One morning, while glancing through Instagram, I saw this:
“Due to recent events at school, I am deleting my account. I am sorry… it is for the better. I hope no one gets mad. Please don’t. And don’t ask about it. I will not reply. Don’t get mad. This is my final post. Best wishes and no hard feelings.”
The post was authored by my daughter, and to be honest, I was a bit surprised to see it. I follow her account, mostly to make sure she is posting appropriate things and that no one is bullying her or being inappropriate. She follows me back so she can keep an eye on me.
I knew there were some issues with a few girls at school, who, she said, were putting her in the middle, and demanding loyalty, and then just as they had turned on each other, they had turned on her. Like so many girls at this age, she found herself on the outs; at first a prize to be won in a competition between two friends, and then discarded after they had tired of the game.
As my daughter and I talked through the specifics, I was reminded of a time in the 8th grade when I had suddenly and without warning, been cast out of my group of friends. So huddled under her covers, with the cat between us, I shared my story.
I stood at the edge of the farmer’s field facing Andrea. She had said she wanted to talk, but the presence of two 10th graders who I did not know made that seem unlikely. There was going to be a fight.
The week prior, I had gone from being Andrea’s best friend and confidant to being the girl on the outside of the circle. There are a lot of things that likely led to this particular moment, but in this situation, looking back, it had a lot to do with not going along with what the rest of the group was doing.
One day, as Andrea asserted herself as the Queen Bee of our group, my unwillingness to participate in the bad choices the group was making put me on the outs. But this isn’t a story about Andrea yelling at me on the dirt road. It isn’t about her throwing the first punch, and me having the presence of mind to duck, and then land a blow of my own. It isn’t about standing my ground and not showing them that I was hurt, while she picked herself out of the dirt, and yelled obscenities while walking away. This isn’t about the hot tears that streamed down my face as I walked home that day. This is not a story about me, or Andrea.
This is a story about Susan.
Susan was smartest person in our class. Neither popular nor unpopular, Susan was well-liked and respected by almost everyone at school, yet she was not a part of the group of girls with perfectly feathered hair or asymmetrical new wave cuts who got the attention of all the boys and the admiration of the girls. Susan was kind. She was funny without being the clown. She was poised. She was responsible, always finished her assignments, never late for class, and never participated in gossip.
Starting that January of 1985, I spent every single hour alone. I had been cast out and my behaviors prior to that had isolated me from everyone else. This was my bed, I had made it, and I had to lie in it. Every day I found my way to an empty lunch table. I sat down and opened a book, pretending to read.
One day Susan walked up with a smile and asked if she could join me. I mumbled yes. We had been in classes together for a year and a half, but had never talked to each other beyond group assignments. Susan ate lunch with me that day, and in the days after, her group of friends joined us at the table, and for the rest of the year I was not alone.
I wish I could say that we became lifelong best friends but that isn’t what happened. We started high school the next year, and I found my way to new friendships and a place in the Art Department while she pursued her interests in journalism and student government. She went on to be our valedictorian, and represented our school in a citywide competition, editor of the yearbook, and student body president. I went on to get acrylic paint on my 501s, serve as Model United Nations Ambassador, did Mock Trial, and was a member of the Speech and Debate Team.
It is worth saying that the girls she led to that table 30 years ago are still her friends.
When we reconnected 20 years after graduation via Facebook, I thanked her and let her know how much she had meant to me, how hard that year had been, and how it was appreciated. You forget to thank people for kindness when the wounds are deep and fresh and you are all of 14 years old.
To her, it was nothing; it was just what you were supposed to do. She was simply being Susan. She saw a girl who was in pain, struggling, and she sat down next to her, and made me feel less alone. “Kindness is free,” she said, and so she had been kind.
She noticed my running, and said “You should do a marathon! I’ll do one with you!” And with her encouragement and a lot of naivety I registered for the 2010 Portland Marathon, which Susan ran in 4:15 and I completed well after that.
Susan is the girl we all hope to bring out in our own daughters; she is the one who shows up not only for her friends, but for girls without anyone. She stands up for what is right, and is comfortable in her own skin. She never acted dumb to please boys; she fulfilled her responsibilities and was a good daughter and friend.
Today she has a son of her own, loves to run marathons with her sister, makes jewelry and is a pharmacist. She roots for the University of Washington Huskies and the Seattle Seahawks. She notices the changing of the seasons in the Columbia River Gorge where she makes her home, travels often, and has a favorite donut shop. She is still a good friend, and a good daughter, and a great mother.
In 1985 Susan was everything I was not. And every so often, I am reminded of her kindness and deeply moved. Any kindness I offer is not so much a pay it forward, as it is, paying her back.
Small acts of kindness matter.
When I think about what I want for the girls we serve through our program, I think about planting the seed for kindness. I think about building a world where girls feel strong enough to stand up for themselves, even if it means being on the outs, and where girls support each other, and build each other, rather than tear each other down.
Part of being a Girl on the Run is living our values. Part of being a Girl on the Run is sitting at the table with the girl who is alone. Part of being a Girl on the Run is making a difficult choice not to go along just to fit in. Part of being a Girl on the Run is standing up for yourself, even when, and especially when doing so means possibly standing alone.
These are all lessons that we must learn as we grow up, and it is my hope that the safe place our coaches provide within the curriculum of Girls on the Run and Girls on Track will help this generation of girls navigate these situations with the grace of Susan, while avoiding the path Andrea and I took.
My daughter and I then turned the conversation to how she should approach school the next day. Did these girls who so casually cast her aside really value her as a person? And if not, were there any other girls at school who did? What did it mean to be a friend? What did she remember from her time at Girls on the Run?
When we finished our talk, my daughter decided she would rather be on the outs than continue to be the rope pulled in different directions by her two friends. She would use her “I Feel’ “When You” statements to let the girls know how their behavior affected her, and she would make connections with a few of her other friends. Unlike me, I know her friendships with other girls are strong, going back to preschool, and I will encourage her to value those relationships and to call into question anyone in her life that wants to cut her off from others.
But she also decided to be like Susan. While at the same time using her voice to assert her personhood and independence, she would also offer the two whose behaviors had isolated her, her friendship.
I don’t know if she is really planning on deleting her account. It is still there, and I think that it is good for the two of us to have open communication about our lives and friendships at appropriate levels. I get to see what she is interested in, and she gets to see me post pictures of what’s for dinner.