The “I don’t mean to be mean” girls

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There is a point in life when you realize that you never do, in fact, outgrow high school. Worse, you never really get over junior high.

We sent the baby off to “middle school” this year. In my day, middle school (AKA junior high) didn’t start until seventh grade. Today it starts in fifth grade. I argued mightily against it but, as it turns out, the district had no real interest in revamping the entire educational infrastructure to suit me. Go figure.

Still, despite some misgivings in bestowing upon mere babies the idea that they are “all that and grown to boot,” I wasn’t all that concerned about middle school.

Confident

Our daughter is a complete and utter clone of her father. Had I not birthed her myself I would begin to doubt that she is of my DNA at all. She is self-confident, self-assured and extremely thick-skinned.

I am none of those things. I am insecure, unsure and my psyche may, in fact, be made entirely of tissue paper, fragile and weak. My daughter lets slights (real or imagined) roll right off her back. I, on the other hand, internalize every slight (real or imagined) and wonder what I can do to a.) make you love me or b.) make you pay.

As a side note one of the many reasons Mr. Wonderful earned his nickname is because he lives with this kind of craziness every single day.

No sweat

Still, I didn’t sweat the social side of middle school much. Our daughter is blessed to be surrounded by a bevy of lovely little girls — just as bright and shiny as new pennies.

She has known most of them since preschool and they make our days brighter and our overnights gigglier with their ongoing presence and friendship in my daughter’s life.

Now, however, I see a new day dawning. I sense a shift in the fabric of our lives.

On the first day of school our usually sunny daughter came home, sobbing. It seems that on day one of school she was felled not by the teachers, homework or a tricky locker combination. She was torn apart by lunch.

Choice

Middle school is the first time that students are allowed to choose who they sit with at lunch, rather than being assigned seats. This sounds fabulous to people who have never actually attended middle school.

In reality this much choice in the hands of a child is actually a tool of the devil. Apparently, what some kids choose is to be nasty.

At lunchtime our girl sat with a sweet but shy classmate and eagerly awaited her long-time friends to join her in doing the same. Instead, she was shocked, dismayed and eventually moved to tears when it became apparent that some of her friends had already gotten the memo that to sit at the “wrong” table was akin to social suicide.

Snub

This became clear when a dear friend turned up her nose and sailed past in a definite snub. To my daughter’s credit she stayed seated with her “outcast” classmate rather than following her friend, but the shock of having a treasured ally snub her stung deep.

Discussing it later, she reported that her friend, attempting to explain later (and lure our girl to the “better table”) began her explanation (and justification) of her behavior with the tried and true knife to the heart phrase so well known to anyone who herself survived middle school: “Well, I don’t mean to be mean but …”

This, of course, inevitably prefaces something cuttingly cruel. In this case it was the chilling admonition: “I don’t mean to be mean but you just can’t sit with her. Nobody will ever think you’re popular if you do.”

When mean girls become “I don’t mean to be mean but” girls, you know you have officially reached the awkward years.

Change

Sadly, I don’t know what to tell my daughter when it comes to the “I don’t mean to be mean” girls other than you can’t let them change who you are.

Eventually they do grow up and out of the insecurity masked as arrogance that allows such casual cruelty. Still, like an ache that eats at you from the inside out, it’s so hard to survive at the time.

All I can tell our sunny and self-assured child is that anyone who tries too hard to wear the “right” fashions, make the “right” friends and sit at the “right” table is probably going to end up in the “wrong” soon enough.

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Warm, witty and just a wee bit warped, Kymberly Foster Seabolt is a native of Kent, Ohio, who survived childhood exposure to disco and grew up to marry and move to the country. Her column weaves her special brand of humor with poignant, entertaining, and honest portrayals of parenting, marriage, and real life. She currently lives in northeastern Ohio with her husband, two children, two dogs, two cats, and numerous dust bunnies who wish to remain nameless.

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