June 9, 2011

The Problem with Threes

This picture is a lie.  So is Charlie's Angels and the Powerpuff girls!  When three girls are in a group no one is smiling.  Why is that?  I just don't get it.  It doesn't seem to apply to boys.  There's one gender generalization that you just can't get around.  Three girls is a crowd. Four is fine because that make 2 pairs, but 3 is always a disaster.  Well, unless there are exceptional girls and immediate proximity to facilitating adults.

It's summer time and for the first time ever, Miss Hannah Jane has a load of friends on our road.  She met all the neighborhood girls during soccer and she loves them, each and every one.  But they can only pair off.  The only time they seem to function as a group is on the field.  The rest of the time it's twos or tears. We didn't feel it before, because with homeschooling, you just invite an entire family over to play and there's a different dynamic that takes place and both genders are involved.

I thought maybe it was just Hannah Jane.  She's so very sensitive lately.  Thought maybe my genes had finally gotten the better of her and caused her to make mountains out of mole hills.  But yesterday she had a little friend over to play - the sweetest kid on earth - who said that she had been feeling so left out by the girls in the neighborhood and how great it felt to be playing without worry.  As she elaborated, I could hear that it was a problem of threes.  I should have guessed!  And suddenly Hannah Jane didn't seem nearly as traumatized by the whole three girl problem as I had thought.  I could see, looking at this new little sad face in my kitchen, that they're all feeling it, some more than others.

And then today Hannah Jane unfortunately got roped into a ten minute or so group of three.  I listened through a cracked upstairs window and interjected from the front door on occasion, as it seemed that at the ripe old age of seven, they lacked the social graces to navigate their little encounter without anyone's heart getting broken.  Within 5 minutes feelings were hurt and one girl was standing in the street, one in the yard, leaving the one in the middle to choose her allegiance.  It was ugly.  Three beautiful young spirits caught up in the ugly reality of three.  I eventually grabbed Hannah Jane by the elbow and coached her into bowing out of the loyalty contest and promising both that she'd play with them individually on some other occasion.

Ugh!  Why does it have to be so hard? Why are girls programmed this way?  And none of them are trying in the least to be mean.  Forget the mean girls thing (although I love that movie (especially the part with the home schoolers in the overalls with their weapons!)).  These are sweet kids, all just feeling worried that their friend might meet someone they like more and ditch them.  It's like this innate fear of abandonment.  Maybe that escalates into the Queen Bee, mean girl thing that shows up later in life, but I can attest that these kids are little dolls.  Sensitive little angels who cannot for the life of them manage a group of three without tears.

I remember being there myself.  My mom actually called me a few months ago when she was going through her "Skyla Files," - her collection of all the random things I had made over the years that she never parted with.  In second grade we filled out an All About Me sheet.  My mom read it to me over the phone. It went a little something like this:

My favorite color is Green
My best friend is Elizabeth Regg 
When I grow up I want to be a fish 
I like to play on the playground with my friends 
I don't like when Mandy gets mad at me for being Elizabeth's friend 

Yup!  I wanted to be a fish and I felt ostracized by Mandy, who had laid claim to Elizabeth's friendship before I had and now made me feel bad for being friends with her.   That's the exact age Hannah Jane is at now, and so it begins.

Then in high school I was the Mandy.  My best friend, Brandi, liked a new girl and spent less and less time with me, leaving me to find a new lunch table and new friends.  I despised her for stealing Brandi's attention.  The new friend, probably feeling as awkward about the whole thing as I had felt when it came to Mandy, decided to get her new group of friends to make fun of me for being flat chested.  They made up a code word for it so they wouldn't get in trouble from teachers, and soon everyone would say the word when they passed me in the hall.  Ahhh...good times.  Anyway, life went on and Brandi and I became college roommates, argued again over something stupid (probably a boy.  We always like the same guys) and somehow managed to salvage things still.  We meet up when I'm in town and let our kids play together and I'm always amazed at how much I love her after all these years.  All the crap falls away and it's like no time has passed.

So looking back, I can see that hearts mend and friendships recover.  But why does this have to be an element of girlhood?  What secret handshake is taught to baby boys in hospital bassinets that carries them through life without all that drama?  Sure they punch each other once in a while, but once the punch is landed, it's like all is forgiven.  It's like magic! 

How can you look a tender young girl in the eyes and convince her that it's going to be okay.  That you can see the future from where you stand and she comes out on top.  They all come out on top.  Together.   Even the mean girls.  They become nice women, or at least tolerable women, with families of their own.  I just want to walk around the neighborhood and take each sweet little face in my hands and say, "Really, it's fine.  They all love you just the way you love all of them.  And they probably always will.  When your little girls play with theirs someday, you'll know exactly what I mean."


  1. First off,


    Second, how funny! Not having kids, I haven't really thought about that but I think it is true!

    The 2nd & 3rd graders that I saw this year were way more "squabbely" (totally made up that word) than I would have ever thought them to be...and it was usually the girls. I wonder if this could have been some of the underlying problem!

  2. Hm, these are very interesting thoughts. I had never thought about the "problem of 3s" before, but now that you have brought it up, I think I will start seeing it everywhere! I look at my little girl all the time and think about all the obstacles she will face that will be so different than what my boy will go thru- good to have your perspective & hear about these things in advance.

  3. Elizabeth, I wondered if you were going to read this! Haha! When my mom read me that About Me thing, she also mentioned that she has your girl scout camp name tag with the name Lizard on it. Do you want her to mail it to you? That is, if she can still find it :) And by the way, made up words are the best!

    Kat!!!! How the little girlie??? We have to get a phone call in soon. I hate how long it's been! The boys and Miss Hannah Jane seem to live completely different lives, so I'd have to agree with your thoughts on that one. There's so much to envy about both, though. I know you must have the Dar song "When I Was a Boy." I listen to that with a different ear these days and pick up on the moments that Hunter is my girl and Hannah Jane is my boy. Dar puts it so sweetly. How unevolved the 3's problem makes us look! We're done with school by lunch most days, so I'll try and give you a call one afternoon this week! Hugs!


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