A Tale of Two Kids
June 19, 2010
nce upon a time there were two kids in the third grade.

Stacy had lived in this same town and gone to the same school all her life. Chris had bounced from town to town and state to state and this school was her fourth school, not counting preschools. Stacy and Megan had been best friends forever and now they decided to also be friends with Chris. They were good friends for a time and their little group expanded over the course of a year to also include Penny and Anna.

What Stacy Knew
Stacy and Megan had been friends forever. They did everything together and Stacy always declared how something was to go. She said when to do schoolwork, what number to stop at and wait for the other person to catch up - so they could turn their schoolwork in together - and what games they'd play. She let Megan decide the games sometimes, but mostly Stacy ran everything.

Then along came Chris. Chris was freaking bull-headed and not very cooperative. She tricked Stacy into thinking she'd also follow Stacy's orders, but she didn't. Why one day, Chris worked ahead on a language arts assignment and not only went past number ten and didn't wait for Stacy (and Megan) to catch up, but when Megan saw where Chris was ... and where Stacy was ... Chris made Megan also work ahead. And then Chris turned in her paper before Stacy and Megan! They were friends; they were supposed to do everything together!

On the playground, Chris had ideas. Big ideas. She suggested they play Star Wars. And somehow most of the third grade got involved. And Chris was directing everything. Stacy won, however, because she got to play Princess Leia while Chris didn't get to be any character because she was bossing everyone around and directing the whole thing.

It was pretty funny, though. Chris decided - and Stacy agreed - that Princess Leia and Darth Vader were actually getting drunk together during the interrogation. Stacy (as Leia) and some boy playing Vader pretended to stumble around, hanging on each other and hiccuping and singing "How Dry I Am." Stacy loved being the center of attention. And hanging on that boy. And being the center of attention.

But honestly, Chris was getting too uppity. It was Stacy who decided what the group did, particularly now that it had grown during fourth grade. To teach Chris who was in charge, Stacy cajoled one of the boys to "take care of her" during lunch.

Despite her best efforts, Stacy was appalled to find out that the boy didn't beat up Chris. And Chris somehow managed to not get in trouble for fighting. In fact, no one except Stacy seemed to even realize there was a fight going on!

Chris did seem to settle down - a little - so Stacy relaxed. But it wasn't long before she sent another boy after Chris. And another. And another.

In the beginning of fifth grade, Stacy got a lucky break. The teachers decided to re-evaluate all of the kids before placing them into groups. Chris got bumped down in language arts which meant that she was apart from the group more. Stacy worked hard on freezing Chris out so she could go back to helping the group be more of a group and support each other better. It worked. By the end of fifth grade, even though Chris had somehow convinced the teachers she should move back up to highest language arts, she was more distant and finally drifted away from the group.

Which was good, because Stacy was pretty sure that Chris was crazy. Why else would she argue with every little thing Stacy said or did?

What Chris Knew
Chris was tired of moving. She wanted friends that would last forever. Chris did everything fast. Run fast, talk fast, usually came to fast decisions. Schoolwork especially was done quickly so she could pull out a book and read something that was actually interesting. Schoolwork, to be frank, was simply a stumbling block in the way of life, always invading and interrupting. It's not that she didn't like learning, but schoolwork at this new school was way simpler than she was used to and it was boring. She was having to repeat work that she'd done at the beginning of the year in her old school. So she had a lot of time to think up new games to play with her friends.

Because she'd moved so much, she had a tendency to plan everything out in her head ... and when things didn't actually work out that way when it was time to act, she got very confused. Didn't everyone know this was the most efficient or most fun way to do things?

In language arts class one day, Chris worked to number ten like Stacy said. She looked up and over at Megan's paper. She was on number five. Stacy was on number three. Chris wanted to go get a book. She fidgeted. Bored. Bored, bored, bored. Looked over again. Oh for crying out loud. She worked the rest of the worksheet (the same one she'd done back at her old school weeks ago). She was appalled when Stacy finally looked up to discover that not only had Chris worked ahead, but so had Megan, and then Stacy burst into tears. She'd have felt way more bad about it if Stacy hadn't told the teacher that Chris had done something to her and made the teacher mad at Chris.

