As an educator to young children, I hear girls toss around hurtful words and insults without a second thought. I’ll often shake my head in disbelief and think, how in the world can those cruel words come from a child? I even find myself saying aloud, There was a time when kids weren’t this cruel to one another.
But, I know that’s not true. You see, I’ve been on the receiving end of a mean girls fury. I can tell you exactly what it feels like to be chosen last, to be bigger than all of my friends, to be a day late on the current trends, to try out for something and fail. I’m here to tell you that in the mid-90s when I was in elementary and middle school those words were just as prevalent. The girls were just as mean. For a while, I avoided that crowd, but there is something ingrained in a young girl, a desire to belong, to fit in, to be as cool as the other kids. Something liken to a fight or flight response that rests within your emotions. As the words rolled off of her tongue and into my ear, my mind had to quickly decide how I would adapt. Would I jab back? Would I cry? Hide? Gather my own posse? In that instant, my emotions required a response.
I quickly evolved into something ugly, every bit as mean as those girls. I learned, if I could make the first joke, the first dig, if I could get everyone to laugh with my witty one-liners, then the pressure was off. I think one of the most widely-used tools of the insecure is humor. I found it rather quickly, and I used it like a hidden talent I had just discovered. I could make people laugh for days, at the expense of some unsuspecting person, and I would feed off of their laughter. All the while, my heart angry with me. I knew it wasn’t right, but their laughter was like fuel to my fire and I knew that if I could keep them laughing at someone else, then I was in the clear. My brain worked fast as I used my intelligence and my wit, to ease into this new crowd. My ability to think quickly and react before anyone else made me a step ahead of the other people in the conversation. My rapid-fire thoughts gave little time for my mind to consider the words that I was actually saying. Across the lunchroom, on the other side of the gym, a quiet remark in the ear of one of my friends meant for an unsuspecting classmate.
And just like that, a mean girl was born.
Guilt welled up inside because I knew the words were wrong. I even tried to reason with my convictions; I wasn’t deliberately trying to hurt people, I never said mean things to their face, I was just being funny. Try as I might, I couldn’t shake what I already knew, it was wrong.
I’m very aware of the vicious cycle. Mean girls turn into mean women and mean women raise mean children. And sometimes mean girls are born out of a desire to fit in, in a response to fellow mean girls’ actions. I know her because I’ve been her. Just look at your Facebook page, take a look at how women interact with one another on Twitter. They come in all types from the passive aggressive variety to the down-right, in your face, vile. Look around your place of work, even at church. The sad truth is some women never outgrow this, they fail to overcome. It is the only remedy for their insecurities.
It’s a conviction that I wrestled with for some time. I attempted to rationalize these thoughts with irrational thinking. Perhaps, if the words remain thoughts in my head, if I never express those thoughts out loud, then I’m not really doing anything wrong. What a dangerous way of thinking, freeing me of the responsibility of my own thoughts.
That responsibility weighs heavily on me these days. It comes in the form of a toddler with the biggest blue eyes you’ve ever seen. I already see so much of myself in her, as she orders her books and gives everything a place, as she talks incessantly to anyone she meets. I hope she is many things; patient, kind, understanding. I hope she takes up for herself and stands up for what’s right. I don’t think for one second that I can always protect her from hurt. I simply hope that when she is a young lady and given the chance to adapt, she becomes something different than I did in that instance.That she listens to her heart and stays true to herself.
Her blue eyes, following my every move, serve as a daily reminder to do the right thing, even if it isn’t the most popular option. Some days I come up short, but there isn’t a day that I forget about the little person who is taking her cues from me. As for me, I’m worlds away from that middle-school girl, but I still remember those hurtful words as if it were yesterday. If you think people ever truly forget your words, you are completely wrong. Overcome? Sure. Doubt that they were true? Perhaps. Forget? Not a chance. There is a big difference in overcoming something and forgetting something.