Making the Choice
(names of those mentioned in this post have been changed to protect privacy)
When you’re labeled as one of the popular kids growing up,
you are given a power.
And the way I see it,
you get to choose early on in life
just how you are going to use that power.
For good, or for bad.
To be the mean girl.
Or be the nice girl.
And for as long as I can remember,
I have always been pretty confident about the choice I made.
I would even say I have gone so far as to give myself a metaphorical pat on the back for deciding to be the nice girl,
when I could have so easily gone the other way.
I can remember as early as 1st grade,
when I chose a seat at lunch next to the girl that everyone ignored.
I remember how she wore the same outfit every single day to school.
And because I was in first grade, I didn’t understand what having only one outfit likely meant.
I just knew it made her different, and that made me sympathize with her.
I remember in 5th grade, when the popular boys decided at the very last second to run for student council for the sole purpose of overthrowing the not-so-popular boy who had worked so hard on his campaign. I can remember literally standing up on my chair in the middle of class, and declaring for every student to hear, that this was completely unfair and cruel. I remember pleading with the room to vote for the not-so-popular boy because he had worked so hard. And I remember when that boy won the election. I felt like I had done something good that day, even if my “popular” guy friends didn’t speak to me for a week.
I remember dancing with the kid who stuttered at the 8th Grade Ball.
And I remember sending a sweet note to the shy boy on Valentines Day.
I remember picking the butterfly chaser to be on my kickball team first.
And I remember being the girl who didn’t laugh when one 7th grade girl had an accident in front of the whole school.
As a teenager, I gave myself a lot of credit for my compassion.
Gave myself a lot of credit for using what power I had for good.
Being kind to those who didn’t often experience kindness practically became a hobby of mine.
I was the ultimate advocate for the underdog, and I liked it that way.
Flash forward 10-15 years.
I still like to think that I’m a kind and compassionate person,
even if I am a lot less cool than I once was.
And I still look back with fond memories,
proud of that teenage girl who stood up for the kid who sat alone at lunch.
But this week, I had an aha! moment.
Something happened, that made me rethink my opinion of the choice I made so many years ago.
It was at Costco on a Saturday morning.
Ben was pushing Wesley in the cart while I was walking with Sawyer strapped to my chest.
I caught a glimpse of her out of the corner of my eye.
A girl from high school.
We were in the same grade, and we had been on the soccer team together for four years.
Our eyes met and then she pulled a move I was all too familiar with.
The one where you look away as quickly as possible without changing the expression on your face,
so that the person from your past doesn’t think you’ve recognized them.
I had pulled this move often, and I knew it well.
But it was too late.
We had held one another’s gaze for too long,
and it was obvious that we had remembered each other.
Me: Heidi? Oh my gosh! It’s so great to see you! It’s been like 10 years!
Heidi: Oh, hi.
She gave me a half smile.
I noticed that like me, she had a baby strapped to her chest.
A beautiful, beaming little girl.
She was a Mom.
And when I saw the man with kind eyes turn the corner and give her a nod,
I knew she was a wife too.
Me: Congratulations on your beautiful family. Your daughter is adorable.
Heidi: Thanks. Congratulations to you too.
I could tell she was uncomfortable.
Waiting for any excuse to cut our conversation short.
She didn’t want to be around me.
And as I watched her daughter grip her fingers tightly around her Momma’s shirt,
I remembered why.
The flood gates opened,
and my heart hit the floor as dozens of high school memories involving Heidi poured around me.
Heidi was my exception.
My exception to the choice I had made early on.
The choice I had so proudly identified myself with.
The choice to be kind.
I was not kind to her in high school.
I was not her advocate.
And as she stared past me with pain in her eyes and a sense of urgency in her stance,
I knew she remembered too.
And I felt sick.
How convenient it was that I had chosen to block these memories from my mind.
The memories where she had been the brunt of a joke…the jokes I laughed at.
How convenient that I had only remembered the good I had done,
rather than the damage I had caused.
I wanted to apologize.
To hug her right then.
Tell her that I had changed,
and that I regretted every moment I ever made her feel like she couldn’t be herself.
I wanted to tell her she was beautiful,
and one of the most intelligent people I had known in high school,
and I wanted her to believe me.
I wanted to jump in a time machine,
and give the 16 year old Ashley a stern talking to,
and undo the hurtful things I had done and said.
But all I could do in that moment was give her a way out.
Allow her to escape what I knew was a painful chance encounter.
