Right square in the feelings
So I was sitting at the dinner table with the girls last night. They’d officially been kindergarteners for three whole days, and there was a lot to get through in terms of pits, and peaks, and what we like about school, and what we like about ourselves, and what we don’t like about school, and ways we could be kind to one person a day, and how the cafeteria smells like straight up funkaroni.
Our agenda was full, is what I’m telling you.
So when one of the girls mentioned that she got to see her “boyfriend” from preschool last year in the cafeteria that morning, I nodded and gave her the thumbs up. Just like putting them on the bus, I have come to the decision that I can either catastrophize the inevitabilites of raising girls, and give myself more to get anxious about, and them another weakness of mine to exploit for their own behavioral purposes, or I can decline to acknowledge that it’s even a thing that I have any personal feeling about whatsoever and nod and smile and go “cool, man. Cool.”
I can passively-aggressively put the word “boyfriend” in air quotes for the duration of this essay. And I will.
“Cool, man. Cool,” I told my daughter as she told me all about her “boyfriend,” in great detail, right down to where he sits in relation to her in the funkaroni room and how she feels about that. She’s five. And her level of commitment to the whole “boyfriend” game? Freaks me out a little bit, considering she hasn’t seen this kid since May and she can’t remember where she put her socks ten minutes ago but she maintained her affection for him over the course of an extended and comprehensive absence.
But it’s cool, man.
And then it happened.
Now, I should preface this exquisitely disorganized little foray into my brain on storytelling by explaining to you that my daughters’ default relational position on one another is mildly hostile, all of the time. Even with less than zero attachment to, say, a red crayon, the presentation of one red crayon to both of them simultaneously will end in a fistfight if intervention isn’t swiftly and unflinchingly rendered.
It’s not about the red crayon.
It’s about ownership of the red crayon.
More specifically, it’s about denying ownership of the red crayon to the other party.
It’s about having the upper hand.
And it’s a total, total chick move, you guys.
Maybe an example will help. We’re outside Shurfine this week, and I see a painted rock. Lord help us all, painted rocks are the new crack and if you thought their response to a hypothetical red crayon seemed disproportionate and extreme, you ought to see them duke it out over a rock with a donkey painted on it.
It’s an absolute horror show.
Each of them will literally trip, gouge, push, shove, bite and/or resort to fisticuffs of any manner and means at their immediate disposal to get to that rock before their opponent. So I see the rock and like an idiot I give them the “I see a painted rock but you have to find it yourself because apparently I’m a masochistic idiot who can’t just keep her mouth shut and not create additional and unneeded drama in her own pitiable existence” look. And as they are doing what they do, which is (a) holding the rock above their head and jeering or (b) weeping openly and without restraint on their knees in the middle of the Shurfine parking lot, depending on which sister you’re looking at, the woman who hid the rock emerges from the store.
We locked eyes and she knew. “I have two more in my car I need to hide,” she told me quietly as I leaned on the hatch, watching the assault unfold, too tired to play bouncer this time and opting, instead, to just yell “navigate the conflict appropriately, please” to my emotionally hijacked offspring as people gazed on in disbelief and horrified fascination.
(#GameofThronesspoileralert. Stop reading here to “done.”)
“Thank you,” I mouthed to her as I distracted them long enough to allow her to shove another rock behind the mailbox. “Okay,” I said as I prepared to turn them lose on the second rock, knowing what would happen before I even said the words. “I’ve got a hot tip that there’s another one over there, but listen, whoever finds it finds it and whoever doesn’t find it gets this one,” I told them, pointing to the original rock that had brought the entire already-doomed afternoon crashing down like the northern wall under the frigid blast of Daenerys’ dead ice dragon.
For any of you freaks that haven’t seen the season seven finale.
Oh, calm down. It’s been two weeks since it aired. If you haven’t seen it by now you do not care enough about it to complain that I just ruined it for you. Actions speak louder than words. You’re not a true fan if you’re not salivating and trembling at 8:59 p.m. every Sunday night of a new series, and you know it.
And so of course, the daughter who found the rock refused to give it to the one who’d found the first rock, who moments before had been ready to throw down on her own sister over the original rock and who now screamed at me to throw it in the garbage because the only thing that could ever make her happy again in this wide, wicked world was the rock her sister now held.
So now you have an idea of how devoted my children are to emotionally crippling one another.
I’m told that its normal. I’m told it’ll pass.
I don’t believe either of those things, but I don’t worry too much about it because I know that it’s not indicative of a greater lack of empathy issue because all I have to do is discipline one of them and the other one won’t hesitate one second to take up the cross and advocate relentlessly for her clearly oppressed sister at the tyrannical hands of their dictator mother.
What I was not prepared for was a distinct and, I’m not going to lie, kind of upsetting developmental milestone that followed my daughter’s itemized list of every single thing about her “boyfriend.”
Her sister, who has this “boyfriend” in her kindergarten class, looked right at the poor kid, with whom she came into the world and should have some measure of softness for, and said in a casual tone that she’d heard from this “boyfriend” that he broke up with her.
Holy crap, you guys. I don’t care how clinical of a mother you are, there is capital-n Nothing in this godforsaken world you can do to prepare yourself for the first time you see true heartbreak in your daughter’s eyes. Her whole face immediately dimmed and the corners of her mouth looked like they’d been tugged to the floor with fish hooks, so complete was her shock and sadness at this unhappy news.
I looked at my other daughter with my “this is not my happy mom face” face on.
“I’m just messing with her,” the little psychopath whispered to me, hiding her mouth with her hand in the universal signal of secret-telling and laughing as she said it.
Immediately I turned to her sister, the jilted lover, and actively campaigned to shut those hurt feelings right down. “She’s just messing with you,” I told my daughter, who by this point was on the verge of tears. “Don’t even listen to her. She’s being a wiener,” I said, casting the “I’ll kill you eyes” at the offending twin, who just laughed and insisted that her sister’s “boyfriend” had dumped her without even the courtesy of a text or a post on social media or so much as giving her the dignity of letting her know.
And I can see it. I can see you, right now, leaning forward and waiting to hear how it all ended up, drooling over the little takeaway of this essay like me waiting for a new episode of Game of Thrones to get past the credits, and I’d love nothing more than to tell you we talked about it for hours on end and we wound up sitting on my bed it a circle braiding each other’s hair and telling one another what we loved about them as a human being.
But the cold hard truth is that we ended dinner last night with one daughter telling me she didn’t have the intestinal fortitude to follow my wise advice, put herself out there, and ask her “boyfriend” directly if he still loved her or not, and the other one being sequestered in her bedroom until she could promise me that she would refrain from attempting to gaslight and emotionally destroy her sister for the remainder of the evening.
There is no tidy ending.
There is no lesson.
Except the one I learned from this upsetting interaction, which is that at least one of my daughters has learned the subtle art of emotional cruelty, and the other has learned, at the very least, how bad it feels to experience it, and the only way I can handle that inconvenient truth is to hope that the victim will remember that feeling when an opportunity presents herself to hurt someone else and opt to not be a jerk instead because of it.
I’m just keeping my fingers crossed that a greater capacity for empathy will be the only lasting result of what happend here.
There is a reason I preferred the company of the boys in my classes growing up to that of the girls, and it is this. This inborn ability of women more so than men to psychologically flay another person, even people they love and cherish and would be devastated to lose, at the drop of a hat. Boy children would settle for the fistfight but girl children? Girl children always have to take it that one step further, to unlock that beast mode level, and punch you good and hard, square in the feelings.