Coming Here

They’re coming here.

The students.  The survivors.  Those who the gunman wasn’t able to kill.  They’re coming to a school in my town in a few days.

We closed a school, a few years back, in a contentious budget cutting year to save money.  We reconfigured our entire school system and changed the culture of our district.  It was a difficult, divisive time in our town.  Every time I have driven past that closed school to the current middle school, I have felt a twinge of anger and sadness.  It sits empty, the sign in front claiming it schools students in grades 5 and 6, but it doesn’t.  On the side of the building, boards fill in a space where windows should be; when the window broke, no one thought it was worth spending money to fix.  Because no one uses the building anyway.

But now, in the wake of the horrible tragedy on Friday, our empty school is no longer a burden, a symbol, an albatross.

It is a gift.

It is a gift we can give those families that lost everything last week, so that they don’t have to return to the place where so much evil occurred.  They don’t have to go back at all this school year, if they don’t want to.  They will have the luxury of time to figure out what to do next.  Because they can come here.  They can come to our town, to our school, and hopefully feel some shred of safety and comfort in returning to some sort of routine.

I’m grateful that there is something tangible we can offer these families.

I don’t know any of those who died on Friday personally.  But I know so many who do.  I knew three of the names before they were released because they were friends of my friends.  One little boy went to preschool with a friend’s daughter.  Another took Tae Kwon Do with several friends’ kids.  A third used to work with one of the parents.  And the father of the gunman works for the same company as my husband, although in a different location.

My own daughter is fearful.  They put her school in a lockdown so strict that they all huddled in a corner away from the windows and the doors.  When the kids snickered and talked the teacher told them tersely that this was “not a drill”.  For a period of time, she thought the incident was at her school.  That the bad guys were coming down her hallways.  And now she knows that only a few miles separated her from that reality being hers instead of those poor childrens’.   She has friends that don’t want to return to school tomorrow.  There will be police, there will be counselors, there will be little learning and much talking about unspeakable things.

I do not know what kind of world it is that we live in.  Today, from my small town in Connecticut, it seems a very, very dark place.

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Mean Middle School Girls

One of the themes that reigned supreme for me as a positive take away from my Fitbloggin’ conference was that we are in control of ourselves, but no one else.  We can control a lot by thinking all of the myriad of choices we have during the day, but we have to understand that sometimes Other Stuff happens that is absolutely not our fault and not in our control.  In those situations, all we have is our response.  We can control our response to a bad situation (What’s that saying?  10 % in life is what happens to you and 90 % is how you react to it?  One of my favorite quotes.).

Anyway, this was relevant not only to me, but as a great discussion point for my daughter, who is still struggling with Being A Middle School Girl  (See this post, ugh).   My daughter has this awful problem of wanting everyone to like her (can’t imagine where she gets it from) and last year she had finally found a group of girlfriends.  Three other girls that were in most of her classes who all seemed to value her and really enjoy her company.  But then, somehow, her need to be Liked By Everyone got in the way and she did some things to damage the friendships.  I tried to coach her all summer as to how to repair the damage (made so much worse by the constant stream of video chats, typed chats, texting and group texting that occurs, since it so much easier to be mean and be misunderstood that way), and during the summer we seemed to have made some headway.

But when school started, it all fell apart.

My daughter went from being a valued friend to someone they enjoyed picking apart, piece by piece.

She would go up to their table in the lunchroom, and they would proclaim it full.  One of the girls was in most of my daughter’s classes but mysteriously got switched by the second day of school.  And there were constant messages about sleepovers and get togethers that my daughter was not invited to.   Daily, my daughter would ask via text:   “What did I do?  What can I do differently?  I want to be friends again.”

Sometimes they’d ignore her.  Other times they would coach to be more like her former self.  Other times they would be downright rude:  “Shut the fuck up.”  Finally, I told my daughter, enough.  These are not friends you want to have.  These are people who are taunting you to see how much they can pull on the puppet strings.

This week, my daughter won a spot in the school play, “The Miracle Worker”.  Eighty kids tried out, including two of the girls in her former friend group.  My girl won a named role.  One of the other girls was placed in the ensemble and the other one didn’t make it.

You can see this one coming from a mile away, right?  The one who didn’t make it immediately started talking smack about my kid at school, saying that the character my kid is playing is mean and bitchy, just like my girl.  Of course since my kid is a Middle School Girl, this was reported to her.  And my kid decided that was it for her.  She confronted this girl who was talking smack about her.

