The children are BOTH having friends over after school today, and this is VERY! EXCITING! and despite my grumpiness in the wee hours I’ll confess that waking up Monkey and having him spring upright and declare “Today’s the day!” and then going into Chickadee’s room and watching her yawn, stretch, and then pop up and exclaim “Today’s the day!” as well (she hadn’t heard her brother) was pretty funny.
As for me, I am pleased that my babies have friends. Moreover, Monkey was kind enough to become infatuated with a boy whose mom I really like, so he may have done me a big favor, there. I knew I liked her when Monkey went over to their house and when I came to pick up she asked me if I wanted to hang out for a bit; and when I said sure, asked me if I wanted a glass of wine. (I declined, for various reasons, but I like her style.)
Chickadee’s new bestest buddy is a darling little imp whose mother doesn’t speak much English. When we met at a school function we conducted a brief conversation mostly in gestures, both pleased that our girls have found each other and offering our praise on the other’s child.
The plan this afternoon is to throw everyone in the pool, weather permitting. If it insists on raining, I’ll have to let the kids play inside. And then probably burn the house down afterwards rather than try to clean up the damage.
Remember the whole Mean Girls thing? Well, Chickadee continued to come home with tales about one of them in particular. Let’s call her Xtina.
Xtina got in trouble for this. Xtina got in trouble for that. Xtina didn’t do her homework. Xtina stole a pencil. Xtina kicked my chair. Every day there was a new litany of offenses, reported with a mixture of fear and satisfaction.
Xtina’s most frequent partner in crime apparently had a change of heart; Chickadee came home one day to report that she was NICE! And she played with Chickadee and her friends, and it was REALLY FUN! But the reports about Xtina’s antics continued.
We had a meeting with the teacher, my Chickie and me. Just so that I could get a sense of what’s REALLY happening in the class. Just so that the teacher and I could make it clear to her that we’re working together (much to her benefit AND her detriment, depending on her behavior). Chickadee, of course, wanted to talk about Xtina.
“She’s really MEAN,” she said to the teacher. “I wish she would just leave me ALONE.”
The teacher leaned in very close, and told Chickadee that she wanted to take her into her confidence about something. (Then we had a brief interlude for a vocabulary lesson.) Still leaning in close, the teacher started to talk about how some kids don’t have the same advantages as others. That sometimes kids who don’t get a lot of attention seek whatever attention they can get, whether it be good or bad—and bad attention is usually easier to obtain.
“Yeah, well, what doesn’t she have that makes her so mean?”
The teacher thought for a moment, clearly weighing her response. “Well, Chickadee,” she said, “let’s just say that you probably don’t realize what an ADVANTAGE you have in the kind of mom who comes to school for meetings and open houses and who checks your homework and packs your lunch.” Chickadee’s face was blank; of course this isn’t an advantage, I could almost hear her thinking. That’s just MOM. “And all I’m going to say is that not everyone has a mom like that.”
Now, this is not to toot my own horn, as I happen to have it on good authority that Chickadee’s mom also yells too often and too loudly, has all the patience of a fruit fly, and often packs THE WRONG KIND OF FRUIT CUP in her lunch. I’m just sayin’. But it was really interesting to watch her consider all of this. Both that maybe she has it pretty good and that maybe Xtina doesn’t.
In talking with Chickadee about Xtina, myself, I had mentioned that I suspected Xtina wasn’t very happy or she wouldn’t behave the way she does. But to hear this—in such a concrete way—from her TEACHER (not from dumb ol’ MOM), seemed to make an impression. We three talked about how it’s an explanation, though not an excuse, and how it needs a bit of compassion. Ultimately, of course, the teacher’s advice was the same as mine: Stay away from her.
Last night the phone rang about fifteen minutes before bedtime. I didn’t recognize the name on the caller ID.
“Um, hi, is Chickadee there?”
“Yessss… who’s calling, please?”
“It’s, um, Xtina. Her FRIEND Xtina.”
“Just a minute, please, I’ll get her.”
I put the phone down and mouthed “Xtina!” to Otto, and we exchanged a confused look. I ran upstairs to get Chickadee.
“Xtina’s on the phone for you, Chickie.”
It was an effort not to laugh. She looked panic-stricken. “I don’t know, sweetie, but I think you should talk to her.”
“Do I HAVE to?”
“Yeah, I think you do. Find out what she wants.”
She followed me back downstairs and picked up the phone.
“Hello? Yes, this is Chickadee. … I know. … I know who this is, it’s Xtina, my mom told me. … Yes. … Oh. I’m, uh, getting ready for bed. What are YOU doing? … Oh. I dunno, about eight, I gues. … Yeah. It’s Mir. … MIR. Yeah. Uh huh….”
Otto and I hovered nearby in the kitchen. What should we do? Her voice conveyed all the excitement of a dead fish. Meanwhile, we puzzled primarily over how Xtina had gotten our number. Chickadee and I have different last names. There’s been no class contact list. Where did she get our number?
“Yeah. … I guess. … Oh. PSSST! HELP! Yeah.” I peeked around the doorway. Chickadee was waving me over along with her plea for help. I found myself frozen on the spot. Otto to the rescue!
“CHICKADEE! TIME FOR BED!” he boomed, although we were only standing about 10 feet away from her.
She heaved a sigh of relief. “I have to go,” she said (with the most animation of the entire call). “What? Sure, here’s my mom.” She fairly threw the phone at me and ran back upstairs.
“Hi!” said Xtina.
“Chickadee has to finish getting ready for bed now, Xtina.”
“Okay! I’ll call her again tomorrow.”
“Ooooo… kay…. Good night.”
I hung up and went upstairs to find Chickadee.
“What did she want?” I asked.
“I have no idea!” she exploded. “She just kept saying that she was tired! And watching the Disney Channel! She said she was tired about five times!”
“She, uh, said she’s going to call you tomorrow,” I ventured. She blanched.
“MOM! No! I don’t WANT her to call me again!”
And it was right about there that I started to feel truly sorry for Xtina. Not the “oh she’s probably disadvantaged” sort of theoretical sorry, but the “I don’t think that poor child has a single person who loves her” sort of sorry.
So Chickadee and I sat down to have a talk. I fumbled and stumbled as I tried to explain that she needs to be as kind as she can, and that I know that’s going to be really hard, and I’m not sure what the right thing to do here is. Certainly she’s not obligated to field nightly phone calls about nothing with a child she doesn’t really like, but neither is it okay for her to go to school and say “Don’t call me!”
(We may have come up with a solution for that one, actually. I told her to tell Xtina she’s not allowed to take phone calls past 7 on school nights. Between extra-curriculars, homework, and dinner we can probably cover the rest of the hours in-between school and bedtime, anyway.)
And it was with a heavy heart that I told Chickadee that Xtina might be back to her horrible ways, today, or maybe today she’ll be really nice to her and try to win her over. That we can’t possibly predict. And that I want her to remember that she can’t control Xtina’s behavior but she CAN control her own, so I expect her to be kind. “Be as nice as you can,” I said, “even though it’s hard. Maybe no one’s ever been nice to her. That doesn’t mean don’t protect yourself from her if you need to, but remember to be gentle. She needs it.”
I wonder what tales she’ll come home with today, and whether Xtina continued trying to woo her or whether she was back to her old tricks. I felt like a traitor to my own child, trying to encourage her to be friendly, even as I know how much grief this child has caused her.
But mostly I wonder if anyone tucked Xtina in last night.