Wednesday, April 16, 2003

Party animal

My daughter is having her 13th birthday party on Saturday, and I'm afraid it's turning her into a social monster. She's never been one of those Alpha girls, able to make fellow students quiver at her every whim. Frankly, since she's two years older than her classmates and less than facile in the areas of language and popular culture, I've always been afraid that the Alpha girls would eat her for lunch. For whatever reason -- maybe because she's too easy a target, maybe because she doesn't understand subtleties of the spoken word enough to be hurt by cleverly concealed digs -- she's not been teased or tormented to any dramatic degree. And I've counted us all lucky not to have to deal with the ramifications of outright peer rejection.

But now comes this birthday party. Her fifth-grade teacher has forbidden the handing out of invitations in the classroom unless you're inviting everyone, which my daughter does not wish to do. So we had to scurry around getting addresses and mailing cards to the chosen invitees. Unfortunately, though, the teacher hasn't put a moratorium on birthday-party discussion, and so every day for a week or so my daughter was coming home and announcing that so-and-so had asked to come to her birthday party. And since the guest list at that point was expandable, I told her that of course we could send out extra invitations. It's nice to be in demand, even for a moment. Maybe these party wanna-comes don't really like my girl and are just taking advantage of her for free bowling and cake; maybe they're stringing her along and won't really come; maybe they'll bring really bad presents; but I can handle all of that. What I'm having trouble handling is the fact that she so ruthlessly told some people NO.

A girl who my daughter claims has teased her and been mean, for example, asked to come to the party and got a public no. Now, surely, I would never insist that the birthday girl invite somebody who's been cruel to her. But isn't it a little mean, too, to say "Alright, you can come, and you, and you, and you, but not YOU"? Another time, my daughter mentioned telling an aspiring partygoer who was teasing her a little that she would uninvite her if it didn't stop. And the girl stopped. There's some sort of Disney Channel-like "revenge of the less popular" scenario going on here, and part of me wants to applaud it, but at the same time -- when the party's over, and my daughter has no more leverage, is some of this going to come back to haunt her? I'm thinking maybe she was safer when she was beneath notice.

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