Thursday, January 16, 2014

Blogs, bullying, and tears in my coffee.

I was just reading articles and blogs on the internet, pretty much just wasting time while avoiding the massive pile of laundry that needs attention. And then I read something that hit me right in the gut. It's not often that I spontaneously burst into tears when reading something, but it happened today. More on this in a bit.

Bullying. It's still an ongoing problem, and I imagine it will be for a long time. Kids hold SO much power over one another. Sadly, as technology is getting more sophisticated, the bullying is getting more covert, yet more dramatic; especially when they get a little older and have access to internet and social media. When my daughter comes home from school and tells me about her day, sometimes things she says make me sad. She's 7. Second graders shouldn't have to deal with a lot of this mean kid/bullying stuff, but they do nonetheless. I try to instill in her the ability to stick up for herself and others, and to know when to tell a grown up what is happening. Unfortunately, I'm not sure how successful I am, since she occasionally says things like, "[enter name here] tried to make me [enter action here] on the playground today." I try to tell her that another kid can't MAKE her do something, but she insists that they can. The one day she told me a kid tried to make her eat a stick at recess. It's hard to discern what is the truth and what is typical 7 year old storytelling, but I don't think she could make up stuff like that on her own. It doesn't happen often, but more than once is too many times for me.

So, how do we handle this? How do we get our kids to overcome the meanies? I try to talk to her about it when opportunities present themselves...but I still worry. She's such a tender soul, I'm afraid that she lets people roll over her. That's what I did when I was a kid. I didn't stick up for myself, I just let the mean kids tear me down and make me feel tiny and insignificant.

We moved to a new state when I was 10. We found a beautiful little town nestled in the Laurel Highlands where my mom and stepdad bought a restaurant. Now, I was a very angry 10 year old at that point. Nobody told me we were moving until summer, so I didn't get to see any of my school friends again; not to mention that I was being moved away from my father and the only town I'd ever known. Mix that with a new small town where everyone knew everyone else, and kids had been in school together...forever...and well, you have a recipe for disaster. I was quiet and introverted. Painfully shy, even. It took a LONG time to make any friends. I vividly remember sitting by myself in the lunch room because nobody wanted me to sit with them. I was picked on relentlessly, getting off of the school bus every day sobbing because of the things the other kids said and did. Cruel insults were hurled at me all throughout the day. The most popular name was "ape face" -- tell me that's not an evil thing to call a child. The boys would lift my skirt and trip me as I was getting off the bus. It was relentless...and I did nothing to stick up for myself. I just hid further and further inside my own world.

Eventually, I made some (really good) friends, and the insults (mostly) stopped. But that one year, 6th grade, affected me to my very soul. I'd like to say that I got over it, but every once in a while, I see or hear something that brings that hurt right back to the surface. Case in point: at my 20 year reunion a classmate said something totally out of the blue to me, to the effect of, "I remember you were picked on all the time. I never participated. I just didn't say anything, I just sat there." I was dumbfounded. First of all, why bring THAT up, 26 years later? It was pretty random. And secondly, possibly more profoundly, why didn't anyone say anything? Obviously, other kids thought what the bullies were doing was bad, but nobody stuck up for me. I weep for that little girl. The one who feels totally isolated in a new house, new town, new state. The one who desperately wants a friend to play with, to talk to, to know that she is not alone in the world. The one who can't figure out what she did that was so bad, to be treated that way at the hands of her classmates.

That is what got me in the solar plexus today. The blog I read was about teaching our kids to be more like Jesus, to accept others, to stick up for others. When they see a classmate being picked on, to put their arm around that child to let them know they are not alone, and tell the bully to back off and stop. TO STAND WITH AND STAND UP FOR OTHERS. When I read that, I literally couldn't stop the tears from falling. What difference would it have made for me, if one or two classmates would have embraced the new girl, and not let me suffer alone for the better part of a year? I can't say for sure, I just know that it would have meant the world to me. I only hope I can teach my kids to be like that, to reach out to the ones who are different, new, or being picked on. To let them know that they are not alone, and that there are others on their side.

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