Unfortunately, due to Polaroid film, I am forced to remember this era of my own childhood.
Me, circa 1989 (otherwise referred to as The Fro-tastic Years)
Would you look at the natural body my hair possessed? I should have been a child model. I wanted desperately to audition for Disney's "The Mickey Mouse Club." Can you picture it? Me, Britney, and Christina, all vying for the attention of a certain Mr. Ryan Gosling. He would have picked me, obviously, since I totally resemble Eva Mendes in the above pic. I credit my mother, Lindsay, for helping me blossom into the beautiful seven-year-old swan you see in the photograph. Instead of using hair products to tame my frizz curls like most people would have, she dared to be different and went to town on my locks with a fine-bristled brush, slowly separating each and every curl into my golden halo of glory. The only thing that is missing from this picture is my neon green headgear, which was really a crowd-pleaser.
When I was seven, my best friend, Heather, and I would get together to play hamsters. That's right...while some kids played Barbies or house, we (the homeschoolers) played HAMSTERS. We were each hamsters and we shared a cage. We built nests on the floor to sleep in and rigged baby bottles to hang off the wall upside down so we could lick the nipples to get water, just like a hamster does from her water bottle. We lay pretend hamster babies and raised them into fine, world-changing hamster adults.
We were fantastic.
I give you this background to help you understand that I wasn't always the fine specimen that I am today, and also to explain why the following story made me giggle/weep.
My daughter is now seven. She is wonderful and fabulous and sweet and funny. She is so, so much cooler than I was at seven. She has beautiful golden-brown hair that is shiny and smooth and has the perfect amount of natural body. She has a great attitude and she helps me around the house. She loves art and dolls. She does not have headgear (yet) and she has never, not EVER, played hamsters or licked bottle nipples, praise the Lord!
However, she is still seven.
When she comes home from school each day, I get an earful from her about the goings on and the good and the bad and the drama. Most days she's peppy and upbeat, loving life and school and her friends.
Then there are days like yesterday.
She arrived home from school and I immediately noticed that she was a little down. After helping her unload her backpack and get a snack, the following conversation started.
ME: Are you okay, Em? You seem a little bummed this afternoon.
EM: *SIGH* I'm okay.
ME: Are you sure? Because I can usually tell when you're sad, and you seem sad.
EM: *SIGH* Well, I guess I'm a little sad.
ME: What's wrong, baby?
EM: Mom, you know that girl in my class, the one who is always mean to me? Well, today on the playground she started a band. It's called The Turtle Rockers (pause to stifle the laughter), and she asked all of my friends to be in it but she told me that I can't join. And I don't care about being in her dumb band, but I wanted to play with my friends and they wouldn't play with me because she told them that if they were going to be in The Turtle Rockers they had to stay with her and practice and not play with me. My own friends wouldn't even let me come over to the monkey bars because that was their band room, and I'm not in the band (cue the waterworks).
ME: Ummm...they named themselves The TURTLE ROCKERS???
Before you become alarmed, this was not the end of our conversation, and of course I kicked myself that the first question I asked was a snarky response to a terrible choice in a band name. However, can we all agree that The Turtle Rockers is just awful? It sounds like a band that Zach Morris might have started to play at Bayside High's senior prom. Am I right or am I right?
Jessie and Slater, tearing up the dance floor.
Back to the intentional parenting moment.
After fighting back laughter, I gathered myself and dove into a difficult conversation with Emerson. It's not like this was the first time she was left out or hurt by a friend, but I think for some reason this time it especially hurt.
See, this girl in her class really seems to find satisfaction in being the unkind to the other girls in Emerson's class (which does blow my mind -- they're only in FIRST GRADE!). I didn't realize mean girls start that young. All year she has made it a priority to tell Emerson that she is not her friend, and has even resorted to calling her names and making fun of her outfits in front of the class ("oh, look who's wearing overalls...what is it, FARMER day?"). Now, don't get me wrong, I'm sure Emerson has had moments of unkindness herself, and I'm not by any means saying she is without faults. However, I know that this situation has proven to be hurtful many times over, and that my daughter just can't wrap her brain around why the founder of The Turtle Rockers would enjoy treating her that way.
After a lot of listening, I challenged Em with this:
To join the mean girls is to become a mean girl, and you are not a mean girl. Therefore, you might just have to stand alone.
There are always going to be mean girls. There are always going to be "cool" cliques. And sometimes, many times, you'll yearn to be a part of that crowd. However, if being "cool" means you mistreat others and represent your Heavenly Father poorly, then it's just not worth it. Period.
We talked about why she is at her school, and what it means to stand alone and dare to be different, even when it's isolating. We talked about seeking out the lonely and the hurting and being the hands and feet of Jesus to them, even if it's by doing something as simple as asking them to walk on the track together during recess. We talked about not engaging the hatefulness, but instead how to operate out of a heart of love with kindness and humility, no matter how awful someone is behaving.
These are hard discussions. Hard but necessary.
And as I thought and prayed about her situation last night, it occurred to me that, at 32 years old, not much has changed since my own seven-year-old days in the hamster nest...errrrr...on the playground. There are still mean girls; they have just learned how to make fun of you more subtly. There are still the "cool" cliques, and they are still selective about who they associate with. And sometimes, if I'm being honest, I still yearn to be a part of them.
Sometimes I desperately want to be a Turtle Rocker.
In some ways it's even harder to navigate these relationships as an adult, don't you think? The pressure we put on ourselves is tremendous. I mean, at this point we know not to join forces with the mean girls, but a teensy part of us wishes that we were that put together and organized and fit and stylish. And we know it doesn't truly matter if we're ever classified as "cool," but a tiny part of us still wants to be.
It's bound to happen; we are going to be tempted to join them because we feel like can't beat them. My prayer for those of us who are hidden in Him is this: that we would snap back to reality and realize we're totally, completely focused on...you got it...OURSELVES!
In being so self-consumed we somehow, so easily, forget the very purpose for our very existence as followers of Christ. To love other people to Jesus by seeking out the lonely and the hurting and being the hands and feet of the Savior to them, which is the very nature of the Gospel.
If we have style and swag but don't represent the Savior well, we've missed it. If we have lots of friends but we never step outside of our inner circles to engage a broken and hurting world, befriending and walking alongside people who don't look or act or think like us, we've missed it.
Don't miss it.
I love, L-O-V-E how The Message interprets Romans 12:9-21:
Love from the center of who you are; don't fake it.
Run for dear life from evil and hold on for dear life to good.
Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle.
Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath.
Laugh with your happy friends when they're happy; share tears when they're down.
Get along with each other and don't be stuck up.
Make friends with nobodies; don't be the great somebody.
Don't hit back; discover beauty if everyone.
If you've got it in you, get along with everybody.
Don't insist on getting even, because that's not for you to do. 'I'll do the judging,' says God. 'I'll take care of it.'
...If you see your enemy hungry, go buy that person lunch, or if she's thirsty, get her a drink. Your generosity will surprise her with goodness.
Don't let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good.
Do you know my favorite line in that section of Scripture?
"Make friends with nobodies; don't be the great somebody."
Easier to say than do, but it's a worthy challenge, isn't it?
As I read this post back, I wonder, does it even make sense? I don't know...I guess it does to me, so that's what counts, right? At this point anything makes more sense than naming your band The Turtle Rockers, so I have that going for me. I have a mascot for them, though, just in case they're looking for one: