Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Gang in our Hood

We live in a complex of townhouses behind a gate. That makes the street pretty safe for little kids riding bikes. Unfortunately, it has also nurtured the formation of a gang of girls who ride their bikes in a group and their (loud) electric toy cars together while their parents cluster together and gossip. We haven’t seen them all winter, but the returning Spring and the few nice days we’ve had have brought them back out, and unfortunately, they are not nice people. One of the mothers of this tribe lives two doors down, and she’s a queen bee, so they often clump right out front. The fathers are the kind of guys who aren’t that bad individually but as a group they bring out their worst traits. I met them all when we moved in last summer, and quickly recognized their tiered social arrangement. It is very high school, and after I met them I had no use for them, and don’t try to hang out with them but say hi and am friendly when we see each other. Sadly, my daughter very much wants to be included by the girls, and they aren’t having it.

Add to this mix is a little girl who lives across the street who has already been trouble. She lives with her parents (I’ve met them) and yet they don’t seem to have any rules. (The mother told me recently “she doesn’t listen to me like your daughter listens to you.”) They rarely know where she is, but don’t seem to be concerned about it. The little girl has fuzzy ideas about what belongs to her, and has been known to show up at dinner time wanting to know if my daughter can play. I have allowed this child into my home, but I’ve learned the hard way that she needs to be watched, and I particularly don’t like the way she is already sly and dishonest and is only in kindergarten. These kids all go to the same school but fortunately, none of them are in her class.

A couple of days ago, my daughter and I came home from the store and the tiny terrorists were out in front of our building. Immediately, my daughter was desperate to join them on her bike. My heart sank, knowing how this would probably go down, but I helped her put on her helmet and she rode toward them all excited. Not soon after, I heard a blood curdling scream and came out to see what was going on. Of course, all the children were fine, and one of the fathers, in his long baggy shorts, reverse baseball cap and sunglasses, laughs and says “that one is mine,” kind of proudly. I have had this conversation with him before, along the lines of Calling Wolf, and how decidedly uncharming that kind of screaming is, especially from a 7-8 year old girl seeking attention. So this time I just made a joke about duct tape, gave him a look, and went back inside.

The kids had been taking turns driving the motorized cars, and my daughter had finally asked if she could have a turn. The parents must have made them let her, because she did get to drive the car, but when they reluctantly gave her a turn they also decided – enmasse – to abandon the cars and go do something else. Leaving my daughter alone in the street surrounded by bikes and a couple of toddlers too young to leave the adults.

The girl who lives across the street is just as desperate to belong to the gang, and so when my daughter saw her leaving too, she asked her where they were going and the child told my daughter she didn’t want to be her friend any more. In front of everyone.

That night as I was tucking her in bed, she started to cry, telling me about the way the girls had treated her, and she cried for a long time. I held her and soothed her and listened to her cry, and I thought about how hard it is to be on the outside. This was unlike the common give and take bickering that little kids often engage in; I’d heard M and her little friends squabble and reconnect hundreds of times, and this was different. It was mean. I spent plenty of time on the outside as a kid, and I remember how much it hurt to be deliberately snubbed by the popular crowd, and how long it takes sometimes to learn how to negotiate those shark filled waters. I had hoped she would be spared this somehow, but here we are.

I was actually surprised when the doorbell rang last night. M was upstairs in her room when I answered the door. It was the kid from across the street, asking if M could play. I looked at her for a moment. Finally, I said to her calmly “I thought you told M that you didn’t want to be friends anymore?” I just had to hear what she would say. She said she’d had time to feel bad about it at school and had changed her mind. I just gave her a look that said I wasn’t buying it, and said it was too late for playing; it was dinnertime. M came down the stairs just in time to hear this, and she stood on the stairs and seemed satisfied with my answer. The little girl saw her and said bye, and my daughter said bye, and I shut the door.

