Back to School

August 15, 2012

It’s Wednesday as I write this, so early in the morning that I’m pissed and haggard, but I can’t sleep. This post is a grit-your-teeth-and-grinder. If it takes too long to write something, it’s probably not ready yet, right? This sucker might not see the light of day before December, but I’m not sure. Then again, if it’s that fractious, maybe I should get rid of it right off the bat.

My first-born, Miss D., cannot wait for school to start, as per her usual. Even on her first day of pre-K, as soon as that schoolhouse door opened, she ran right through–past the crowds of hysterical children and teary parents–without a glance back. I was devastated and proud at the same time.

Despite her enthusiasm for school, there’s a seismic shift happening in the house of T this year. That seismic shift happens to be called “hormones.” We flirted with hormones last year, but we weren’t sure we wanted to commit yet. This year, hormones don’t care if we’re ready. They’ve already declared anarchy. Or a police state. I’m not sure which is the better comparison.

I was driving Miss D. to swimming lessons a couple of weeks ago and between belting (with disturbing accuracy) the lyrics to Pink’s “Raise Your Glass” and twirling with a turqoise magic marker, she suddenly blurted, “I don’t know about starting 5th grade. I mean, I’m excited, but isn’t fifth grade when you start getting a lot of ‘mean girl’ problems? I think there’s mean girls in fifth grade.”

My ovaries shiveled up and died as soon as she said that. Dammit.  My daughter is ten years old. Why isn’t she still blissfully oblivious? I don’t want to sit at a red light, Pink assuring me that, “We will neverbeneverbe/Anything but loud/And nitty grittty/ Dirty little freaks/” grappling for the right words to say to my daughter.

My daughter is ten years old. She grew five inches this year and one inch over the summer. She is 5’3, wild-haired, free-spirited and beginning to get stacked.

I am very, very tempted to lie to her.

Because I know the truth. Yes, Virginia, the girls get meaner in fifth grade. And it doesn’t stop for quite some time. I had a slam-dunk initiation into the world of Mean Girls in 5th grade when a stocky, aggressive girl named Sandra stole my jacket, took it into a school bathroom, stuffed it into a toilet, and promptly urinated all over it. This happened sometime in the morning, and I looked for my jacket–my beautiful new jacket–all day. You can imagine how foul that jacket was when a janitor finally discovered it, festering, at the end of the day.

She was too wily to get caught, so the the reign of Sandra continued through the winter, but bored with the jacket, she decided to focus her assault on my mittens. Each week, one of  my mittens–and only one–would disappear. Presumably, flushed down the school toilet. I was too afraid of Sandra to tell my mother–or anyone–about the mittens, so I was a constant source of exasperation at the dinner table. “She lost another one again,” my mother would tell my father, shaking her head. “What on Earth is going on with her?”

Daddy would fiddle with his potatoes, shrug and reach for more salad dressing. What did he know about the minds of young girls?


Pink* is finished on the radio. Within the span of one song and a few spoken words, I’ve been thrown back decades. My daughter studies the turqoise marker in her hand, vulnerable in her swimsuit and goggles. She looks sort of like a frog, goggle-clad. I know that I owe her an answer. That I’m looking at a lot of questions coming my way that I’m not going to have easy words for.

I turn down the radio a little, pat my daughter’s knee, which is now disturbingly covered in peach-fuzz, and remind myself that this isn’t brain surgery. It’s parenting. It’s the truth. And if anything, I owe her that.

“You know what?” I say, pushing down on the accelerator. “You’re probably right about the mean girls. It is going to get worse. It sucks. But you have a really good heart and a really good brain and if someone is horrible to you, we will deal with it together, okay?”

She doesn’t answer me. I’ve said too much and with too much feeling; that in itself makes her look out the window, scowl.

“Train’s coming,” she says, just a second before the horn blasts.

“Shit.” I hit the brakes as the flashing lights and the white and yellow striped barrier comes down. “We’re going to be late now. Sorry.”

“The train is not your fault,” she says, smiling at the cars of the beast, graffiti-laden, as they go by, goggles turning her eyes green.


