Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Inclusion or Exclusion?

Valentine's day has come and gone. Our kids have come home with tons of V-Day loot: Reese's miniatures and Tootsie Rolls and heart-shaped cherry suckers. But in Charlie Brown's class, everyone came home with just a little bit less.

You see, Charlie Brown decided not to hand out valentines this year. It was his decision and we explained to him that some kids might not feel so great about that. But he was okay with explaining - to his teacher or classmates or whoever asked - why he declined to do valentines this year. In CB's class, there are a few kids who he has told us are mean to him. He doesn't like them and he definitely didn't want to give them valentines. But, the school policy for valentines (as well as birthday party invitations) is: give them to everyone or no one. So, Charlie Brown chose the latter.

Texan Papa and I talked to each other about this because we can both remember a day when rules like this didn't exist. While I understand the reasoning behind the school's decision about inclusion for parties, I also can speak - from experience - that it doesn't make the unwanted kid feel any more included. She knows when the Valentine she receives was only given to her because the giver had to. She knows when the party invitation isn't REALLY meant for her. Sure, she's included like everyone else. But is she really wanted?

I remember attending my first sleepover birthday party in 5th grade. Patti gave me the invitation and actually said to me, "I'm only inviting you because my mom said I had to invite ALL the girls in the class." But to me, it didn't matter. I was invited to a party! At the house of the popular girl!!! Now, finally, they'll see how fun I am and how I can tell a joke. They'll get to know me and want to be my friend after all!

Patti and Beth and Kelly, they didn't want anything to do with me. If I stood near them, they'd say, "Do you smell something funny?" If I asked them what they were doing, they'd ignore me and say, "Hey, let's go upstairs!" and run quickly up the steps and lock themselves in the bathroom. They'd yell out, "Oh, sorry! We have to talk privately for a minute!" Of course, I ended up in tears which only ostracized me more. That night, I ended up spending most of the evening in the kitchen talking to Patti's mom. Slumber Party Fail.

I don't know if it would have been better for me to have never been invited. Going to that party built my character. It taught me how to never be a "mean girl" to anyone else, knowing all too well how it felt to be on the receiving end of such behavior. It also drove home the point that some people will just always be mean, and I shouldn't wait around for them, expecting that one day suddenly they'll be my friend. Maybe if I'd never been invited to that party, I would have learned the same lesson over the long haul, not as a crash course.

Texan Papa had a little different bent on the whole situation. He felt that when a kid doesn't receive a valentine, or party invitation, the kid gets the message of... you're not so fun to be around. You're mean to people. Start being nicer and maybe you'll get more friends (and valentines and party invitations). But for me, it wasn't that I was mean or anything. I was just a bit socially awkward. I never really fit in with the popular crowd and my parents didn't exactly teach me how to love my independent and individual self. I spent most of my primary and middle school years wishing I could be friends with someone.

In high school, I never went to parties unless the person throwing the party specifically came up to me and invited me. WHO DOES THAT IN HIGH SCHOOL??? Uh, nobody. Teenager party policy was basically BYOB and don't puke on the couch. But I just couldn't accept that anyone would want me at their party.

So now, as a parent watching my kid in class, I get it. No one wants to feel left out. Really, if anyone gets it, I do. And, I don't know what the right answer is. I wouldn't want to be like the real Charlie Brown, waiting by his mailbox for a valentine that never comes, or even worse, getting the late valentine that had someone else's name written on it, then erased, and my name put in its place.

Childhood is so simple, yet so complicated. I'm glad it's over for me, and now I just have to watch it from the free seats. Problem is, watching each of my children struggle with friendships makes me relive my own struggles, over and over again.

Maybe nothing in life is simple.


Heather said...

really liked this one could really feel some heartache in this one,not that I like heartache!but I can sympathize with that ....

Jennifer said...

I think what he did was really mature and well thought out. I got married right out of high school so I had to go through this same thought process. Do I invite everyone, or just the people that mean something to me to my wedding? I went with just the people I wanted. It was my day after all.

I hate that our kids have to live through this. My Baby Girl is very open hearted. She wants to be friends with everyone and they more they push her away the harder she tries to be their friend. I wish I could find a way to make her tougher so that it didn't hurt. I want to put a little plastic bubble around her heart to keep her from having that heartache. But I guess if I did that she would never get any of the good stuff either.

Being a parent is hard.

Kristen said...

I havent been thru this with my sweet boy yet...and my heart breaks for the times that are coming. I had fantastic self esteem growing up, and I hope I can pass on to my children the same thing. Sure, not everyone is going to like you and want to be your friend, but its the people who do who count!
But that was a very wise decision on his part, and good for him for sticking to his guns! You are raising children with convictions! Good Job Mama!

Emily said...

Great post. I think many of us can sympathize with those feelings. How did CB feel about his decision after Valentine's Day? I try not to get nervous about stuff like this, but I know it'll happen one day and I hope I'm prepared to help my child deal with it.

Foursons said...

I'd like to know how CB felt about his decision after the fact too.

I feel horrible for you about that stupid slumber party. Poor girl.

Childhood is rough. Kids make it even rougher than necessary.

Sugar said...

I'm so sorry Patti was like that to you. You didn't deserve it. The experiences that you had as a child will serve you so well with your children. I love that you gave CB a choice. How great that he did this WITH conviction. To me, this just screams that he HAS self awesome is that? He's confident enough with himself that he's not going to pander to anyone. Good for you and Texas Papa for raising such a strong, confident young man. WOO HOO!