Sophia wanted her turn. We sat at the dinner table going through our days and she was anxious to share. It was a 7th grade drama – a mild version of mean girls. Sophia set the scene. “We were playing a trick on Josie and hiding her book. I don’t know why. It’s just a thing. So I told her I had her book. I didn’t. So I don’t know why I said it, but that’s what I told her.” I could see the snowball forming as she moved through her story.
“Sophia, you are too dumb to have my book,” Josie replied. Then out of nowhere from across the table, Mary piped up. “Yeah Sophia, you are too little and just stupid.” I could still see the remnants of the sting on Sophia’s face as she repeated the words.
“Mom, Mary wasn’t even a part of it. So I said ‘Well, Mary that was really rude.’ Then Mary said ‘Well I am a rude person so get used to it.’”
If you asked me to describe Mary in all of my personal interactions with her I would describe her as quiet, shy, really really smart, and sweet. So this came as a surprise to me.
Sophia continued. “Then about two minutes later, Mary asked if it would help if she said she was sorry. I said not really. Because Mom, it was so rude.” She was still suffering under her indignation. “Then in religion class, we were doing a prayer and we always say names of people we want to pray for, like grandparents and sick people and stuff. Mary said my name! In front of the whole class! Then at play practice she was crying to her brother because she was mean to me.”
I sighed and replied “Poor Mary.”
“What?!?!” Sophia was shocked. “Why poor Mary?”
I acknowledged to Sophia that of course it was rude, and that Sophia had every reason to have hurt feelings. But Mary had realized immediately that she was wrong. She was not a rude person and the disconnect from her integrity came out immediately as she tried to remedy this with Sophia.
I told Sophia how just 5 days before, an attorney 15 years my junior – in front of a room full of people – told me I was unbearable and that I didn’t know how to prepare for a case. I said if that attorney had called me today to apologize for her poor behavior and rude comments, I would gladly accept her apology.
Because every human has been caught in a moment when a war of words come out of their mouth and then felt the instant raw regret. I see this near daily when listening to my distressed clients navigating divorce and lashing out at their soon-to-be-former spouses.
If only we all kept our innate and inner gut check intact from childhood the way Mary had. If only we didn’t let our justifying brains get in the way to continue conflict. If only we didn’t have to be right and wrong.
Mary’s vulnerability is a lesson and model for us all. Sophia is going to school today to thank Mary for her apology from yesterday. I look forward to the next dinner time story of mean girls turned more wise girls.
*Names have been changed to protect identities.