When I got home from work I had to go have a talk with one of my neighbors because of a situation with another neighbor’s out-of-control daughter. The girl is in 2nd grade, a year behind my daughter and in the same grade as my friend’s daughter. Veruca moved into the rental house across the street from us at the beginning of the school year, and while she was a bit abrasive in the beginning, I thought that maybe she just needed to settle into getting to know the girls on the street and in her school. She needed a chance.
I don’t typically blame children, especially young children like this in second grade, for inappropriate behaviors when I suspect that there are parenting issues and/or surrounding family issues at home. By inappropriate behaviors, I mean going beyond being coarse and abrasive and an overly strong personality. I’m the mom who teaches ALL of my daughters to try to determine if someone just has a strong personality and maybe social differences as opposed to outright being a bully. I’m the mom who listens to her daughters while gently coaching them to remain sensitive souls, but to try not to take harsh personalities and attitudes personally. I NEVER use the words “toughen up” or “develop a thicker skin” with them because that implies something is wrong with my girls. I don’t want them to lose their own sense of worth and I think that their sensitivity is important. It makes them sensitive to when other children are bullied and they step in and stand up for those children. They stand up for their own sisters.
So we gave this girl a chance, the entire time letting my youngest know that playing with this girl was entirely her choice and I would never force her. I told her that if she chose not to play with her at any time she would be allowed to tell the girl why. Giving Veruca the benefit of the doubt hasn’t worked, I’m sad to say. She has gotten worse instead of better.
I’ve learned that Veruca comes from a split family, and she’s often upset that her father lives several states away seeing her rarely. I’ve learned that Veruca dislikes her stepfather, especially now that she has a 3 year old little brother and a nearly 1 year old baby brother (both of whom she adores). She’s jealous of the obvious love and positive attention that they get, and the lack of attention she and her older brother get. She and her older brother are very close, and he’s protective of her, and they’re disciplined more harshly and unfairly than their younger siblings. They are not, however, parented. We live on a busy street and the one and three year olds are allowed outside alone. It takes at least half an hour before she notices the three year old is gone. Veruca’s mom relies on the hope that other families are outside and watching out for her children. Her little ones tend to run straight for the road unless they think my friend’s children are in their pool and then they’re sent over in their bathing suits and floaties without waiting for an invitation. These are things I’ve witnessed firsthand or things that Verucal has told me. I’ve caught her in several lies too and called her on them. Whenever I call her out, I’m firm but gentle… I’m parental. 🙂 I don’t play games. And I’m teaching my daughters not to play games because I want them to be mindful of how their actions and words affect other people. I want them to be kind, but also to know how to defend themselves and each other.
Veruca is, simply put, not nice to any of my daughters. She says some outright mean things, things I don’t care to repeat, but they’re clearly intended to be hurtful and she knows they’re hurtful… she waits until adults aren’t around. She waits until the adults that she knows will chastize her because she’s bullying those children. When my eldest is outside with her sisters keeping an eye on them, Veruca sasses her and is fresh. Again making sure that no adult is present when it happens and tries to act innocent and as if she was misunderstood when she gets caught and overheard by an adult. She offers to let Sweet Girl ride her scooter and then shoves her off of it. She pushes Sweet Girl off of my other daughter’s bike. She insinuates that she thinks Sweet Girl is dumb and stupid. She has asked me what’s wrong with Sweet Girl, why is she behaving “wrong.” She’ll ask my youngest to come out to play or come over when she sees her, and then when my friend’s daughter comes outside she’ll just run off and leave or say, “I don’t really want to play with you. G is outside now.”
Luckily my other daughters stick up for Sweet Girl and tell Veruca she’s out of line and it needs to stop. If my daughters get fed up enough to tell her straight out, “You’re being mean and I don’t feel like playing with you. If you don’t leave I’m going in the house,” or “you haven’t been treating me nicely when we play, and you’re not nice to my sister, so I’m not going to play with you,” or when she knocks on the door tell her, “No, I’m not coming outside with you. I don’t feel like playing with you any more,” she runs home to tell her mother how mean my girls are.
AND YET not once has her mother come to my door to find out why this happens, why my daughters tell her they don’t want to play with her, or anything. She never comes banging on my door to tell me how mean my girls are for, well, anything. Why not? Your daughter is upset with mine, don’t you care? You wave to me every day and expect me to watch your child at the bus stop when I help my friend and watch her child at the bus stop, but you won’t come to my house to find out why your daughter is upset?
