May I join you?

The doorbell rings a bare 20 minutes after I’ve got rid of them. I push my chair back reluctantly, to answer it. Now what, I groan as I see the small figure through the peephole.

Only when I open the door do I realise that the Bean has tears streaming down her tiny face. She’s six now, but she’s built small and looks like a four year old. And there’s nothing like tears coursing a path down dusty cheeks to break a mother’s heart.

I kneel down and ask her what’s wrong. She is so upset that she can’t form the words and she hiccups it out. I am given to understand that the bigger girls in the park won’t let her play because she’s friends with another girl they don’t like. They made fun of her for even asking to join them. Cliques have existed forever. The Bean, however, doesn’t do cliques. She is very social, can play with kids of any age and sees no reason to restrict herself to one set.

But I’m not seeing reason right now. I’m seeing only a red haze. Anger and hurt. My baby is crying because a bunch of mean big girls aren’t letting her play with them. I know it took her a lot of courage to walk up to them and ask if she could join them. And I know she’s aching because they turned her down and then proceeded to make fun of her. I grab her by the hand and march out self righteously. The door swings shut behind me, I am not carrying my cell phone and I’m in my rubber chappals.

We reach the park and I ask her to point out the group of girls she wants to play with. They’re playing some new fangled game of tag that I can’t make sense of. I am out of breath, my knee is aching and the Bean is being yanked along by the arm, willy nilly. I am going to kill anyone, everyone who makes my baby cry. With my bare hands. And bury them. Under a couple of rocks. And then jump on their graves. Just to be sure.

As I close in on them the red haze fades. My feet slow down. My heart stops stomping in place and settles down to a regular thump. I feel my BP normalize.They are just a bunch of young girls playing the same games they’ve seen played before. Politicking, forming cliques, taking pleasure in another’s discomfort at being left out, knowing no better because no one has seen fit to talk to them about it. It’s a cycle. Other girls have left them out of cliques, and they are finally in a position to do the same. Vengeance will definitely be theirs.

I’ve never seen this happen with the Brat or other boys. Any number of them join a football game, anyone can bowl for the team. Any number can have a cycle race and they’re always willing to have an extra chor or police. It seems to extend into adulthood with men easily joining a gang going out for drinks or a smoke outside office. Women on the other hand will have a hundred hangups about joining an existing group or letting someone new in. Why do we do this? At what age does it start and why don’t we do something to put an end to it?

They all look up as we approach – some enquiringly, some nervous, some looking at the Bean and joining the dots. They don’t want my daughter and they certainly don’t appreciate her mother coming onto the playground to plead her cause, hair flying wildly around her face, in tattered tracks and a faded tee. 

Hi, I venture tentatively, feeling like a 5 year old in a new playground. Would they mind including the Bean in their game, please?

They look uncertain.

She’s small and might get hurt, one of them offers. 

That’s okay, I say gently. If she gets hurt and wants to leave, that is her choice. But do give her a chance.

A braver one, teenager, two plaits down her back says, ‘She doesn’t play with us, Aunty. She plays with X.’

I take a deep breath, remind myself that they are not my daughters, they don’t need to be preached to and that they are in a position to turn me down anyway. And then I point out, as calmly as I can, that she plays with everyone who plays with her, loves making friends and has not been able to join them earlier, because they’ve not let her. They might just like her once they get to know her.

And then I appeal to their vanity. All little girls look up to the didis – and the Bean thinks they are very cool. Would they mind having her tag along? I know she’ll win them over once they start playing. As soon as they get the fact that she is an ‘other’, not one of them.

Okay, they agree reluctantly. Unable to say no to an Aunty who is polite and reasonable.

I smile gratefully, thank profusely, hand the Bean over to one of them and walk away. Then just out of eyesight I settle down on a bench to watch. They explain the rules and she joins in, elated that she is one of them.

The line between being the interfering aunty who fights her child’s every battle at the park and uses her position to bully kids, and the mother who tries to show her child how to negotiate a new friendship, is a thin one. I’m very nervous about crossing it. I’ve seen many mothers charge in, yell at other kids, then their parents get dragged in and it’s open warfare. We don’t want that – we want to make friends. At six the Bean needs help with these relationships and older girls. At 16 she’ll be on her own and I hope the lessons she learns will hold her in good stead.

