by Laura Crum
Those of you who read this blog regularly know that I keep my horses at home and am spared any boarding stable drama (thankfully). But I heard this story and for a number of reasons it really spoke to me. So I thought I’d put it out there and get your input.
I have a friend—I’ll call her Lisa. Lisa’s daughter, Zoe, keeps her horse at a local boarding stable. The horse has been there for four years, during which time Zoe made friends with three other similar aged girls who also kept their horses there, including the barn owner’s daughter. These four girls took a lesson together from the BO once a week and met several other days a week to ride and hang out.
As these things go, Lisa became friends with the other girls’ moms over the years and had the girls over to her house many times. She held one mom’s hand when they lost their horse to colic, and helped with horse shopping for the replacement. She had the BO’s daughter over to her own house for many days in a row when the BO’s mom was dying of cancer and the BO needed to spend time sans child, hanging out with her dying mom. She let one of the other little girls ride Zoe’s horse for six months while that girl’s horse was healing up from a soft tissue injury. In short, they were all good friends and helped each other out. Or so Lisa thought.
Lisa noticed this last summer, as the girls were all about to enter junior high, that the other girls were becoming interested in clothes and boys and make-up and hairstyles and what was cool versus what was not cool. Zoe, on the other hand, remained in a more child-like space, even though she was thirteen. She still liked the same things she always had-- horses and books and playing piano and the simple online games she was allowed to play. She hadn’t a clue about “cool.” And Lisa could see that the other girls were starting to avoid Zoe.
More and more often she would arrive at the barn to pick Zoe up, only to find Zoe off in her horse’s stall and the other girls chatting together by the hitching rail. When Lisa watched the group lesson, Zoe sat by herself on one side of the ring, while the other girls clumped together on their horses, talking and giggling. Zoe had always been closest to the BO’s daughter of all the girls, but now J, the daughter, seemed the most stand-offish of all.
Zoe seemed sad, but accepting. When Lisa asked her about it, Zoe just said, “I don’t think they want to be my friends any more.” But Zoe still looked forward to going to the barn and the group lesson and was quick to tell Lisa when any small friendly thing happened.
Still, Lisa worried, especially when she saw that the girls often ignored Zoe when she spoke to them. Lisa didn’t feel comfortable exerting any pressure on the kids, so she emailed the BO, asking if she could encourage the girls to be a little more inclusive of Zoe, at least during the lesson, and mentioning that Zoe felt a bit sad over the way the others were treating her.
The BO made a non-committal response, and Lisa noticed that the shunning behavior continued, especially when the girls thought no adult was looking. And then Lisa’s mother was stricken with cancer and overnight the stress load on Lisa’s family doubled.
Once again, Lisa emailed the BO, telling her what was happening, sure that the BO would understand, having been through this ordeal herself, and asking the BO to encourage the girls to be inclusive of Zoe, who really needed the support of her friends. To her absolute amazement, the BO emailed back saying that Zoe didn’t really fit into the group dynamic any more and she thought that maybe it would be better if Zoe didn’t participate in the group lesson.
Lisa could not believe what she was hearing. Still, in an effort not to burn any bridges, she emailed back, telling the BO that Zoe really valued the group lesson and still considered the other barn girls her friends and that this social outlet was really valuable to her daughter. Once again she asked the BO to please consider encouraging the girls to be inclusive and kind to Zoe at this difficult point in her life—and added that surely the many hours these girls had all spent playing happily together made it appropriate for the other girls to be at least pleasant to Zoe now, even if they didn’t want to be close friends with her any more.
To Lisa’s absolute amazement, the BO responded by saying that maybe Lisa had better look for a new barn where she might find new friends who would appreciate her daughter, and that she, the BO, could no longer include Zoe in the group lesson, as she was “ruining the group learning dynamic” for the other girls.
And that was that. Lisa approached the other moms, protesting this treatment by the BO, and one mom (the one whose child had borrowed their horse for six months) said, “It’s not my problem and I don’t want to get involved.” The other mom just said, “It’s her barn—I guess she can do what she wants.” Neither mom seemed to care at all about the pain this shunning was causing both Zoe and Lisa.
When Lisa told me this story, she made sure to say that she didn’t blame the kids. Junior high kids are an intolerant lot and are prone to acting like this. She understood that Zoe, their former friend, seemed impossibly uncool to them now and they found her embarrassing. But that the parents would throw in with this excluding behavior was mind boggling to Lisa.
As she put it, “If it were another girl being excluded, I would have told my daughter to straighten up and fly right and be at least reasonably friendly and polite to a girl who had been our friend for years. I never would have tolerated seeing one of the girls excluded like this. I would have spoken up to the BO in no uncertain terms.
“What gets me,” Lisa went on, “is that these moms are always posting on facebook about compassion and kindness and quoting the Dalai Llama and such, and yet it never seems to have occurred to even one of them that they are being tremendously unkind to a child and a family who were never anything but kind, supportive and hospitable to them. For years. Every single one of these moms has told me at one time or another how much they valued my friendship and support and how much they appreciated Zoe for her sweet, honest nature. And yet they are fine with excluding us in this hurtful way at a time in our lives when we REALLY needed the support of our friends. I truly don’t understand this. How can they post this shit about compassion on facebook? How can they even look at themselves in the mirror? I sure couldn’t if I had behaved the way they’ve behaved.”
So Lisa is looking for another barn. Zoe is no longer going to the group lesson and avoids the barn, feeling that she isn’t wanted. Both mother and daughter are very sad—after four years of regarding these folks as their good friends, it has all blown up in their faces over some junior high stupidity. And at a time when they are already stressed over Lisa’s mom’s cancer diagnosis.
When Lisa asks me how they could behave this way toward her and Zoe, I have no answer. I don’t understand how people can behave like this. I don’t get it at all. I would no more turn away from a friend in need of help and give her/him a cold shoulder than I would jump off a cliff and try to fly. So I’m putting the question out to all of you. How can these people look at themselves in the mirror after treating a friend (and a child) this way, let alone trot around acting like they are such “good” people and putting up quotes about kindness and love on facebook?
Can anyone explain this shit?