Ursula K Leguin has died. She was the first sci-fi writer I read who was a woman. I was 13. I had read some fantasy stuff before but nothing could have prepared me for the brilliance that was The Dispossessed. She blew my mind. She made me hunger for more. Not just more sci-fi,. but more sci-fi like that. Playing with stereotypes, challenging tropes, and questioning our cultural mores. I honestly could not believe such writing existed before I stumbled upon her. She blazed a trail that was so necessary yet so welcome. Until I “found” her, I didn’t even know you could write things like that (and be popular!) She gave me hope and something to look up to. But it wasn’t just her books, it was her essays, her introductions for other authors and her missives she sent out for her fans. She was a bright spirit, despite what her writing was like,. with a quick wit, a sharp perspective and a very warm personality. I always wished I could meet her just to let her know how important her work was to me. But I take solace knowing that she knew, even if she didn’t know it was me personally, that her work was needed and loved by so many. The best part was knowing how happy she was to be doing what she wanted; sending messages to society, shouting into a void that whispered back in lines of gratitude and love. I am glad I was able to be a part of that. I will miss her. Even though I never knew her, she knew me.
Imagine having your child lying in your lap sobbing because her own friends were hurting her feelings during her birthday party. That’s a special pain.
“what’s going on baby? Why are you so upset?”
[long involved tale of being excluded over and over] “…and then they told me I wasn’t their friend!”
[struggling to stay calm and sane] “oh honey… it’s your special day..”
“YES AND THEY ARE JUST MAKING ME FEEL NOT SPECIAL AT ALL”
*heart breaks and breaks and breaks*
There’s no pain quite like comforting your child when their feelings have been hurt, especially when they were hurt by people they love. It’s a unique kind of tenderness fused with white-hot rage tempered by the knowledge that your rage will ironically hurt your child even more were you to act upon it. I have spent many a night holding a sobbing son while he wondered why his dad did not show up, so this is not a new situation for me. I already know that to be comforting as a mom, all I have to do is hold my child, stroke their hair and murmur soothing words.
In order to help them heal, however, I need concrete answers to their questions and solutions to their pain… which I cannot realistically give.
This is the problem of peer exclusion.
Believe it or not, peer exclusion is part and parcel of bullying. As defined by psychologists and developmental specialists, peer exclusion (past the age of 5) is both a part of bullying and a form of bullying on its own. Some studies suggest peer exclusion and ridicule (without accompanying physical abuse) is more common among female peer groups. In any case, it is an aspect of bullying that has very little attention. Much like verbal an psychological abuse, however, peer exclusion merits attention right alongside “regular” bullying. The effects of this type of bullying are just as damaging and can have longer-lasting effects.
But how do we tackle this? How do we, as parents, approach something that straddles the line between self-formed identity and subtle cruelty?
The question is how do I give my child the respect as an individual to make her own social choices while instilling in her the values of being open-minded, tolerant and gentle with other people’s feelings? How do I teach her “include others” while teaching her “don’t be an emotional doormat”? While I want her to be loving and accepting of everyone, I don’t want her thinking that she is wrong to have preferences. I want her to see the shining light of humanity within each person while understanding that not everyone is a good person. I want her to learn love and tolerance and forgiveness, but I don’t want her thinking its her obligation to tolerate all behavior or forgive all trespassers. Just how do we define “accepting” anyway? Where do we draw the line at “other people making choices” and “other people being mean”?
In the most recent example of my child being excluded, I sat with her for a while, soothing her sobs until we could talk. She sat up and I said “maybe you need to find someone else to play with. If people aren’t letting you have your special day, then let them go”
I could tell this idea pained her: she wanted to enjoy everyone at her party, even if they refused to enjoy her. These were her friends- kids she’d grown up knowing. Some of them she’d known in the crib. These were people she had dubbed her favorites; its why they’d been invited to the party to begin with. But what I couldn’t make her see was that sometimes friendships form between your friends that you are not a part of and that soemtimes means you get left out. True, good friends will be happy to let you back in, find ways to include you, but sometimes kids just don’t want to do that… or they don’t care.
She went off to play with someone else… a relatively new friend and we continued with the party.
