Scarlet Letters

Back in high school, I never really associated myself with one particular clique. I successfully maneuvered through a few and chose to steer clear of the girls with mean streaks. On more than one occasion, I risked my own life social standing and stood up for girl who was being bullied or turned into a social pariah. Maybe it’s the Libra in me, but I just can’t stop myself from fighting for fairness.

For some silly reason, as a teenager I thought we’d all eventually outgrow those bouts of bitchiness. Maybe it was just blind hope that led me to think people automatically turned nice when they were done growing up. Somewhere along the line, I was misled. I’m disappointed to report that there are vast amounts of adult women who have failed.

That’s right. In fact, if I could legally walk around with a giant rubber stamp and a red ink pad slapping a big red “F” on foreheads of all perpetrators, I would. I’d mark them all with their very own scarlet letter to alert the world that they have failed to evolve. Unfortunately, assault with a rubber stamp is against the law and most people can spot these stunted gals from a mile away anyway.

So, I even though I was way off the mark back when I believed girls grew into women capable of being kind/forgiving/tolerant/aware/supportive of one another, I can only assume that, like me, the world is filled with people who thought adulthood changed things. You know, the idiots who believed in some sort of mass evolution or future utopian existence…  Well, fellow dreamers, while there are oodles of nice ladies out there, apparently there is also a large contingent of female humans crippled by their inability to do the following:

1.  Make eye-contact and say hello to the women they see every day.

It’s not hard. Just move your eyeballs toward the person in front of you, tell your brain to form the word “hello” and then make your mouth move. If “hello” doesn’t work for you, here are several variations of salutations that might fit the bill:  good morning, good afternoon, howdy, what’s up? hi, how are you? or perhaps a simple and non-committal, hey. Because that’s better than nothing.

2.  Avoid gossip.

Especially when the persons with whom you are gossiping are too daft to keep the source of the gossip (you) close to the vest. It’s simple really…save the gossip for your husband or the family dog. They don’t really care about what’s happening at the PTA meeting/playground/gym, so your petty gossip won’t come back to bite you in the ass later.

Maybe now is also a good time to propose that women should refrain from forming pitchfork carrying mobs intent on annihilating the women who don’t fit their agenda or who, for some reason pose a threat.

Might I suggest that if you’re feeling the need to incite the masses, there are well-trained men and women who can be hired to psycho-analyze this disturbing behavior right out of your brain. I know, crazy…right? And it’s conveniently covered by most medical insurance, too.

Sadly, the reasons for Queen Bees and their Wannabees don’t seem much different now than they were when I was 15 years old. There are still groups of grown women prepared to attack if they don’t like the way another person talks, dresses, walks, thinks…

It’s depressing to think I’ll have to tell my daughters that the cliques never really go away. There’s always someone vying to be the leader but so few actually carry it off with grace and aplomb.

Playgrounds and play groups and beach outings and car pools…they’re still there. The perfectly coiffed women who married well, the harried working moms trying to stay on schedule, the moms trying to be perfect so their kids will perfect and popular, the former career-girls who now stay at home and apply their expertise to their family, attacking school-related functions with a vengeance.

I’ve tried my best to avoid all of the above, but as mommies, we all inadvertently stumble into a viper pit at some point.

Last summer, as I prepared for my grad school residency, the phone rang. (Here’s the part where I come clean) For a while there, I let unknown local numbers go straight to the answering machine, mostly because I never knew if it was school-related phone call or a mom from one of our schools trying to sell face cream. Anywho…on that day last summer, it was school-related.

The voice of a woman who I’d never met filled my kitchen and informed me that we were five dollars short on our tuition for the year. Okay.

And it was okay, until the tone of her message took a very snooty turn, reiterating twice that our payment should be X amount, as if we were idiots or some sort of pathetic losers whose five dollar shortage was causing the wanton destruction of a perfectly fine establishment.

My active imagination conjured an image of the woman on the other end of the phone. She became a sneering uppity WASP dressed in cashmere twin-set with a fluffy Pomeranian in her lap. I still haven’t met her, but the image sticks and her call seems to have set the tone for the year.

