I don’t think I have any horrible childhood memories of being bullied. I can honestly say that I gave a little, and got a little. Children aren’t particularly kind hearted, after all, they’re trying to develop a sense personal identity, but my classrooms and schools were always fairly small, and I think I always fell into the same ‘outer-friendship’ ring throughout childhood. I was seldom invited to come on an evening outing or weekend trip, and the few times I was, I found out later I had been a 2nd or 3rd choice. I still enjoyed going. At the same time, I was always included in every girl’s birthday party (and even a few boy’s), and not everyone was.
Thinking back I’m realizing that it was always the same 2 or 3 girls that didn’t get invited, and that’s definite exclusion, but when your parents say you can only invite 9 people (what parent wants more than 10 giggling girls over for a sleepover?), that means 3 people can’t come; it seems those three were always the same. I noticed at the time, but it seemed logical. I always invited the people who invited me, and if I couldn’t have everyone, I was definitely inviting girls who I wanted to be closer friends with. Unfortunately, from an adult perspective I can see how hurtful that must have been for the same few classmates who seldom got invited.
The second clearest instance of intentional… I don’t know what to call it. Exclusion isn’t right, perhaps just rudeness? I’ll just tell it and you can decide for yourself. Something I can clearly remember doing, and feeling bad about, is accepting an invitation from a girl that I had no intention of ever inviting to anything do else. No hiking, no bowling, no birthday party invite, nada. I knew when she asked me to come for a sleepover that I didn’t like her enough to invite her back. I knew when I asked my mother if I could go, that if I told her I didn’t like the girl very well, she would say I shouldn’t go. I know now, just like I did when I was 10, that invitations are reciprocal. If you are invited to dinner, you invite them to your place. If you ask to borrow a book, you lend a book. I didn’t like her much before the sleepover; I liked her less after. I never invited her to stay at my house, and that was mean.
Let us venture many years into the future. My BA program was Early Childhood Education, and we were a fairly small group of about 14 that went through all of the classes together. There were more than that in each course, but they were from different departments, or only taking one class while working, so the 14 of us were the ones who showed up in every class each semester. As a whole, we got along well. There were no problems being split into groups for projects, we often had large study parties or baked goods day, and I remember being continuously delighted that everyone would come to these events and talk about class, the future, and the obvious, dessert.
Lily hosted us most often. She’s an outgoing woman just a few years older than myself, and lived very close to the university. Lilly married a couple of years before I met her, and has adorable, chubby cheeked children that have the energy capacity of a nuclear power plant. She also has really good stories about working abroad, and successfully makes all the crafts from Pinterest, so… she’s basically winning at life.
I didn’t notice the change for nearly a month, until one fine board game night, there were only 12 of us. Michelle has what I would like to say is a literal bushel of kids, but based on my just web searched ‘weight of a bushel’, she had so many more than than that. Regardless, for this reason, Michelle couldn’t always come to party night, but where, I wondered, was Sarah? I hadn’t seen her at the last couple of get-togethers.
Oh, said Lily, I didn’t invite her.
Why? We all wondered.
Well, she makes me feel uncomfortable. It seems like she’s always silently judging me. Maybe it’s just culture, like we’re just too different, but I didn’t want to invite her over anymore.
That’s a bit of a wrench in our cool 14, but I understood. Personally, I liked Sarah. She was a little different, and very shy. Her family had cultural practices I found completely foreign, and she did sometimes look a little uncomfortable in the big group. She was also excellent conversation, and we bonded over our mutual inability to interior decorate. If it’s bright, or a plant, I like it. If her fiancé asked her which color/pattern she preferred, she quite literally could not have cared less. As the evening wore on, Lily became a little less circumspect. Sarah, she insisted, was being rude on purpose. She was inconsiderate and judgmental. Lily didn’t want to do group projects with her anymore, and told the whole group of us that any party Sarah was invited to, Lily would not attend.
It’s absolutely alright to not invite people to your home if they make you uncomfortable. It’s equally fine to only invite 5 friends for a small party, and exclude the other 9. It is not kind or right to invite 13 of the 14 people you’ve been in class with for the past 2 years, to dinners and group study sessions, consciously excluding only 1. It is much worse to insist that you won’t attend any gathering where that one person is invited.
Anyone who wanted to see Sarah did so one-on-one.
Some weeks later, most of us were sitting together, waiting for class to begin, and Michelle leaned over to ask me why Sarah never came to the parties anymore.
Oh, I told her, she and Lily don’t get along.
No, said Lily, leaning over my table, she’s rude to me and really judgmental. I have no problem with her.
Thus began The Exclusion: Bettina Edition.
A couple of weeks later, I didn’t get invited to Lily’s cake exchange night. I found out about it later, while the other 12 girls talked about it in class.
