Raising Popular Children, and my Crusade to Reverse it

When I was growing up, whether I was in grammar school or in high school, I always found myself with a nice handful of friends. In grammar school my life revolved around nothing but girl scouts, sleepovers, roller skating parties, hanging out at the local hot dog stand and almost always wandering the neighborhood streets on either foot or bike. In high school it was always daytime parties, nighttime parties, parties, parties, parties, a hit of acid here and there and more parties. Oh, and boys. I guess I should rephrase that last sentence to read, daytime parties, nighttime parties, boys, parties, parties, parties, boys, a hit of acid here and there, boys and more parties, and more boys. I wasn’t considered to be a “Queen Bee” nor did I walk the halls like I owned the joint, but I was involved and that was good enough for me. I did, however, have one year throughout my entire adolescence when I didn’t have almost any friends. It was only when I was in the 5th grade when I felt the least popular. For the longest time I had considered that year to be one of the worst years in my life. Friendless and ashamed of who I was hit me like a ton of bricks and I had no idea how to deal with it. I was lost that year and it felt terrible. Even now, I sometimes catch myself thinking back on that year and wanting to banish it from my memory.

That was until a few months ago.

In 1989 my family had fallen on hard times, and in the transition of finding a new place, I was moved from my beloved school where I was involved in anything and everything to a completely new school smack dab in the middle of the school year. By then everybody had already established their clicks and besties, so when I arrived, I was basically treated as a leper. Only one of the girls in my class wanted to hang out with me and to be honest, I really didn’t care for her. She was a tad bit annoying and just wasn’t my cup of tea. But, being a self-absorbed twat, I pretty much forced myself to hang out with her because of my own fear of being completely friendless. We’d sit together at lunchtime and wander the school yard during recess, but secretly I yearned to be a part of the more popular group. To make matters worse, on those days when she wasn’t in class, I found myself scrambling to figure out how I was not going to look like a loser sitting in the lunch room by myself. Can you imagine? As a 10 year old little girl, I was worried about being a loser.

At a very young age, my hubby and I always knew that Miss J would have no trouble making friends. She was vibrant at an early age and almost everyone that had encountered her very presence was in awe.  She had this uncanny way of making people feel good about themselves just by her flashing a smile their way or by complimenting their outfit of choice. Didn’t matter who you were, how you felt that day or if you flat out despised kids in general, you almost instantly fell in love with this girl.

That was then.

Miss J, as I so fittingly call her nowadays should be deemed as “Miss Popularity”. Popularity being her last name, while her full name would read something like “Miss J Prissy Manipulative Disrespectful Mean Girl Popularity”. I only recently found that she has an extended family. The good news is that on occasion, I still see my loving, caring, sweetheart of a little girl. The bad news is that I was the one who got her into this mess and now I’m fishing for ways to get her back entirely.

Two years ago the hubby and I moved our kids to their current school. Miss J had a best friend she had to leave behind during the transition and even though I knew what she was going through, I persisted with the “It will be okay” and “You’ll make a bunch of new friends” speeches. What I failed to do as a parent was recite the “Just be yourself” followed by the “Anybody would be lucky to have you as their friend” speeches. I was also pretty much paving the way for her to seek out quantity rather than quality with my pushiness surrounding the issue. I would ask her questions and make suggestions such as "Did you talk to any new girls today?" or "Maybe if you tried this". I sincerely thought I was being helpful. Here’s where I went wrong.

The first few weeks of attending her new school Miss J confessed to me that she had no friends. Nobody wanted to play with her at recess and she had to resort to hanging out with her teacher most of the time. I immediately saw this as an issue. NO daughter of mine was ever going to feel what it was like to be a loser I had thought to myself. I had imagined her face and how sad it must’ve looked drifting through the school yard alone with no friends. I told her to be more proactive and introduce herself to her classmates. I even went as far as to host this huge roller skating party for her 8th birthday and made the sole decision that we were rich enough to invite her entire class. My daughter was going make friends if it was the last thing I did!

And boy did she…

Sleepovers, girl scouts, pool parties, and play dates as far as the eye could see. I had done it. I had made sure my little girl made friends. Yay for me! I was the best mom in the world and anybody that told me differently was to pretty much go suck a dick. As far as I was concerned, Miss J would never have to walk around all by her lonesome again. Her loser status would be erased and all that would remain is a grateful little girl who was just happy to be included. This was wrong. I was wrong. IT WAS ALL WRONG!

What made me change my tune you ask? The first time Miss J talked back to me I scolded her, but brushed it off as a one-time offense hoping to never repeat itself. It wasn't like her to act that way. The first time she excluded her sister from playing with her and her cousin, I lectured her in the importance of sisterhood and how it wasn’t nice to exclude anyone. The first time I heard her tell her father to “Be quiet” when he was trying to tell her something, well that’s when I lost it. Popularity and her mama had turned her into a monster, and not in that order. What was worse is that she hadn't just been transformed in a mean girl, she had been turned into a mean-spirited, self-absorbed tinier version of me. Not on my watch! Being popular when I was younger meant excluding others. It meant thinking we could get away with anything. It meant disrespecting my parents to make myself look cool in front of my buddies. And worst of all, it made me self-conscious and afraid of being alone. Friends were all that I cared about and nothing else mattered when I was younger and I'd be damned if my daughter was going to turn out that way.

What was I to do? Tell her that having friends wasn’t the most important thing in the world? Tell her that if she were to ever find herself in a situation where friends just weren’t available, that she should pick up a book or write in her journal? Explain to her while it’s nice to have friends, it’s even better to have family in her life? That she should be her own person and not think that friends make her into the person she was to become? Yes, yes, yes and yes. I should’ve realized this early on. I should’ve realized that it was okay NOT to have friends. I should’ve gotten to know that girl in the 5th grade a little better instead of wishing I was sitting with the cool kids at the other table. But I didn't. I didn't write in a journal when I was alone even though I loved to write nor did I take that extra alone time to find myself. I was a 10 year old girl who cared about what everybody thought of her. In all honesty that should've been the real reason why I considered that year to be the worst of my life.

But I don't. Not anymore.

Now that I think of it, I can consider that year to be one of the best years of my life, thanks to Miss J. If that hadn't happened to me, how would I have known what to change? What if I had been a hit in the 5th grade? Would if that one year simply didn't exist? Would I have still felt this strongly about the issue? Perhaps, mainly due to Miss J and her ever so smart ass mouth, but I'm glad I caught it early. I can't say that I blame everything on her popularity status because it's always nice to have friends, but when she comes home after a sleepover and thinks she can talk back to us and do whatever she pleases, then you better believe I'm pointing the finger right back at popularity. Only problem is that I introduced her to it. Now, it's my job to reverse it and start all over.

One down, three to go. Unfortunately I know it doesn't work that way, but with four kids, I sometimes have to pick and choose as I see fit.

Let's just say that the older one with the goofy haircut who thinks his shit doesn't stink is next.

Future "not so popular" gals.  Me and Miss J.

Future "not so popular" gals.
Me and Miss J.

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