Me: Well, it was great to see you. Take care.
And I smiled. The most heartfelt smile I could give,
and hoped that she could sense its sincerity.
She turned and walked away.
For the rest of that week I was consumed with thoughts of this moment,
hating myself for being the “mean girl” of her memories.
The older I get, the more time I spend looking back on the person I was.
And this experience seemed to put my “reflecting” into hyper-drive.
The more I reflected, the more I realized.
I realized that perhaps I was not as inherently kind as I had credited myself with for so many years.
Clearly, somewhere within me was the ability to cause hurt.
Heidi was proof of this.
She was proof that I was capable of being the mean girl.
She was proof that sometimes I made the wrong choice,
and that I would need to wake up every day more conscious of the type of person I wanted to be.
Because with labels comes stereo typing.
And with stereo typing comes unrealistic or unfair expectations of who a person is supposed to be and how they are supposed to act.
But regardless of how we’re labeled,
Or regardless of how we’re expected to act by our peers,
we all make our own choices.
We all still have power,
have those watching our actions and taking in our words.
And every day we wake up with the most important choice of all.
Are we going to be the mean girl…
Or is kindness going to win out.
Good stuff, Ashley. I like to forget the ugky me too. Wish I could go back sometimes… but at least I have a little mini-me that I can teach to be genuinely kind!
It’s scary to think of wielding popularity for power when really, it means nothing. I think there’s definitely a danger to it, especially when we think, “Oh, how nice of me to bestow kindness on this poor nobody because I am so popular!” That’s kindness that I think people can look right through. High school is a long ways out, but it was definitely a lesson in sincerity, wasn’t it? Those people seem so far away…
You just said the exact thing that I was trying find the words for. Thank you for your honesty.this realization was not a proud moment for me.
It is crazy to think about how much people have all changed since high school. The things that used to matter? Gone. All it takes now for us to bond is a good ol’ poopy diaper story and we can be on the same page! You’re doing a great job and inspiring so many people through your words, your journey, and your honesty. So much more important than popularity! 🙂
Nicole @ The Style Hatch
I love this post so much Ash! I was like you growing up. I always stood up for the ‘un popular’ kids and never took a second thought at sitting with any group any giving day at lunch. But there was a person who I was rude too, and I really wish I could just tell them I’m sorry. Thanks for this post! Love you! xo
Isn’t it sad that despite being lucky enough to be “popular” many of us still face huge insercurities that push us to pick on those below us? I’ve been on both sides of this (hasn’t everybody?) and have been lucky to make amends and become good friends with the person I hurt. It’s actually harder to remember the mean Mel than Mel the victim. I feel the latter shaped me while the former is just shameful.
Truly thank you. I will be sharing this with my teenage daughter and friends. Perfectly written. I appreciate your honesty and lessons. We all can learn from this. I admire your courage to be so open and honest.
Unfortunately, in high school (and sometimes even now) we all get caught up in just how easy it is to jump on the band wagon and make fun of someone that is an “easy target”. Everyone has been there. High school was a long time ago. 10 years! At the reunion I was really surprised how genuinely nice and accepting everyone was. It made me realize that we’ve all grown up a lot in 10 years, and we all are leading pretty cool lives in our own way. It pains me to watch teenagers treat each other the way they do (and to remember my own slip ups and regrets in that regard), but we can only hope that with these small reminders in our lives, we all remember to set a better example for the teens (or soon to be teens) in our lives, and that maybe we can minimize the unnecessary hurt caused to others. Don’t forget to remember all the lives you changed for the better too, mine included! 😉
Growing up is so freakin’ painful. Whether it’s facing our truly flawed selves in the mirror or facing demons that were imposed on us, either way, it’s painful … but it’s growth. It’s good. It’s really good. Pay off this debt by doing all you can to see that your children have a clearer perception of their roles and responsibilities to others. If you can do this, you’ve moved ahead of almost every parent I know. Everyone of us living together in this tough, tough world will benefit. You can do it. I know you can because the brutally honest post you’ve published proves it.
Ashley, you are so brave for writing this. I was wondering what you were going to write when you posted the picture of you writing at Starbucks.
I think there are plenty of times where I was the mean girl. That I laughed at someone or made fun of someone. But looking back. I think now that I know what I did was wrong. If I never “caught” myself being in the mean girl, that would be the bigger issue.
