Over the summer I saw a large group of my theatre friends’ kids all attending a night out together- dinner and a show, all to support another theatre kid who was in that particular production. When I asked two friends, “Your daughter wasn’t there…was she doing something else fun?” I was shocked to learn that two of the prominent members of the theatre kid clique were not invited. This wasn’t just oversight on the part of tweens and teens, a mom had organized the outing. Recently, another mom in this group started organizing all sorts of “fun” for these kids, still excluding others. The snub is so deliberate and so huge, that I can’t help but agonize for the victims.
We talk so frequently about kids bullying one another, about adults bullying one another. When we discuss adults bullying kids, it’s framed by abuse. In these social settings, though, as these moms deliberately disregarded one child while cultivating relationships with others, doesn’t it feel like bullying? It’s classic mean girl lunch-room kind of exclusion. As I continue to wrap my head around how grown women are acting this way in a zip code the size of a walnut, all I can do is care for the young beings who are enduring this behavior. I offered to them a letter:
When I saw the photos of your friends all going to dinner and a play together, I couldn’t help but notice you weren’t there. I thought maybe you had other plans, but I later learned at least two of my favorites (you and another) weren’t asked. That is lousy.
One of the greatest hidden gifts of my life has been exclusion. Since I was a child I have been excluded by my peers, especially the “cool kids”. It used to upset me. I’d cry. I would hide in my room and teeter on depression, taking solace in music and books. As I navigated my high school years without a clique of giggling teens at my side, I didn’t realize that I was the strongest among my classmates. I had no fear in standing up to make a speech or toast. I didn’t worry about what others thought when I stood up for what’s right or stuck to my convictions. I didn’t miss out on eating at a great restaurant or seeing a fab film because I was solo- I just went. I didn’t have an inner circle of besties to “help” me make decisions, so fashion, school, hobby, and decisions the like were all mine- no committee rule. (And to be clear: they were all awesome decisions. 🙂 ) Adults welcomed me into their social circles early in my life, allowing me to cultivate job, communication, and social skills that many of my peers STILL haven’t mastered. As a theatre person, this repeated exclusion has fostered the skills needed to excel at direction, stage management, and performing alike. I don’t seek validation from a huge group of “friends” or need to be loyal to whomever the nicest mean girl is that moment. I am loyal to the script, the process, the art.
Socially, some of the best friends of my life came to me in college. I still connect and communicate with some high school classmates, but only because of social media. By standing alone and strong, I am better equipped to present my truest self to people I meet. And that’s where REAL relationships come from. The exclusion I experience – to this very minute – by alleged friends and best friends allows me to see their true colors. And know that they aren’t really my friends. Their behavior reflects on THEM, not YOU.
Finally, as I look back as a technical adult, I am cognizant of the adults who did or facilitated the excluding. Why wasn’t there one mom who spoke up and said, “What about Juliet?” Why were there moms who planned outings with my entire cast or team and didn’t think to call me- or worse, deliberately didn’t call me? Those moms raised kids who do the same. My mom raised a grownup who will never let a kid sit alone at lunch, never let a cast gang up on the outsider, never ostracize a weak softball player.
Being a teenager is one of the very hardest things I’ve ever done. It sucks. I think you’re talented and smart and kind. I also know you would never let one of your friends be left out of a group event and you would worry endlessly if someone was feeling bad. Keep being you. There’s no one better.
Maybe we all need a reminder once in awhile about how kindness is truly the only path in life.