March 2, 2010
Mean: A Play in Two Acts
Julie picks up Schuyler from school. Schuyler is in a very sad mood, not making eye contact and seeming to be on the verge of tears.
Julie: Schuyler, what's wrong?
Schuyler: I'm sad.
Julie: Why are you sad?
Schuyler: Because you think I'm a loser.
Julie: No I don't! Schuyler, where did you hear that word?
Schuyler: Jackie called me a loser today.
(Jackie is a girl in Schuyler's class who has said things about her before, including the worst thing that you can say to Schuyler, who has the biggest heart in the entire world: "You're not my friend.")
Later, talking to Schuyler about the incident.
Rob: Did Jackie call you a loser at school?
Schuyler (sadly): Yeah.
Rob: You know you're not a loser, don't you?
Schuyler: Yes, Daddy.
Rob: We're going to Nashville in a couple of weeks so that a bunch of really smart people can hear all about you and how you use Pinkessa to talk. Do you think they want to come learn about you and meet you because they think you're a loser?
Rob: No, they think you're the coolest, and so do I. So does anyone who matters. Do you think Jackie's opinion matters? It doesn't. She's just trying to be mean. Anyone can say mean things. Don't let it bother you next time.
Schuyler pauses and smiles, then she waves her hand in front of her face and laughs.
Rob: What? She smells?
Schuyler laughs and nods.
Rob: What does she smell like?
Schuyler points at her ass and laughs hard.
Rob: She smells like butt? Like a monkey butt?
We get Pinkessa so Schuyler can tell me, "Jackie smells like a monkey's butthole." I help her with the spelling. I'm not sure if this makes me a good or terrible father. Julie looks at me disapprovingly.
Julie: You're going to get her in trouble.
Rob: If she gets sent home for saying something, I'll punish her with ice cream.
Schuyler returns to school the next day, and for the rest of the week. She does not tell Jackie that she smells like a monkey's butthole. Sometimes I think she really does get when I'm kidding.
END ACT ONE
Julie takes Schuyler to see a movie that they both want to see, but which I think sounds like the kind of thing that Jack Bauer would show captive terrorists to tell him where the bomb is hidden, so I pass. While standing in line, Schuyler sees two girls, one of whom she knows from school. The mother of the girl also seems to know Schuyler, or at least who she is, and tries to engage her with complicated questions before chatting up Julie.
As they talk, Julie hears the girl from Schuyler's school talking to her friend, who attends a school in Frisco, not Plano.
Plano Girl (giggling to her friend): Watch this. (to Schuyler) Hey, Schuyler! Say something! Talk for us!
When Schuyler says something, the girl laughs at her. The Frisco girl doesn't laugh, to her credit, so the Plano girl says it again. This time the girl's mother hears her.
Plano Mom: That's enough of that!
Julie excuses herself and pulls Schuyler away. After they enter the theater, Schuyler sees her "friend" sitting a few rows down and tells Julie that she wants to sit with them.
Julie: No, Schuyler. They came to have an afternoon together, and they didn't invite us to join them. We don't invite ourselves to other people's get-togethers. That's not polite.
She neglects to mention the fact that the little girl is horrible.
Schuyler protests before slumping down in her seat in a full-blown sulk. Finally she looks at Julie with a frown.
Schuyler: You're mean.
Julie: I know, I'm sorry.
Julie doesn't tell Schuyler the truth, that she's not mean, but rather she's protecting her from a mean girl, another one, and just one of the many who will come along in the future. Schuyler is too innocent to recognize that the girl was being mean to her, and Julie would like to keep it that way forever.
Which is, of course, impossible. But we try. God knows we try, knowing that we'll lose one day. Because when a girl calls Schuyler a loser, it breaks her heart. But when a kid mocks Schuyler because of her monster and she doesn't even see it, and still thinks the girl is her friend, well, when that happens, ours are the hearts that break.
Schuyler will figure it out soon enough. And then there'll be broken hearts enough to go around. Plenty for everyone.
END ACT TWO