So the other day my four-year-old cornered me in the locker room at our town pool.
“Mom, can you help me walk over to those girls and ask them if I can be their friend?”
Ugh. Not this.
Those girls were older, tall and thin, blonde, possibly wearing lip gloss, doing some sort of song and dance routine in the mirror. They were older, and they were a group. My dumpling is a smaller, more confident version of me, with short brown hair and an ample build. I felt like I knew these girls, they were the kind who wouldn’t play with me when I was little.
So I explained that they were older and doing their thing, let’s find someone else to play with.
She was insistent.
I went over to my husband, explained the situation, and he agreed that I was making the right call.
But that little girl wouldn’t be denied.
I directed her toward other activities. Due to a series of unfortunate events, a father called me over and asked that I please go into the restroom (again) and wipe his daughter’s bottom. “So sorry, I can’t find her mom so…..?“
I got the job done, and on my way out of the locker room was once again cornered by my 4-year-old, arms akimbo. “Mom, just walk over to them and tell them my name.”
After wiping the tush of another child not of my loins, it was the least I could do.
I held my daughter’s hand, walked over, and steadied myself for what was to come.
“Hi. I would like to introduce you to my daughter, Clementine. She’s almost 5.”
“Hi,” they responded. It was tepid, at best.
“How old are you?” I asked.
“Nine,” they replied.
Having exhausted our conversation, I started to walk out of the locker room, still holding my daughter’s hand.
Her feet were cast in cement. “Can I play with you?” she asked, loud and confident.
The girls heard her, and got quiet. They were choosing to ignore her. I made my move toward the door again.
“I said, ‘Can I play with you?’ ” she repeated.
I looked down at her eager, open face. I looked at the girls, clearly having heard her, whispering. My chest started to tighten and my face got hot. I squeezed her hand.
“Can I PLEASE play with you?” she said even louder.
“Um, sure, I guess,” said one of them, “We only have a few minutes until we are having dinner though.”
Clementine skipped over to them. Or maybe she floated. I left the room.
Within three minutes, my daughter ran over to me, and the girls walked off elsewhere.
“How was it?” I asked.
“It was great!”, she said, “They were the stars of the show and I was the audience. They did their whole performance just for me. I don’t know their names, but that’s okay. We played together, mom. They are my new friends.”
She was happy and satisfied. She didn’t know any other way to be.
And I was wrong. I had visited on my child my own anxiety and assumptions based on my childhood experiences. These include:
- Older kids don’t want to play with younger kids.
- Thin girls don’t play with more, ahem, robust girls.
- Blonde girls definitely don’t play with brown-haired girls.
I grew up in a pretty racist town with a private anti-semitic pool. (Just hear what locals Amy Vernon and Amy Schumer had to say about it). This was pool just steps from my house, and it’s where most of the town hung out — except for the Jewish and Black families; we were not allowed to join the pool.
Let’s say that again: Jewish and Black families were not allowed to join the pool.
It was a private club and apparently, it’s perfectly legal for a private club to have rules like that (and still is).
The rules set in that private club become social mores that flowed out into the larger community, like upstream pollution that wrecks a downstream swimming hole. My neighbor, who looked a lot like the girls Clem wanted to play with, told me that she could not play with me or be friends with me because I was Jewish when I was five-years-old. FIVE.
I’ve got pretty powerful memories about exclusion.
My daughter has none of these memories. She just wanted to make some friends. And thanks to her insistence, she sidestepped my hang-ups and did.
What kinds of limiting beliefs do you have right now, about a situation that you are in? What is the story you are telling yourself about how a situation is going to play out, that may or may not be based on current facts, but instead of past experiences? How are you holding yourself back? What would happen if you, like Clementine, didn’t know about anti-semitism and cruel pools? What might you do if you didn’t know better?
Here’s to reframing assumptions!
PS: And here’s some more trivia on how the excluded Jewish kids of Rockville Centre came together and made some magic happen.
PPS: I can’t talk about excluded Jewish kids of Rockville Centre without including Howard Stern. Fun fact: I used to go to block parties on his block. Just gonna leave that right there.