Thank you for your honesty. I moved to this country during my freshman year of high school. I will never forget the first year of me going to school. Although I had a few popular people be nice to me sometimes it was the “middle” people that I found to be the mean ones. Why? Because what if some of the popular people see them talk to a foreigner , that’ so not cool. Later I found my crowd and had great time for the rest of my high school years. Sadly just as Amy sad even after high school we get caught up in the who is who and trying to put each other down. I think life is already hard as can be so we should be nice and respectful of each other no matter how we dress, what we drive or where we live.
Growing up, I could be summarized as “the nice girl who nobody knew”. I lived in the same town, same house my entire life yet at high school graduation there were still so many people who I never, ever spoke with. The bravery and kindness you had a such a young age amazes me! Even though that time in my life has passed, I’m taking to heart your example for how live my life now.
I don’t think I could relate to this any better if I tried. I was the same girl. I wasn’t “uncool”, at least I don’t think, but I was definitely NOT part of the “cool” group. I was the topic of a lot of jokes, I’m sure. But I tried to never hold it against those who were doing it, I never held it against the “cool” kids that they were, in fact, “popular” and I wasn’t. I too, lived in the same house my whole life, went to the same school, with the same kids, and yet, at my high school graduation, I was sat between two guys who had no idea I even existed. And I had to laugh at the end of the ceremony when one said to me, “I don’t know why I don’t know you, you think I’d notice someone like you”. Ha. So why hadn’t he? Because I was shy? Because I didn’t join in on making fun of the people he was making fun of? Because I wasn’t getting drunk every Friday night with his “crew”? No idea. But I look back now and I’m so happy for the “group” I was in. Because those girls are STILL by my side, were at my wedding, baby shower, and visit my son all the time. I never spoke to that kid from my graduation ceremony again. No idea where he is now. But I know where I am, with a college degree, a house, a husband, and a beautiful baby boy. Not being “popular” didn’t hurt me in the least (and ironically, this conversation comes up a LOT in our house, because I married a “cool kid”). And Ashley, I have no idea what went on with this girl, but I hope you can take some comfort in what I’m about to say. I SO rarely think about the mean things that were said to me back in the day. I know they got me where I am today, and I couldn’t be any happier. Sure, it still stings that some people thought I was “ugly” or “a loser”, but at the end of the day, I’m with the people today that think I’m beautiful and to them, I’m “cool”. And that’s enough for me.
I know that I was mean to some people that I would hate to see today. I got bullied in jr. high, and that made me a little harder around the edges through the remaining years in school. I took out my pain from those years of being bullied on other people. I regret that. I think we all wish we could go back and undo those things.
Ash, you were always kind to me in high school. And as a dork/nerd/whatever-you-want-to-call-it, I can’t tell you what a difference that made to me. You are so brave for posting this. And kind. I’ve run into people who were mean to me in high school and none of them were brave enough to look me in the eye, smile, and give me even more than a moment’s embarrassed notice. You’re so much stronger and better than that. Thank you for sharing this moment with all of us.
this was such a good post! you really write things that people may think about but never talk about…
with my oldest being 13, i see how mean girls can be…i think it’s way worse than it use to be. i’ve tried really hard to teach my kids to be kind to everyone even if they are the only ones doing it…to take the stand to be Christlike. my youngest daughter was talking in 2nd!! grade and using the word popular! i certainly took the moment to tell her that it’s better to be sweet than popular…sigh…being a parent is difficult, but i think our kids have a more difficult time. i wish more parents were as insightful as YOU. if they were, our kids wouldn’t have as many struggles to face!
thanks for keeping it real ; )
I had a lot of issues at home growing up. My mother passed away young, my father remarried a woman who was very mean to me, and more so I was a mean kid. I think I channeled the pain I was going through and wanted to make others unhappy too. It took a long time to break the cycle and it took having good friends to help. Once I found friends that were kind and compassionate…I wanted to be more like them. I am such a different person now and often when I talk about being mean as a child people can’t believe it but I remember things I did and just shutter with the thoughts of how I could do that. 🙁
Thanks for sharing!
I love this. My husband and I watched “Cyberbully” this past weekend. Having a brother that was not accepted growing up and constantly bullied, I cried, a lot, watching this movie. I want so badly to teach my children that their actions and words mean so much to other children, especially teenagers, when they’re so very fragile. How can we as mother’s teach our kids this at an early age? I know my example has a lot to do with it, but I really want them to understand that bullying or not standing up for someone else is so wrong. Thanks for sharing your story. I too have deep regrets as to how I treated people, when I know I should have choose to let kindness win on certain days. You’re an amazing mother and person.
