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.
HOW TO PARTICIPATE
A lot of you have been asking us how to take part in this, what are the rules etc. We want to keep it as open as we can. Any thoughts? Please share. However for the convience of everyone we have put together the ways you can contribute as well as some very broad guidelines…
If you would like to add to the discussion or know somebody else who would, please note that we welcome entries
- mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org OR
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- posted on your own blog with the badge and linked to the main blog OR
- linked or posted on Twitter tagged twitter.com/CSAAwareness OR
The list of topics is available here. Anonymous contributions are accepted and requests for anonymity will of course be honoured.
Please remember to send in a mail with all necessary links or just your input email@example.com so that we can track your contribution and make sure that it is not inadvertently lost.
More details on the CSAA blog.