What if those tongues of flame

What if those tongues of flame
are actually petals

Caressing us down to our very essence
Burning hot black charred

Burning away the old the forced the mistaken
the who-you-thought-you-had-to-be

But gently coaxing the sleek new vulcanized you
to poke your head out and turn your face to the sun

Ready to face the world with steely will and dewy cheeks.



Magda Pecsenye, for the Mawrtyrs, FD 2014

5th grade mean girls

I just added a new search box over on the column on the right, and I really really hope this one actually allows people to search the site. I’m still trying to figure out how to get the comments that don’t show up to show up. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, an email from Anonymous:

“I think I need your advice and the advice of your excellent commenters about how to best cope with a social situation at my daughter’s school. I’m probably going to give way too much rambling detail, so please edit brutally as necessary. {Ed. note: I didn’t edit any of it down.]

My daughter is 10, and in 5th grade. She is profoundly gifted and accelerated and was sort-of diagnosed with PDD/NOS about a year and a half ago. I’m not so sure the label is accurate or particularly helpful, but she is not in synch with her classmates in some ways, and not always adept at interpreting social cues, or at giving the cues she wants to give.

She goes to a very small school, and there are only 5 fifth grade girls. There is another girl, G, in her class, who has spent this whole school year taking the girls in the class on fun outings and having sleepovers and birthday parties (well, she’s probably only had one birthday party), and not inviting my daughter. A couple of times a month, at least, my daughter comes home from school and tells me “G. took all the girls ice skating” or “they’re going to look at gingerbread houses. They’re probably still there right now”. At least once, they’ve even all been picked up from school together to go on a fun outing. I have heard about other playdates hosted by other girls from which my daughter was also excluded, but not with the regularity or ostentatiousness of G.

One of the weird parts is that last year I was taking college classes and G’s family babysat my daughter a bunch of times when I had class, and I thought we had the beginnings of a nice little relationship there. I don’t know what changed. I don’t know whether I’m paranoid to imagine that being a single mom or not having as much money as the other families at school could have something to do with it.

I don’t know the best way to handle this. I’ve spoken with her teacher, who insists that my daughter is not excluded during school, but that there’s not much anybody can do about what happens outside of school, and none too gently reminds me that my daughter is intense and not as sophisticated as other girls her age, subtext: deal with it, she’s going to be excluded.

I am starting to see school refusal, and tummy aches, and she is starting to procrastinate, daydream, and otherwise slack off on her schoolwork, which is a fairly new thing for her. I don’t know how much of this is directly related to the social difficulties, but certainly some, at least.

We have invited various of these girls out to tea and roller skating and things. Sometimes they come. It doesn’t seem to help. My thoughts have been to:

• Invite G to do a bunch of stuff, thereby creating a debt that her family will have to blatantly ignore if my daughter continues to be excluded.
• Send an email to G’s mom, and I alternate between wanting to be conciliatory, angry, begging, or some combination of all of them.
• Confront G’s parents in the parking lot at pickup time and demand to know why their little brat of a daughter is such a mean girl.
• Take my daughter out of school
• Burn the place down.

It’s no surprise that my kid is socially awkward; I am too, and I am terrified of confrontation and I am confused about social expectations. But I do know that this situation is hurting my daughter.

What would you do?”

This is vicious and mean and completely uncalled for. G’s parents should be ashamed of themselves.

What would I do? I’d have a meeting with the principal in which I made it very clear that by not helping your daughter they are actively encouraging the exclusion, and that it could turn to outright bullying easily. The subtext from the teacher that your daughter deserves to be excluded because she’s different is unconscionable and (I believe) unethical.

I asked a friend of mine about this. Her daughter was in almost exactly the same situation at a small school, and the school did not respond, and then it turned into threatening and bullying, and the school told my friend they just had to take it (and actively defended the bully girls and their families). So my friend pulled her daughter from the school and put her in a bigger school, where her daughter has found friends and is happy.

One mean girl and her mean family and a teacher who is enacting her own cruel agenda doesn’t define who your child is. It doesn’t define who you are. Not everyone will want to be friends with you, HOWEVER no one ever should be cruel to a kid who is different from them. And there are plenty of people who will want to be friends with your kid.

A big digression about friendship:

I feel like the failure of my marriage along with getting older has given me a deep immersion in the process of making and being a friend, and I’ve learned some stuff that would have helped 10-year-old me a lot. I had never really thought about people who are on the spectrum, or that just statistically speaking I was interacting with a lot of adults who had PDD/NOS, until one of my friends told me that she is. She doesn’t pick up on some social cues, and she told me that and asked me to let her know when she was missing stuff. So now if I see that she’s not picking up on something I just let her know, and if she thinks she missing something she asks me, and it’s fine.

What’s important about this story is that: 1) we both want to be friends so we talk about how that works and how to make it work better for both of us, 2) she has a right to be who she is and to be treated well and to ask to be treated well, and 3) not everyone wants to be friends with me and not everyone wants to be friends with her, and that’s ok, but it also means that we’re being smart by being deliberate about being friends with each other since we know we both want to be friends.

