Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Left Out

 It is really hard to be a teenage girl. It was not easy for me getting through the trials and tribulations of being a teenager. It is even harder watching my daughter going through them. In addition to just being hard because the age is challenging, adding in today’s social media, text message threads and photos of absolutely everything, there is no way to be oblivious to what your peers are doing around you. 

About a week ago, I was already hormonal when I lifted my phone to scroll Instagram. I should have stuck to the dog videos since they usually lift my mood, but instead I stumbled on a post of my local friends all out to dinner together. They all live in close proximity together, and I am not around the corner so to speak so I understood it was a neighborhood thing, but still I felt left out not to be there. It stung as I looked at the multiple photos of them sitting around a table, posing outside the restaurant, and smiling in every shot. Even though I wasn’t a neighbor I wanted to be part of the group.

My daughter’s first year of high school was bumpy socially. When she started on the first day she felt sure of one thing and that was that she and her best friend from elementary school would be friends forever. She knew she could count on having at least one good friend she could count on. After so much time over the summer together, doing theatre together, and babysitting together what they really needed was probably a break. Instead, they headed into freshman year together and the tight knots of their friendship bracelets started to unravel within the first few weeks. Who knows exactly what happened? Perhaps, one felt threatened that the other was able to make new friends easily. Perhaps, one was holding a grudge for things done months before but because communication wasn’t her strong suit she never spoke up. Perhaps one also turned all of their mutual friends against the other. In any or all of these cases it is not easy for a couple of fourteen year olds to navigate.

I had a realization recently that a friend and I were not as close as I thought we were. We met when our kids were still in preschool. We started them in Kindergarten together. We used to go have lunch here and there, we worked out together, and tried new beauty products together. We had fun and we talked often. Until we didn’t. Things change, situations change, people can change, but I didn't really realize until I was learning things about her from other people. Our texting seemed to slow down, we didn’t go out as much, and although she was always nice when we did speak we weren’t a part of each other’s day to day anymore. It seemed to take me a long time to figure it out, but I finally did and in that one shocking moment when I did, it hurt. It was followed by a sense of relief too. I hadn’t noticed it, but I was working so much harder than she was, and I didn’t have to pull all the dead weight of a non-functioning friendship. I felt sad, but I felt lighter.

Last week my daughter had tentative plans with a group of friends. She had also checked in with two other friends to see if she could hang with them. They told her they were going to be with two guys so it would be awkward if she joined. She never heard definitively from the first group so after waiting to hear from them she went over to a different friend's house. On the way she ran into the two girls who were supposed to be with the two guys, only they were just hanging with another of their girlfriends. It was indeed awkward, but not because they were with two guys, but because they weren’t, and yet they never let her know. My daughter hung out at a different friend’s house but on the way home from that she ran into her other group of friends who never called her back to include her in their evening plans. She was in the car with my husband when they pulled up to a stop sign only to see all of her “friends” with very concrete plans that didn’t include her. They all made eye contact and then my daughter asked my husband to please drive away from this most uncomfortable encounter. 

She was crushed, understandably. Just one of these run-ins would have hurt, but two in one night felt unbearable. I was mad and wanted answers for her. I suggested she talk to the one close friend who kept being vague about plans but she didn’t want to confront anyone. She said she felt she was on shaky ground with everyone in that group because she didn’t hang with them all as consistently as they hung with each other. I cringed as the next day she didn’t reach out to say, “Hey, that didn’t feel great last night, what happened?” text, but instead sent a “hello” as if nothing happened. It has been over a week since then and there has been no response to her friendly text. My daughter is regrouping and she no doubt needs to reevaluate the groups she has been friends with. The thing with groups is it doesn’t seem to matter if you are friends with one or two people in a group when they all get together it can feel really awful being on the outside.

When I saw the photo of a bunch of my friends out together, having fun, laughing in a group without getting to be part of it, I immediately thought of my daughter and all she is going through right now. I shared with her, that I felt left out, but that what she was feeling this past week was probably as bad as it will ever get. I shared that life is full of FOMO, and exclusion, but that it is rarely as in your face as it was for her. I also explained that as hurt as I was, the first person I called when I was sad was one of my best friends. That friend is not in that group and if she was I would never felt excluded in the first place. I listed off for her the friends that I have that only ever make me feel safe, loved and accept me fully for who I am. I explained those friendships take a long time to get right but when you do you hold on for life.

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Listen and Nod

 The right words haven’t come together for me yet to be able to explain to my children why certain people are just mean, or that not every system is set up carefully, or that not everything is fair. I have been faced with the challenge of providing this explanation quite a few times now as a parent and I have not successfully come up with an authentic, honest answer that could provide them any insight. The closest answer I can come with is that people do strange things sometimes, it’s part of life, and we have to learn to deal with it.

That response doesn’t make hurt feel any less painful, or injustice seem any more fair. It’s hard to fathom learning for the first time how corrupt history was and how so many people were treated cruelly for so long. It is even harder to watch through your child’s eyes that hate still exists in today’s world. Time has healed a lot of wounds but there are so many deep cuts that continue to bleed. Our children try to absorb everything we teach them, and I try to lead by example, but it is impossible for them to not see on their own the flaws in what is supposed to be equality.

Globally you can’t shield them from the fact that war exists. You teach children about hunger and poverty. We teach about how wrong it is for people to be mistreated for being different but then have to point out often how that still happens. I spent my late teens and my twenties in a group whose mission was to expose racism and antisemitism to other kids around New York City. I recently saw parts of what I did all those years ago and was sad to see how much of the material is still so important to keep teaching today.

I know I am not alone in wanting to teach our children to have an innate sense of gratitude for what we do have, and we have a lot. We are not hungry or poor, we are healthy, and that is not only enough, but also a lot. There is a question looming for me though about how as people we are evolving going forward. With technology drastically changing the way we interact with each other, I can see it daily when most of my children’s friends have trouble making eye contact. When my friend told me that my daughter was the only child at her son’s birthday party who said “thank you” for having her, I didn’t think to myself that I did a good job parenting her. I thought instead, what is happening to people that manners are so rarely taught the same anymore. We all had to live through the pandemic, but our children in important developmental years of their lives were isolated from peers. That has its ramifications and it is hard to ignore how apparent they are now.

This week my tolerance for adult behavior towards children wore thin. A teacher was condescending to my daughter in a way that only a power-hungry adult can be. It was over something small and what could have been a teachable moment if done respectfully, but instead it was patronizing. The only lesson my daughter learned from it was how to steer clear of the way this teacher overreacts. She learned from classmates that this is not an uncommon behavior for this woman, and to nod and agree when she goes off on you. I was upset to see something blown out of proportion and taken out on my daughter, but it made me realize how many horrible teachers I had and survived as a kid. I’ve been reading “Lessons In Chemistry” lately, and if you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it, but I almost couldn’t get past the first few chapters because it takes place in the fifties and women were so mistreated that it was hard to read. I do appreciate where we have made progress. 

My friend also was tested this week by immature adult behavior when her son was left out of a group not because he had any conflict with any of the other kids, but because one of the kid’s fathers held a grudge about his own son’s bad luck. The dad took his misplaced anger out on a different kid. If this makes no sense to you, trust me when I say it is because it makes no sense. People do strange things when they are hurting, and sometimes the easiest thing for them to do is hurt back. It is proven time and time again that this method does not work, but yet it doesn’t cease to occur. It reminds me to remind my children, and myself that we can’t explain everyone else's behavior. All we can do is try to be kind to one another, and show as much grace as we can when things go awry, because they will. We have come so far, but we still have a long way to go, and a lot we can learn.