Moms At War, Middle-School Style
I live at one end of a very nice friendly block. The two families involved in this story live down at the other end of the block. I’m going to go with fake names here: Snow White and Rose Red. One has a 9 year old girl (as do I), the other has an 8-year-old girl. I’ve known them both for a few years now. Rose Red is a sort of hyper-together, intense and a little scary perfect mom, with a real mean girl vibe. But of course we’re not girls, we’re women, so she was perfectly civil, just sort of scary-seeming. Sometimes a bit catty about people, but nothing crazy. Snow White is a somewhat tense, odd sort of person, given to gossip, especially about the kids in the various classes (all our kids go to school together), but nice to me and my kids.
My daughter and Snow White’s daughter started to become friends, and we hung out a bit. Snow White made some snarky comments about Rose Red, some of which referred to a mutual acquaintance of theirs, Snow White’s next-door-apartment neighbor, who was difficult to live next to.
Then the shit seemed to somehow hit the fan. The apartment neighbor feud seemed to heat up to the point where they were warring in the hallways of the apartment, over strollers left out and doors slammed or something. This was a huge drag, and Snow White complained about it, and about how awful Rose Red was for even being friends with a person like that. Also, and how horribly Rose Red talked about people behind their backs, and I should be a bit careful of her. She told me that if I could hear what she said about her alleged “friends”, I would be horrified. I was, I think, noncommital, offering sympathy, but not getting much into it.
And so it went on for a year or so, all just fine, I was friendly with Snow White, and friendly with Rose Red, closer with Snow White because our kids were the same age and in class together. Both of them snarked a little bit about the other, but nothing big.
Then this past spring Rose Red took me aside and said, “I see you are friends with Snow White. Well, I just wanted to warn you. I think there’s something wrong with her. I think she has a personality disorder or something. She has a personal vendetta against me. She’s tried to figure out who my friends are to try to get to me through them. She drove my friend out of her apartment with an orchestrated plan of harassment.” She listed a bunch of ways Snow White harassed, which did, in fact, sound pretty bad, if they were true.
“She tried to make my daughter befriend her daughter, then shunned her. And what’s with her husband? I admit he seems nice, but think about it: she went to Princeton, and he’s a plumber. Obviously she just can’t stand not being in control.” On and on and ON. She ended by reiterating that she just wanted to warn me, because Snow White was really crazy.
I mostly tried to pretend none of it was ever said, because what was I going to do about it? And as unpleasant as I sometimes find Rose Red, I think she’s probably an ok person at heart, despite her creepy classist bigotry (why shouldn’t Snow White marry a plumber?) and her crazy ways. Also, Snow White is a bit high strung, and I can sort of imagine her doing crazy things. But not all of them and not in the exact way she’d told me, a bit of exaggeration, right?
So I just tried to keep being friendly to both of them. Little weird flare-ups occurred from time to time–Rose Red would go off on someone else, or Snow White would say something harsh about Rose Red, and it would feel icky, but so it goes.
This fall my daughter and Snow White’s are in class together. And our block is having a block party. Organized by Rose Red. Snow White came by to ask if she could hang out with us during the party, because Rose Red makes it uncomfortable for her at her end of the block. She said Rose Red greets her husband but not her. Also Snow White called Rose Red ‘that bitch’ seemed to want me to bond with her about this, which strikes me as a colossally bad idea. But of course it’s fine with me if she comes to our end. But then she wanted us to skip the big dinner that everyone on the block goes to which is at the end of the day, and have dinner down at our end to avoid Rose Red.
I suggested she invite Rose Red out for coffee to call for a return to civility, but she said she can’t, Rose Red is too harsh. It’s true that Rose Red is harsh, but, I mean, what’s she going to do? I’m all for civility and faked niceness, this weird out-and-out war is uncomfortable. I don’t want to avoid the dinner but the husbands have talked about it like it will happen and I am scared I am being drawn in to this weird feud. Also that they are both crazy and I will get sucked in. Who is truly crazy here? Is it crazy in such a way that I should avoid them altogether? What do I do?
Who is truly crazy here? Both of them. All of them. Everybody who comes within a hundred-mile blast radius of this mess is crazy. Hell, I feel a little crazy now, just after reading all of that.
It’s kind of funny, really, when you realize that the major “problem” they seem to have with each other — that the other woman is a back-stabbing gossip who doesn’t like them and wants to turn people against them — is EXACTLY WHAT THEY ARE, IN FACT, DOING TO EACH OTHER. They are complaining about the other person doing essentially the same thing they are doing right then, in that very conversation with YOU.
“She talks about people behind their backs and tries to get my friends to hate me! Just like I am talking about her, to you, right now, in an attempt to get you to hate her.”
It’s crazy meta, you guys!
At this point, they feel justified in hating the other person because…well, the other person hates them right back. The facts of “who started it” or who REALLY did what to whom and when and why are likely lost forever — you are never going to get the truth over whether Snow White really did all the pathological crazy stuff Rose Red accused her of or whether Rose Red is just a vindictive, bitchy liar. But at this point, I’d say you can safely assume that the “truth” is a little from Column A and a little from Column B. These women have escalated a childish fight into something that truly sounds more than a little unhinged, and something I think both you and your daughter should stay far, far away from.
The next time either of them mentions the other, put. Your. Foot. Down. Interrupt them. Loudly. Throw up your hands and say that NO, you are not listening to this anymore. You are not involved in this fight. You are not taking sides, and an essential part in not taking sides is NOT LISTENING TO ANYBODY’S SIDE. Point out that this has been going on for years and you’re simply sick and tired of it. Tell them to either put on their big girl panties and figure out how to behave like adults here and hash this stuff out, or…well. Whatever. They can choose to go with the alternative of continuing the feud…but count you out. You’re DONE. I would have this conversation with them each separately, and BEFORE the block party, so you can remind them the day of that you are simply not going to tolerate any sniping or drama about any of it.
And if they ignore your ultimatum, you completely have my permission to stick your fingers in your ears and sing NYAH NYAH NYAH I CAN’T HEAR YOU like a child.
As for the ACTUAL children involved, that certainly complicates it, because I think you will need to maybe prepare your daughter for possibly losing her friend, or at least prepare YOURSELF for that to happen. If Rose Red is telling the truth, Snow White has used her daughter as a pawn in her petty battles before. You don’t KNOW if that is true, but well…good lord, I wouldn’t put anything past these dingbats. If you DO know that there’s any truth to the neighbor stories — hallway fights and screaming matches — I’d start enforcing rules about NOT letting your daughter over there, especially if you’re not present. The kids can come to YOUR house, if they want. (Bonus is that it keeps you on your home turf where you’ll probably have more backbone when it comes to Any Talk About The Stupid Fight That You Are No Longer Listening To.)
If Snow White asks why you’re insisting the girls go to your house, tell the (abbreviated) truth: The feud has gone too far and is too unpredictable and until you’re sure the two of them have made some sort of peace, you don’t want your daughter possibly witnessing a fight or confrontation. Even if you are just listening to Snow White’s side of things and taking her at her word, it clearly sounds like a powder-keg situation over there.
Will the New Not-Involved World Order possibly anger either of them? It might, but…seriously, these women are not ever going to be “real” friends, so long as they engage in such bizarre behavior. They BOTH talk about people behind their backs — viciously, too — and I guarantee you that you’ve likely been a topic already. They BOTH clearly live for this shit, and even if you continue on your path of noncommittal-smile-and-nod-type involvement, you ARE involved, and it IS only a matter of time before you’re the next target, or otherwise sucked into the drama over your head. Disengage! Disengaaaaage! And hope that someone eventually just up and moves away.
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