So the situation with my friend. Since I’ve been responsible for helping her get her daughter on the bus before my own girls’ bus comes, I’ve been able to witness up close some inappropriate behavior. I’ve witnessed her outright say rude and mean things to my friend’s daughter… just vicious things… and saw that sweet little girl’s face crumble at hearing someone who was supposed to be her friend say vile things. Namecalling. Commenting on her appearance and her hair. Calling her ugly. Commenting on whatever she thinks will land a torpedo. I called her out immediately telling her how inappropriate and mean it was, and how hurtful she was being to my friend’s daughter. Instead of apologizing she first said that she had NOT said anything, that I heard wrong. I corrected that business right away. She then said that I misunderstood and she was joking, and as an adult I should have realized she was joking. I told her that you never say cruel things like that even as a joke. This happened three times on separate occasions and I finally told her that if it didn’t stop I’d be telling my friend.
From then on, she has made sure not to do it in my presence but she does do it. Yesterday all of the girls were in my friend’s pool. When my friend briefly went in the house, Veruca told my friend’s daughter to look under the water with her goggles and then full fledged mooned her. She also flashed her privates. Ok, kids may be kids but my friend’s daughter was upset and told my daughter, knowing my daughter would tell me. She’s afraid of retaliation. I found out last night and since you don’t really text this sort of thing, I told my friend face to face after work. I introduced it as “this is my experience” and “my daughters had the choice to play with her but a situation at your house yesterday has escalated it to my daughters no longer being allowed to be around her and here’s why.” I told her about how just minutes earlier when I was waiting for her to come out of the house, Veruca invited my daughters into the pool to play with them, and I said no to her. Three times. At the same time we said, “Obviously my/your girls don’t need an invitation because it’s open invitation even when we/you aren’t home but…” the fact was that this girl made the invitation when she had no idea if it was ok and it wasn’t her pool to begin with.
I then found out that she and her husband are aware of the inappropriate behavior and they’ve witnessed a lot too. They’ve been debating cutting off play time with their daughter but they didn’t know about the bus stop incidents I mentioned. We compared notes and some of the things I heard… curls my toes. Most of what we compared matched.
We witnessed some gutsy behavior right then and there. Some of what we already discussed about both Veruca and one of her little brothers. Later when I walked home, their mother was only just coming outside wondering where her son was not even knowing Veruca had gone to get him and put floaties on him and tried to sneak him into the pool. We had mutual concerns as to why we let things go on so long… we each didn’t know the full extent of the ridiculousness. I know I’m being vague, but trust me, there are some issues.
I found out bullies other kids on the bus and in school and is in constant trouble for it. My daughters were feeling like they were being targeting specifically, not knowing that they weren’t really “special” and Veruca essentially behaves this way all the time. In fact, she’s worse when she’s not around my girls and my friend’s daughter. Veruca doesn’t have many, if any, friends at school because she’s known as a bully and the children are either afraid of her or don’t like her. My friend’s daughter and until yesterday, my daughters, have been her only playmates… her longest running playmates… because our daughters and we moms felt bad for her. We also feel bad that there aren’t more young girls on our street for them to play with. Not any more. My friend stated that she’s going to tell her husband, and he’s going to say it’s the last straw and they’re going to do what he wanted to do since the first month the girl’s family moved in: not allowed to play with Veruca. I’ll be honest now… I felt within the first two meetings that this is how it would turn out and debated pulling the plug right away. I wanted to give her a chance and teach my daughters the value of giving someone the chance, of second chances, and prayed that Veruca would take those chances. I hoped that if she was told directly enough times, and if when she was nice the reward was being played with, she would change her behavior and attitude.
I’m really sad that didn’t happen. I’m proud of my girls. I’m sad that they put up with it so long, but I think we all felt trapped having her live across the street and banging on our door constantly. And we really are the type to give everyone a chance or six and the benefit of the doubt. Until my girls get hurt. Until my friends’ children get hurt. Then I feel guilty that I let it go on so long.
I love my friend and her family, and I love her daughter. My daughters and my husband love their family and especially their daughter. It had to be done, and I know if it were my daughters, I would need to know so I could make an informed decision. I feel bad for Veruca because I think that there’s a lapse in parenting and discipline that tells her that her parents care. My daughters have viewed this all along as a teaching moment, thankfully, and knew that I was open to them saying they never wanted to play with Veruca ever again. I took the burden away. They were relieved to finally have the fallback of, “We’re not allowed to hang out with you/spend time with you/play with you. It’s time for you to leave.” They have scripts in place for whatever her responses may be. I’ve told them that first time or two she comes banging on the door, I’ll handle it if they feel too nervous to handle it because after all, I’m the mom.
I think they’ve all handled themselves really well so far. I’m raising some great little self-advocates. And I’m sad that Veruca turns out to be Sweet Girl’s first bully and whenever it happens I’m not there. Never again.