We all need friends.  Friends that are there for us when we are at our lowest, who will reach down to the bottom of our souls to bring us back from that dark place we have gone.  Friends we can say anything to and be are silliest and most heartfelt with.  Friends that love us for who we are and nothing more.  These friends get us through, anything and everything. We should teach our children to be this kind of friend.

I teach my children two things.  First, every person matters so give everyone a fair chance and second, to be kind.  I encourage them to be understanding of others even when others are not being nice.  I cannot protect them from the heartaches life offers but their heartaches should not come from their so called “friends.”  A great friend makes life so much better.

We do a disservice to our young children when we label their classmates as “friends” at such an early age when children have no concept of what a “friend” actually is.  We say things like, “did you make any friends in school today?” Or “did you sit with your friend at lunch today?” Eventually, children begin to believe that because they are with these same kids all day, then they must be friends.

Then the bullying starts; making fun of their hair, clothes, weight, etc. Before long, children begin to think the teasing and name calling are a part of friendship. They get used to being bullied and they confuse it with real friendship. We need to teach them not everyone is going to be a “friend” and that it is alright to walk away.  They need better tools to be prepared on how to deal with these situations; that do not include bullying or being bullied.

The very definition of the word bully is, one that is habitually cruel to others who are weaker.

“Friendship bullies” are cruel.  They were never taught to be real friends.  They use double speak to convince you they are your friend. They complement and insult you at the same time.  They laughingly say mean things to your face and then say it was a joke.  They talk behind your back and try to convince others not to be your friends.  They make you feel bad.  They convince you they are your “best friend” by using words such as, “you better” or “you have to” and “I thought we were best friends..”  For children, these are the hardest disappointments to handle because they grew up thinking these were their “best friends.”

Time and again, I have seen my daughter bullied by several of her “friends.” Bullied for not agreeing with them or doing what they wanted her to do. I have seen her outcast for speaking her own mind and standing up for herself.  I have wiped away her tears for the names she has been called.  I have seen text messages that have called her two-faced and accused her of “friendship betrayal” for having other friends and she is only in 5th grade!  It is heartbreaking for me to see her struggle with this.

She has not met her “best friend” who God himself sent her from heaven.  All she knows are these girls she has grown up with, who have treated her this way because someone treated them the same way and made their bad behavior acceptable.

There is a better way to teach our children, especially our girls, what a real friendship is.  How children learn to treat each other reflects what they see at home.  Little girls see how their mother’s treat other women in their lives, both good and bad.  They imitate that behavior towards their own friends because they think it is normal. This is when the “bullying friendships” begin and they are usually based in jealousy, pettiness and fear.  It becomes a vicious circle of hurt and confusion. We need to teach our children, love and compassion, not competition and jealousy.

If we just stop and think about our actions towards other women, we can teach our little girls how to be true friends and stop the bullying.

The Deli Counter And An Ex!

It was one of those days that completely catches you off guard and you are just not prepared for what is coming your way.  My day happened at my local grocery store.  I was finishing up my Easter shopping at my local Mariano’s and I was having lunch with my daughter.  While eating our pizza, I looked up and saw a sign for Easter calzones $5.  Well, that is a good deal, I thought. I cannot pass that up.  And yet, I wish I had.  I told my daughter to stay put a few minutes while I went to get one.  She’s almost 11, just relax!   I tossed my last piece of pizza crust in my mouth and got up to get a calzone.  They were not in the front of the store so I asked the man behind the pizza counter where I could find them.   The man insisted I follow him. I insisted they were not up front.  So he said, “Come this way, they are in the back.”  I turned on my heels to follow him and told my daughter to stay put and do not talk to anyone.  I’d be right back!

I looked over to where the man was pointing…then I saw him.  I recognized him immediately. My ex-boyfriend!  Not THE ex-boyfriend, but my teenage ex-boyfriend who used to stare at me with that, “you are my first love and I am never going to get over you” look.  Our eyes met.  He was standing at the deli counter, right next to the very calzone case I was headed to.  This day did not start great and now it was about to take a crap at Mariano’s.

