So we waved off Daughter1 today as she and her classmates were driven off to the dark distant depths of Kent for a “character building” week away at an Outward Bound type of place. After ten minutes of us waving frantically at each other through the darkened window, the coach pulled out of the school yard, taking my baby girl with it.
It’s okay – I didn’t embarrass her totally… I mean, I did manage to hold back the tears. As the engine started up, I tried to forget about all the stories of coach crashes and horrible trips where school children are hurt or worse. (Actually, it’s something I try to forget about every time the kids set off on a journey without me – but that’s my personal parenting neurosis, cos I know that yes, bad things do happen to ordinary people and not only in TV dramas. Shit happens. Horrible shit. But I digress – that’s another story).
My main fear for 11 year old Daughter1 this week is not the “Leap of Faith”, or the abseiling, or raft building, or deer hunting or whatever they have got in store for them. I know these places are as safe as they can be, having taken 20 Brownies to some place similar and even feeling brave enough to try abseiling myself. Daughter1 had surpassed all my expectations of her that weekend – tackling each challenge with gusto, putting Daughter2 in the shade, despite her timid and fragile appearance. She showed no fear at all, climbing up to dizzying heights that had her usually brave sister quaking in her trainers.
Daughter1 and Daughter2 are total opposites in build (and temperament). Daughter1 is skinny, looking like she never eats, and often seems fearful of upsetting others and lacks the self confidence that her sister has. This isn’t helped by the boisterous bossiness that Daughter2 exudes from every pore, plus the fact that she is already several inches taller than her sister, who is 22 months older), not to mention the fact that Daughter2 appears to be overtaking her in the development stages too. Daughter1 has already stated that she feels like the odd one out as the girls in her class are all wearing bras. Crop tops have been dismissed as too babyish(!), but she would need an entire box of Kleenex to fill even the smallest bra. I remember only too well the awkwardness of budding breasts, painfully protruding through t-shirts yet too small to hide in a bra.
And girls that age (well yes okay, girls of at any age) can be such little bitches. That is my main fear for her this week – that she will be ostracised by her friends – not just cos of the bra thing, but cos, well, they are girls. She was already nervous about going; two weeks ago she was full of excitement, knowing she was going to sit with FriendA, and share a dorm with Friends A, B and C. I was surprised then – that Friend C was a “Friend” at all – for the last few years they have constantly been at each other’s throats, sworn enemies. The fact that the mother had hammered on our door, telling TheHusband in no uncertain terms that Daughter1 was not to play in her street in case she upset her little darling, did nothing to convince him that they could indeed be on speaking terms now, let alone room-mates.
Then Friday Daughter1 came home from school in a foul mood, and after some not-so-subtle digging on my part, revealed that FriendA had decided to sit with FriendD on the coach, and that FriendD was now taking Daughter1’s place in the dormitory. I was quietly livid. How dare they upset my girl so. How fickle they can be.
We had a barbecue yesterday, making the most of the beautiful weather before it disappears into the disappointing oblivion we here in the UK refer to as “Summer”. (Make hay whilst the sun shines – for tomorrow it will no doubt be pissing down). In an effort to rebuild bridges, I suggested that Daughter1 invited FriendA. FriendA agreed, but only if she could bring FriendC, eliciting more growling from TheHusband. I pointed out to him that as Daughter1 was making the effort, we should respect that. We ended up with a house/gardenful of ungrateful kids, which later upset Daughter1 as she realised that none of them had thanked TheHusband or myself, nor even said goodbye. I assured her it wasn’t her fault; secretly I was proud of her for being so ashamed by her friends’ lack of manners.
She is so kind, so gentle, and is, the teachers assure me, very popular in the class, often entertaining them with her comedy and her writing. But underneath I know it hurts that she feels shut out by her “friends”, not always accepted into their circles. Unfortunately it seems to be in her genes. I was the outsider at school – one of the “Swotty” gang. Yes, kids – I kept my head down and got on with my work. I was cripplingly shy, gangly and awkward. I wasn’t even blessed with Daughter1’s beauty.
Even now I can feel rejection deeply and painfully, often at the slightest thing. Insecurity stays with you, no matter how self-confident and brash you can appear on the outside. Loudness covers a multitude of hurt. Self-preservation and pride serve to protect us from the reality, that we are often hurt by people close to us. Perhaps sometimes we should lay open our vulnerability and show them how much it fucking hurts.
We can take all sorts of measures to protect our kids from the world today. Cycle helmets, sun cream and car seats; internet safety, self-defence moves and awareness. But the one thing I can’t do is protect her from the fickleness of friendship. I can only be there to sympathise and reassure her that she is brilliant. And that she deserves better.