Last week my daughter came home from school very upset.
I hear. I wasn’t there. I was a at a conference. But thanks to the miracle of cellphones, I talked to my husband who filled me in. “She won’t tell me what’s wrong,” he said. So I decided to surprise her after her swimming lesson. I hurried over and made it just in time to see her round the corner for home.
It was a beautiful day and we decided to walk around the park. Her sister was still in her swimming lesson and we would have an hour to talk before she got out and it was time to go home.
So, this is what happened. They were in the school yard resting after a track and field morning. They start joking with each other, talking about Prince Charming, then Princess Charming (which in French would be la Princesse Charmante) which apparently was hilarious. Then someone told my daughter that her good friend was her Princess Charmante and the mean girl (whom I have discussed before in these pages), or should I say the socially-challenged girl, takes it just that step farther and says, “I wouldn’t be surprised if when you grow up you are a lesbian.”
Now, being a lesbian is not an insult. My daughter knows this. She has heroes who are lesbians. (See image). I hope that I have raised them so they think of it in terms of just facts about people. Suzie Q: brown hair, brown eyes, kind of tall, dates girls.
So why did it sting so much?
Because it was meant as an insult. It doesn’t matter what you say, if you say it in a certain way, you can make it sound like the worse thing in the world. I simply have to point out the whole red hair prejudice thing. Yeah, well, you’re a ginger! (What the hell is up with that, by the way?)
But back to me. Because really, this story is about me and how I wanted to punch the girl in the face (not for the first time). No worries, I would never actually go hit a child (or hopefully anybody else, but you never know. I’ve got rage, yo.) My first reaction was what? That F#$%$#%@ B*(&*(^*! Let me talk to her mother! Then we walked around the pond in the park and the grass was blowing in the breeze and the tulips were up and I calmed down.
As it came out, my daughter was more upset about how it played out. To her credit, the whole lesbian thing didn’t bother her so much- it was the fact that she was being insulted, albeit in an ignorant, non-insulting way. But the intention was there, and if kids feel anything, they feel intention.
She was upset and went away to cry alone, as she didn’t want to cry in front of the girl. A couple of her friends came up to her asked her what was wrong. She told them and they got their 12 year old misguided righteous rage on and, despite my daughter asking them not to say anything, marched up to the other girl and gave her a what for.
Now the other girl who is not one to take things lying down, in fact is usually the one stirring it up, marched right back to my daughter and got mad at her. “I was joking. It’s not my fault if you can’t take a joke” the girl said.
The teacher finally intervened and my daughter and the girl had to have a sit down. The teacher gave the girl a talking to, beginning with the question, “So are you a homophobe?” (God bless my daughter’s teacher). But then she made the girl apologise and the apology was less than satisfying.
This is what irked my daughter. The whole lesbian thing was neither here nor there, except to show the girl’s appalling ignorance. It was the half-assed apology that was not an apology. The joke that was not a joke.
So, as a parent, what do you say to that? I began with the trite, albeit Christian response (that is of course after I stopped swearing and unclenched my fists) that she should pity her, that her need to be the center of attention at all costs will not bode well for her or for her friendships.
Yeah, yeah. So my daughter has to be insulted, suffer an aplogy that is worse than the insult and then she must try to find it in her heart to forgive the girl for she knows not what she says?
I realised the moment I said it that it was not fair. No. My daughter should be angry. About the inappropriateness of the comment. Of the fact that the girl didn’t mean her apology at all.
So. We settled on this: she doesn’t have to forgive the girl, or even be friends with her (which she was not very much anyway- they are just thrown together a lot because they are only 4 girls in their class).
All she has to do is figure out how to live with her. And that, only for one more month before she leaves elementary school and goes to high school.
Because that’s what we all have to do. The fact that we don’t like people doesn’t make them go away. We still have to figure out how to deal with them.
But forgiveness? Pity? Maybe later when we’ve figure out that first step…
One thought on “On insults that are not insults”
Funny, I just had the whole “you don't have to like her, you just have to be polite to her” talk with my five-year-old…
It's gotta be tough to have only 4 girls in a class, but good prep for work-place politics!