(finding parenthood painfully funny)
Photo: Nicole Blaine Family Archives
I slowly pull up to every parent’s worst nightmare: the morning drop-off line at an elementary school.
“Okay, kiddo, give me a kiss, and hop outta the car, bell’s about to ring.” My 7-year-old daughter’s blue eyes well up with tears. I don’t notice. She’s about to be late for school, I still need to drop off my little guy at preschool, pick up a dozen fresh-pressed green juices on my way to a huge meeting, and dip into a public restroom somewhere (hopefully a Whole Foods, and not a Starbucks) so I can attempt to wash out the Greek yogurt splooge that looks remarkably like semen covering my brand new Banana Republic lady slacks.
“No.” Her voice is hardly audible.
“C’mon. Let’s go. I’m going to be late. You’re going to be late!”
“No. I don’t want to go to school,” she whimpers.
“Well, I don’t want to go to work. Life sucks, get used to it.”
The lady behind me honks. I glance in my rear view. She’s mad-dogging me.
“Don’t do this to me right now. GO! Or I’ll take away your phone for two days!” (I am still furious my husband got her a phone. Don’t get me started. It’s embarrassing, and every mom hates us for good reason.)
The lady bitch behind me honks again. Longer. She starts to inch up behind me, trying to intimidate me into pulling away. I’m feeling the pressure. Everyone’s staring.
“Go to school!” I scream. I hear my mother’s voice escape my own mouth. I’m transported to 1988. My throat clenches and I begin to sweat. I feel the anxiety that I myself felt when I didn’t want to go to school. The very same elementary school at which I am now dropping my daughter off.
I look at my beautiful daughter. This time I see her tears. Her eyes narrow. She swings open the car door. “I’m scared to go to school! And I HATE you!” She slams the car door and marches away.
Come back! Wait! My stomach lurches. She’s gone. HONK!!! The car behind me is now practically inside my car’s asshole. The driver’s waving her arms, yelling, and doing everything in her power to make me do what she wants. I drive forward and let the bitch cunt behind me take my spot in the drop-off line while flicking her off so every parent can see.
That evening, after fighting over homework, cooking a dinner that my kids refuse to even take a goddamn bite of, watching them throw it on the carpet that is now growing life forms, forcing them to bathe, and then getting them settled down to do 20 minutes of mandated reading so they get into Ivy League schools, I finally circle back on the ‘not wanting to get out of the car and go to school thing.’
My daughter opens up. “There’s a mean girl.”
I listen to her story. I hold her. I kiss her forehead. “I’m so sorry. I know how that feels. Too well. It’s the worst.” She hears my sincerity. “I remember the mean girl who picked on me when I was at that very same school.” I tell her about Alice. I transport the both of us to the late ‘80s.
What’s complicated about a girl bully is that girl bullies are typically in your cohort. They are your “friends.”
Bullying didn’t have a hashtag yet. A Christmas Story was the only movie that tapped into my soul-crushing anxiety. I was scared to go to school every day. Dreaded it, never knowing what public humiliation or shaming Alice would dish on the playground. I lived as her target for four long years, until we went to high school and had more space between us.
What’s complicated about a girl bully is that girl bullies are typically in your cohort. They are your “friends.” Perhaps they’re closer friends with your best friends than you are. They weasel right in there. They’re at every sleep over, in every play group, at every after school activity. They get your friends to turn against you. They leave you out. They find out your secrets and shout them. They make fun of your swap-meet clothes that don’t have a huge GAP logo. They plan parties and invite everyone but you. They find out who you have a crush on and tell them. They yell at you in the quad during lunch in front of the entire school and call you a “short wench.” To which you respond, “Don’t call me short!” Because what 7th grader knows the word wench? We’re not living in England in 1250 AD, for crying out loud.
My daughter smiles, “Then what happened?”
I tell her I cried for years. My mother encouraged me to always be nice to her and to always look out for new friends. I survived. That’s about it. It sucked. But what I did learn, and what I want my daughter to learn, is that now you know how it feels to be bullied. And most importantly, you will never be a bully to anyone. Because it’s so incredibly hurtful. Experiencing this pain will ultimately teach you how to treat others. She understood. And went to school the next morning with a new sense of confidence.
One week later, I was at a party hosted by an old elementary school friend. In walked Alice. I hadn’t seen her for almost 20 years. My stomach twisted. I thought of my daughter and channeled her inner strength. Alice bee-lined through the crowd, straight toward me.
“Nicole? Nicole! Wow. You look great.” (Well… you know, not bad for a short wench.) “Nicole, I’ve been hoping I’d run into you again. I have rehearsed this very moment. I need to apologize. I must tell you how sorry I am for picking on you when we were kids. I don’t know why you were my target. I had stuff going on at home, but that is no excuse. I’ve obsessed about it for years and have felt so horrible about myself as a person. I’ve confessed to my husband how ridiculously mean I was to this sweet little girl for no reason. How could I have done that to someone? I’ve never been able to forgive myself. I feel so guilty. I need you to know how deeply and truly sorry I am.”
Alice’s eyes were full of tears. I felt… nothing. I’d gotten over her a long time ago. I think it was about the time I started dating the guy she was obsessed with in high school. The guy she created a mural sized collage for. The guy she stole a shirt from so she could sleep with it. The guy who made her weep from every orifice when he touched her. The guy I married. But back to needy, crying Alice, desperate for my forgiveness so she could live life without this huge burden she’s been carrying for more than 20 years. She reached for my hand.
I hugged her. “Thank you, Alice. I appreciate you telling me this.” I received the apology. And I felt released. Lighter. Safer. And I felt love for her. For little Alice, and big Alice. For little Nicole, and big Nicole. But mainly for my little daughter. I will tell her that it is the bully who has the most pain. When they are little and big. I will tell her that, one day, when she’s fucking the guy that this mean girl had a huge crush on, she will feel better.
So next time I’m in the morning drop-off line at my daughter’s school, and that cunt fellow stressed-out mother honks at me… I will flash her a peace sign instead.