Sunday, September 8, 2013


As she emerged from the bathroom, having taken a shower to wash off the previous 48-hours' worth of dirt, sweat and marshmallows, Ainsleigh had that look on her face that makes her look about 10 years younger. In a small voice, she asked, "Mom, am I weird?"

With the wisdom that accompanies motherhood while that manual still eludes me, I knew this couldn't originate within herself. 

"What? Why? I mean, sometimes... (laughs a little) Why would you ask that? Did someone say that?"

Her eyes started to fill with tears as she relayed the story where a girl, we'll call her Meanie, said "in front of the whole group" that Ainsleigh was weird. As I felt my hackles begin to rise and I began to formulate ways I was going to leave a horse's head in this girl's Thursday folder the next time I went in to volunteer, I quietly asked her to tell me exactly what happened.

Let me back up and introduce last week. Monday night, Ainsleigh lay in her bed almost vibrating with glee. Well why wouldn't she be - the only reason she was taking a backpack to school was to carry her lunch, water bottles, extra sunscreen, change of clothes, and poncho in case of an afternoon thunderstorm (which would have been welcomed since it was blisteringly hot). This is what they call Outdoor Ed. While there, they broke up into groups and then did awesome non-math, non-English, non-reading things like mountain biking, kayaking, swimming, canoeing, hiking and on the third night, camping. We left Ainsleigh at school on Thursday and practically raced back to the school Friday afternoon to take her back. This would be her first overnight experience.

getting ready for the overnight - they told us to put their sleeping bag/pad in a garbage bag

Anyway, the week had been a huge success, so my heart felt heavy as I was suddenly confronted with an incident that could have potentially ruined the whole thing. According to Meanie, there are popular kids and there are weird kids. Obviously she groups herself with the popular kids. She listed several girls who were, in her estimation, "weird." With relief, I noted that this girl had chosen to lump Ainsleigh in with two rather popular girls. With more relief, I noted that Meanie had not listed the autistic girl in their group. I wasn't sure what level of cruelty she was operating on, so I was glad to see she had limits. I guess.

The fact is anybody is weird. You can think anybody else is weird. We all have weird moments. Can I make a confession? I don't know if Ainsleigh is weird, in general terms. I don't think she is, but then she's mine. I know she isn't an attention-hog. I know she's quiet. I know she daydreams. And I know she laughs at a lot of things, including adult dry humor that a lot of kids her age don't get. She is immature when it comes to pop culture and voicing an attraction to the opposite sex. All of these things combine into my Ainsleigh who I love so fiercely I actually meant it when I whispered to Joel, "I am going to CUT Meanie."

Here's where the maturity of parenthood overshadows the desire for juvenile revenge.

Through a series of questions, I learned that Meanie, who is usually nice to Ainsleigh, wasn't allowed to spend the night. She returned the next day, and even though she still did the activities, I pointed out to Ainsleigh that she may have felt left out.

I told Ainsleigh about the little girl in Gemma's kindergarten class who is having some socialization issues. Her grandma was recently awarded custody because the mother is an addict and neglectful. This little girl, we'll call her "Learning," has never been around other children and doesn't even know basic personal hygiene (this isn't something I told my girls, but which the Grandma has made sure everyone knows). Learning had taken to pushing other kids and Gemma came home crying one day because Learning had pushed her in line. I explained, in broad terms, that Learning doesn't know how to be a friend and that while it might hurt her feelings, Gemma needed to be kind so Learning could, well, learn.

"When she does something you think is mean, you need to think in your head, 'Poor Learning. She doesn't know how to be a friend,'" I told Gemma. A couple weeks later, Gemma skipped home, telling me how much nicer Learning is becoming and how Gemma had been using her thoughts instead of her tears and voice.

I relayed this to Ainsleigh and said that, unfortunately, Meanie will not be the last person to make her feel bad. The world is full of mean people. Sometimes it's intentional, sometimes it's not. Usually it's because they feel badly about themselves in some way. If they choose to manifest that at your expense, you need to think, "Poor Person. They don't know how to be a friend."

Then I told Ainsleigh that one of the things I love most about her is that she gets along with almost everyone. (Girls who other people have labeled the "mean girls" are nice to Ainsleigh and stuck up for her during the great bully incident in 4th grade.) I told her that she will be labeled weird for various things for the rest of her life - weird to have red hair; weird to be LDS; weird to be short; weird to not be good at math; weird to not care about One Direction; weird to not do sleepovers; weird to not wear immodest clothes; weird to not swear; weird to actually like being with your family; weird to have a mom who exacts revenge in the middle of the night...wait, not that last one. Maturity, Sarah. Maturity.

Weird is fine. Weird is interesting. Weird, by Meanie's definition, is preferable. If the options were to be grouped with that girl, or NOT with that girl, we'll take NOT with that girl every SINGLE time. Because anyone who chooses segregation isn't worth our time.

We cried (duh) together and then laughed about the good times she did have. Later, Ainsleigh remarked that she was sad the week was over because it was the BEST week ever and now she couldn't wait for college. Wait, what? Um, I'm pretty sure something else fun will happen in the next seven years. But anyway, our discussion seemed to mitigate the sting from Meanie's words much in the same way the cortisone ointment soothed her mosquito bites.
last minute kayaking instructions

I relayed the whole exchange to Joel (to explain why I was looking for a shiv). He said he had wondered why, as she came out of the school and saw us there (with my outstretched arms and shouting, "Welcome home!"), she had burst into tears. He theorized that she was either sad because it was over or sad because something had happened.

"Oh that," I said, with a laugh. "Nope. She gets that from me. I always cried when I came home, whether it was camp, college, or last year when we flew to California. It's not sad. It's being so happy to be with people you love. It's home. It's safety. It's joy."

There was a pause, as Joel digested this information. Then he slowly shook his head and said, "You're so weird."

Well played, Mr. Hill. Well played.


Alice said...

We're all weird here. And P.S. I always cried when I went home too. Don't have a home to go to anymore so nothing to cry about.

laura said...

Aww, Seesee! I will totally cut someone if you need plausible deniability. Let me know.

Boomercopeland said...

You tell Ainsleigh that being weird is the new cool. After all, if you're not weird, you're just boring. Plus, it was all of Becca's weird qualities that drew me to her in the first place!

Both Becca and I agree that you are acing this whole parenting gig (Joel included). Becca says when Ainsleigh grows up she'll find out that people truly don't mess with the redheads...

Nataluscious said...

Reading your blog for the first time in ... well, a long time. Proud of the way you handled the inevitable bullying all of our kids will experience (and just might even dish out at one time or another) and, as usual, I've learned something from you. But on a side note... Ainsleigh is not short!? In fact I thought how tall she was when I saw her yesterday. :)