Bullies don’t like to be confronted.  They get mad, really mad.  And it’s never their fault.  Never.  It’s really pointless to try and deal with them, because you’ll never change their minds, but you always want to prove them wrong.

Except you can’t.  When people have their minds made up, you can’t deal with them at all.

So when I came home from work yesterday, I found my daughter staring at a screen and crying.  Why are the so mean?  Why is it my fault for saying something when this girl talked smack about me so everyone could hear at school?  Why do they keep bothering me so much if they don’t even like me?

And after my experiences last week, I knew exactly what to say.

“You can only control yourself, and your reaction to people.  So don’t give them any more power by trying to make them like you.  It’s their loss.  You are smart, you are pretty, and you just won a big part in the play.  Focus on the good in your life right now and leave the negative behind.  People won’t believe their trash talk when you show them plenty of evidence to the contrary every day.”

Being a Middle School Girl sucks.  What sucks even more is that the lessons that apply to her are ones I am still trying so hard to internalize myself.

The View From My Corner of the World

The roundup of what my world looks like since I last blogged (nearly two weeks ago?  Yikes).

Today is my eldest son’s 23rd birthday.  Holy how on earth did this happen?  It seems both a million years ago and also about a few days ago that I was balancing him on my hip while I navigated life.  He came home last weekend with his girlfriend, and we had dinner Saturday night with her parents.  It is still hard for me to believe that this is my life.  That he and I could have ended up in a very different place.  Instead, we’re eating amazing Italian food with his potential inlaws in this crazy expensive town in CT that we can almost afford to live in now.  I’m not sure if this totally set up situation for meeting her parents is a prelude to Some Really Big News, but for now, holy smokes, my kid is older than I was when I had him.

The younger two kids are back in school.  I am still desperately worried about my daughter and her swimming with all of the sharks at school.  There were whispers about people not sitting together at lunch (not on purpose, really) and getting transferred out of her classes.  We don’t know what all is true, but a glance at her iPod text app yesterday made my heart sink.  She still is trying so hard to be friends with people who really don’t give a crap about her.  I vacillate between hands off (“she’ll have to figure this out herself, as painful as it may be….after all, didn’t we all hate middle school?”) and hands on (“honey, if they treat you that way it is time to move on…why don’t we call so and so who actually likes you and invite her over?”) on a daily basis.  We’ll see what happens.

My dog is one crazy canine.  While we were out drinking heavily celebrating Labor Day with friends, he tried to escape from his crate.  Not sure what all happened (I must set up that streaming video idea I had) but when we came home his two front paws were mangled and bloody, and he’d lost a toenail.  I nursed him for two days before taking him to the vet (having decided that while we love him, we weren’t paying a thousand dollars to the doggie ER).  Having a dog is indeed like having a small child.  The poor thing is now scared to death of his crate, needs pills twice a day, and now begs for (and receives) a companion in the room where he sleeps (not our room; the den downstairs where his crate lives).  Not sure what I am going to do when I have to leave the house, but I kind of do have to leave the house, like, some time this week.

My one year running anniversary is coming up in six days.  I started the Couch 2 5K program on 9/12/11.  I saw this blog entry from this one woman on her running anniversary and she’d gone from the program to like, a half marathon on her anniversary.  I am going to be struggling through another 5K this weekend (this is my seventh), hoping I don’t die, because I let my exercise go the whole time I was in Europe (and to be honest, it was on a major downward spiral before we left with the kids home this summer).  I’m trying to focus on the positives of it:  like, I am still actually running, and that I weigh less today than I did a year ago (um, only about 9 pounds….but whatever), and that I am likely healthier and all that.  Still, I do feel an awful lot like I should be trying harder, doing more having been at this thing A Whole Stinking Year.

Speaking of OMG THE RUNNING, I am going to a fitness conference in two weeks called FitBloggin.  I scored a free ticket by applying to be a live blogger, even though at the time I had no fitness blog and no audience for the real blog I actually do have.  The ticket might be free, but the hotel room on the Inner Harbor is like $200 a night, but I’m a little freaked out about getting a roommate that I don’t know and have never met (though, apparently, people do this all the time at these things).  I tried to entice my girlfriends with the Hotel Room in a Awesome City Away From Here for a girls’ weekend type of thing, but they all have soccer games, or football games, or husbands that aren’t interested in them subsidizing my weekend in Baltimore.  So it will be me, all alone, with all of these bloggers who write about fitness while I am pounding out 40 minute 5Ks.  Still, I’m super excited anyway.  Maybe I’ll network and find a job, or something, out of it.

