I was in fifth grade when I experienced mean girls for the first time. Not the movie; that didn't happen for more than a decade more. I'm talking about when girls form cliques and can be downright nasty to those not in their group.
For some reason, during that year's cheerleading sign-up, they ended up with enough girls at my grade level to make two squads (every other grade level only had one). I remember this being a very big deal because we literally camped out all night in the parking lot of the park district office to reserve our spots in a registration line that rivaled Black Friday. We brought snacks and took turns sleeping in someone's car until morning. It was all very exciting.
The park district decided that all the fifth grade cheerleaders would learn two routines for a "tryout" to decide on which squad to place each girl. Placement not only determined which squad you competed with but also which squad you cheered with on the sidelines of the football games. This was a VERY big deal to the ten year-olds in my suburban town. It was all anyone talked about for weeks.
I remember ALL of the girls practicing during recess for days and discussing which squad we hoped to get. I can LITERALLY still do the cheer and dance from this tryout. That's how ingrained it is in my mind!
Since I had been a dancer since age two, so poms was my natural inclination, but after a conversation with the coolest girl in my class, I changed my mind.
"We're all going for cheer!" she told me.
Of course, I wanted to be with that group, so I practiced my cheer night and day. I taught myself to stiffen my moves rather than flow like a dancer. I had that routine DOWN!
On the day of the tryouts, they brought us into the room in groups of three. The girl who told me all her friends were trying to get on cheer threw me for a loop when she flat out didn't say any of the words during the cheer. When the coaches stopped us and asked her what was wrong, she told them she had forgotten the words.
She knew the words. I knew she knew the words. had practiced with her daily.
In that moment, I knew she had lied to me. I knew she wanted to be on the poms squad and, for some reason, didn't want me to be part of it with her.
I had known this girl and played with this girl since kindergarten. And now, for some reason, I was being ostracized by her and her group.
I said nothing, but I know my jaw was on the floor. I continued with my tryout and then went back to the group of girls waiting in the hallway. I remember trying SO HARD to convince myself that those girls didn't matter, but in reality, I was crushed. And embarrassed. And confused.
When I was placed on the cheer squad, I should have been celebrating. I worked my butt off to earn that spot and thought it was THE place to be. Instead, it felt like a consolation prize. One by one, the mean girl and her group shrieked with delight when they learned they were poms together.
Twenty-plus years later, I still think of this when she crosses my path. Although we are friends on social media (despite my moving out of that town just two years later), I can't help but wonder if she even has a clue what she did to me back then.
It's so true what they say about people forgetting what you say but always holding on to how you made them feel.
Try to remember that as you go about your days, especially if you work with children.