Did you ever have one of those days where you are a six foot tall redhead that stands out in a crowd and you have nowhere to hide?  Well, I do!   I was exposed!   I could not hide behind the employee I had been following.  He was the size of Tattoo from Fantasy Island!  Remember how short that guy was? It was pointless; I had to see it through.  So I waved at him.  A barely raised hand at my side caught off guard, half-assed, awkward wave.  The one that says, “I’d rather be anywhere but here.” The same wave my kids give their classmates when they see them outside of school and I make fun of them for being dorks.  Only now, I was the awkward, waving dork!  It is very difficult to remain cool when your face goes from Wonder Bread white to Cherry Kool-Aid red in no time flat!

I tried to efficiently suck the remaining pizza crumbs out of my teeth and I immediately started to take an inventory check.  Good hair day, check!  Make-up on today, check! No obvious wrinkles, check! Clean clothes, check!  Cool converse sneakers, check! Looking good in my jeans and sweatshirt at our age, check!  I am a little thicker since out last encounter but not thick enough that I don’t look good in my skinny jeans!  Looking good, check! Toot Toot!  How long had it been?  I tried to calculate how long since I had seen him.  Could it really be 16 years?   Oh god, we are old.  So, I stood tall, sucked in my gut and gave my standard greeting; in all of its formality. ”Hey,” I said. “Hey,” he replied.  This was painful and awkward!

I immediately started an inventory check on him.  His curly brown hair had thinned and turned to waves of grey.  His blue eyes were surrounded by creases of aged skin that had seen years of outside elements.  There was definitely more of him but not so much that anyone would mistake him for Fat Bastard in the Austin Powers movie.  He just looked middle aged and somewhat distinguished.

I wanted to break the ice so I wiped my mouth with my hand and said, “I was just eating pizza, I probably have crumbs all over my face.”  He clearly wanted to break the ice as well because he said, “Your face looks fine but they are all over your sweatshirt!”  I brushed off the crumbs and laughed.  Ice broken!

My pizza crumbs ice breaker worked like a charm.  We chatted about family and caught up on each other’s lives.  We walked back to the café to get my daughter and he went to meet his wife at the check-out.  We said out good byes and wished each other well.  He went his way and I went mine.

But I could not let it end there.  I was dying to see his wife and I had my daughter with me. I had to be non-chalant about my stalking.  So I hurriedly dragged my daughter all over the store to finish the shopping.  I had to get up front to see his wife!  Not because of any jealousies or insecurities but because I am a woman and this is what we do!  My daughter said, “why are you walking so fast mom? I can’t keep up with you while pushing this cart”!  So I slowed down and we made our way to the Cool Whip isle where I then realized we forgot the angel food cake for the dessert!  So we rushed back to the bakery area past the checkout lanes and there they were. Finishing up at the register, putting groceries in their cart!  The ex-boyfriend and his wife. We went to the bakery and they disappeared out the door.

Later in the car ride home, my daughter said to me, “Mom who was that guy you were talking to?  He looked weird and had such big eyes.”  I told her he was an old friend.  She asked where I knew him from.  I told her he was an old boyfriend from a long, long time ago and she said, “Ew, that’s gross, you guys are so old. Did you kiss him?  Gross!  I’m telling dad!” I told her we did kiss long ago and it was ok to tell dad.  She did not waste a nano-second of time telling dad when we got home.

It is hard to comprehend it was so long ago and that we are really this old.  I drove home in a silent satisfaction that after all this time; I won the battle of the Exes. I aged better. I still looked good. I have a great life.  But we all know looks are not everything.  I tell my kids that all the time.  But as humans who have loved, lost and been replaced, we cannot help wanting to be the winner.  Who knows, maybe he left that store with his wife and thought to himself, “I win!”