And that’s the view from suburbia this warm September morning.  Yes, sure, I could have written about politics, or my inner conflict about why I am not hearing back from an old friend, or some other existential dilemma but for now?  This is where I am at.

Cyber Bullying

I am waiting on a phone call from my daughter’s school principal today.

It’s not exactly what you might think based on my previous post, though I suppose sort of related.  Yes, it has to do with her social interactions.  Yes, she made a few missteps.  But this time, the crux of the wrong in the situation lays squarely on someone else’s shoulders.

Let me backtrack a bit.

My daughter, in her quest to be in with all of her like minded peers, has been begging me for an Instagram account for months.  For those who don’t know, Instagram is a photo sharing app you can install on a smart phone or an iPod touch/iPad.  You can link up with others who are sharing photos and you see their photos in your Feed.  There are buttons to “like” someone’s posted photos, and there is a small box to make a comment.

My daughter joined and immediately began seeking out her peers.  Within days she had dozens of people both seeing her photos and sharing theirs with her.  It was through this medium that we actually found out that my daughter had missed some social events; photos were posted.  I counseled her that all of this was part and parcel of the site; if she wanted to play the game, she had to be prepared that sometimes she might not like what she saw.

Like everywhere, in both real life and the Internet, there are Mean Girls.  Girls who accept your follow request, but then proceed to complain every time you attempt to interact with them.  One such girl is connected to my daughter.  My daughter commented “Looks like fun” on one of this girls’ photos and was told, “Jesus Christ, you have no friends, stop commenting on my photos.”

Not exactly sure why she’s mad my girl is doing that, when she chooses to be linked to her, but I advised her to stay away from this girl and her photos and unfollow her.

Which she did.

But a few days later, she saw through her Feed that while she had stopped communicating with this girl, another friend of hers was having a hard time with this girl (let’s call her MG for Mean Girl).  Lots of swearing, lots of name calling, and it came down to a real, bonafide threat:  “I will beat the shit out of you.”

Which is when my daughter decided to step in and call a spade a spade.  She told MG she was being a bully and to stop with all of the namecalling, that the third girl (let’s call her OG for Other Girl) had just made a simple comment that was being taken way, way too seriously.

Most girls would probably be upset to think someone thought of them as a bully, but not MG.  She then lashed out at my daughter and OG, telling them both that they were ruining her summer, that she would have her mother.  But the worst of it was a real threat:  “I will fucking kill you.”

See below for the entire text.  My daughter and OG’s comments have been deleted by themselves, but they were nothing more than simple commentaries on the image (a caricature done of MG at Busch Gardens) and then the subsequent anger that ensued.

I read all of this on my daughter’s iPod on the night of July 4, with my stomach in my throat.

My husband thought I was overreacting when I told him I thought we should call the police.  “Kids never mean stuff like this,” he admonished me.

Except sometimes they do.  Do I know what this twelve year old girl has going around in her head, besides a whole lot of cursing?  No, I don’t.

“You don’t want to make it worse for her at school,” he told me.

So we agreed to sleep on it, and in the morning I sent the screen shot to six of my close girlfriends, all of whom have girls this age, some of whom have Instagram accounts. I asked for advice.  What should I do.  Where should I start.

The answers were all pretty much the same.

First, talk to my girl, which I did.  Tell her to come to me at once when she sees threats of physical harm to anyone on an internet site.  While what she wanted to do was noble, stop a bully, she ended up putting herself in harm’s way.

Two:  don’t delete her account (although opinions were mixed on this count).  She needs to learn how to use social media going forward in her life.  I can’t punish her for this by taking away this social tool that she really loves.  But I can teach her how to navigate it so that she won’t get herself in trouble with it.

Three:  Don’t call the parents directly.  With language and actions such as this, you have to wonder what goes on in the house.  It could take a bad situation and turn it into a worse one.

Four:  Call the school, even though school is out.  Many schools have rules now that any time there is cyber bullying, even if it is off of school grounds, the school will act.

Five:  Call the police.  Not the regular 911, but the special Youth Division, which has a liaison officer to the school that handles this stuff specifically.

While I was typing this post, the principal called.  He offered to call the Youth Division for me, since he already has a relationship with the officer assigned to the school.  They will investigate the situation and contact the family.  He said that 60% or so of the time, parents are shocked to find out about something like this and will intervene and that will be the end of it.

