Being a kid isn't always fun.
“Sometimes I feel like my heart is shattered into a thousand pieces,
and I don’t know how to put it back together.”
One day in our eight-year-old's kindergarten year, she was crying as we drove down the road. I had just picked her up from school. Her day had been decent – not unlike other days really. Color. Go over spelling words. Do worksheets. Lunch. Recess. Learn some math. Talk about science, social studies, the weather and whatever else kindergarteners talk about.
After school, things changed as she found herself with no one who wanted to play with her. She had asked a few groups of kids, “Do you want to play with me?” They replied, “NO! Go away!” or they simply rolled their eyes and turned their backs to her.
When I picked her up that afternoon, it was immediately obvious something was wrong. She was sitting at a table by herself, and her eyes told a story of a brokenhearted little girl who was on the verge of losing a fierce battle to hold back her tears. In the swirling midst of children’s laughter and playing, she sat wrapped in angst, and I stood there looking at her, time seemed to stand quietly still in the area near her. If she had spontaneously disappeared at that moment, it’s doubtful that the other kids would’ve noticed or even remembered she had been there in the first place.
Once we were in the car, she told me what happened. I tried to reassure her.
“Maybe they just didn’t want to stop what they were doing to come play with you. Next time, maybe you could ask to join their group. Instead of asking if they want to play with you, ask if you can play with them. That way, they don’t feel like they have to stop what they’re doing to do what you want to do.”
She let out an exasperated, quit-trying-to-console-me sigh.
“Mama, that’s not it. They just don’t like me. They don’t want to play with me. Nobody ever does.”
At that point, she lost her fight to hold back the tears and turned her face to the window so I couldn’t see her cry. I encouraged her to look at me and to let me help her, and that’s when she turned and said words I will carry in the front of my mind until the day I leave this Earth: “Sometimes I feel like my heart is shattered into a thousand pieces, and I don’t know how to put it back together.”
She was six.
She shouldn’t have even know it was possible to feel that kind of pain. She shouldn’t have had to learn that lesson at such a young age.
But what could I do? Very little.
As much as I would like to, I can’t hide our children from the world in the hopes that their hearts will never be broken. They're going to encounter disappointment, resentment and heartbreak. They're going to meet rude people who have no respect for their feelings. They're going to be faced with challenges I can’t even imagine, and I won't be able to save them from it. It’s Life. It’s hard sometimes.
She was crying so hard I stopped at a gas station and pulled her into my lap. For several minutes, I held her like she was a baby again and talked to her. I sympathized with her – she needed to know I thought how she felt was important. I empathized with her – she needed to know I shared similar heartbreak in my life at a young age so that she didn’t feel alone. I joked with her – she needed to laugh and set aside her tears, even if only for a few seconds.
Throughout that evening I watched for signs that she was sad, but once her sisters were around and she was home, she perked up and seemed to set it aside without any further difficulty.
The next day when I picked her up, she was inside coloring while the other kids were outside. I sat down with the program manager and told her what had happened. She had been aware something was going on and had already talked privately to my daughter about it as soon as she arrived that afternoon. My fairly independent little six-year-old seemed to be happy enough inside by herself, so I didn’t press her on it. We had made it through another day, and she wasn’t in tears. This day was definitely an upgrade over the previous.
On the second day after it happened, I arrived to find the program manager working on homework with my daughter and two older girls. They were each doing their own thing, but at least she wasn’t alone. As I sat down while she finished her homework, a girl who looked to be about eight years old walked up behind my daughter and tapped her on the shoulder.
“I’m sorry I told you, ‘no’ and to ‘go away’ the other day,” she said. She glanced ever-so-slightly at the program manager and then back at my daughter. Obviously, the lady had told her to apologize, but, nonetheless, it seemed mostly sincere.
Sincere or not, it made my girl's day. She said, “It’s okay,” and turned back to her homework with a grin sneaking across her face. I’m pretty sure if you looked closely enough, you could’ve seen my child’s heart beating out of her chest with excitement.
She had been acknowledged. She had received an apology. She was back in the good graces of the elementary school petty-girl brigade and had escaped their rudeness for one day. I guess that’s all I could expect. Three years later, I can only hope that my now eight-year-old remembers how it felt to be treated rudely by older kids and that she doesn't deliver a similar gut punch to someone else.
Sadly, the angst and nastiness traditionally known for being a teen girl problem have moved down to junior high and elementary school. I’m not sure why that surprised me three years ago or why it continues to surprise me today. How can we expect children to treat each other with respect? They model the behavior they see around them. If you speak rudely to your children, they will speak rudely to others. If you treat your friends, spouse and coworkers as if they are disposable, your children will not invest in their friendships and relationships. Why should they? Disposable means replaceable, so they move on to something and someone else. They're being raised to believe that everyone is perfectly themselves no matter how they act and how poor their personal choices are, that they’re all winners no matter what and that the world owes them respect.
No one owes my children anything. They will earn their way through Life, even if it means they have to play alone sometimes and be their own best friend.
We want them to know they’re important and loved. Of course.
But they need to know that respect and friendship and love aren’t things to be taken for granted. They are earned and, once received, they are cherished. We would rather our daughters play alone than to be like the other kids just to fit in.
After the incident, she seemed fine. She moved on to other things, both good and bad. She’s a kid. They grieve and move on. Even as much of an overly analytical old soul as she is, she didn't seem to dwell on it. Kids are that way - you slight them, they get mad and they move on. I love that about being young and in the midst of still learning about your world. It makes me feel like what I really want to be when I grow up is a kid.
But, on the other hand, that nasty petty-girl brigade would be there, so maybe being a kid isn’t that great.
I’m starting to think this growing up thing is going to be just as hard on Mama’s heart as it is on our daughters’.