Dear Riva,

This might be jumping the gun, because for all I know by the time you’re able to read this we could have moved to Montana or Papua New Guinea, far away from our current New Jersey town (my hometown) where many of the girls break off into ruthless cliques and even the speech therapists talk in affected accents.

In case we haven’t moved, I want you to know that I have the highest hopes for you, my only daughter, and I want you to be prepared for the so-called mean girls. To be clear, you’ll encounter some wealthy girls who are not mean at all and some less fortunate ones who are totally mean. It’s all about their entitled attitude and cliquishness and conformity to the mean ideal.

 

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To better explain, let me tell you a story about your mother. As you must know by now, she grew up in a blue collar town and then taught English in Japan and backpacked through Africa and did a bunch of other stuff I would have been far too nervous to do myself. When we moved here, I warned her about mean girl culture and how she shouldn’t assume she’d easily blend in; just because you navigated wild boars in Indonesia, I told her, doesn’t mean you can win over the preschool mothers. She laughed at me, thinking I was being silly and neurotic and that these fellow mothers would openly welcome her.

Well it took about a week of her going to mommy-and-me preschool with your older brother to disabuse her of that notion. And it got so bad that your mother would cry after going to a kiddie birthday party at the local My Gym because no one would have talked to her, except for the one mom from Wisconsin. Your mother was way too earnest and transparent for them, and she didn’t wear the right clothes or sport the proper pout and she was driving our 15-year-old hand-me-down Volvo and she was married to me, a lapsed attorney who wrote weird stories on the Internet.

That’s what we’re up against, sweet Riva. And admittedly there are plenty of nice people in this town who are nothing like that, but you’re going to feel a pull to fit in with these girls. Don’t underestimate that. It seems to start in preschool, which is much worse for girls than for boys (they start forming cliques at age three!), so I’m going to handpick your preschool and maybe send you to one in a barn where the parents are all Phish fans.

I realize that a main driver for the mean-girl phenomenon in our community is the father who can’t stand to let his daughter grow up. So it’s on me to encourage you to talk like an adult, even when I still find your childhood babble so adorable, to discourage you from throwing temper tantrums, even when I view them as quaint and endearing, and to stress independence, even when that means you’re separating from me.

This is obviously easier said than done, Riva, and if I’m failing you in any of these respects, you have my permission to sell my latest iPhone or whatever gadget I’m clinging to at the moment and use the proceeds to start up with a therapist who speaks in dry mature tones and doesn’t wear knee-high boots and drive a GMC Acadia (or the equivalent fads of the day).

Perhaps you’re reading this on the beaches of Papua New Guinea with a nice group of well-meaning friends, but if we’re still in New Jersey, you’re going to need to be especially kind and resilient and unique. Be a free thinker, like your grandmother – my mother – who played the French horn and wrote poetry, and your great great aunt, who was one of the first women to attend law school in New Jersey and was pals with Golda Meir.

I will love you, Riva, even if you do turn out mean. But for the love of God, please don’t.

— Dad