Now, months later, I look back at the years I worked in New York law firms and find myself missing the up-front and honest approach of my male co-workers. As much as I dislike gender stereotypes, I enjoyed working with men who said what they had to say and moved on. No grudges. No backstabbing. No fake smiles. No insecurity-induced sniping.

Boy, do I miss those guys.

Quota Filled!

One of the joys of motherhood is that sometimes you find yourself in situations that smack of the social hierarchy of teenage girls and the social pecking order that you assumed you’d left back in high school. One of the things that my grown-ups never shared with me was that, even as grown-ups, some people never stop campaigning for the title of Prom Queen. There will always be a gossip monger, a shy girl, a natural leader and her faithful hangers-on. Every group has a class clown and the handful of cynical girls who feel that the rest of us are simply a herd of vanilla sheep.

Baaaa.

There is a seemingly endless stream of adults who have carried those social quirks well into their (almost) middle years. Thankfully, most have outgrown their Goth wardrobes and realized that the black hair dye just makes them look sallow and old.

Last week, I attended a parent meeting for my daughter’s cooperative preschool and, since we’re the new kids, this was my first meeting. Upon arrival, as is my normal modus operandi, I located my clique because yes, we still kind of do that. I sat on the fringes, introduced myself to the stranger at the adjacent table with a smile then proceeded to become a fly on the wall. At least, I tried to be the fly on the wall.

Throughout the history of me, I’ve alternated between fly on the wall and girl who unwittingly finds herself running with the ‘social set’ despite what I think is my weird personality. I tend to alternate between funny girl and tortured soul. In high school I was surprised one morning by the class advisor informing me that I’d been nominated for Prom Queen. I was shocked, kind of grossed out and embarrassed but also thrilled that someone liked me. I was slightly upset that I was lumped in with some of the other nominees, a few of whom were of the not-so-nice variety of girls. Oh God, I thought, do people think that I’m one of them?

I’ve digressed, haven’t I?  Back to the preschool parent meeting…

Fly on the wall posture assumed, I sat back and observed. I think that, like most writers tend to be, I’m a people watcher. I’m not just a people watcher, but a people absorber. I sat and politely listened to the issues at hand at the school. Eventually the reminder that we are a cooperative preschool came up and someone on the executive committee attempted to tactfully suggest that, as parents, we should actually try to cooperate with the various committees. She nicely explained that responding to e-mail is a lovely gesture, as is attendance at carefully planned school functions. The word “cohesive” was thrown out into the room and that was when I noticed that a woman sitting near me began to squirm. Closer inspection revealed that the word “cohesive” was hanging over her head and poking her.

It was annoying her.

Moments later that woman, let’s call her Ann T. Social, spoke up and said, “On the subject of cohesion, I’m not here to make friends. I’m here for my child.” She said more on the subject but I was too busy thinking, Oh-Kaaay, she’s a kind of a bitch to listen.

Just days before our (cooperative) preschool meeting, I invited all of the moms in my daughter’s class over for a night out that involved cocktails.  One of those moms was Ann T. Social. Well, Ann didn’t even have the courtesy to acknowledge the invite, let alone show up. So as she made her bitchy announcement to all of the parents of the preschool all I could think was, what a fucking asshole.

Evidently mommies like Ann T. Social have already filled their lifetime friend quota. In the future, perhaps we should all be required to wear a highly visible Friendship Gauge. Just think about the convenience that the gauge would offer. As we’re introducing ourselves to new parents each year we can all just cut to the chase and skip niceties with the ones proudly displaying their already over-flowing Friendship Gauge.

No hard feelings, honey…I’ve filled my quota. See? It says so right here on my gauge.

Following Ann T. Social’s obnoxiously public snub of every person in the room, a few of us made eye contact, subtly validating that we each thought her remark seemed (über-bitchy) crazy. On my ride home I started thinking about the different personalities I’ve encountered in my fledgling career as the mother of school-aged children. I mentally checked off the list of women that I’ve encountered along the way. Yup, I’m pretty sure that high school never ends and I can’t wait to blog about it. Don’t worry; I’m fairly sure that Ann T. Social doesn’t read Narragansett No. 7.