What about the other 40 %?  I am not really sure.  My goal here isn’t to get someone in trouble, but just to make sure that there isn’t real danger to my daughter or OG.  But in addition, it is to hopefully help a girl who may be veering out of control and get her back on a productive path.

What I know for sure is that a great many parents of the kids who are on this Instagram have no idea what their children are up to.  They are posting photos, some of them inappropriate and suggestive, and they are talking like kids do when they are not supervised.  Except the internet makes them bolder, less afraid than these young adults already are.  It’s a ticking time bomb.

We’ll see what happens.

When Your Child Breaks Your Heart

I have spent the last week or so trying to help my daughter understand how to be a friend. How she hasn’t yet figured out the fundamentals of this at age twelve is kind of a mindfuck to me, but it is quiet clear to me that lessons I thought were long since learned by my daughter have been eclipsed by her own personality and insecurities and low self esteem.

I see it clearly because I recognize so much of it.  These are the issues that plague me too when it comes to interpersonal relationships.  I am slow to reach out to people.  I am constantly comparing myself to others and often feeling inadequate in the comparison.  I pull back and spend time alone when I feel overwhelmed with the ease that others seem to live their lives.  And my daughter does all of this too, in spades.

But what my daughter has also done is betray the trust of her friends in an attempt to “step up”.

It’s the age, for sure.  She is clearly obsessed with popularity and making friends in the upper echelon social groups.  Groups she has always stood on the outside of, but knows people in.  She is trying ever so hard to bust on through, but has no idea how.  Because she does lack in self esteem.  Because she does not have the intuitive sense of what those types of girls are interested in.  Like me, she’s always a few steps behind the trend, the crowd.  So what she did instead was try and gossip her way into the group.

My daughter, unbeknownst to me, told a girl something her best friend had said about that girl.  And in doing so, betrayed a trust so completely that she has now lost that friend.

In addition, I know the mothers of both of these girls.  And because of my daughter’s loose lips, they didn’t speak for over a month, apparently.  These women are good, good friends, and also both friends of mine.

I am mortified.  I am confused.  I am angry.  And I just am at a loss as to how to help my daughter at this point.

I remember, of course, that need for acceptance.  I went through middle school thinking if I just lost ten pounds, or had the right mini skirt, or haircut, that Those Girls would finally like me.  That Those Boys would finally notice me.  But they never did.  And over the years it became less and less important as I found my path and people who were like me.

I want to impart this wisdom, all of the things I learned about cliques and peers and social groups to my daughter.  To tell her that she needs to be a good friend to those she has and treasure and value the friends in her life instead of worrying about those who aren’t giving her the time of day.  I am engaging her in endless conversations about friendship and trust and respect and feeling all the while that she isn’t hearing a word I am saying.

I am trying so hard to put aside my own feelings (fortunately, the women in question are wonderful women, have since mended their fences and were kind enough to share the story with me in the hopes I can help my daughter become less socially ostracized) and help her.  But underneath my concern for her, and my recognition of the things I know about myself in her is this fear that I am failing her.  That somehow, somewhere, I haven’t given her enough of something to know instinctively how to be a good friend.  How to be a good sister, daughter, partner.  How to be able to step outside herself and her own wishes and see things from someone else’s point of view.

I have never felt so inadequate or broken hearted as a parent. But I am resolving to keep talking, keep trying, keep at it.  What other choice is there?

No Finish Line

I watched my daughter race into her girlfriend’s house, all giggles and smiles and excitement, and I smiled.  More than anything else, I felt….relieved.  Grateful.  Finally, finally she seemed to have found a group of girls to bond with and share typical for her age experiences.

It hasn’t always been that way.  While I always found it relatively easy to make one or two close friends, Missy has struggled.  She had lots of girls she knew, lots of girls whose mothers I was friendly with, and so she kept getting thrown together with a certain three or four girls over the years.  But none of the girls, while friendly, have really blossomed into that classic Best Friend Forever that I always seemed to have growing up.  I watched other girls her age do this seamlessly, effortlessly, collecting friends like they were stuffed animals:  one for every occasion.

It has been hard for her.  She knows, of course, that there are friends she has that are closer to other girls than her.  It doesn’t feel great to her when the girls have sleepover parties and can only choose three friends; she’s hardly ever one of the Top Three.  And it’s hard to help her through this, because I don’t understand it myself.  Why don’t girls like her or bond with her?  She is smart, a little bit of a tomboy, and enthusiastic.  Maybe that’s it.  Maybe she’s too enthusiastic, too ready to show others how much she cares (that part, I get).   My mother never seemed too embroiled in my interpersonal relationships, but I worry all of the time about my girl.  My girlfriends, throughout my whole life, have always offered me a special support and security that I never found in my family.  Is it because we have a stable family that she doesn’t have to hunt for it outside of the home?  But other girls with stable lives at home do have good friends.  I wring my hands, wondering.

