I am a believer in peace. In love. I feel there is a place for everyone in this world, regardless of our differences. AND YET…
If I ruled the world, my first course of action would be to round up all of the bullies and have them fight to the death, Thunderdome style.
Some will fault me, saying that violence simply begets more violence. But bullying is cruel and senseless. It never makes anyone feel better – except the ones doing the bullying – and it tends to bring everyone else down. Otherwise decent people often stand silent in the face of bullying for fear of retaliation. Others with tendencies toward aggression may join in. Bullying, put simply, is one of the lowest forms of human behavior.
I never experienced bullying as a child. Somehow, someway, I managed to avoid arousing the notice and ire of the local thugs. But three years ago, bullying walked up to my door and KICKED IT IN. My daughter came home from school and I could immediately tell something was wrong. For one, she was crying. Also, she seemed embarrassed. Those who experience bullying may feel as though they’ve done something wrong, though they haven’t, and are often ashamed to talk about what’s going on. Bullying is humiliating in so many ways.
It started on the school bus. Two girls from my daughter’s class had taken to sitting nearby. At first they pretended to be her friends and tried to engage her in play. But their “game” was just a ruse. The girls started throwing things at my daughter, in the guise of jest. My daughter wasn’t interested and stopped playing with them. So they began to tease her, making fun of her clothing, calling her weird for reading. Daily they would sit behind her and kick her bus seat. They would talk loudly to each other about her, saying terrible things. Their behavior escalated, until finally, one day, my daughter got off the bus and burst into tears.
One of them had spit in her hair.
I felt like my insides were going to boil up and explode out of my neck. The idea that these two girls, who had been harassing my daughter for weeks, had #$@% SPIT ON HER..??!!! This was The FINAL STRAW. I looked up the girl’s phone number and I dialed.
The mother wasn’t home, but the girl in question said she’d be home later. As I hung up the phone, I could hear the girl laughing, like something was reeeeeallly funny. It took everything in me not to drive to her house immediately and break down the door. Later that evening, my husband called and spoke with the girl’s mother, who explained, oh, it wasn’t spit, it was hand sanitizer. As if that would make it okay? Regardless, she reassured us this would not happen again. We assured her that if it didn’t stop, we would take further action.
On the bus rides to and from school, my daughter began sitting as far away as possible from the two girls. Unfortunately, the two of them would often change seats, inching their way toward her. They tried to incite her, to get her to respond, but she focused instead on her iPod and book, ignoring them. Bored, they soon turned their attentions to others, and a neighbor boy joined their merry throng. The newly-formed trio began mocking a mentally disabled girl who’d sometimes ride the bus. They’d pick fights with anyone vulnerable and/or unlikely to fight back. Even though their jabs toward my daughter had (mostly) dissipated, their behavior still bothered her. WHY? Because bullying of ANYONE is not to be tolerated. And to pick on the defenseless is unconscionable.
Fortunately, friends, the tale doesn’t end there. A year later, my daughter moved onto middle school, where – by the GRACE OF GOD – the prime bully was placed in a different “house.” Translation: there would be no contact between the two of them. My daughter was driven to school in the mornings because of her extracurricular activities, and when she rode the bus home in the afternoon, said bully was almost never present because she’d (surprise, surprise) GOTTEN DETENTION. Shortly after the start of the school year, the second girl was pulled by her parents out of public school and enrolled in (wait for it…) CATHOLIC SCHOOL INSTEAD. And the boy who’d joined their threesome…???? EXPELLED. Current whereabouts, unknown.
I relate all of this not to gloat. I’m sincere when I say I feel sorry for these kids and truly hope that these less-than-stellar experiences can shape them into better young people and adults. The reason that I’m sharing this is because last week my daughter had her second experience with bullying. It was very different this time – strictly verbal, and very subtle, but it was bullying all the same.
We’ve all been in the awkward position of being “the new kid.” Whether it’s at work or school, a club, sports team, church, you name it – at some point in life everyone experiences the nervous thrill that accompanies the start of something completely foreign. Depending upon situation and temperament, things can go wonderfully well, or conversely, they can go terribly wrong. And often, it’s those around who can make or break the situation.
There are many amazing people in this world. People who are kind, and genuine. People who make a point of being nice, especially to someone new, or different. And then there are THE OTHERS. The OTHERS fall into many, maaannnny different groups, but one of the worst (at least in my mind) are the elitists. AKA, The Snobs. Snobs are the people who – rather than greet you or smile – look you up and down when you enter a room. They strive for exclusivity. They long to be THE BEST. These types of folks revel in their material specialness and flock to those they perceive as equally elite. They do NOT want to share. They do NOT want to play fair. And they most certainly do NOT want to be nice. This type of behavior in an adult makes me want to CHOKE ON MY OWN VOMIT. This type of behavior in a child makes me want to CHOKE HIS OR HER PARENTS. But I digress…
My daughter started a new camp last week. One she had carefully selected from a stack of possible camps and been eagerly awaiting. I dropped her off the first day with hope that she would have a great time, enjoy what she was learning, and make friends. When I picked her up from camp that afternoon, it was painfully obvious that she did NOT have any of the above. For one, she was crying. Also, she looked embarrassed. After much coaxing she spilled the beans. There were a number of girls in her group, three of whom were her age. These three girls were friends, and had enrolled together. At lunch they’d sat with my daughter. After asking her what school she went to (not their own), they’d immediately said “Ooh..” turned their backs and ignored her the rest of the meal. She felt humiliated. The girls spent the rest of the afternoon giving her dirty looks, whispering with their heads together. No one else had spoken to her all day, and she was so deflated, she hadn’t had the courage to speak to anyone else.
My heart ached. The SNOB Snub! How can you soften that blow? I tried explaining to her – honey, they go to school in a very wealthy suburb. They probably think your school is “bad.” But you know it’s not. And you’re wonderful! You’re smart, and funny, and creative. You’re real, baby. You’re real. And that’s a very precious thing. Please, don’t pay attention to those girls. I’m not going to force you to go back (though we spent hundreds of dollars on that camp…) It’s your decision.
So I gave her the choice. And in doing so, I felt like I was giving her back her dignity. Instead of forcing her into a painful situation, I was allowing her an out. And I wouldn’t have faulted her for taking the easy route. Had she decided to stay home with me, safe and sound for the rest of the week, I would have understood. Really. But you know what? She didn’t. The next day, she went right back to camp. She held her head high, she did her best, and when I picked her up at the end of the day, she was laughing and bidding adieu to a cadre of new friends.
As much as I’d like to say my daughter’s attitude changed the hearts of those three girls, I can’t. They spent the rest of the week making whispering comments about her, doing their best to intimidate and cow. But they didn’t. I’m so proud of my daughter. She’s endured more than I had to at her age, and she’s done so with grace and dignity. Humans can be bad animals, but we can also be beautiful. Don’t let the fascist bully boys (and girls) get you down.