Mean Girls

A couple of weeks ago, Gwen and I were standing at the cash register at Baby Gap minding our own beeswax when a mini-Mean Girl made her grand entrance. Build a Bear box in hand, this four year queen bee wannabe zeroed in on Gwen and headed straight into Gwen’s personal space. I stood back and watched as she belly bumped Gwen and then held up her Build a Bear box in some sort of weird pre-school challenge. Her face was a mask of nastiness as she moved her gaze to me and brazenly stared me down with her very adult expression. In fact, I imagine that if she was a full grown woman she would have been saying, “Yeah, that’s right bitchez! I got a Build a Bear…wanna go?” I swear. I’m totally not exaggerating.

I was slightly shocked and looked up at the mother who proudly stood back watching her precious little ball of love. Immediately I had Mommy’s number. She was a Mean Girl grooming her spawn to follow in her evil footsteps. I knew her well.

I spent a portion of 10th grade dodging a psychopath Junior who told me she was going to kill me on a daily basis. To me she was an Amazon, but then again I was 5’2” and weighed all of 95 pounds. This girl, who was definitely not right in the head, was sicked on me by two Mean Girl twin sisters in my own grade for some (still) unknown reason. Finally, at a basketball game I was summoned out to the hallway where the crazy Amazon and The Nasty Sisters were waiting to “kick my ass”. I remember thinking that they were all a bunch of idiots and go right ahead…we’ll see what happens to you for your random act of violence…until I was saved by a bigger and older friend. Those were the days, huh? Before “Bullying” became a buzz word.

That same year, on the cheerleading bus two more junior girls suddenly felt the need to grace me and my friend with their presence. As they sat in the seat across from mine, they turned to me and said, “You know, we used to want to kill you, but you’ll suffice.” I think I was supposed to be thrilled that the most popular girl in the 11th grade and a member of her posse were kind of deeming me socially acceptable. This might have been my invitation to become their lapdog. Perhaps they were ready to put me through their snotty hazing ritual meant to weed out those girls who they deemed “sufficiently acceptable”. The reality of the situation was that I didn’t give a shit and my response to their statement pretty much let them know that. Needless to say, I was back on the Kill List within minutes. When it came to this particular group of girls, I kind of liked being on their Kill List and didn’t feel like I sold out to be one of their herd. I’m proud of 15 year old me and my big mouth.

But that brings me back to the mini-Mean Girl encounter in Baby Gap. I try to stand back and let nature take its course in situations like this. Typically, Joe walks away when confronted. I don’t get that at all. Gwen stands up to the challenge. I get her.

As mini-Mean Girl continued her weird ritual dance of harassment via Build a Bear box and space invasion, I sat back and let Gwen do her stuff. I mean, if the mother is observing and not stopping her little animal’s bad behavior then I’m free to unleash the wrath of Gwen, right? Fair is fair. I’ll give Gwen some credit. Initially she stood back and simply looked at the girl as if she was a filthy animal, but three space invasions into the encounter Gwen let it rip. I saw it coming; my own little Norma Rae made it quite clear that backing off would be a really good idea right about NOW. As I leaned on the counter watching with satisfaction, the Mean Mom’s head whipped around, shocked that someone would dare respond to her daughter’s challenge. As soon as Gwen loudly uttered, “Stop touching me. I don’t like your face!” Mean Mom angrily met my gaze. My eyebrow rose in challenge and I welcomed her comment. She moved on with her little angel. Having observed the whole interaction, the lady behind the counter looked at me and whispered…”Well, weren’t they special?”

So here’s a little pearl of wisdom that I will share with my girls when the time is right: Mean Girls never go away. They will cross paths with you throughout your entire life. They’re a sad, nasty bunch. I was reminded of this last year when I encountered the most vicious of Mean Girls…the 50-something Mean Girl and her harpy real estate broker who I was forced to endure during the sale of our house. The ones who felt the need let us know that they were the Big Fish (in a very small pond). The same ladies who neglected to remove a childish Mean Girl rant about my family and home before they forwarded the e-mail on to our broker. Yup, they were a special treat.

For some reason, I’m not worried about Gwen…I’m even less concerned about Kate. Somehow, I don’t feel that they’ll be intimidated by the Mean Girls they encounter either.