I don’t take friendship lightly, meaning that I don’t take just being/having friends lightly, but I also don’t take it for granted so I’m willing to work at it. What I’m trying to teach my kids is that you need to be secure enough in yourself to know what is important to you in a friend, and then when you find people like that, really be friends with them. Sometimes it doesn’t work out (I had a friend date a few months ago with someone who won’t return emails now) but sometimes it really does (lunch yesterday with someone I didn’t even know a few years ago who is now one of the people I trust the most in life, because we both liked each other and we tend our friendship). But if you know what you want in a friend and are willing to invest in the people who are worth it to you and let the others fall away, you’ll have the friendships that sustain you.

I feel a strong imperative to model the process of making and tending friends to my kids. I want them to know that it doesn’t happen automatically and that you have a choice about how you treat people, and that there are consequences of how you treat them (both fantastic and bad). I want to give them the gift of being able to create their destinies by having wonderful friends in their lives.

Back from the digression:

None of what’s happening with G and the other girls and their parents is acceptable. Fight for your daughter. You’re ok and so is she, and both of you can have and be friends. Just not with shitty people. So hold the principal accountable for what’s happening, and do what you need to to get your daughter into a place with more kids and kids who aren’t as easily led so that she can find her people.

Has anyone been in a similar situation?

Edited to add: I’d like to thank by name my 4th grade teacher Steve Krebill and my 5th and 6th grade teacher Mike Mayo for tending us kids carefully and never letting any kind of mean girl culture develop in your classrooms. We knew we didn’t have to be friends with everyone, but we had to work together, and you just didn’t accept meanness. Thank you.

Taking care of yourself but watching for others

This year we’re focusing on the word NOURISH and on taking care of ourselves. I’ve been urging all of us to try to find some time to do things that are good for us and that make us feel more like ourselves. But I’ve been realizing that for some mothers/parents that might be a bit of a trap. Let me explain why.

There’s a cultural pressure to be a perfect mother, and part of that mythology is being self-sacrificing. Which is fine when it means sacrificing your want to meet your child’s need, waking up with a sick child, giving your kid the big piece of cake, etc. But when we start to take that to mean that we deliberately don’t do things we like or take any time for ourselves or maintain our friendships and physical health, etc. as a way of trying to prove what great moms we are, well, that’s messed up.

So my reminder to nourish yourself is also a reminder to stop buying into this weird competition in which people are trying to prove they’re good mothers by being mean to themselves. It’s really not ever you vs. your kids. You can all feel great. And your kids will be more likely to be centered and content and connected if you take care of yourself so you’re able to bring your best self into mothering them.

But. This assumes that you already have the set-up to be able to stop the madness and just switch some things up to focus on yourself. It assumes that you have the time and resources and energy and support to shift the focus of what you do. Asking your partner to spend four hours on the weekend with the kids while you go do something for yourself, and knowing that while your partner may be surprised at the request, they’ll do it and you won’t have to pay for it later. Rearranging your schedule so that you use nap time for something you want to do once or twice a week. Going to book club after work once a month instead of being the only one who knows how to put the kids to bed.

If you don’t have a setup that allows you any leeway to take care of yourself or make choices that nourish you, then my telling you to nourish yourself is cruel and vile. If I continue, it’s blaming you for your own unhappiness. Because if you are in a situation in which you cannot do things for yourself (or you technically could, but the price you’d have to pay would be too high), then my telling you to pull yourself up by your own mom bootstraps and just go get an eyebrow wax is making it even worse.

Note: I’m not talking about being in a temporary situation that sucks, like three snow days in one week or being in the middle of the 9-month sleep regression or family illness or moving house or anything else that means you have no leeway and just have to buckle down and suck it up for a few days/weeks/months.

I’m talking about being caught in the system (with the system being your family situation). Of having no childcare so you’re burned out from constant care of children, and are so burned out that you can’t even figure out how to get any relief. I’m talking about having a partner you can’t trust. Of working a job that pays you just enough to get by but not enough to give you any relief, and not knowing how many more days you’re going to have to wake up feeling like you’re already running late. Of being trapped.

If it’s not depression, it sure feels like depression. (All my fellow depressed people are nodding right now, because what I’m describing is the echo chamber aka “circular thinking” aka the Death Spiral aka circling down the drain.) And it’s really a trap.

If you’re in a trap, you can’t nourish yourself. You need help to get out of the trap.

You know I love action points, so here’s what I’ve got for this:

1. If you recognize yourself in the first category, of not nourishing yourself because that feels like being a good mother, cut it out. You’re a great mother, and you know it, even if you don’t do everything perfectly. Do it, even if you have to take a deep breath before asking your partner to learn the bedtime routine so you can go out with a friend. Just do it. Three months from now I bet everyone in your household is laughing more because you’re being yourself.

Also, we need your improved energy for the next step:

2. If you have extra (energy, motivation, resources, time), look around carefully at the other mothers you know. The ones that are drowning are not wearing signs that say “I’m drowning” so you’ll have to look at the edges to see the signs of white-knuckling. These moms are locked down, so they might seem aloof and they might be invested in making everything look ok and they might even seem defensive (because they have to be). Stay quiet and listen and pay attention, and don’t be hurt if your overtures are rebuffed the first time.

3. If you are drowning, either from depression or because you’re caught in a bad system or both, wave your hand. Even if you can’t keep your hand up until one of us comes to get you, keep waving it when you can, and someone will get there.


When those of us who have the resources to take care of ourselves do take care of ourselves, that gives us more ability to help find the ones who need our help. Then the helped become the helpers, and eventually we’re all free.