June 3, 2016
By Ekta R. Garg
During the last couple of weeks of school, one of Nine’s classmates began speaking to her in an incredibly rude way. The classmate would whisper to other friends about Nine and say that she wished Nine weren’t around, that Nine would sit somewhere else or play with someone else. In a year marked by frustration about other elements in the curriculum, my older child went from hesitation about going to school to downright reluctance.
Sometimes this classmate would whisper loud enough for Nine to hear her. Other times Nine’s more loyal friends would tell her about the classmate’s comments. The friends were torn, however, between the classmate and Nine. The result was that during her school day, Nine would go from a bevy of friends to a mere handful. For a child used to being surrounded by friends, this situation made her incredibly uncomfortable.
After a few days of hearing about this, I sent a note to Nine’s teacher. The teacher didn’t respond directly to me. Instead she took Nine out of the classroom and chatted with her in the hallway quietly and privately about the matter. According to Nine the teacher said she wanted to wait out the situation for a couple of days.
Toward the middle of the last week of school, Nine got an invitation to an end-of-the-year party. The friend throwing the party had given Nine a hard time earlier in the year, but at some point the girls had worked out their differences enough to be civil to one another. The fact that she’d invited Nine to the party, I thought, was a good sign in the objective scheme of things. On an emotional level I didn’t know if it would be good for Nine to go.
I didn’t want to direct her decision, so I asked her to find out some details about the party and get back to me once the girl throwing the party had provided the information. She did, but she also didn’t seem too enthusiastic about the party. One evening toward bedtime Nine started to get a little edgy with everyone, and when I went to say good night to her I asked her what was up.
She remained a little evasive at first, and then she finally said she didn’t want to go to the party.
“If you ever don’t want to go to a party, you don’t have to,” I told her. “Daddy and I will never make you go anywhere you don’t feel comfortable.”
I asked her why she didn’t want to attend the party, and she admitted she was nervous that the classmate giving her a hard time would monopolize the time of the other friends there. She didn’t want to feel left out, and she didn’t want to go through any confrontations. More than anything she didn’t like feeling bad about herself, something the classmate had managed to make her feel.
If I’d wanted I could have offered a variety of reasons why the classmate was treating her in such a mean way. I knew the classmate’s parents were divorced and that she was an only child. I also knew that other elements in the classmate’s life could possibly make her behave the way she did.
But I didn’t want to sway Nine in a certain direction. I didn’t want to offer her any reasons to be judgmental. Eventually she’ll be making her own judgments about people. No need to start her in that direction any earlier.
So I took the conversation in a completely direction. I told Nine that she was getting older, that she’d start running into other classmates who would possibly make her uncomfortable. They would possibly ask her to parties and to engage in other activities that didn’t fall in line with our family’s values. She would always, I said with emphasis, have the power to say no and her father and I would always support her.
Nine asked me how she should respond to the friend who was throwing the party. Even though she’s not even ten years old yet, I decided to give her an out that acts as an absolute. I told her she had permission to tell her friend that her parents wouldn’t let her go.
She hesitated at first to use this as an acceptable excuse. What would the girls think of her? What would they think of me?
“Maybe I can just say I forgot about the party,” she said.
It didn’t matter what they thought of me, I told her. She was my priority and my responsibility. Her true friends would never disrespect her or anyone close to her, I said. So anything that any of her detractors might say?
“It’s like that Meghan Trainor song ‘No,’” I told her. “You know how in the middle of the song she says “blah, blah, blah’? That’s what I hear when people say negative things that aren’t true.”
Nine chuckled, and I could feel her relax. I reiterated the fact that we were here for her, always. I also repeated that she didn’t ever have to go anywhere or do anything that upset her.
The next day Nine looked visibly relaxed, and she didn’t say anything more about the classmate who was bothering her. It was as if addressing the entire situation made it all go away.
It makes me sad that Nine’s classmate felt compelled to treat her badly, but I’m glad I could make her feel better about it for now. I hope she takes this lesson to heart. I hope she remembers in the future that she can always fall back on her dad and me.