‘No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted’ ~ Aesop
When I was in Grade 5 in the early 1980’s life was pretty sweet. I lived in a time where the local neighbourhood was my playground, and the milk bar at the end of my road was my favourite place to visit (how did those milk bar owners not go crazy with our interminably long mixed lolly orders!)
School was fun, and I was a happily engaged student with a big group of friends. I never really considered my standing in my friendship group: I knew I wasn’t the most popular girl, but I was happy with wherever I slotted in. Like everyone else, I looked up to Stephanie, the new girl who had bewitched us all with her perfect blonde hair and tanned long legs: the photo above may give you an idea as to how she was viewed by all the Grade 5 girls (and a good portion of the boys as well!)
One fateful day, the big topic of discussion was what we were all going to wear to the school photos the next day. Stephanie pulled me aside and informed me that I should wear my bottle-green cords and windcheater (oh yeah, they were as snazzy as they sound!) as that was what all the girls were wearing. Deliriously happy to be singled out and forewarned with this extremely important bit of information, I ran home that afternoon, and implored my mum to wash and iron my cord pants, which she duly did. I woke up excitedly the next day, put them on and rushed to school…only to find ALL the girls in my class except for me and two others were wearing their tartan checked Winter tunics.
“Oh my God, Mel,” exclaimed Princess Stephanie with a delightfully smug yet disgusted look on her face, “you have totally ruined the school photos: what a loser!” and with a flick of her perfect blonde ponytail, that was it: I was done, persona non grata, no longer part of the ‘it’ crowd and decried to be a dweeb, a dork, a Scott Nomates. Did I protest? Did I stand up for myself? No, I thought I had no hope swaying my so called friends away from the golden tyrant who ruled the class.
For while I had been mildly bullied before (you didn’t get through Primary School wearing glasses in those days without copping some name calling) I had never experienced such deliberate meanness. That night I went home and cried my eyes out about how unjust it was, then got up the next day went to school ready to accept my fate as a forever friendless four eyed dork (not surprisingly, I had an active inner mean girl at work in conjunction with the actual mean girl!)
While standing morosely by myself at lunchtime, watching my ‘friends’ hanging off the monkey bars perfecting their backflips, I saw my fellow outcasts sitting close by. I had always dismissed these two girls as nerds, girls that didn’t quite look right, say the right things, eat the right sandwiches (yes, this was actually a thing!). The quiet larger girl named Pam shyly looked at me, and said ‘you can come and sit with us if you like’. Grateful for anyone to talk to, I moved closer and the three of us started to talk.
I soon discovered I had much in common with these so called ‘nerds’. We loved the same books (The Hobbit was a revelation to me at this age) and TV shows (M.A.S.H) and had lots of interesting things to talk about. I soon moved on from my hurt and eventually moved into a different class and life was carefree once more. However, I never forgot the kindness that two young girls I had been so quick to judge and dismiss in the past had shown me.
I very quickly realised that being popular doesn’t necessarily equate to being nice, and that everybody has something to offer, if you simply give them a chance to show you. I learned that I wanted to be the type of girl (and woman) who looked beyond the clothes, the hair and the sandwiches, and took the time to ask questions of people, and most importantly: be kind. This early lesson has held me in good stead throughout my life, and it has led me to meet some amazing and interesting people over the years.
As I now watch my own daughters prevail the slippery slopes of tween friendship (BFF’s one day, on the outer the next) I tell them my own stories so they know that it’s not what you look like or what you have that makes you ‘cool’, but how you act. Because kindness truly does matter.