Welcome to part 4, the last in a series of posts on what God has taught me so far through substitute teaching.
Getting paid to spy on my girls and their friends is a bonus of subbing at their school. School policy prevents me from subbing in their classrooms, but I can sub as a lunch aide and get paid to wander around the playground, watch what my girls actually eat, take note of who is bossy all while making sure everyone is safe. Sounds glamorous, doesn’t it?
Recent jobs as the office secretary and the school lunch aide taught me why my 9-year-old sometimes collapses into a puddle of tears or yells, “You just don’t understand” in the hours after school.
The playground is a treacherous world for budding mini-women. At my girls’ schools, there are at least 75 kids in each grade. Teachers, who know personalities and manipulative habits well, are on lunch break and not present. So the kids run, scream, play, and tear down each others’ emotions. Constantly, they are testing each other with an unspoken question: How important am I to you? And the answer is derived from perceptions, based on whether or not the BFF of the day wants to play with her, wants to play what she wants to play, and if the BFF acts excited to do both. If the BFF wants to play something else or wants to include a girl who changes the rules of the game too much, the little girl feels unimportant, left out, angry.
Here’s where the parents, safe from the drama in their cubicles and homes, play a role. Parents, operating only on the stories from their daughter’s mouth, instruct their daughter that certain kids should be avoided. “They have family problems” or “They are not nice.” Sometimes these are true statements. Sometimes this parental advice is based on faulty information. Generally though the parental advice stops with the one liner. The little girl takes that parental advice and throws it at other girls to hurt her or just to put an end to the girl drama so the game of tag can resume.
Once this ugly game starts, other little girls are drawn to the drama. Feeling full of their own kindness, they start acting as messengers between the different angry/hurt girls. The messenger girls usually run between both sides but actually think only one girl is justified. And the story spirals down into the puddle of tears or angry outbursts we hear at home. Because by the time the they reach home, they’ve been holding all this hurt inside for hours.
Such stories are daily occurrences for some girls starting in the fourth grade. Third graders play these emotional games a bit too, but they are less brutal and less frequent.
As a mom, the most obvious solution, especially if you believe your daughter is telling the truth, is to find the common thread in the stories. Often there is one girl that is the center of the drama, and so you advise your daughter to avoid her or wish that girl would leave the school. Avoiding a girl at elementary school is harder than most moms imagine. On the playground, it is not uncommon for the avoided girl to follow your daughter around and ask her why she isn’t her friend any more. And when your daughter says it is because she is mean, the mean girl will send endless messengers begging your daughter to be her friend again. Or worse, the mean girl will get a group around her and start rumors about your daughter and follow her around the playground taunting her. Again, the puddles and outbursts are the signs you witness at home.
Now consider the mean girl, the one multiple parents have advised their daughters to avoid. She showed up in the office the other day while I was subbing. Sobbing. No one likes her she said. No one wants to play with her.
“Why?” the too-curious substitute secretary asks.
“They say I am a bad influence.”
Now what, nosy substitute secretary? Now what do you say?
“Why would they say that?”
“Because I can’t control my anger.”
She’s a perceptive little girl. I wonder what her story is. What has happened to her? What people skills has she been taught? Has anyone helped manager her anger? My brain was interrupted by a loud outburst of sobs and declarations of
“Why am I even alive? What is my purpose?”
Whoa little 4th grader. You are too young for such big questions. Let me hug you and pull you aside and tell you about a source of hope and love.
The principal heard the outbursts and the little girl was whisked from the waiting chair and behind her heavy wooden door.
But that little girl, she’s on my prayer list now.
And I don’t know what to tell my daughter about her now.
Moms, daily, pray for your girl, pray for her friends. The drama on the playground is intense. And every situation is unique, and every girl involved, no matter how mean, is a child created by God. Pray first. Pray long. Teach your daughter to do the same. Action may be necessary but remove your momma bear claws long enough to pray.