Sunday, January 25, 2015
Old and Mean
I remember, when I was about nine, being sent to a Girl Guide camp for a week. I lived on a farm and we didn't usually get to travel in the summer months when the fruit needed to be picked. So going to camp was a big deal. When I got to the field that was our campground, I was assigned to a tent with four older girls from St. Catharines. They were savvy city girls; I was a skinny little thing with fine hair that I twirled, ending up with un-combable knots. Each tent required a leader and the St. Catharines girls unanimously picked me. They did it so enthusiastically, without knowing a thing about me, that I doubted it was an honour. I said I was skinny, not stupid.
It soon became obvious that what they meant by leader was the person who did everything. One night it poured and the wind pulled a peg up at one corner of the tent, driving the rain in on our sleeping beds. "You're the leader," they all said. "You have to go out and fix it." And I did because I had no idea how to stand up to them.
I couldn't wait for that week to end.
I grew up awkward socially. I never made friends easily. Not in public school. Certainly not in high school in the small town where I was the principal's daughter. It got easier at university and in workplaces where I met like-minded people. But the expression, third wheel, still gets me in the gut.
Sometimes when I admit to my social discomfort, others seem surprised and I take that as a good sign that I've moved on. I have accomplished things; I have created a fine life. But secretly,I know that I`ll always be the one you'll find hovering around the cheese table so I don't have to stand in the middle of a cocktail party trying to figure out how to join a conversation. Part of me will always be that skinny, awkward girl.
Luckily, what has saved me is my own comfort with my own company and with those I hold most dear. And I`m quite fine with that. I`m ready to enjoy the activities I love with the people I care about in my third phase.
But the old gut fear of being the outsider, of not knowing how to stand up to bullies came back to me this week when I read the New York Times story about mean girls in retirement homes. What if at the end of my life, old and vulnerable,with none of those cushioning loved one around me I have to deal with being ostracized by the cool old ladies.
I searched the web, hopeful this was a one-off, that the granny in the New York Times story had just been unlucky in her chose of retirement home. But the words `mean girls`and `cliques`came up all too often. ``It`s like junior high, with that cliquishness, that excluding,`` one article said. And in its own unique way, Gawker reported on ``cliques of old bitches terrorizing old folks homes nationwide.``
The coping strategies sound familiar: don`t look a bully in the eye, try to ignore mean comments, don`t provoke a bully, try to understand a bully`s behaviour. They also sound like things I can no longer be bothered with in life. I have spent a lot of my time to this point conquering fears. And each time I face something I didn`t think I could do and then do it, I realize how paralyzing fear is and take on another challenge. Loneliness is still something I do fear. But being "on the outside:" not so much anymore. And I have never feared solitude.
So, I'm not going to waste my time worrying about the old folks`home and let that ruin the next thirty years. (She says, optimistically.). Beside, I've developed a pretty mean glare of my own. And damn it, when the mean old bitches come after me, I`ll be ready for them with a sharpened cane. D