And she’s right, it’s not my fault. But part of me wants to chase that train, to throw her into an open car and let her fly to places I don’t know anything about. To places where girls don’t defecate on jackets and mothers don’t drive, dumbstruck, fumbling for words.


*Ps: I happen to love Pink, and mean no disrespect. She is awesome. I’m not ready for my daughter to raise a glass, but if she is a loud, nitty-gritty, dirty  little freak, I will happily stand by her side. Okay, maybe she can raise a glass…of water. And toast to thinking outside the lines.

{ 53 comments… read them below or add one }

Katybeth August 15, 2012 at 4:15 pm

Kids (especially girls it seems) can be so mean to one another but I think things have changed some over the years and teachers and administrators are more observant than they use to be. . .at least that’s the rumor. Here is the web site of a man I know and adore who works with kids and schools around bullying but not just bullying also fitting in and not fitting in and parenting the kind child and the mean child. I think he’s a much better speaker than writer but he gets his point across–I know he is in Denver a lot.
Good Luck. Hugs to both you and Miss D.


TKW August 16, 2012 at 6:37 am

Katybeth, thank you for the link! You’re amazing, you know that?


Tiffany August 15, 2012 at 4:16 pm

I love her…and u. And the two of u will get through it together.


TKW August 16, 2012 at 6:38 am


I hope so. And somehow, I think I’ll annoy the heck out of her the entire way.


suzicate August 15, 2012 at 4:50 pm

I think you handled it very well. Mean girls have always been around and probably always will, but in the long run (though it probably doesn’t help your daughter now) the nice ones are the ones who end up happy in life…and truly happiness is the ultimate goal. And yes, Pink rocks!


pam August 15, 2012 at 5:19 pm

I had a great fifth grade year. Finally had good friends, my teacher was visibly disappointed in me, but I was OK with that. She preferred the cute/sweet girls, but that was OK – the friends thing made up for it. Then 6th grade. Started out great, same friends, same school (new disappointed teacher – he was a Mormon who told me several times that I shouldn’t spend so much time learning math). Then we moved. And I got dumped into the same school with Sandra – who acted like my friend. I discovered later she was the source of much of my misery. There were others there who were just plain mean. I didn’t know what hit me. So I also feel for you. But maybe, with parents that care, and might notice your daughters’ pain when they are picked on – they will get through it with minimal to no damage. (My parents had issues of their own – they didn’t notice me and my issues).

I have a son heading into the 5th grade. He is incredibly sensitive, small for his age, young for his grade. I am terrified for him. I am thinking about hiding in the closet in his classroom – ready to leap out if there is any sign of bullying. That might not be the best solution…


TKW August 16, 2012 at 6:41 am


I remember that year. I’m so sorry you had to go through that.

We’re going to get through this year together, okay? I’ll cower in the closet with you. I’ll bring the wine, you bring the Cheetos.


Jamie August 15, 2012 at 6:54 pm

I think you handled it great! Miss D is an insightful chick, 5th and 6th grade is definitely when I had my “mean girl” struggles. And looking back, I really appreciate how my mom handled it. She didn’t pretend like it wasn’t happening and she was always there to talk to. You are so on the right track.

I like how I’m giving you advice when I’m not a mom! Sorry. But I was 11 once, too :)


TKW August 16, 2012 at 6:42 am


Exactly. Any girl who had to go through age 11 is an expert. :)


Velva August 15, 2012 at 6:58 pm

I can remember my son saying in the 5th grade that the girls were as mean as rattle snakes to each other…I thought about a few girls in the 5-6th grade to this day, that I would have some choice words for if I came across them. In the same breath, there were plenty of girls who could to this day, have the shirt off my back.

Your daughter will rock !


TKW August 16, 2012 at 6:44 am


Rattlesnakes and pit vipers–that’s exactly it. And it doesn’t end until the final years of being a “teen.” How great for you that you still found girls who had your back, even then.


Tinne from Tantrums and Tomatoes August 16, 2012 at 3:21 am

You handled it well because you where honest with her.
The thought of my girls possibly having to go through some of the bullying I went through terrifies me.
What also terrifies me is the possibility that THEY might become the ‘mean girl’ themselves.


