Cooperative competition in real life

Posted on 23-06-2017

Squad

She is sitting on the couch and she’s crying her eyes out. When I ask what happened, she says she heard that she got kicked out of the squad; a group of classmates who always hang out together during recess. “Otherwise you are ‘lonly’,” she adds. ‘Lonly’. That’s how she pronounces it. Later, when she shows me her Messenger, I notice that’s how she writes it, too. ‘Lonely’ it is indeed: even at her age loneliness is the most terrible thing that can happen to you. 

“Says who?” I ask. One of her besties told her so. “Do you know why?” Gasping for breath, she shakes her head. No, she does not know. “Is it possible to hang out with other kids tomorrow?” She shakes her head again. No.  Then she adds, resigned: “The others also belong to groups, it’s not as if I can just go and stand with them.” I cannot believe what I hear.

Onesies Unicorn Friends StreetwiZe squadI remember she was invited for a birthday party a couple of weeks ago by friends. At least that’s what I thought they were; friends. They all agreed to turn up in unicorn onesies. For those who don’t know what a onesie is: it is some sort of pijama, in one piece, with a hoodie. Onesies are available in almost any conceivable shape and form and perfectly suit as a disguise. I realise now that a small gang was formed there and then, with its own name, identity and a common goal; avoiding ‘lonliness’, as it were. 

In the course of the evening things get clearer and it turns out she is not the only one who got kicked out of the squad. A group conversation starts on Messenger with 5 outcasts.  What remains unclear however, is who the mastermind is behind this social skimming. I ask her whether there is a leader in the squad and if it could be that person. She nods yes, and then shakes her head. She suspects something but apparently, the roles are not very clear.  

A bit later, however, it seems that there is a lobbyist in the gang that’s falling apart! While some of the outcasts make plans to start a new ‘awkward’ (they do spell that one right) alternative squad, the lobbyist informs my daughter that he’s been able to fix that she, and only she, can step back into the gang again. It remains unclear whom he obtained the favour from, or in other words, who’s behind the coup. Our kitchen is instantly transformed into a temporary crisis management HQ and we discuss the situation. 
Of course, she is relieved that she’s part of the squad again but she does not agree with the fact that the others are still excluded. She courageously decides to fight and let the squad know that if the others aren’t welcome anymore, she will step out. 

The next morning, she is anxious when she leaves for school. We have imagined all ‘worst case scenarios’ and discussed how to best handle each one of them. Some rationalising won’t hurt, is our opinion.  All in all, she looks quite serene, I think.

That day I’m pretty nervous and I make sure I’m home as early as possible. She is drawing when I get back, and when I ask how her day was, she says “Oh, okay.” Almost indifferently, without looking up. “Okay…?” I ask, relieved and not relieved at all. She stops drawing, looks at me and repeats: “Just okay.” For a second, I think it was all a nightmare, but when your kid cries her eyes out, it’s hard to forget. So, I continue: “And the squad?” Only then, she seems to remember the night before as well.

She tells me about arriving at school and everybody acting as if nothing happened, and the way they played like usual. Everybody? Yes, everybody. And nobody asked questions? No, nobody did. She didn’t either, she forgot.
I don’t get it. The squad exploded without a clear reason and the spin-off reintegrated mysteriously without a sound or comment, within 24 hours. More so, none of the members seem to be interested in who hit the red button and why. The unicorns are reunited and trot happily ever after. No need for feedback.

cooperative competition street skills StreetwiZeI don’t get it. And I tell her.

“Hmmm”, she says. “That’s the way it goes in the squad.” Laughing out loud, she adds: “But that’s something you cannot understand.” She is right. That is cooperatieve competition, too: That lovely exclusivity of your own squad. You get energy from the down times. Even if they hit you from within. And nobody will understand just exactly how that works.
Later that evening I gather my ‘posse’ around me for a well-deserved aperitif. Even if, deep down, this story hasn’t finished yet, for me. I decide to keep a close eye on this squad, ‘cause nobody messes with the Vanbiervlietjes.

 

This story was read & approved by the daughter involved.
Column by Eric Vanbiervliet