Down with Mean Girls: Grandma Reveals How to End Woman-On-Woman Hate
Today would have been Grandma’s birthday, and like every year, she would have been “19 and a half,” again. She turned 19 and a half for a solid 60 and a half years. This was one of the many things that made Norma Nelly John Levis Bennett the original badass, before badass was a thing to be. She was fierce, hardworking and loving all at the same time.
I was blessed to have a Grandma I could tell anything, including my boy problems. My first breakup after losing her left me sobbing on her front porch, alone, while her house stood hauntingly empty. It was at his point I realized I may have to start talking about boys with my girlfriends. I was 28, more than twice the age most girls comes to this realization.
However, it wasn’t only because of my close bond with my Grandma that I didn’t talk to my girlfriends about my man-woes, or anything really, it was because I had very few, close women friends. Despite my best efforts to prove otherwise, this was because of my own doing. That would be one of Grandma’s parting lessons to me.
A few days after Grandma’s terminal cancer diagnosis (let us take a moment to wave our middle fingers at cancer), I stopped over to her house. I was riding high on confidence and an ego I had inflated by blowing smoke up my own ass.
Earlier that day, a relative had posted something ignorant, wildly racist and all with horrible grammar on social media. Enraged, I’d responded with a precisely executed verbal thrashing for all to see.
While bigotry is something to get irate over, my reactive response did nothing to amend the situation, nor show a better way through compassion, education and being the change I wanted to see. I verbally berated my relative with harsh, exacting and cutting words, which I would soon find out through the family texting grapevine, left this person in tears for hours.
I walked into Grandma’s house with my head held high and eager to as much precious time with grandma as I could. Hanging out with Grandma really was the best! I had barely closed the door behind me before I heard, “Sheila, come sit down by Grandma.”
Shit. I didn’t know what I had done, but I knew I was in BIG trouble. I looked over at my mom to see her shake her head and give me a look that read, ‘you’re on your own kid.’
My ego began to slowly deflate and I instantly got that awful feeling in my stomach like I was waiting to go into the principal’s office. A feeling I knew too well, as I had lived out my elementary school years to the max.
“Hey Grandma, how are you feeling?”
“You know how Grandma is feeling. Is there anything you want to tell Grandma?”
She knew. Of course, she knew. She was Grandma. Our entire family reported back to her. She was our matriarch, our cheerleader, our familial glue. Grandma being sick did not stop my relatives from reaching out to her to set the situation straight. Not only did she know; she was not happy with me.
“Grandma she was being racist!”
“I know that Sheila. That wasn’t right of her, but what you did wasn’t right either.”
Not sure what I thought I would accomplish, but I opened my mouth to say something, anything to make it better, but Grandma promptly reminded me there never was and never would be any back-talkin’ her. Oh no.
“I don’t want to hear it. That wasn’t nice. You KNOW better.”
She closed her eyes and I thought I had gotten off easy. Although, looking over at my nephews, who were in time out for “accidentally pushing each other,” I would have loved to trade places with them. But I wasn’t 3, despite having acted childish and feeling about an inch tall at the moment.
I took a deep breath and held Grandma’s hand. She laid on the couch with her eyes closed and continued with her point. “You are smarter. You know that. It’s your job to be the bigger person. Be nice.”
See how she laid solid groundwork there by boosting my ego and then sprinkling some truth and wisdom on me? Norma did not mess around. She knew what she was doing and what she was doing was gearing up for a mic drop that would change my entire way of being.
“You think being mean to her made anything better?”
“If you want people to be nice, than you have to be nice first. You have to be more nice than you want them to be. Extra nice, even when you really don’t want to be.”
Grandma softly opened her eyes and turned her head to look me square in my tear filled eyes. “Sheila. NO. She doesn’t know better, which is no excuse. You KNOW better and you didn’t teach her better. All you did was hurt her feelings in front of the whole family. Grandma taught you better. You can’t say nothing nice, don’t say nothing.”
