Sophie has a frenemy.
Last month, this girl, whom I will call Aggressive Girl, beat Sophie over the head with a small broomstick, during a game that they call “Bad Mommy.” Sophie stood there quietly, allowing herself to be beaten — and that, to me, is the most disturbing part of an anecdote that has so many disturbing dimensions. We’ve been trying to give Sophie better strategies: say stop, walk away, get a teacher, do not play with people who hurt you. But Soph keeps on heading back to AggressiveGirl.
“I forgot to say ouch,” she told me once. Sophie has no problem saying “ouch” to family or strangers or even good friends, but there is a whole category of conditional friends whom Sophie is so eager to please that she cannot comprehend that they are hurting her. I have no idea what to do. Soph is sweet, kind, generous, empathetic, everything I admire in a toddler — and yet I fear that she is setting herself up to be a battered woman.
Last week, after school, Soph sat down on a bench next to AG. “I don’t want to sit with you,” announced AG. Then AgressiveGirl quickly pinched Sophie, hard, on the ankle, leaving a red welt. “We don’t pinch,” her mother chided, without much alarm at all. We often sit on this bench outside of school, eating whatever got left uneaten in the lunchbox, while the kids play and the moms chat.
“I’m going over to X’s house without you,” AG told Sophie, repeatedly, standing right up in her face, and I decided that since such meanness didn’t seem to bother Sophie, it shouldn’t bother me. I try hard not to parent other people’s children and I try hard to recognize that my own daughter isn’t perfect either. Soph started a game of hide-and-go-seek, then burst into tears when AG wouldn’t play exactly as Soph wanted her to. I hugged her, told her people aren’t puppets and it’s okay to play separately, and then returned to my conversation, only to turn back and see AG pinching Sophie, hard, on the soft spot under her chin.
I literally saw red. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced that cliche before: my whole field of vision was framed with a deep fuzzy red, like the special-effects to a bad movie. Something about the repeated physical and emotional hurts, all condensed into a three-minute segment after school, all under the eyes of 3 mothers, just made me start to wonder how many other tiny pinches and slights Sophie has been tolerating from AggressiveGirl. I scooped Sophie up, shouted, “We don’t play with people who hurt us” and stormed across the parking lot to our car.
It took a good quarter-hour for my fury to subside. I know that this is pregnancy moodiness. I know that I could have reacted much more gently. But it makes me absolutely, irrationally angry to see someone deliberately hurting my child and to see my child allowing herself to be hurt.
The next day at school, Soph reported that AG “only pinched me once on the lips.” What kind of child pinches on the face, on the most sensitive soft spots? This isn’t just toddlers accidentally bumping into each other: this is meanness. And what kind of child allows a mean girl to ever get her hands anywhere near her face?
Over the weekend at a large birthday party, Sophie kept trying to play with AG, who kept brushing her off. “I’m not ever playing with you,” she said, and Soph just tried to be nicer and sweeter. “Okay, let’s play,” AG finally said. “You lie down in the jumpy castle and I’ll jump over you.” Sophie, obediently, lay down. I shouted “NO!” louder than I think I’ve ever shouted. AG’s mother removed her from the jumpy castle. The mom is sincerely trying to handle her daughter’s aggression, I think. If I could keep Sophie entirely away from AG, I would. Instead, I try to just keep a sharp eye out when they’re together, and I have asked all Sophie’s teachers to also keep an eye on the two of them.
But my sharp eye doesn’t see everything. After that birthday party, Sophie reported that AG had pinched her “on the cheek, up near my eye, a big pinch that really hurt,” and a pinch that I somehow didn’t see happen.
Sophie keeps asking, “Why doesn’t she see my sad face? I made a really good sad face that looked almost like crying.”
I have tried every way I know to encourage Sophie to use her words, walk away, and play only with nice people. It makes my stomach feel hollow, watching Sophie repeatedly run to play with this girl.