It was about ten years ago; the kids were pretty small and we were very involved with our homeschool co op. We had gotten involved with a secondary play group that met on Tuesday afternoons. The group had seven or eight regular families that got together each week. I had been warned by some of my friends about these moms in the Tuesday playgroup, told that they were pretty toxic. But I thought, Hey, I'm nice. It will be OK.
One of the families that participated in this play group was a woman, I'll call her Beth, with her teenage stepdaughter, I'll call her Jennifer, and Beth's two sons, I'll call Ben and Bob. John was very close friends with Ben and Bob while I generally sat with the moms as the kids played. It was quite disturbing listening to Beth talk about her stepdaughter the way she did week after week. She was very openly and loudly hateful about Jennifer and said things that, I though, were really over the line. There are lots of stories here, but the stories happened every week and were just remarkably bizarre to hear Beth say about this... kid; there was no compassion or affection at all in there. Both Beth and Jennifer had reputations for their volatility and emotional issues.
But, hey, it happens.
One Tuesday morning I visited a teen event for a project I was working on. I saw Jennifer at this event and she seemed very happy, smiling, and bouncy. That same afternoon the kids and I were at the regular play group when Beth and her kids walked in with Jennifer looking particularly down. A teenager looking depressed.
Hey it happens, right?
The teens were hanging out across the room talking. Weeks ago I had decided that I would try to connect with Jennifer, who heard Beth's words very loudly week after week. So that afternoon I joined the teens for a few minutes. I mentioned to Jennifer that she looked happier that morning and that I was available if she wanted to talk. The other teens were all still sitting there, heard everything. The teens were also writing with Sharpie on Jennifer's jeans.
I grabbed a Sharpie and drew Kilroy on the knee of her jeans.
Later that night I got a call from Beth, livid LIVID that I had told Jennifer that I had noticed her mood, assumed that I had blamed that mood on Beth's treatment of her, and was generally shocked with and pissed off at me. By the next morning, the other moms had all gotten together and had decided that I had been SEXUALLY INAPPROPRIATE with Jennifer, that I had touched her bottom with my Sharpie and had said sexually-leading and -inappropriate things to her and in front of the other teens.
Regardless of my story, the kids and I were very publicly kicked out of the group. I was absolutely mortified. There was no effort to ask me if the stories were honest or true.
More than mortified, I was upset for being accused of something so very against the very heart of me.
And people believed it...
ANYWAY, over the years I heard stories about that woman who had gotten kicked out of the playgroup for her sexual inappropriateness: Me. Stories were being told. I carried that nightmare of innuendo, false stories, and reputation for years. It was freaking hideous. Even now some people treat me oddly. I have a reputation...
Why am I telling this story now?
Two reasons, actually.
I recently saw one of the kids from one of the families involved all of those years ago. They turned their eyes from me as soon as they recognized me...I think. I guess I am very bad in their eyes. But more importantly, this past weekend, several kids of my dear friend stayed over with us for four days. Occasionally I found myself grateful that my friend would never, ever think such a thing of me.
Because I love her kids.
In the most loving, truly, genuine kind of way.
For a person who truly loves children as I do, such an accusation absolutely cut me to the heart. John lost his really good friends Ben and Bob. And, lest we forget Jennifer, I felt sad that I was never able to really listen to her had she needed a friend...I think she could have used one.
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