“I’m not your friend any more,” Sophie’s best friend at day-care said last week. I was shocked, but Sophie seemed to take it in stride. When Sophie repeated it to me, she was sad, but adamantly added, in her sanctimonious two-year-old way, “We don’t say those kinds of words.”
Then, this week, Sophie’s erstwhile best friend told her: “You don’t have a grandma.” This girl apparently went on to convince the others at daycare that Sophie doesn’t have a grandma, so they all started saying it: “You don’t have a grandma.” Sophie came home aggrieved. She sat down at her coloring table and asked to please draw a card to send to her grandmas.
I had expected the basic toddler struggles of “it’s mine, gimme,” but I didn’t expect such emotional attacks, so early. How does a two-year-old even learn to say to another two-year-old, “You don’t have a grandma! Hey everyone, she doesn’t have a grandma!” I was tempted to teach Sophie to say to this girl, “Well, YOU don’t have a dad” (that girl doesn’t: it’s a sad story of alcoholism and divorce), but at least I know enough not to teach Sophie to respond to meanness with meanness. Ben was shocked that I even had that cruel thought.
Still, how should Sophie respond?
Maybe all I can tell Sophie is that she is loved, as deeply as anyone can ever be loved, so that no mean words can shake her. I think this is the start of a long journey of teaching my sensitive child to weather the emotional cruelty of other kids.
I can try to teach her to simply ignore cruel words — but she goes to a tiny 6-person daycare, and the full-time Monday-through-Friday kids have, apparently, spent this week picking on Sophie, who only attends 3 or 4 days a week. Sophie is outnumbered by people she spends a lot of time with, and Sophie, I know, is also prone to victimhood.
This week, the daycare teacher got Sophie a special present of a stuffed animal, for Soph to hug and feel special. But Soph has to keep her special new animal at home so that the other kids don’t grab it from her.
And I just realized that it’s bringing up my own sensitivity, too. In preschool, I was so little and bossy and socially awkward that the other kids regularly grabbed all the toys from me. My preschool teachers responded by appointing one toy as just mine, so that I would have something to play with. My special toy was a white sit-on car, with a yellow horn that tooted, and a red-orange seat that opened and closed to reveal a neat hidden storage space. I called it toot-toot. I usually didn’t have anything to put in the storage space, as I remember, because everything else got grabbed away from me. The teachers couldn’t see every grabbing, but they could see if anyone other than me had toot-toot, and they would order that it be given back to me: it was my special toy. I loved opening and closing that lovely red-orange seat, then sitting down, scooting around, and tooting toot-toot’s horn. I often spent all day playing only with toot-toot.
I don’t think I even knew to feel sorry for my little picked-on self, until I told that story as an adult, to other adults who said, “That is so sad.” Still, even if I was mostly oblivious at the time, some part of me was sad to have been a bullied kid, and I fervently wish that Sophie won’t ever have that loneliness.
And I know I probably can’t protect her.