And then, this year, something changed.  My daughter moved onto Middle School, which is supposed to be a Personal Hell for most kids.  It certainly wasn’t my favorite time of life.  But for my girl, things changed.  She was forced to sink or swim, and she swam.  She made new friends, rekindled some old ones.  Six months later, she has a stable group of three close girlfriends that share everything.  They call each other for homework help, they video chat in the evenings, they go to the movies together, they have sleepovers.  Today, they are all cabin mates at their school’s camping trip.  Four days that will change and hopefully strengthen their bond as they move into a world where your peers are more of an influence than your parents.

It is both terrifying and rewarding to watch her grow, and learn about life and herself.  I want to protect her from the worst of the lessons I have learned, give her the gift of all that I know after forty plus years.  But I can’t.  All I can do is show her the boundaries, show her the signposts along the way, and hold her hand when she needs me to.  And I know, I know very well, that there is no final quarter, no finish line, no end to this game of parenting.

That’s the best and the worst part of it, all at the same time.

Life With My Girl

I can still remember the moment when I learned I was going to have a daughter.  I was flat on my back in the ultrasound room of my doctor’s office in Stillwater, Oklahoma.  R was with me waiting with baited breath as the technician measured the femur, checked the heart chambers, and did the full anatomy scan that the 20 week check up entailed.  Me being me, I was listening hyperintently for any signs of hesitation or distress on the part of the tech, a sure sign that there was something wrong with my baby.  But there was none of that.  On that warm, October day, the news was only wonderful and happy.  The tech told us we were having a little girl.

I had always wanted a girl.  I remembered when I was pregnant with my eldest, thinking a girl would be easier for me to raise as a single mother.  My mother as well had hoped for that, wanting a pretty little thing to dress up in frilly frocks and dainty headbands.  Of course we loved my boy as fiercely as anyone could when he arrived.  Things happen for a reason.  I was given a boy.  And my boy was amazing.  But in the back of my head, of course, I had always hoped I’d have another chance.  A chance for a girl.

Laying there that October day, the news hit me like the hot summer wind of the state we were living in.  It washed over me, stinging a little, heating me up.  “We’ll name her after my mother,” I said quietly to my husband.  And in that moment, I had visions of the perfect, sweet little girl who would be the perfect tribute to my wonderful mother who was taken from life too soon.

Be careful what you wish for.

My mother was many wonderful things:  strong, determined, independent.  She was also insecure, addictive and hypersensitive.  And so it should be no surprise to me that my daughter, her namesake is all of those things.  Her spirit is unshakeable; it is what I love and hate about her. Can you say that about your own child?  You’re not supposed to, right?

As my precious girl gets closer and closer to her teen years, I ache more and more often to talk to my mother about how to handle her.  I have heard over and over that preteen and teen girls are like oil and water with their mothers.  I have a vague memory of my own mother telling me that they were tough years for her and her own mother; wounds inflicted by each of them didn’t heal until my mother had her own children.  I have friends who tell me that they barely spoke to their girls from age 12 to 17. Really?  Can that be possible?

But I can see it, really.  Because while I love my daughter, there are days that I don’t like her.  Even that doesn’t sound strong enough.  There are days when I truly dislike her, or worse.  She screams at me.  She grunts at me.  She takes me for granted.  She doesn’t see anything outside of her own wants and needs.  She is horrible to her brother sometimes more often than not.  She fails to see at all how lucky and blessed she is to live in a relatively wealthy suburb with two parents and two cars and a stable life. I get angry and upset and wonder how on earth I have raised such an ungrateful, selfish person.

But then something happens.  Last week, for example, I went to her sixth grade parent teacher conference.  And I heard two teachers describe the wonderful, smart, helpful, generous girl that I send off to school every day.  I listened to them enthuse about how curious she is and thoughtful of the other students when they need help or advice. And I kick myself internally, because my first thought is:  “they can’t possibly be talking about the same girl that screamed at me this morning because we were out of cream cheese.”

But they were.

I guess it’s time I learned how to ride the roller coaster of Life With A Nearly Teenage Girl.  Because I’m finding myself dizzy all of the time with the twists and turns.

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