Mean Girls, Age 4

“Mess with me or my family and I’ll cut you…”

Little D had her first taste of girl-on-girl cruelty yesterday and it makes me feel so many things: sadness, anger, guilt, helplessness, bewilderment.

The story, which is still a bit unclear (preschooler testimony not being the most reliable and the nanny didn’t hear the full exchange), is that she was playing at her friend’s house and then they were meeting another girl at the park. The friend’s mom told me earlier that this girl (or the “à mardi prochain” as I’m always going to think of her*) is very possessive and doesn’t like her twosome (with Little D’s friend) becoming a threesome. However, everyone had been warned to play nicely together.

Clearly, that didn’t happen. They ganged up on Little D, wouldn’t play with her and ordered her to stay away from them on the other side of the park. My sweet girl was bewildered herself, never having had anyone, especially not a friend, turn on her and be mean like that.

Just writing that last sentence makes me cry.

I was bullied a lot when I was a kid through to my teens, back when bullying was called teasing. I was made fun of for being smart, Asian, ugly (because I was Asian), teacher’s pet, a weirdo, etc—standard sole-ethnic-kid-on-the-block stuff. Of course, I get to be the one who laughs last because I turned into this glamorous creature living in Paris whose blog you’re reading right now. (Ha.)

But those childhood wounds run deeper than I thought and having malicious little girls pick on my daughter—at 4 years old, what the fuck?!—opens them right back up.

Little D is sweet and kind and beautiful. She doesn’t hit or push other kids, even when she’s been hit or pushed by them. Secretly, I wish she would fight back sometimes. She’s taller than everyone—she could do some damage! A few weeks ago, she and her baby brother were playing and he got all grabby hands (he often pulls her hair) and she shoved both her palms against his chest. We were shocked even though BB wasn’t hurt or crying; he just seemed stunned that she did it, too. I reprimanded her and she sobbed hysterically (which she never does), not because of the scolding (which wasn’t that harsh) but because I think she couldn’t believe she did something like that.

Her sweetness reminds me of how I used to be when I was small. Since our first meeting, one of my professors likes to describe me as “tough as nails”—and I am. Because I learned to be. You mess with me or my family and I’ll cut you (metaphorically, mostly). But there was a time when the ugly words and nasty looks, the deliberate exclusion and all that fun, compassionless kid stuff confounded me. I didn’t know how to be tough and mostly felt the hurt and pain of being disliked for basically existing.

I hated seeing the sad confusion on my daughter’s face when she told me the girls weren’t nice to her. She wet her bed for the first time ever last night and I can’t help but think it’s because of what happened. I changed her sheets, tucked her back in, told her how much her whole family loves her, then went back to bed and cried quietly for an hour.

I realize she’s a part of the big, bad world and I can’t cocoon her forever, but I was hoping she had until at least grade school, junior high, before I had to teach her how to make mincemeat of mean girls.

The magic of a 4-year-old’s mind is that today is truly a new day. Little D isn’t dwelling on this like I am and I know I’m probably blowing up a minor incident, the kind that happens all the time because “kids are kids.” I don’t buy that excuse, though: Kids are as kind and compassionate and generous as you raise them to be. So if I ever run into that petite mardi or her mother, they better hope Dman (or someone else who outweighs me by a hundred pounds) is there to hold me back.

*mardi prochain=next Tuesday