindness?

In the tub, she told Pynchon about how she and Queen Bee at daycare were playing a game where they told the other kids "You're ugly." Pynchon tried to talk with her about it, but she wasn't taking him seriously. A major tantrum and all around blowup ensued. It was in the aftermath of this that I found myself both comforting and being appalled by my naked, wet, puffy-eyed little girl, this kid with the streak of ... mischief? In her eyes. Listening to me tell her what it feels like to be told "You're ugly" by girls you want to be friends with. But what she hears, apparently, is a story of two girls she wants to know more about. "Tell me more about Kathy and Patti, do you have pictures of them?"

I have dropped entirely out of the narrative, thirty years later once more pushed aside by the Queen Bees who draw everything in to themselves.

It's insane. I'm crying and suddenly feeling rejected by my preschooler, the little girl who wraps herself around me in desperate, passionate love. It's not her job to prop up my quite fragile ego, but her schoolyard games terrify me.

I was a terribly smart little girl, with almost no sense at all how to relate to my peers. Not in a charmingly awkward way, but just awkward: I was shy and arrogant, needy and sarcastic, bossy but desperate to please. Munchkin is experimenting with her own social skills, and already seems to be a lot better at peer relations than I ever was. So she experiments on me, tonight, telling me that I'm not ugly, that I'm beautiful, but also that she doesn't have a hug or a kiss for me, turning her back on my look of hurt surprise.

When she was a squalling colicky baby, lying angry and flailing on her back for nearly 10 months without even sitting up on her own, I longed for these days. When she would be a person. When I could talk to her, teach her, engage and interact with her through language, socially.

It's harder than I thought, but this, I know, is the real work of parenting. We will both be doing some growing up in the years that are hurtling so fast towards us now.

"You're ugly," she tells one of her toys, just loud enough for her father to hear her say it, corners of her mouth turned up a little as she peeks sideways and up, through her eyelashes, to see who is listening.

13 comments:

Janet said...

Oh! That's hard.

Our 3-year-old is experimenting with, 'I hate you.' We're trying to help her understand just how much that word, many words, can hurt.

Patti said...

Ugh, squirming awkwardly as I read about that other "Patti".... it wasn't me, I swear!

My bully was always named Melissa. Several of them, through the years. But always Melissa.

In grade 7, my teacher used to sympathetically let me stay inside at recess, where I would happily clean the boards or practice English with a new Korean girl.

Cloud said...

Oh, this is so hard. I think this sort of experimentation is normal for kids- they're trying out the different roles and seeing how they feel. I think a lot of parents don't know what to do to explain why the bully role is a bad one, so they don't do much. You are trying to teach a very difficult lesson, and I think your personal story will stick with Munchkin more than she shows now.

Lisa D. said...

I've been thinking of you all day Mimi. Parenting is such a tough job sometimes.
Have you talked with the daycare staff? Do they see/hear this happening and talk with the girls in the moment? Maybe they can find ways of separating Munchkin and Queen Bee a little more - sometimes a change of playmate can change games.
Cloud is exactly right - it is normal experimentation of what is acceptable behaviour, and your story and conversations with her will help guide her through the process of pushing boundaries.

Kyla said...

Oh my. I don't have any words of wisdom for you, because neither of mine have gone through this particular stage (we're in the potty words are SO FUNNY stage here currently), but I think that the fact that you are seriously talking about it with her will make the impact. You make have to reinforce it many times, but I think it will guide her in the right direction.

Cheryl said...

I join you in solidarity. My 3 yr old is always telling me what she won't do, intentionally refuses to cooperate and has gone so far as to say, "I don't love you." That really hurt.
But, this is just another phase that I have to get through with some sanity, trying to keep in mind that she is only three and she is experimenting. It's so hard though.


Have a nice Christmas Mimi. :)

moplans said...

ugh..... they are testing the boundaries and despite their behaviour my experience shows that what we say and model for them does matter.

five is pretty mean though, I get denied kisses all the time. I just hope for her sake she is not on the other end of that. there was a similar situation a preschool where one girl was getting others to gang up on one. I was shocked this started that early.


mine made a gun today out of lego and out came a story about how they are not allowed those at work.

Assertagirl said...

For me the hurtful word wasn't "ugly," but "geek." I think it's great that you're at least having a discussion with her about how those words can be so hurtful. She'll remember your puffy eyes the next time she's on that playground, I bet.

Beck said...

Urk.
My four year old can be a big ol' twerp - at two, she was telling other kids in her daycare morning to "Stop following me around, you big stupid baby," which made me feel like a FANtastic mother when I found out about it. But I don't worry about her socially - she doesn't seem substantially meaner than most talkative other girls her age, really. In summation, kids are AWFUL. They just ARE.

I just erased like, THREE PARAGRAPHS! In your comments! 3!

Denguy said...

You don't look ugly--you have a big mug in your face, but not ugly.

Jenifer said...

I just love those teachable moments when I wonder who exactly is being taught? Happy New Year by the way.

Munchkin is totally experimenting, but those first glimpses into what is to come can be shocking. I remember the first "I hate you" as if it was yesterday and it was a long time ago...now we hardly ever hear such hurtful words. The girls are older, they understand more, but they also can use words in more ways. More clever ways...hurting in other ways.

Um, does any of this make it better? Well, it might not seem so, but trust me you are not alone. Things my girls do/say often trigger some sort of memory overload for me. Rest assured your little girl is just being a little kid.

kittenpie said...

It's so hard, when they willfully do what you don't want them to and it's hard to fully explain why you are so adamant. How do you really explain to them that you don't want them to be a little bitch, and why? Especially when half the time the girls who seem to have it all are so rotten? this is what makes girls harder, I think.

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

Everything ok, Mimi?