She took slow, deep breath and with all the strength she had in her, calmly, deliberately said, “You don’t have to like her, but you HAVE TO love her.”
My heart was in my throat and my stomach was trying to fight its way out my butt. I felt cold and hot all at once. Grandma was right and I was overcome with the horrible realization I had cruelly, inexcusably Mean Girls-ed my own relative. I plowed her down to make myself feel high and worse, it completely defeated the purpose.
Unlike my relative, I am blessed with a father from another country and all the incredible culture that comes with that. I have gotten to see far more of this beautiful, incredible world than her and disvalued all that by acting the way I did. I also had the incredible gift of parents who raised me to believe you had to go to college and as a result I have 4 college degrees (and loads of student loans) to my name — a luxury my relative does not have. And yet, it was I who angrily responded to ignorance with childish bullying tactics.
I had responded to hate with more hate in the form of woman-on-women crime. The same vile behavior that had sent me home from junior high and high school crying to my grandma about how cruel the girls were to me. The nastiness that had me sitting alone at lunch tables or trying to hide amongst the crowd during passing periods.
Those girls would send me home emotionally bruised and battered and in 15 minutes grandma would have me feeling like Rocky Balboa celebrating victory at the top of the stairs. Always my champion, my cheerleader, my heroine, my grandma, she would lift my spirits, dry my tears and make my world a better place.
She was always there to tell me those girls were just jealous. They didn’t get to have my pretty face, my smarts, or my VERY different family. They didn’t get to see what life was like with family all over the world. They didn’t understand the world like I did, so they were mean to make themselves feel better. See how she made being different seem incredible?
“Keep your chin up and smile at ’em. They’ll realize you’re not going to stop smiling and then they’ll want to know why. Then you girls can be friends and grandma will drive you to the mall.” Grandma got it. She totally got my teenage angst.
Now, here I was years later guilty of the same evil Mean Girls’ behavior and worse, I had gone against everything grandma had taught me.
“Now be nice Sheila.”
And with the perfect comedic timing that runs in the family, my nephew turned around in his time out chair to say, “Yeah Aunt Chayla. Be nice or Grandma will put you in time out.”
There was laughter all around and the mood lightened. I promised to be nice and once she drifted off into a nap, I went home to lick my wounds. Grandma had cut out any Mean Girl I had in me.
She was only a few short weeks from leaving us, in horrible pain from tumors consuming her body and she schooled me with simple grace and finesse. Told you she was a badass.
Today I honor grandma by sharing this lesson. I didn’t “cure” my relative of their bigotry with my reaction. If anything, I had fueled the flames, all while stooping down to some very rotten behavior myself. I don’t even remember what I wrote, but I am sure I let my vernacular shine and my flawless grammar let it be known I was the almighty, educated one in the situation. I was a well-worded jerk.
I don’t know the root of this nasty cultural, Mean Girls phenomenon. I know it’s nothing new and sadly not something that is going away anytime soon. It’s something each of us women have to make a conscious effort to first stop ourselves and then, through our loving actions, show others how to knock it off.
All you accomplish in being a Mean Girl, whether you’re 4 or 94, is shouting your self-perceived shortcomings and issues to the world at large. You limit your pool of friends, your potential, your career, your bank account and your happiness. You give ‘bitch’ a negative connotation and you effectively cockblock your own abundance. You defeat yourself.
These days I have a big, beautiful tribe full of women from all walks of life. My squad is so tight I have a legion of ride or die ladies that I would gladly give a kidney, if need be. A kidney!
Give a shout out to Grandma and her truth sprinkles by clicking the heart below. Together we can end the Mean Girls club.
Sheila Amir is owner and writer of NutritionSheila.com where she encourages everyone to live a happy, healthy, well-nourished life. She has big dreams to end the Mean Girls club and discover delicious gluten free dinner rolls.
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