Before we left Stepford, Eight had always been a popular and confident girl with many friends and a sense of belonging to her community. The year in San Francisco was a challenge for her – we moved her school three times until she finally settled in November, and then, although she mostly felt comfortable there, she definitely felt more wary around the other girls – for good reason, a few of them were quite terrifying – and seemed to have lost her propensity for inserting herself into any group that happened to be having a good time.
She was so excited about returning to Stepford and her old gang, looking forward to seeing her old friends, being at home in her school, and generally fitting in better. However the re-entry has not been quite a smooth as she had hoped. A whole year had passed since she had seen them all, and in that time new friendships and alliances had formed in her absence. It’s easy to see that she feels unsure of her place in 3rd grade. To add to this insecurity she has been rather aggressively pursued and befriended by an extremely overbearing girl who was not there when Eight left, and I can see that this association is not helping the situation on a number of levels. Now I know one is not supposed to take against children for characteristics and behaviour that is not exactly their fault, and one should be understanding of different backgrounds and abilities, but this particular child rings so many alarm bells for me that I find myself fighting the urge to tell Eight not to be friends with her and having to grit my teeth and smile insincerely when I am forced to address the kid because she is so incredibly annoying.
Interestingly, one of the children I know from Eight’s former 1st grade class, when observing annoying kid harangue Eight for attention and bully her into playing a game, mentioned to me:
“Yeah, she did that to me last year”
I asked what she meant and she said that the girl had selected her to be her friend, pursued her relentlessly and then sort of taken her over in a mad possessive way, alienating her other friends and making her feel guilty for wanting to get away.
My heart sank at this, and did so even further while I was volunteering in the class and annoying kid distinguished herself by being the only one not even to attempt to do her work, but instead spend the hour trying to disrupt the class and talk to other children who were doing geography. She didn’t know which state she lived in (what?) and when pressed, said that she thought Washington DC was another country, right after I had just told her it was the capital of the USA. Sigh. Oh. And she’s a mouth breather who wears t-shirts with*ahem* unsuitable slogans for a prepubescent person.
Alright. I’ll try to calm down and be rational.
I can clearly see that she has glommed on to Eight because she’s the ‘new’ girl, and is the only one who is not yet sick or wary of her. Eight is reasonably tolerant and willing to see the fun side of annoying kid, but what she doesn’t see is that her own social standing is being devalued by association and the longer she spends with annoyingkid and the less she is able to make forays of her own back into the world of the other girls, the harder it’s going to be.
Eight is nervous of the groups of 4 or 5 girls that gather in the mornings and at recess. If they don’t openly say ‘hi’ to her, she doesn’t go over and say ‘hi’ to them and insinuate herself which used to be one of her chief skills (it always worked). I can see her trying to work up the courage and just as she does, annoyingkid comes over and scares them off. It’s very hard to watch and even more worrying, Eight tries to conceal it from me as if it were a personal failing.
I don’t exactly know what, if anything, I can do for her, but I have gotten very busy trying to arrange playdates with girls she used to be friends with in the hope that this will re-open channels. I ache for her, and I am somewhat at a loss – I was always a loner (still am, really) but it’s not something I see her naturally being, nor is it a way of being I would necessarily recommend.
I know that this is the age when friendships become very real, and girls break each other’s hearts on a regular basis with casual indifference. I just can’t bear the thought of my own sweet, funny, interesting girl being wounded by another, although doubtless she could do it herself.
Once I turned 17 I breathed a sigh of relief that I’d never have to go to school again and I’d never have to endure playground politics and the agony it caused me. But I didn’t know that when I had my own children I’d have to go through it all over again. This time, of course, I have the knowledge and maturity to understand the dynamics of what’s happening, but that doesn’t exactly help because I still don’t have the power to stop the pain.
When she bleeds, so do I.