TKW August 16, 2012 at 6:44 am


You are right. That idea is equally horrifying.


Abby August 16, 2012 at 7:21 am

You are a rock star mom, so no matter what she might face there at school, at least she has a grounded home base to return to (something many of the “mean” girls probably lack.) It can suck, big time, to be bullied and teased and picked on and no amount of prep can really take away that sting. But unfortunately, it’s all part of life. Looking back I guess it made me more compassionate today (although I could have done without some of those life lessons when I was an awkward teenager, of course.)

You’ll get through it together, no doubt. ;)


TKW August 16, 2012 at 8:46 am


That’s what I try to tell myself, that all that crap can make you a more compassionate and feeling person. Most of the time, I believe it.


AEH August 16, 2012 at 7:31 am

My “mean girl experience” was in 6th grade and happened to coincide with my parents’ divorce and what felt like the implosion of my family-making me an even easier target. Even now I imagine the troll of a “friend” hiding under her bridge grateful that karma is a bitch! Knowing that she got hers along the way.

I am thankful that my own experience has been able to help me guide my girls when they come home with tears streaming down their faces. (Secretly wanting to choke the crap out of the mean girls and their oblivious mothers) Telling them it doesn’t last forever and that one good friend can light the way. Most of all I try to remind them that it is important not to go along with any mean girl behavior and to treat others as you hope they will treat you.

Crossing my fingers that Miss D (and you) have a great year!


TKW August 16, 2012 at 8:48 am


You do want to choke the crap out of them (and the parents), don’t you? I remember how gobsmacked I was at my reaction the first time a kid was mean to Miss D at a playground. I thought, “Wow. This mama bear thing is intense. I actually want to kick a 3-year old’s ass…” :)


Jenna August 16, 2012 at 7:48 am

Oh, heartache, heartache . . . I can’t even imagine being a mother to a 5th grader. I remember some mean girls type incidents starting to happen around then, too. I think seeing Alice go through that will rip my heart apart.


TKW August 16, 2012 at 8:49 am


Alice’s escapades will tear your heart out every day. :) Sometimes good, sometimes bad.


Arnebya August 16, 2012 at 8:09 am

I’m telling you (as I’m sure you already know), it means so much to communicate. The fact that you could have let her question hang there, gotten caught up in the memory of that probably strung out bitch Sandra, is not lost on her. Sure, our kids sometimes seem to disapprove of what we do/say even when they’ve asked a question or sought advice, but they hear us. Miss D is lucky and you WILL get through this together.

For what it’s worth, I’m not ready for the peach fuzz or stackedness either (my now 7th grader seems completely oblivious to my desire to band her breasts down with duct tape because she already puts my -34AAAA cups to shame. Damn you, Mother Nature).


TKW August 16, 2012 at 8:51 am


I am now considering going out to buy duct tape. I am not ready for her to have boobs!


elizabeth August 16, 2012 at 9:45 am

I know she’s a little young for it, but you two should definitely sit down and watch Mean Girls and let the wisdom of Tina Fey wash over you. How I wish that movie was out when I was that age–I think it would have provided so much insight into why girls can be so mean.


TKW August 16, 2012 at 12:16 pm


I love that movie!!!


Jennifer August 16, 2012 at 11:20 am

This right here is probably the hardest part of letting them grow up because there will always be mean girls. There will always be someone that tries to push them down. But as long as we are teaching them to pick themselves back up and that we will always be right there beside them, then I think we are doing a pretty good job.


Robin August 16, 2012 at 11:39 am

I was lucky enough not to encounter mean girls until the 7th grade. My daughter was in the 6th grade. And the boys in my school were even meaner than the girls. The thing was – I never told my parents, especially my mother. I felt sick before school almost every day. I came home and cried on most. But, I never said a word. Maybe because my mother liked sayings like: “Ignore them and they won’t bother you anymore.” “Sticks and stones will break your bones, but names will never hurt you.” “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” I knew I was on my own.

I think you handled the question about mean girls really well. You will deal with it together.


TKW August 16, 2012 at 12:17 pm


Ugh! Telling your kid to “just ignore them” is the WORST advice ever! I promised myself I’d never tell my girls that.