In a while peals of laughter fill that corner of the park. I listen carefully, trying to pick out the Bean’s gurgling, joyful laughter. But I can’t. All happy little girls sound alike and the wave of laughter just washes over me. Dusk is falling and I can’t see them any longer. I realise I’ve been wool gathering for a while so I collect myself and walk home.

Only to realise that I’d left the door open and my article incomplete. Sigh. A mother’s work is never done, is it?

But this is not the end. Picture abhi baaki hai mere dost.

Later that evening the two little figures stroll back home, shadows lengthening in the street lights. I’m always amused by the way children function – no sense of urgency, no purposefulness. They meander and chat and wander home, with no real time frame – they’ll get home eventually, won’t they?

I have a little chat about the Bean’s problem earlier that evening and ask her if she can handle it herself the next time. She nods confidently.

And then I do what breaks my heart a little bit more. I ask her not to walk home alone. To always wait for the Brat and come home with him. She accepts it unquestioningly and I feel like a bit of a failure. I tell the Brat to always walk her home and he nods unquestioningly too. She’s younger and can’t negotiate traffic yet, I lie.

But really, what am I teaching my children if I tell them that a girl always needs a boy to see her home safely? What am I teaching my daughter – that she cannot be trusted alone, cannot have a life of her own? What am I telling my son – that he must always bear the burden of bringing his sister home safe, must always be on guard duty? At the moment though, it’s for both their safety. There *is* safety in numbers and I worry with all the guards and drivers and househelp in the complex, none of whom can be traced once they exit the gates. There are predators lurking at every corner and protecting my children while giving them independence, is a delicate dance. I hope I can keep in step.

On that note, I hope you know that we’ve begun our usual month of Child Sexual Abuse Awareness. 


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52 thoughts on “May I join you?

  1. This touched me in ways that I can’t really put into words. Thank you for sharing this story with us. And also the bit about the ‘delicate dance’. It is indeed a delicate dance.

  2. I think you are over thinking the bit about brat escorting bean. My older daughter did the honors for my younger boy until last year, when he turned 9- mamma’s orders.

  3. So beautifully written! Loved reading it.
    While I haven’t yet stumbled across this side of the scenario with my almost 3 yr old yet, I seem to be on the side of teaching her how not to get hung up on just 1 or 2 friends. I’m totally at loss! She’s new to India and seems to prefer kids of a particular kind that she can understand better, isolating other kids that want to play. So I’m kind of on the opposite side of your story. This delicate balance you talk of is something so applicable across multiple aspects of teaching them about relationships and participating in some of those to demonstrate what you want. It’s kind of a hit or miss finding that balance honestly.

  4. I’m not sure if its only girls who form cliques as I’ve seen boys do the same too and the older ones are just as mean and cruel as older girls .The boys I’ve seen are around 10-11 and gang up and tease/name-call younger boys.The younger boys are not allowed to join their games.Strangely these boys leave the younger girls alone (who dont seem to give a toss anyway).The girls in this building (at least the ones who come out to play) are not older than 6 and are friendly with each other and the older ones look out for the younger ones (as young as 3). That might also explain why the girls havent exhibited such traits (yet!) . I guess all children have the capacity (and some the opportunity!) to be mean, its not necessarily gender-specific.

    • Yes, all children have the capacity to be mean. I’ve noticed a lot of aggression and violence in boys. But I find boys move from group to group far more easily than girls are able to migrate. Just my experience, perhaps.

      • You are so right! When we moved from Dubai to Bangalore after living there for 18 yrs, I had a huge challenge making true friends. The girls would gang up against me. These are 17 year old girls that I am talking about. My younger brother on the other hand had no problems finding good friends to hang out with.

  5. You beautifully expressed the anguish of a mother. But I have noticed this groupism among little boys as well, even two boys wont let the third play or pass the ball even if they are playing together.

    • I think I’m lucky not to have experienced this. I’ve seen a couple of boys get together and bully a weaker one (case in point, my son). But overall I see more clique-ish behaviour among girls than I have among boys.

  6. My perennial fear — will my daughter be able to make friends? Will if they reject her? How will she handle the daily heartbreaks, the unpredictable ganging up against the one? What if she is the one? Lovely post MM and I am bookmarking this as a best practice for times to come.