…until the next episode happened. It just so happened I was there for it and I was able to intervene in a way that made the whole situation very clear. I told the repeat offenders that they were guests in our house and they were there because Lil Miss wanted to spend time with them and that if they were not going to include her in playing with her toys that she got for her birthday, I’d be happy to call their parents and have them taken home. The kids in question looked at me completely stunned. One of them tried to explain why they needed to exclude her and I interrupted with no uncertainty. “I don’t care what your issue is with her, you are NOT going to take her toys, push her out of her room and not let her play. Make your choice” Suddenly all kids involved decided that perhaps playing with her was not such a bad thing after all. Ten minutes later they were all having a great time. Mind you, these are kids who, when playing with Lil Miss all alone have absolutely no problem playing with her and often ask for her company. This is how I know this isn’t just making social choices. This is about deliberate exclusion.
Sadly, this is not the first time this has happened to Lil Miss. And though similar situations have arisen at school, her teacher has assured me that she has intervened whenever possible – because its already well known that Lil Miss is easily upset by being excluded. Which makes her a prime target for bullying by peer exclusion. So this isn’t just something I talk about because I think “those uncouth kids…” this is a real problem that could dog her throughout childhood and beyond. This is an issue of self-esteem and fear of rejection. But its not something I will sit by and blame my daughter for. Yes, she needs to learn how to stand up for herself in a reasonable manner that shows she will not be manipulated. But its the other kids who are either unwittingly or cruelly choosing to exploit the biggest emotional pitfall she has right now and I won’t stand by and make her think its all on her to fix that problem. I’m not going to turn my head and make her believe that she’s overreacting to a make-believe problem. I’m not going to gas-light my own child just because other kids are being mean but not using actual violence. I’m going to speak up for her whenever I can and teach her to speak up too. Hopefully through our unified efforts, she will be ready by high school to shrug off the deliberate efforts to provoke and hurt her. Because I can see that coming a mile away. Conversely, its always possible that she may decide to go on the offensive and do the same to others to prevent it happening to her. I hope our talking and modeling together she will not go that route either. I hope I can raise her to understand the difference between being careless with someone’s feelings and being cruel.
I hope I raise her to understand how important it is to speak up, whether its for herself or for someone else.
I put my hands on my daughter’s face, brushed hair out of her eyes and asked her to look at me. I said “you will not know, for a long time, how much I really love you. One day, when you are grown up, maybe you’ll have a daughter and you’ll look at her and you’ll wonder ‘is this how my mother felt about me?’ and the answer to that question is ‘yes. that is exactly how I felt about you.’
Right now you know that I love you but you won’t really know how much I do until you’re older. So never forget that”
She looked at me the whole time I was speaking, letting my words sink into her skin, her eyes, her mouth, and she said “but will my daughter know?” and her face crumbled with fear and sadness and I knew what she was thinking. She leaned forward into my smile and I pulled her close and stroked her hair as I said quietly into her ear “maybe I won’t meet your daughter, I hope I do someday, I know I really want to, but if I don’t, you can tell her the same thing and *you’ll* know that I would have loved her as much as you do”
i want to keep in touch with my friends. I want to hear what they have to say. I want to know what’s going on in their lives and how they feel and if anything is going on that they want me to be a part of.
That’s why Facebook is so important for me.
BUT…. its turned into a place of very little appeal now…. its
None of which would be a big problem (gawd knows I am those things too) except those qualities have become the only times it is not superficial. All the news is sad and scary and angry-making. Or else its cute kitties and puppies. Once in a great while its inspiration-porn which is uncomfortable.
Mostly its just a daily outrage machine. Which isn’t to say the subjects brought up aren’t important but I can’t get behind the exhausting barrage of competing culture-wide problems.
I’m more interested in knowing how everyone’s doing but most of what I get is everyone hiding behind the liberal cause de jeur.
One of the reasons I still love Livejournal more than facebook is because when we were ALL on Livejournal we had more categories and thus we could be friends with more than one type of person. I was in political groups, social groups, parent groups etc
Not to say we didn’t get into arguments, dear gawd of course we did, but they happened mostly on the group pages. Most of us reserve our personal page for personal things. The political posts were not as frequent or common. Because when we posted to our page, we took our time, thought it out and assumed we were addressing all our close friends.
