Several weeks ago I picked up my daughter from preschool and as we’re driving away I asked her the same question I run through every day.
“What did you do in school today?” I usually get a response along the lines of “nothing” or “I don’t know” or “John picked his nose so hard that it bled.” But on this particular day she had a different answer.
“I played mean mommies,” she said.
“You played what?” I asked.
“Mean mommies,” she said, giggling hysterically. I started lecturing her on how I didn’t think it sounded like a very fun game and it sounded, well, kind of mean.
“It’s not. It’s fun,” she said. I inquired about the logistics of playing such a game and received a very curt, “We are just really mean to each other and then we laugh about it.”
Great, I thought to myself. Parent-teacher conferences are just around the corner, and I had visions of her teacher saying, “Your daughter is really smart, but she’s playing a very disturbing game. Any idea where that comes from?”
At that time, I had no idea. I thought maybe she was simulating my behavior since lately she’s been challenging in the way only a 3-year-old can be. She collapses on the floor and pretends to be a rock when she doesn’t want to get dressed. I had no idea that a 30-pound heap of bones could be more difficult than a newborn to dress. She colored her bedspread, table and puppet theater pink in honor of her favorite book, “Pink Me Up.” Most recently, she’s been on a hunger strike, squirming off her chair, dropping food on the ground and interrupting me or my husband every five seconds during mealtime. By the end of the day, I am, indeed, a very grumpy mommy.
It wasn’t until recently that I realized the game wasn’t about our relationship. At a fundraising event for my daughter’s school, I had a terrible encounter with another mom. I was standing in between two desks, with my pregnant belly blocking the path, when another mom pushed me in an effort to squeeze by. She didn’t say, “Excuse me” or “Can I get through?” She just pushed me and then stood there puzzled when I didn’t move quickly. So, I said, “Excuse me. Calm down. I’ll move for you, but you need to wait two seconds.” She went ballistic and yelled, “Hey, don’t snap at me. Just move.” We exchanged a few other words and she stomped off.
My face turned red and I was shaking. My daughter looked at me and said, “Some mommies are not nice at all.”
She actually noticed something that my husband and a few other moms have been discussing lately: While we impress upon our children the need to be nice to one another, we are doing a pretty bad job of following that modicum of decorum.
When I enrolled my child in preschool, I naively expected to widen my circle of mommy friends. I quickly realized that most moms are not interested in being friendly, at all. At drop off, no one speaks to one another. Moms and dads cut in front of each other to sign their child’s name on the roll sheet. At pick up, we all stand side-by-side in utter silence. I always say hello to everyone I see, but in seven months I’ve only received a response from two or three other moms. When I have volunteered at the school, the moms are stressed and snap orders my way.
So, I finally thought to ask my child, “Honey, where did the idea for mean mommies come from?”
“Well, the mommies aren’t nice to each other,” she said. I realized that her little game is a reenactment of the social exchanges she witnesses between mommies. It made me more aware of how my interactions affect her perception of relationships.
In the past few weeks, she’s grown tired of the game mean mommies and moved on to good guy, where she and her friends save each other from evil wolves. I, in the meantime, am making an effort to slow down, notice people and say hello, even if I have to say it to the same person 100 times before I get a response. That person might not learn the lesson, but I know a little someone who will.