  7. I love the way you contained yourself and spoke to those girls politely yet firmly. It shows enormous restraint on the part of a mother who was seeing red till a little while back.

    As for asking your daughter to come with your son, don’t think too much. At this point she is young. Let her be a bit older. As long as you can get the message across to her at an age where she can understand it, it’s fine. Until then her safety is more important.

  8. Such a heart warming post. I don’t know how mothers do it. I’ve been a victim of the ‘cliques’ when I was a teenager and the thought that I have to guide and teach a child frightens me to no end!

  9. It’s a beautiful piece of a Mom’s account MM, I think you are not only a wonderful writer but a wonderful mom too. This is such a heartwarming and honest post. And the way you dealt with the big girls for Bean is commendable. And you are so right about the thin line between an complaining aunt n a concerned mother and also about the delicate dance you mentioned.
    I am so glad that I found a group of mommy bloggers who are doing a great job in raising their kids in the right way and sharing their journey with the world.
    On a different note, my mom also insisted tht I accompany the sister as much as possible, once when she had to come alone from school bus stop to home, on returning my 6 year old sibling proudly said that, ‘Mai tu face bana bana ke aa rhi thi, so tht people who cross me consider me mad n don’t try to come near me.’
    That time we just laughed on this, the small city where we grew was not that unsafe 10 years back but only now I realise what all is instilled in a girl’s mind right from the very beginning.

  10. Yes, forming cliques is more of a girl thing… I remember as pre teens, we used to form groups and give ourselves silly names like “Fearless Five” or some such thing… It was just a fun thing and there were innumerable groups similar to ours… But I don’t remember being rude or snide to other kids… Now it does feel silly but then we all had a blast then, forming a code language of our own, sneaking in chocolates, passing encrypted notes in class… Overdose of Enid Blyton, perhaps !
    Now, sadly, pre teen girls seem to be taking a cue from Hannah Montana instead… The other day, as I was sitting in the park watching my boy play, I heard a group of girls all aged around 8 or 9, giggling about another absent girl’s dressing sense and frizzy hair (gasp !!!) and what a good thing they did by leaving her out. I groaned internally and left the place for another round of walk…
    With boys, yes, there is the usual playground bullying, but I’ve seen the boy who bullied my son a few minutes back, racing ahead of me to help him when he had a fall from his cycle!
    It sure is an individual personality, boy or girl, but overall ,with boys may be the motto is the more, the merrier ?!! J


  11. Choking back tears here. I have always thought there’s nothing Bean can’t conquer and have to remind myself she’s a little girl no matter her great personality. It made my insecurities come out with my girl who doesn’t have the Bean’s chutzpah or confidence, is always waiting to be invited (even in her own class by the teacher!) and I can easily see her being sidelined a thousand times over. I let her do her own thing in the playground and notice she does fine when she is with younger/ gentle kids. I wonder what will happen when she doesn’t always have that option. What kind of mother will I be? Every time I read a Bean post I salivate…wishing for a drop of Bean’s blood to run through my little girl’s veins so she comes out of her shell but I know the Bean is a baby too and all us mothers of daughters have years of shuttling between being involved and staying away to do.

    • Tchah, don’t be so down, babe. I find the gentle ones make their own way too – like the Brat. Somehow they seem to have an inner core of peace and calm that the feisty ones lack… She’ll be fine.
      Hang in there. Big hugs.

  12. You are a beautifully wise mother! If my mother had done the same for me maybe I would not have been so critical, so destined to be the outsider over every group…. Thank God for good examples.

    I think cliques are an interesting thing. Here in Latin America they form among boys too. I see it with my husband’s nephews. Their cliques are very age orientated. Even being a couple of months younger is a reason for exclusion. I am the funny Aunty that tries to get them to play games that all will be included in while their mothers watch from the kitchen and shrug their shoulders and just watch as nature sorts itself out (until someone starts crying…. then a fight among mothers begins).

    I hope that the Bean gets the message. You love her and that you want her to be safe. If she has a bigger sister you would ask her to wait for her. We do live in a dangerous world I and hope your babies stay safe.

