I've been thinking today about mean girls. Where do they come from? Are they born mean? Are they mean as young children, or is their meanness some sort of mutant recessive gene that emerges suddenly when their bodies begin to sprout hair?
If you've ever been to junior high, you're probably familiar with the mean girl phenomenon. Mean girls are not just run-of-the-mill hormonal, dramatic, mood-swinging teenagers. They are a breed unto themselves - a breed with a tell-tale modus operandi: mean girls get to know you just enough to discover the place where you are most vulnerable, and then they use that information to exploit it. For fun. Just because they can.
Bud and I had an encounter with some mean girls today. Bud's been seeing the same hairdresser for several years - a woman who's in business for herself, which means that Bud is able to get his haircut without the typical beauty-shop sensory inundation of the sound of blasting hairdryers, the smell of chemical dyes, and the sight old ladies with their hair standing on end. When Bud gets his haircut, the only other people in the shop are Julie, the hair-dresser, and her daughter Meg, who is often in the shop waiting for her mom to be finished so that she can get a ride to soccer or basketball or the movies. Meg has always seemed like a nice enough kid - in that bored, disinterested, angst-filled way that preteens are nice. She has been especially helpful in getting the shop ready for Bud's arrival, by whisking the family dog out of the main room and into the back, or - if the dog is having a high-energy day - into the car, where his barking will not disturb Bud.
Julie has recently moved her shop out of her previous store-front and into an area on the ground floor of her home, and today was the first day that Bud and I went there for his haircut. I'd explained the move to him, but when we pulled up to what appeared to be a stranger's house, Bud was tentative about going in. He stood in the driveway refusing to go any further until Julie came out to greet us. Then he followed her in slowly and uncertainly, and he remained on edge throughout his haircut.
Julie, who has come to understand Bud in the time she's been cutting his hair, remained unfazed by his skittishness, and happily chatted to him as she gently snipped away at his hair. Meg walked through the shop several times during our visit, accompanied by a friend. The shop, it seemed, was in the path from one area of the house to the other, and the girls made frequent trips back and forth, whispering conspiratorially. Each time they passed through, Julie reminded Meg to keep the door shut, giving her a look that we both recognized as "Don't let the dog in here or Bud will get upset."
Julie finished quickly, much to Bud's relief, and we were able to head back to the safety of the car. As we walked down the driveway past the rear of the house, a loud bark emanated from a second floor window.
The bark was not quite canine; it sounded suspiciously like the tone of a thirteen-year-old girl.
Bud feigned fear with a half-hearted "Aaaaaaahhhhh!" that was really more feigning than fear, but he moved quickly toward the car, more eager to put this unsettling new hairdressing shop behind us.
"They are just playing a trick on you, Bud," I said loudly in the direction of the open window. "They are just playing a very mean trick."
I imagine the experience was less than satisfying for the girls. But I've spent the rest of the day wondering: Why did they go out of their way to do that? What did they hope to achieve? What element of superiority did they expect to walk away with? What could they possibly gain from besting a seven-year-old autistic boy?
And all I can come up with is this: they did it just to be mean.
Bud was unaffected by the experience, and I'm sure he stopped thinking about it moments after it happened. But I've been thinking about it all day. When do mean girls turn mean? What about the delightful little girls who have befriended Bud at school? Do any of them show the early signs of developing into a mean girl? Will Bud - trusting, loving, innocent Bud - someday turn to his friend Sophie or his friend Kelly, only to discover that she's the mastermind behind an elaborate joke made at his expense?
Meg and her friend thought they'd have a laugh by capitalizing on Bud's fear of dogs. Their plan fell flat, and they probably noted that they'd have to come up with a better scheme for meanness when they found their next victim. I wonder if they'd be satisfied to know that they hit the target with me and that, by barking out an open window, they left me feeling exposed and vulnerable for the rest of the day. That ought to be good for a laugh or two, right? It ought to be a downright scream - you know, if you're a mean girl.