Don’t get too excited. This isn’t my review of one of the greatest movies ever made. A psychoanalysis of Regina George will have to wait for another day. Instead, this is something that has been weighing on my heart for a bit.
So we went to the zoo. We took our toddler and 10 year-old nephew and left the baby with a sitter. It was a perfect day. The weather was nice. I was relishing in the fact that my husband had a day off after being in the field. We played, ran, and looked at animals. Our toddler climbed in with the camels… You know, regular zoo stuff.
Then we stopped at the over priced snack shop for a little lunch. David took the boys to a table while I ordered food and waited for it. And while waiting something happened that both enraged me and later brought me to tears when we left. I had to take a little time and some distance from “the event” before decided I had to share it. See, what happened didn’t even happen to me, but I was still so broken.
While waiting for the boys’ food another woman went up to order her food. I don’t feel like I need to describe this woman’s physical characteristics. But she was a mother. And that’s important. She was a mother alone at the zoo with her boys. And as a mother of a wild and very untamed little boy, I felt for her as I watched her set them up at a table and beg them to sit while she ordered them some food. 4 boys. She carried all their things in a backpack. And after she ordered food she began to fill up countless amounts of little paper ketchup cups (side note: PLEASE can we find an alternative to these teaspoon sized ketchup cups… I mean honestly. When you have kids who desperately NEED ketchup, those little tiny cups are worthless and you have to get 40 of them and it’s just too much. There has to be a better way!). Anyhow. While she was filling up enough ketchup cups to placate her crowd, I noticed, as did some other people, that her jeans had slipped down to reveal a good portion of her backside.
I paused in panic, “Should I tell her? Will that embarrass her? I would want to know….” And as I pondered I heard a little girl, probably 6 or 7, shout “Oh my gosh, mom! Look at her big booty! Gross!!!” Well, naturally, my gaze fell immediately on the girl. And then it shifted to her mom and her mom’s friend. Two grown woman. Snickering and laughing. Making fun, not of the little girl’s reaction, because, honestly, children are uncultured with no understanding of manners, (I distinctly remember telling my mom on many occasions, “Mom look at that old guy!”) but of the woman filling up the ketchup.
Here they were laughing at this woman who was brave enough to take ALL her children to the zoo by herself. A fellow mother. Snickering at this woman who is literally corralling this troop of wild little boys and desperately filling up their ketchup cups so that she can sit and have a meal and, God willing, not have to chase them for maybe 7 minutes. This woman who was mortified when she heard the little girl call out to her mother. This woman who noticed the girl’s mother LAUGHING at her.
And my heart lurched. My stomach ached. My face got immediately hot and red (you extra pale girls know what I’m talking about). Even as I write this my hands are sweating a little bit because I’m just still so upset. Not at the little girl, but at this mother. And here’s why.
First. That she said zero words to her daughter about how yelling that someone is “gross” is not kind. And second, because she is the one teaching her daughter that it’s OK to not only point and yell about someone’s physical appearance, but also that it’s OK to laugh at their expense.
And then I thought about my own daughter. How as she grows it is up to me to teach her to be kind. And to be gentle. And to care for someone’s feelings. To want to save them from embarrassment. I thought about my own mother correcting me gently and quietly and showing me that the best thing you can do is to be kind to people, especially people who others are being unkind to. I thought about all the mean girls I had grown up with. The girls who called me names. The girls who left me out. The girls who made sure I knew they were cooler, more popular, richer, or thinner.
But then I also thought about all the unmean girls. The kind girls who included me. Who encouraged me. Who have loved me at my worst and humbled me at my best. I thought about grade school and wanting desperately to be friends with the mean girls. But I was kind of chubby and was really into Ace Ventura talking with his but cheeks (we absolutely are not delving into THAT right now) and how I was always pretty weird. They were unkind and judgey- but they were “cool” and I wanted to be like them.
Thank God I wasn’t. Thank God I had a mother who reached her hand out to put my pointing finger down. Who took time to explain why pointing and laughing at someone is wrong. Thank God that, as an adult woman, I get to choose better people to be friends with. I get to run away from mean girls and walk alongside the kind ones. I always appreciate that the fact friendships are choices. I get to choose to be around kind people but still need to love on the mean girls.
The older I get I realize that those mean girls need nice girls. They need us around to show them that we aren’t going to gossip. We aren’t going to make fun. We aren’t going to judge. We are going to love and be kind and giving and encouraging. And maybe, just maybe, that mean girl will see that she is the minority and she will be spurred on to stop the meanness.
Or maybe, like this lady and her friend, they will find another mean girl and sit at the biggest table at the zoo snack shack that has 8 spots when they only need 3 when a family that actually has 8 people is sitting on the ground. Maybe they will sit and laugh and snicker and embarrass and teach their little girls to do the same. And that’s just fine.
Because me? I’ll be teaching my daughter kindness and compassion. I’ll help her learn scripture to see that most gentle and loving man died for her and, yes, for the mean girls, too.
But I’ll also look those mean girls in the eye, like I did at the zoo. I’ll stare unflinchingly into their eyes so they know “I see you, mean girl. I see your actions and I don’t agree. You can’t be openly and loudly rude and not be seen.” I wanted to walk up and, honestly, punch her in the throat, but I didn’t. Because I love Jesus and he has taught me kindness. I wanted to say something snarky to her, but I didn’t. Because I love Jesus and he has taught me gentleness. But I did look her in they eyes, just so she knew I knew what she was about.
Something I pray over our sweet Flora is that the Lord will give her a kind heart. That she will be gentle and compassionate and want to help more than she wants to hurt. I pray that we can all remember that our sweet baby girls have the opportunity to grow in to sweet women. But they also have the opportunity to grow into mean girls. Of course, we don’t have a say in who our children ultimately choose to be. But we do have a say in how we guide and shepherd their actions and their hearts. We have a say in how we correct them and steer them away from meanness and toward empathy. We have a say in how we act in front of them and what they learn from us.
I pray our girls can grow into kind women and that when they encounter a mean one they can look them in the eyes unafraid and not beaten down. I pray that our girls will stand up to mean girls and stand up for the ones who need their boldness. May we raise girls who love, encourage, and uplift before they ever think of tearing down. And Lord, start with me. God, change my heart to be more like yours- to mirror your love and compassion for those who need it most.