Kassi @ Truly Lovely
Such a good reminder. I think even as adults we’re faced with that choice every day. Maybe even more importanly so because now we understand the consequences that choice can have.
in 5th grade… in a way… i was ‘ a heidi’.
through facebook, about 30 years later i contacted my ‘ashley’ … without accusatory words, just basically a wanting to know why or what happened to our friendship.
i received a message back
and an apology. one that i had wanted, actually, for a long long time. it was like a hole was closing up and i was overwhelmed.
For me, it was finally over. Finally.
I still have scars that have lingered obviously, in who i am at times. but her apology meant everything
Ashley, maybe you can find her again and do the same.
Thank you for having the strength and courage to tell this story. I have been touched by and relate to so many of your posts. You’re human. You’re working to change the behaviors you don’t like in yourself. That is more than numerous people in the same position would do. Thank you, again, for being so honest with all of us and by doing so, helping us.
Heidi @ browneyedgirlygirl
What a heartfelt post! 99% of us are never this honest. Thanks for posting what was on your heart. I too have had the same moments in life where I have to face the person I wasn’t necessarily nice to. I wasn’t the mean girl, in fact, I too prided myself on how “sweet” I was. I went through a very angry phase of my life (my parents got divorced when I was 19 ) and I was not nice to others. I was the classic example of not being happy with myself and so I took it out on others. I did go back and apologize those I specifically remember being mean to and I genuinely meant it. Thank goodness there is forgiveness, Praise God! Thanks so much for yours post!
Thank you for your transparency, Ash. It’s so refreshing to follow such honesty. Thank you. This post was great! I did some self reflection afterward and man, PRAISE JESUS that He has redeemed me! Thanks again!
I love how you shared this realization! Thank you for being so real and sharing your faults. I love that after I read your posts I feel so introspective and I genuinely want to learn how to be a better person right along with you! And I agree, there are some moments from my past that I wish I could go back and redo because the older, more mature me realizes that I caused some damage to people that I feel so ashamed for hurting. I guess we can only try to do better in the future, right?
Wow. What a powerful post. And so timely.
A couple of weeks ago I had to bring my computer in to Best Buy to have it repaired. While I was there, I noticed the mean girl from my high school days. This story is even more painful as she was ALSO my best friend when we were in junior high.
I really didn’t want to say a word to her. I actually dealt with another associate but as they were getting paperwork together for me she came over. She said hi and that she thought she had seen my name on a computer. (Ok, really?! I’m the ONLY ONE with my name!) After some polite chit chat I realized that she must not remember high school the way I do. She talked about getting married and having kids. She even showed me pictures of her children. Which is all great. I just hope that one day she comes to the same realization you did.
Thank you for sharing.
Thank you for this post. Because of reading this, I grew the courage to write a long-needed email to someone I’ve hurt. Thank you!
Great post. I can’t help but wonder if she read it, perhaps knowing you have a blog for Mommas. I also wonder if you plan to reach out to her again, to tell her everything you just told us. I think it would make her day. 🙂
I think even the ‘kindness’ displayed really isn’t kindness at all. It isn’t really kind to feel that you are gracing someone with the gift of your popularity in an act of ‘kindness.’ That just reeks of insincerity, of I’m-so-awesome-and-kind-aren’t-I? It’s easier to admit to feeling bad when you intentionally hurt someone. Thank you for sharing that you were intentionally unkind and realized it. I’m sure this was difficult to write.
Ashley StockNicole P.
I appreciate your words, but I can assure you that when I choose to be kind to someone, it is with 100% sincerity–true when I was a teenager, and true today. I never felt like I was “gracing someone with the gift of my popularity”, rather it made me happy to give an extra bit of kindness to those who didn’t often receive it…and I believe they felt its sincerity, which is all that matters.
I was never popular in school, always the shy quiet girl.. and I’ve definitely been a victim of the ‘mean girl’ – doesn’t’ feel good! I can relate with how that girl would feel i suppose, and even to this day i think about horrible things she said and whether she actually feels bad about any of it. The sad thing is, whatever’s thrown at us when we’re young, we carry with us into our future and I developed so many insecurities from mean comments in school that i’m trying to shake off now. It’s hard, but i hope more girls have the same realisation you did, and make the choices to be nice before it’s too late.
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