The Meaning of Me August 16, 2012 at 12:01 pm

Somebody please tell me why I want to cry now! Because my Kid will be in fifth grade in six years and I’m not ready for any of that? Because preschool girls are already mean? Oy oy oy!

TKW, I applaud you for being honest with your daughter. Too easy to want to make it all seem easy and OK and not let our children think that everything can be OK. I think I’d rather have my daughter know that yes, there is potential for mean and rotten out there, but – like you said – we can face it together and know that we can make choices about how to treat others, how to respond, and how to not let it define us negatively in the long run. Growing up, my mom was always honest with us – and grandparents, too – and I am so grateful today that they were able to say, “yes, this kind of stinks about the world, but here’s how to deal with it.” I just know your girl will be glad for it later.

Right after she gets done rolling her eyes and sighing that you drove her crazy through adolescence. :)


TKW August 16, 2012 at 12:18 pm


The eye-rolling has already begun, I’m afraid. Man, this mommy stuff is hard!


Sherri August 17, 2012 at 6:34 am

Yes – I, too, applaud you for the honesty. Unfortunately, we will not get rid of bullies – and… sadly, we will not get rid of “mean girls” in our lives. I still have a number of insecure, mad at the world, vile, nasty chicks who still try to get the best of the nice girls (and guys). Now, they don’t flush jackets down the toilet or steal mittens (in my case, shove me into the gravel face-first my first week transitioning from a Montessori to a public school), but they do exclude and gossip, etc. Good to know that it is Ok to stand up for your friends and be who you are now – at the tender age of 10 or 11 in fifth grade – so that you / she / me / all of us can be strong together later and create great groups of friends who don’t tolerate such crap.


Sherri August 17, 2012 at 6:35 am

Oh – and, for the record, I actually think she’ll be fine. She sounds like a feisty one – and smart. She may observe some things, but…. may steer clear. I’m sure there will be lots o’ good stuff this year too.


TKW August 17, 2012 at 9:13 am


Miss M. is transitioning from a Montessori kindergarten to public school this year. She cried yesterday at lunch because she didn’t know anyone to sit with.


Sherri August 17, 2012 at 11:11 am

I believe – per the Montessori folks – that she is transitioning during a good year for it. I’m sure she was more used to a hands on / community – type feel with the lunchtime, etc. At public school, she may have to be the one who makes the effort a bit. Maybe her teacher can help introduce her to a group – though… in first grade, it all pans out eventually as most little ones are open to new kids :). Ugh – all this back to school stuff, ya know?


alisha August 17, 2012 at 8:18 am

oh the desperate heartbreak…i went through this with my niece a couple years ago and it broke my everloving heart. and made me feel violent tendencies towards other small girls. and parents. and a world in which this happens to our little women. sending much love. we’ll burn the slambooks together.


TKW August 17, 2012 at 9:14 am


Isn’t it amazing how we mamas want to throttle anyone who messes with our wee ones? Killer instinct.


Barbara August 17, 2012 at 8:42 am

I bet she handles things better than you think she will. Does she have a group of friends who can support each other?

If there were mean girls in my classes, I have long forgotten. But I don’t think that was a problem back then. (Everyone was too worried about WWII.)
If there were mean kids in my own kids’ classes, they never said a word about it to me and handled it on their own. I also helped raise my granddaughter (who is now in college) and if there was a problem, she never mentioned it. Guess I was lucky.


TKW August 17, 2012 at 9:15 am


Yes, you were very lucky! D. has lots of friends, but that’s the crazy thing about mean girl behavior…girls you thought were your friends suddenly turn on you. She did, however, have a great day yesterday. :)


idiosyncratic eye August 17, 2012 at 1:53 pm

I hope she doesn’t get a tough time in 5th grade and that her life remains beautifully free of mean-girls as much as humanely possible for as long as possible. :)


TKW August 17, 2012 at 6:37 pm


Sometimes I think we take more care with our pets than we do with our children.


