Most of the bullying I encountered as a child was just verbal abuse. Did I say “just”? Verbal is bad enough. I wasn’t a constant target the way some kids were, but I got my share of ridicule. The “freaks” who called me “Virgin Mary” in high school bothered me less than the popular girls who made fun of my clothes, my hair, my face….I have this secret wish that at high school reunions those who picked on others in school would explain why they did what they did. You know, it was all a long time ago, I have no hard feelings at this point. Just help me understand what drives that kind of behavior. Why, day after day, would you choose to be cruel?
Of course, if I think about it long enough I remember that I did a little bullying myself. Very little, honestly, because my identity was wrapped up in being a “good girl”, and I had a highly developed sense of righteous indignation. I even served a brief stint as a body guard for a girl who was being bullied. Which is funny, because I weighed maybe 100 lbs. that year and had the muscle tone of Olive Oyl. But I did, on occasion, make fun of others. My friends and I used to make up little songs about a boy in our youth group who was…..unusual. But he had such a strong sense of who he was that our ridicule just seemed to bounce right off of him. He’d just laugh loudly and keep on being himself. Once, at a weekend church retreat, we gave “Rob” Ex-lax chocolate chip cookies. Yeah, that old gag. He punished us for the rest of the weekend by describing his trips to the bathroom in detail, also loudly. I’d say he made the best of a bad situation.
My children who are in public school (Striker and B.Lake) deal with bullying all. the. time. Striker (age 15) is beautiful and athletic – the very things I wasn’t at her age – and she still gets abuse. The names girls call each other these days! I’m still not used to it. Last week she told me that people at school were calling her the “W”-word. Turns out she didn’t mean “witch”.
It’s no better for B.Lake, who is in 6th grade. He’s had lots of colorful words and phrases directed at him, too. Additionally, he gets made fun of because he’s in special ed. and because he’s adopted. I try to get him to ignore most of it, and I call the school when he reports something that I find especially repugnant.
A few weeks ago I came home to to find two boys in our yard, and B.Lake cowering along the side of the house. As soon as I pulled up the boys took off, so I guessed – correctly – that they were not there for a play date. As soon as I asked B.Lake who they were he burst into tears. The two boys were slapping him, telling him to go back to his “black mom”, that sort of thing.
I am forever telling my children to try to take the high road. “Think how miserable this person must be inside, to be such a jerk,” I’ve said. Of course, I don’t know that this actually true. Maybe some bullies are happy as larks, enjoying the pain they’re causing others. “Jesus said to love your enemies, and pray for them,” I say to my suffering children, when what I really want, deep down, is to track down some little monsters and knock the snot out of them.
Mr. Right and I were both gone last night, and Baph was home with the younger kids. B.Lake had permission to go skateboarding around the neighborhood with a friend. Remember the two boys from our yard? One of them is a foul-mouthed little creep who is a constant torment to B.Lake at school. Listen, B.Lake can be a pain: I know that better than anyone. But he’s not malicious and he’s not a fighter. Last night the little creep’s father came out of his house and down the street to attack B.Lake and his friend. I don’t use the word attack lightly. The police were called. It turns out that B.Lake’s friend is a stand-up guy, a 14 year old who interposed himself between a grown man and my son to keep B.Lake from being hurt. I am truly grateful to him.
I’ll spare you all the details, except to say that no one was physically injured. I don’t understand why some kids bully, but I think I understand why the little creep bullies: his father is a bully. This morning I told B.Lake (who, by the way, is terrified to be out of the house now) that I almost feel sorry for the little creep. He’s probably been on the receiving end of some of that bullying. B.Lake didn’t see my point. He’s not ready to feel compassion in this situation yet, and I don’t blame him.
To me, as a parent, the only thing worse than my child being bullied is the possibility of my child being a bully. I just pray that the garbage my children put up with will not snuff out the essential kindness in them. God knows, the world needs more kind people.