“The girls let me sit with them yesterday. Because I wore the right clothes.”
The coffee cup hovers near my mouth. My hands freeze, wrapping tighter around the mug.
“Wait,” I say. “What’s that again?”
She takes a bite of her PopTart and repeats matter-of-factly, “If I wear the right clothes, the girls will like me.”
It’s like I’m pucker punched in the gut. Right back to 4th grade. I’m standing in the Limited, Too with my mom. I’m here because the thing to wear, the right thing to wear, is a Limited Too sweatshirt.
I begged and pleaded and begged and pleaded for that sweatshirt. I had to have it. Without it, I was a zero. Less than a zero. Without it I was akin to the disgusting gum stuck under the desks. At least that’s how they treated me.
I wasn’t ever the popular girl. But, oh, how I tried. And tried and tried and tried. I emulated their behaviors, shopped at the same stores, wore my hair in similar style.
But nothing. The harder I tried, the further away I got.
Every morning I’d yank that Limited Too sweatshirt over my head, collect my carefully curated Lisa Frank school supplies, and stare at myself in the mirror. I wasn’t a cute girl. I was chubby. I hadn’t yet figured out how to tame my naturally textured hair. And my enthusiasm for school didn’t make me well liked.
I hung my worth on their glances, invites to parties (or lack thereof), acceptance into their circle at recess.
They’d say I could join them. And when they saw me coming, they’d snicker and run away.
I wish I could say it ended after elementary school. But it didn’t. It continued into middle school, high school. Even college – especially college – was prime for mean girl time. You know when they stand in a circle and you walk past and they all turn to look at you before turning back in and laughing together in huddle?
And it didn’t end there. The mean girls turn into mean women in the preschool parking lot or the soccer field.
But now I don’t care. Because I don’t hang my self worth on what they think about me.
Because I’m a mom to three kids who look to me. And I don’t want them to see that that’s okay. It’s not okay to be mean. And it’s not okay to live and die by what others think.
I put down my coffee mug, walked around the table, held her face in my hands.
“Kate,” I say. “This is important. Never, ever change for anyone. Those girls don’t decide what’s right. You continue being you. You’re brave and you’re kind. And what do we say in this house?”
“You’re perfect the way you are!” she says.
“That’s right!” I say, pulling her to my chest. “We’re all perfect. Just the way we are.”