My daughter Eliana came home from school one afternoon in tears: it seems "Mean Girls" starts in 3rd Grade these days... The little girls that had been friends with her since Pre-Kindergarden had now collectively agreed that Eliana was somehow not cool anymore, and befriending her equaled social suicide. She's 8 years old for God's sake! This feeling of betrayal had been a slow build since the beginning of the school year. I noticed something was off when I'd suggest a playdate with a tried-and-true friend and Eliana would say, "Oh we just don't get along anymore." I just chalked that up to kids growing and having different interests. Then I heard rumblings of trouble in casual conversations, when she'd say so-and-so took her lunch, but she "had wanted to share it anyway and wasn't hungry." Red flag: time for motherly intervention. I talked to the teachers and they weren't observing any bullyish behavior, but made an announcement lunches were not to be shared amongst the students.
The day the tears flowed was the day I understood the extent to which Ellie had been holding in the taunting, the ostracizing and the just plain mean behavior with girls shouting around her: "Everyone run from Eliana! Eliana's fat." And if, God forbid, one of the group was "caught" playing with her, the leader of the pack would say right in front of her, "Why are you talking to Eliana? Don't be friends with HER!"
I listened, in shock, trying to make out the details through her great hiccuping tears, unbiasedly thinking to myself what a great person my daughter is: smart, funny, and years ahead of her peers in maturity. Was that it? Was that why she was a target? "Honey, why wouldn't you tell me this has been going on all this time? That's a terrible thing to hold inside and not talk about." She looked at me sheepishly and said, "I didn't want you to call their moms." I looked at her earnest tear-stained face and said gently, "They need to know, honey. I'd want to know if you were behaving that way too, right? It's totally fine for me to try and work this out. Don't be embarrassed, OK?" She looked me square in the face, "Mom, it's Marisa." I recoiled in horror. "Marisa?! No, it can't be." I could feel myself backpedaling already...not my best friend's daughter!!! Ugh! Not the call you want to make. Her daughter and mine had spent many years together, many overnights, and even holidays away. Her daughter was the only child-guest we'd invited to our wedding last summer and they'd flown across the country for it. I reassured Ellie I'd handle it, and in the meantime, I tried to emphasize that this is not what friendship looks like. That these girls were not behaving in a way that real friends do. And as hard as it is to turn the other cheek, she should focus on her other friends right now. I put her to bed, and with my heart hammering away in my chest, I speed dialed Marisa's mom. Who wants to tell their close friend their kid's a bully? What parent wouldn't get defensive hearing that? I love my girlfriend like a sister and that's exactly how I started the conversation. I then told her how uncomfortable I felt, but that this was what was happening to my Ellie throughout the day, spearheaded by her Marisa... And I was reminded why she's such a special person in my life: "Oh that's awful. Marisa can be a real little bitch sometimes. You know what's happening? She's trying out this new persona right now, and I don't like it. I'm going to sit her down and clear this up. Poor Ellie."
I exhaled a huge sigh of relief: for me obviously, but more importantly for my daughter, who had a protector in her frenemy's mom. And the next morning, like every morning, Eliana was grumpy getting out of bed. But halfway through her cream of wheat, she was singing and chatting and being her optimistic, all-accepting self. We should all be so resilient!