Facebook has gone beyond being a big cocktail party and turned into an sort of online state fair – everyone has a booth where they simultaniously sell their wares AND hawk their views AND hob-nob with friends and family. If you’re close you get to visit behind the booth and everyone plays musical booths all day long in some sort of complicated square dance that involves more steps and rules than I can keep up with.
I’m so tired. I just want to talk about how we’re all DOING. I don’t want to stand on a soapbox and scream any more (well, okay maybe every now and then?) I just want to explore each other and feel close again, not what was the latest violation of decency in the news today. I pretty much know all my friends and family’s political and social views.
Maybe that’s part of the problem – there’s nothing left to LEARN anymore.
I’m trying to change how I view my life and how I approach it. I think, because of the divorce, I have spent the last year in a weird haze of just being swept along with whatever is happening and not really putting forth any effort of any kind. I’m done with that. Anyone who knows me well knows I cannot stay ineffective for long. I hate being inactive, non-productive… I have to do something to feel like I”m working towards my own happiness.
Whenever a change in life is necessary, a change in attitude is primary. I absolutely must alter the way I relate to my own problems. I spent most of my marriage bending over, bowing down and generally trying to paint all problems as transitory. Eventually my own attitude could not stand by any longer and continue the charade of nonchalance. I DO care about my life. I DO care about my happiness. I DO care about how things work out for myself. I’m not a martyr whatsoever. I never will be. I thought I could sacrifice my happiness in order to stay in that relationship but not only was that wrong but it wouldn’t have worked anyway. You can’t give up yourself and maintain a duality at the same time. Sacrifice of the self only begets a monarchy.
So here I am, trying to figure out how to take the helm again and plow forward. I feel like I took a break from my own life and I guess that’s what I did… no more. I once had a goal, an inspiration and many dreams. The expression of those concepts may have changed, but the drive toward realization remains.
I remember having the talk with my parents.
When I was pregnant for the first time I actually thought about how I would deal with the talk with my kids.
I dread the day I have to have the talk with Lil Miss.
I realized there’s just no good way to say it.
Our “people” got where they are today by slaughtering millions of people who had every right to hate us and want to kill us. Because originally there was enough room for all of us but we weren’t content with that. We felt threatened by their very existence. There were decent folk who were willing to live in harmony (on both sides) but overall, war was what prevailed. And we “won”. Because we had “superior firepower”. We also had other countries backing us. So of course we “won”
Why the right to claim this land as OURS. The right to make the rules. The right to go back and whitewash history to make us look like “the good guys”
“Are there any of those people left?” is the inevitable question.
“yes, actually there are. A very very few. We pushed them into tiny patches of land that we didn’t want”
And I will have to explain how we acted as if this was very magnanimous on our part. How we have a history of pushing Stockholm syndrome on the people who were here first. I can spend all day talking about the various nuances of the history. I can talk about how some of the “other side” were in fact scary horrible people who never had any intention of letting us live in peace. I can talk about how some of “our side” were good decent folk who really wanted the rest of our people to stop warring the original inhabitants. Even so, I will have to talk about greed and how discovery of the land’s riches made most people willing to step all over anyone in order to be the first in line to lay claim to more of the sanctified earth. How even our moral views were warped enough to pretend that we had some intrinsic right to be here and take over this land. How our pretense at compromise was torn down again and again as we decided again and again that the tiny patches of land we gave them were actually worth something to us after all. Our pretense that we were ever interested in letting the other side continue as a people
I will have to explain how our people also had others backing us, how we would never run out of firepower. I can explain how we used propaganda to paint the other side as evil and savage and bloodthirsty. I can talk about how our people came to truly believe the other side weren’t even human beings, just disgusting animals worthy of death. I will definitely talk about how we incorporated this disdain and disgust into our culture so that generations to come would also distrust, despise and demean the other side – so that our children and their children’s children would never successfully make peace.
This talk will happen. Its part of where we come from. Its not the only history we have. It doesn’t negate the good things we have done any more than the good things negate this part. I hope that when we have this talk, my daughter will be suitably horrified and sad that our cultural lives rose from the bloody pyre of vanquished people whose only crime were to be here before us, live differently than us, and want different things from life than we did.
Then the inevitable end question will come.
“We don’t still do this, do we?”