This has all happened right as I am planning M’s birthday party. I am glad I had already decided to just invite the girls in her class. There are several nice girls that I’d love for M to get to know better. I’ve talked to a couple of their moms and we’ve discussed getting the kids together, but haven’t yet. M has mostly spent time with the kids of my friends when we are out on the weekends and we don’t really have anyone close by. I realize I have to make more of an effort; I’m hoping that her party will help with that.


  1. Ugh, those girls are mean! I hate how early it starts, and I hate that M has to fall victim to them just because she lives nearby. Once again, I'm so glad that she has you in her corner! Way to send the little turn-coat packing!

  2. Ugh, being a parent sucks the worst! We take on our childrens' hurts and want to defend and avenge them. You are a good mom for swallowing those feelings and making more of an effort. I hope to take a page out of your book someday.

  3. Such the good mom you are! I don't look forward to this at all.

  4. I went through a kind of similar situation with some kids where we used to live. I couldn't stand one girl in particular and, of course, she was the one Bubba and Katie wanted to play with all the time. We would go through cycles of where I wouldn't let them play together, the girl would act contrite and nice for about 2 days..just long enough for me to give in and let the kids play with her. Then the cycle started all over again. I sent her packing from our house/yard more than once. The kids and I had lots of long talks about what constitutes friendship and how true friends would never treat friends like this girl treated them. Thankfully, they finally "outgrew" wanting to play with her, but it was a long, rocky road and I wish I had put my foot down more firmly at times. It's hard when the bad apples are all up in your grill in the neighborhood, though.

    I think you handled it just right with M and encouraging her to make friends with the girls in her class sounds like a great idea! It's hard as a parent to sometimes remember that our kids don't always know what is best for them and that they don't always see situations in the same light that we do. It's doubly hard when you are a single parent and you always have to be the one to make the tough decisions.

  5. Kudos for not bitch-slapping that little klepto. You are indeed an excellent Mother.

    By chance, do those neighborhood girls have a "burn book"?

  6. Elliott & Frank: Thank you!

    Bev: I can't STAND how early it starts. How early everything starts, really.

    Kate: I thought I wasn't swallowing it enough! I can give a damn good "look", y'know.

    Samsmama: Is it ever that bad with boys? I don't know.

    OBMJ: Thanks. It really gets old always being the bad cop. It really helps to listen to my instincts.

    Mala: Oh, I wanted to! And I have to really restrain myself when that other little diva starts screaming. I have a lime green roll of duct tape with her name on it... one of these days.

  7. WOOT! It worked! I think? :D

  8. So sorry to hear you are having to go through this. I always hated all the little cliques in school, and that sort of thing seems to start earlier and earlier anymore.

    Yes, it happens with boys too. We had to deal with similar situations with my sons. Eventually things work out, and they figure out who real friends are, but it can be rough getting there.

    I hope the birthday party helps her develop friendships with girls who can be true friends to her.

    I switched my browsers on my computer over to Google Chrome and so far I've been able to comment on this kind of comment box again. (I couldn't get it to work for the longest time while using my old browser for some reason.) We'll see if this will work for me here on your blog. :)

  9. Ok ok ok... I know I'm feeling a bit fuckity today, but is it wrong that I want to choke the life out of, not only the little wretch, but every parent out there in your 'hood?
    I have a 9 and 5 year old niece...the 5 year old is a tiny little petite blond- her sister is not. When the 'cool' girls in her class told her she couldn't play with them b/c she was too fat, I almost came unglued...
    I'll be starting my commune soon- come join us :)
    You handled it perfectly...smooches to M for me.

  10. You're a great mom - this is the hardest part of parenting, I think, when others hurt them. I still remember that ghastly girl in first grade who, among many stunts, brough gummy bears in her lunch (that should tell you something) and passed them out but told my daughter "I'm afraid you can't have any since you're both ugly AND stupid." Let me know if I need to come put the smackdown on the little terrorists.