Karen Harris August 17, 2012 at 1:54 pm

My daughter started having mean girl trouble in 3rd grade. “Our” Queen Bee was an early bloomer and started her reign of terror early. Looking back now I wish I would have taught my daughter to box. A good punch in the nose would have maybe started a dialogue with her mother who was the Queen of Denial.

Seriously, I can joke now 14 years later but it is tough. Good news, my daughter just graduated from college and she is successful, wise beyond her years and most importantly, happy. I guess maybe we should thank that mean girl for teaching her some valuable lessons early on, but personally I’d still like to give her a punch in the nose.


TKW August 17, 2012 at 6:39 pm


I’m sort of wishing my kids were the “punch-you-in-the-face” kind. At least they get heard immediately. And maybe suspended, but heck, it just might be worth it.


Maggie S. August 17, 2012 at 6:57 pm

I sang to that song the other day and my daughters were appalled.


They are 15. I don’t even feel sorry for you.


That Sandra was….earthy.


TKW August 18, 2012 at 5:26 am


TWO fifteen-year olds? Now that would make me want to raise a glass. Or five.

As for Sandra, “earthy” is a nice way to put it.


Biz August 18, 2012 at 9:29 am

Ah, loved this post PW – its touch as our girls get older, isn’t it? Hopefully she will find a group of friends that will have good hearts like hers. :D


Biz August 18, 2012 at 9:30 am

I type too fast sometimes – I meant “TW” not PW! :P


Heather August 19, 2012 at 6:41 pm

Betsy Anderson and Chad Schmidt… Yep, all these years later and the names of my bullies will never, ever leave my mind. I remember trying to avoid Betsy on the playground. Chad always seemed to be around whenever the girls got out of the “special” class that only girls got to go to and somehow he knew everything that we discussed in there. I hated 5th grade. HATED it. You both will survive this. We all did. You will be a strong, supportive mother who will listen to her daughter. You have to be. It’s the only thing that will get her through this. Hugs to you both.


CK August 20, 2012 at 6:20 am

I’ve been sitting here staring at the screen, your words trailing off in my mind. I wish I could express how this post hit me, but I think it was a little too close to home for words. ((hugs))


pamela August 20, 2012 at 11:14 am

Personally I think parenting is more difficult than brain surgery.

You did a great job. Mean girls are horrid.


TKW August 22, 2012 at 5:58 pm


How are you? I have missed you. Did the move go without too much pain?


Liz August 21, 2012 at 2:42 am

How much do I love that you can end this post with a poignant PS on Pink?
I was soooo the object of “mean girls” growing up, that after desperately wanting a girl and having 2 boys, I came to the realization that perhaps God/The Universe knew that I would be a pretty inadequate, fretting mother of a girl. I think I would have tried so desperately to make sure my daughter didn’t go through any of that, that I would have ended up pushing her to be “strong” too much. (Does this make sense?)
Anyways, so…did she start yet?


TKW August 22, 2012 at 6:01 pm


I told my girls to kick anyone’s ass who gave them lip. Holy crap, I never thought I would say that to anyone, let alone my own kids?

I stand by my position, though. Fight back, always.

If you ever decide you want a girl, you are welcome to borrow one of mine for a weekend. ;)


Elaine A. August 21, 2012 at 10:08 am

Sounds like you will both be fine. :)

I wish we could just figure out what makes “mean girls” mean (is it the hormones, their own mothers?, INSECURITIES OF THEIR OWN) and squash all THAT!!! You know, especially before my girl gets to be this age… ;)

My motto with her will always be, “Be Nice” no matter what…



TKW August 22, 2012 at 6:09 pm

Elaine A.,

I love your point of view. It is soooo much nicer than mine. I’m telling my girls to fight like tigers if someone is mean. I was nice, and someone peed on my jacket. Still, I understand where you are coming from. It’s a hard decision to engage or just step away.


Rudri Bhatt Patel @ Being Rudri August 23, 2012 at 12:25 pm

Coming very late to this post, but wanted to chime in. Mean girls suck. And it’s not like they go away when you become older. However, as we age, we care about it less and less and less. And realize the insecurity lies with the person being mean. Your advice was right on Kitch. Be kind. I firmly believe kindness always boomerangs back.


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