The Boss was giddy in her perch behind me as I drove away from pre-school. "Mom, do you know what E. said?"
I looked in the rear view mirror to the pink-clad, pink-cheeked girl sitting in her gender-neutral car seat. Stray hairs emerged from under her hat, pressing against her forehead like trampled straw. My nose wrinkled at the sound of E.'s name. "No, honey. What did she say?"
"E. doesn't hate me anymore! She told me she LOVES me!"
The unbridled enthusiasm of The Boss's proclamation made my heart beat faster for a second, then sag in my chest. E. was one of the older children in The Boss's Montessori classroom, with at least 1.5 to 2 years on The Boss's 3. I've considered her a bully ever since The Boss told me that E. had pinched her twice--"Two times," The Boss said, holding her fingers in a V and counting them off, one by one--and made her cry. I know it's best to reserve judgment on the bully issue with children so young, but that would be the rational thing to do. My reaction to anyone hurting my child is much more primal than that.
"Oh," I said slowly, gearing up for the false enthusiasm that was the best The Boss was going to get out of me. "That's good. She loves you, huh?"
"Yup!" The Boss bounced in her seat a little, then leaned back with a contented sigh. When she tilted her head away and began to watch the world go by outside her window, it was my clue that she was done recounting her day for me. My own sigh was less contented. I maneuvered the truck through roads lined with gray snow and mailboxes that had stood up to plows, only to be knocked right down.
Fickle little E. It was bad enough that she'd hurt my little girl in the first place. But now she was invoking the feminine privilege of changing her mind. I shuddered at the thought of each morning in the new world of the schoolroom, where The Boss was forced to wonder how the arbitrary rays of E.'s sun would shine down on her that day. It also occurred to me that The Boss was learning from E.'s behavior that friendship and respect is as changeable as the New England weather.
In the truck on the way home from pre-school, I had visions of another mother, a year from now, wrinkling her own nose as her child recounted the story of The Boss's fickle affection. I thought of girls on the playground running and tagging in a vicious circle. Drumming my fingers with frustration against the steering wheel, I searched for the words to tell The Boss that it doesn't have to be like this. She doesn't have to be like that.