In fact, she was often confused as to why Stacy was mad at her this time. Also confused as to why Megan called Chris an egomaniac. Or why when she tried to make up for doing something wrong by genuinely saying sorry and offering a peace-offering gift, it was always the wrong thing to do. (Even Chris' Mom would say, "Oh Chris, you didn't. You can't just give things after you make someone mad. You can't buy their friendship.")

The more Chris tried to stand up for herself, the more she got in trouble. Teachers and her mom both told her to be more assertive, but it seemed like she'd never learn how. She was either just going along with everyone else to keep the peace or she was in trouble. There seemed to be no in between.

Softball Trophy Held Aloft

She didn't understand why Stacy kept sending boys to beat her up at recess. Or how Stacy managed to keep the teachers away so the fight wasn't broken up. Of course, Chris could take care of herself and no boy actually beat her up. In fact, other than the boy who fought like a girl, clawing at her arms with his fingernails, the fights were actually kind of interesting.

They all tried out for softball. Anna, Penny and Stacy were on the same team as Chris, but Megan lived across the line and had to be on another team. Chris wound up as pitcher, which was cool because she got way too bored in the outfield. She wished they were playing baseball instead, though. Pitching underhand was freaking lame.

Of course, Stacy couldn't stand for Chris to be good at something, so Stacy practiced pitching and practiced and practiced until by the summer after fifth grade, she was top pitcher instead of Chris. Chris let her. Told the coach she was tired of fighting and didn't even want to pitch any more.

Chris was pretty much exhausted in general.

What The Other Kids Didn't Know
Stacy and Chris were more alike than either one of them knew. As it turned out, they both had control issues although none of the kids would have necessarily called it that at the time. They also had the same reason to need to control things.

Stacy's mom was an alcoholic.
Chris' dad was an alcoholic.

As it turned out, so was Anna's dad which might explain why she had no patience for the power games but just spoke her mind and let the chips fall where they may.

Stacy's mom was checked out.
Chris' dad was checked out ... except late at night when he was a little too involved.

Neither kid was in a good position. Neither kid was allowed to control much of their own environment and so, they thought they both just wanted to get their way and feel in control of something.

Chris drifted away from the group because she was confused. Stacy was glad to have won.

In the end, however, neither kid won anything. Both of them continued to deal with an alcoholic and abusive parent. Stacy's mom eventually left ... disappeared. Chris' father remained overly involved late at night and Chris remained unable to speak of it (and almost unable to remember by daylight).

Some twenty years later there's a lot more understanding. Neither kid was actually trying to affect the other or hurt the other so much as understand the very confusing world around them.

There's always more to the story than the bits and pieces from one player. And even when you have the pieces both players are willing (or able) to share ... there's usually even more than that to the story.

Neither Stacy nor Chris was a bully, although listening to the opposite kid in third grade might have convinced you otherwise. There was certainly a war going on and it's a shame that both kids were so good at functioning as if everything were fine. They both could have used more intervention and questions to perhaps ferret out the causes for their behaviour back in the third grade.

But then, that's what it means for many survivors - not so much to ignore, but to rise above anyway. To insist that they can do things themselves, handle things themselves, no matter how tired or frustrated they are - or how unfair it might be. To not explain, because it's not possible to explain what you don't really understand. To take impossible situations and bull through them stubbornly to come through on the other side.

Because really? What other choice is there?

Posted by Red Monkey at June 19, 2010 7:21 AM | Storytelling: She was, of course, supposed to be sleeping. | Struggles | | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble |


Claire said:

"They both could have used more intervention and questions to perhaps ferret out the causes for their behaviour back in the third grade."

That is so spot on and I really wish that those kids had been given a voice back then.

Luckily I know at least one of the kids turned out to be a super amazing, interesting and eccentric being, that I feel lucky to know.

June 19, 2010 1:37 PM


inthefastlane said:

I have been wanting to comment on this since you first posted it, but have been super busy. But, I did not forget.

As a school counselor, I see this, and I see it a lot. The dynamics of social relationships, does not begin or end on the playground or the school hallways. And bringing kids to an understanding of the "whys" of what they do and what others do, is so hard and complicated and tangled in the baggage they bring with them. And kids, are concrete thinkers. It isn't until much later that the abstractness is often understood.

As an adult that works with kids, though, mentors, and positive adult relationships with adults who are checked in, are one of the best supports. A softball coach could have been that....

There are no easy answers.

July 15, 2010 2:32 PM
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