    • Ah, no wiser than you.
      I think our parents maintained more of a laissez faire stance where our upbringing was concerned. I wonder if we’re doing the right thing 😦 All I know is that I can’t bear to do it any other way.

  13. Like your writing and totally identify with the contents! Good luck with maintaining that fine balance! More power to you ! 🙂

  14. Hi MM,
    I have been following your blog for sometime now , commenting for the first time now… Really well written.. especially loved the way you described the both of them coming home , and the question at the end, “they’ll get home eventually, won’t they?” i can actually picture them both , walking at their own pace , getting distracted by some small things…


  15. Heartwarming. Appealing to vanity totally works! In my case I told my son that all the other little ones follow him and get underfoot because he is the cool older brother. Since then, he has even let the babies take his favorite airplanes and use them as a chew toy. Sigh!

  16. I’m trying to figure the underlying motivation for cliques. How one child who’s not mean by nature will act that way just to fit in. DD had a horrible time in our neighborhood since one girl (younger than she is) decided to exclude her. Soon she had the entire neighborhood in cahoots with her, although the other children were willing to play with DD when this one child was not around. So, for 2 years DD wouldn’t go out to play very much. After being rejected multiple times, her spirit was broken and I didn’t feel those kids were worth playing with anyway if this is how they wanted to treat her. Eventually, though, i spoke to the mom of the offending kid, now there’s an uneasy truce. She still prefers going out to play when that one child is not around.
    Also, do some kids come with the label “bully me”? I know DD’s always been a favorite target for them. Now another friend of mine tells me her older one has always been bullied too, in most social groups. How do these kids get identified as victims when I know for a fact that both DD and the other child are confident, socially adept kids with no self esteem issues?

    • We are mostly brought up with an us and them understanding of the world. People of a different religion, people of a different state, people with a different sexual orientation. Where does one draw the line? 😦

  17. Lovely post, MM! She will grow up fine, taking right after her very popular and friendly mom!

    And have you heard this saying, “There is no heart more whole than a broken one.”

  18. It’s not only the girls, boys get cliquey too. Chubbocks has been teased since the time he was little. Now when he goes to play with his ‘friends’ fm the neighbourhood, they again tease him constantly, tell him he’s out in cricket when he’s not…it’s heartbreaking to watch a sensitive kid being broken down and it’s a quandary as to what one should be doing. Should you teach them to argue or fight back, does that really work in this aggro city, are we forcing a gentle boy to become aggro simply because that’s what works, if we intervene are we fighting his battles for him….glad you worked things out for the bean.

  19. Get over it, its a part of growing up and learning… no kids are perfect or angels, they need to fumble, learn develop their own ways… its sad when parents start believing the kids are perfect and the world is out to get them…. that’s the start of developing a head bigger than they can handle, for the child. And its really not right for parents to interfere in kids’ stuff…. You are just passing on aggression and anger into your kids by being like this. No one is out to get the Bean… let her learn and grow, the other kids are not bad either, and its sad, when parents start making judgement calls of these kinds on children who are as young as their own kids. Don’t tell me your kids have never picked up a fight or been mean to anyone…. this is just being blind sighted. And if she has picked a friend, let her stand by that one, against others, or leave… let her make her own choice. Why is it so important for her to seek the approval of others, need their nod, to be happy. Often parents who seek popularity, wish that others agree with them, admire them etc etc, inculcate those values in their kids… if you are different accept it, and don’t seek approval, if you want approval, don’t pretend to be different….

    • Huh! is right.
      1. No one is out to get anyone. But kids make cliques all the time and as parents its our job to help them work out most social situations, within a limit. We draw those limits ourselves. This one is mine. I don’t expect you to agree.
      2. Of course my kids are mean, and if I find out, I do my best to make amends.
      3. Similarly if I see other kids being mean, I will do my best to intervene. It’s the same as asking someone who threw a wrapper to pick it up and put it in the dustbin. We’re hopefully all working towards the same goals.
      4. Making new friends doesn’t mean you aren’t standing by an old one. I am sorry for you if you feel differently.
      5. I don’t know if you read the post or not but SHE came home crying because she wanted to play with them and they weren’t allowing her to join in. 6. No idea where you get the rest of your comment from. Please don’t read your own baggage into this. Now why don’t you have a nice cold glass of water and re-read the post?

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