Megan came home from school the other day and was kind of quiet. She turned to me and said, "Mom, do I ever have to have a play date with Jane Doe?" (obviously not her real name...)
"Not if you don't want to. Why? Do you want to?"
"Because she's not very nice. She called me gross."
"Why did she call you gross?"
"I don't know. She didn't like the way I was eating my pudding."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, um, I kind of like to drink my pudding with a straw and mix it with milk. And Jane Doe said she thought it was gross and then she wrote a newsletter and was going to hand it out on the playground and I saw it and it said, 'Megan is gross.'"
Without thinking I heard these words fly out of my mouth, "Next time she calls you gross, you just tell her you think her face looks gross."
As soon as the words flew from my mouth, I thought perhaps that wasn't the best advice I could have given her. But being her mother, and feeling protective, and already sensing she's had her first brush with a "Mean Girl"- in second grade mind you- I feel it is my duty as her mother to make sure she knows she should be able to stand up for herself.
I looked at Megan and saw her eyes as wide as saucers, and her mouth hanging open. "Mom! I can't say that. I could get in trouble with my teacher!"
Fair enough. She actually had a decent point there. So I took this opportunity to share with her the ways of the world, like it or not. As much as I didn't like delivering this information, I felt she needed to know the truth.
"Megan, let me tell you something." I began. "In this world that we live in, there are certain ways that people act and certain things that people do that are considered by most to be 'normal'. And like it or not, sometimes when people see others acting in a way that they don't think is normal, it makes them uncomfortable and so they say mean things because it makes them feel less uncomfortable. I'm not saying that is the right behavior and I'm not saying that Jane Doe had any right to call you gross because she didn't. But I'm guessing that since most people don't mix pudding with milk and drink it with a straw, it might have made her uncomfortable and that is why she called you gross."
Megan said, "But I like to eat my pudding that way."
"That is fine if you want to eat your pudding that way. You can eat your pudding however you want. Now that you understand a little bit how people work, you can make that choice. And you know that if you do something that others consider not normal, that they may say something that isn't very nice and that is why. Right?"
I remember so well what it was like to be in her shoes. I struggle with wanting so much for her to be a unique, interesting individual and yet, wanting her to fit in without losing who she is. Is there a happy medium? I hope so.