It’s too bad you couldn’t make it Bettina, there was so much cake! Said one girl.
You know, I didn’t even hear about it! I must have missed it on Facebook this weekend. Sounds fun though, I’ll definitely be at the next one!
The next week in class, we were having a seminar about ethics in teaching. It’s an interesting topic, so long as you don’t linger in the incredibly obvious (After leaving a teaching position, is it okay to take the school computer if you really want to keep it?*). The subject that day was the negativity we as teachers can bring into the classroom. What is one thing you really dislike in children? Something that makes it harder to teach them, or something that you yourself need to work on, because it’s not them, it’s you?
One classmate said, Nothing. I love kids, and when I’m in teacher mode I’m completely focussed on them. Right.
Crying, said Sarah. I know it’s not their fault, but I really hate the whiny cry that older babies make. I almost get angry, and I definitely need to work on it, but I also think I should work with older kids. I don’t want to bring that into the workplace.
Physical violence, said Lily. Kids should know not to hit you, and schools have a zero tolerance policy for violence. I’ll definitely work on making clear expectations for my students.
I’d been thinking about my answer, and knew just what to say. I’m sort of stuck in it right now, you all know I’m working at a pre-school? We’ve got two girls who are ringleaders, and they constantly exclude everyone else, but especially one girl who they know gets easily frustrated. It’s causing fights in class, and they’re purposefully trying to rile her up by being as mean-girl cliquey as can be managed at age 4. It makes me angry, because I don’t want them to grow up thinking that’s okay, and it’s really not fair to the girl who’s always on the outside. The other girls are all starting to treat her differently. It’s also my fault, I didn’t know how to stop it, and I needed to figure out how to get the classroom dynamic back on track.
Read this next bit in the smarmiest voice you can manage. Wow, said Lily. That’s some chip on your shoulder. Somebody wasn’t popular at school.
At the risk of sounding naive, college seminar classes for Early Childhood Education are a safe place. Even if your idea sounds dumb, we don’t tell you that, because we all do really, really stupid things while trying to figure out how to be teachers. We help each other, commiserate, give advice, and laugh when you grin and tell us the splatter paining lesson for 3 year olds was probably not your best idea.
What hurt the most was that nobody said anything. The teacher looked startled, and so did the rest of the class. They looked between the two of us, and I just stared at her, shocked, because that’s just a rude thing to say, especially with those inflections. After a long pause, the next person started speaking, and the class moved on. I thought about asking Lily if something was wrong, but something clearly was, and I was angry. I just went home. When Michelle asked me the next week what was up with Lily and me, I told her I didn’t know, I must have offended Lily on accident.
I didn’t get invited to the Christmas cookie exchange at Lily’s house, or the Easter Brunch she organized at a local bakery. When I hosted a board game night, Lily scheduled one for the same evening. I’d invited her to mine, but told her at school the next day I’d cancel it and host another time so they didn’t conflict. I showed up at her party, but I wan’t invited. When I did re-host, only two people showed up. I didn’t get invited to any dessert nights or book club, and I studied with Sarah, because she was the only other person not invited to the group study sessions that we’d had for the past two years. Finally Spring rolled around, and Michelle hosted a Last Day of Class brunch that all 14 of us were invited to. Sarah couldn’t come, her in-laws were in town; Michelle and I were the only two there, surrounded by crepes, quiche, apple cider, and a vat of hot cocoa.
Lily isn’t the only one to blame. I think she excluded first Sarah, then me, then Michelle on purpose, and that makes me angry. This kind of exclusion is petty, childish, and hurtful, but it takes more than one person to accomplish. The other girls in our study group let Lily have a strange Queen Bee social power over them. They made a conscious choice to exclude us, judging Lily’s friendship more important, and at the end of the day, I don’t want friends like that. It was still hurtful, and I’ll continue to think less than fond thoughts about Lily. I’m not the sort of person who is a Queen Bee, but a drone isn’t any better. As someone eloquently summed up:
Let no man make your way for you.
Note: I went searching for the quote ‘Let no man make your way for you’, as I like it, but I’d quite forgotten where I read it. Turns out, I’m only slightly embarrassed to clarify that it came from a book called The Unveiling, by Tamara Leigh. I know I said I don’t want to be a drone, but apparently I’m not immune to the touch of stigma that comes from reading romance novels. WITH THAT SAID, I’ll just be a hypocrite and spend a paragraph clarifying: I read all things except super scary science fiction and fantasy, and on a student budget, I really can’t buy novels at my leisure. I go onto Amazon.com, look at the top ranked free books, and get anything that looks remotely interesting. If it isn’t something I can get through, no money is lost. If I like it, I can add that author to my Holiday wish list. Whew. Well, at least this is something I’ve identified and added to my ‘self reflection & improvement’ list.