Tag Archives: bullying

My Childhood Best Friend

This is the prompt I chose for Mama Kat’s Writers Workshop this week because it brings back many happy memories. I can’t say Rebel was my “neighborhood” best friend because when you live way out in the middle of nowhere “neighborhoods” don’t exist. Or they didn’t back then, anyway!

But I remember Rebel from the first day of First Grade! Our birthdays are close together, so I’m sure she started the day in Kindergarten and ended it as a first-grader, just like I did. I wish I could find a class picture or a picture of when she went camping with us, but I can’t. So this will have to do, and I totally stole if from her FB page!

By the date, she was 4 1/2 here, so we hadn’t quite met yet. The baby is her little sister, and the dog is one of the gorgeous St. Bernards her family bred. I suspect that’s where I got my love of BIG dogs. Big, slobbery, furry dogs are just the best!

You can see her gorgeous strawberry-blonde hair here, but not her sweet smile or the perfect scattering of freckles she had across her nose. Much like my beautiful daughter-in-law. I’m hoping for freckles on my grandkids, but their parents actually have to let them out in the sun for more than 30 seconds at a time without SPF 100 to see if that will happen. They may not get freckles until they are teens. But that’s OK, too. Healthy skin is a priority.

Rebel was the most amazing natural artist I’ve ever met. Her dad was quite creative and built custom storage-underneath bunks for Rebel and her sister (coolest bedroom ever!) and a treehouse.

I’m not talking spare pieces of wood nailed up as a ladder and an iffy platform here. I’m talking house with walls, roof, windows, door, table and chairs, and serious decor. Supported by huge pillars. Rebel herself designed and painted the exterior (huge, colorful flowers) and her treehouse was the envy of every girl in school!

We had sleepovers as often as our parents would let us, and were part of a close-knit group of friends at our little country elementary school. But then I had to move away for a year. Not far, just to the next county over. I hated that year, though. I made a couple of friends, but they weren’t like my since-day-one friends. And I was starting that gangly, awkward stage every kid hits at least briefly. Mine wasn’t brief, and I was pretty much tortured on the bus on the way to and from school. And when you live in the country (as we always did) bus rides are long and drivers are deaf.

So I was thrilled to find out we were moving back close to my original elementary school. But dynamics had changed during the year I’d been gone, and for whatever reason one of the girls saw me as a threat. I was a scrawny nerd in hand-me-downs with huge glasses and a home perm. A cardboard cutout would have been more threatening. But Christina decided to pull each and every girl aside (maybe all the boys, too – I was too shy to talk to boys) and told each of them I’d said something incredibly personally insulting about them. That was my first experience with bullying that wasn’t a bigger boy picking on a smaller boy at recess. I had no clue what was happening or why.

They joined hands and danced around me in a circle, chanting nasty things. No one would play with me at recess or speak to me at lunch. My self-esteem was completely crushed. I begged my mom not to make me go to my elementary school graduation, but she didn’t understand. I didn’t even have the words to explain it.

I was eleven, my parents had recently separated, and there was a sexual predator living next door. It was a bad time in my life.

 

Years later (in high school) Rebel finally told me what Christina had done and said. It was actually a relief. All those years I’d thought there was something I’d done to make all my friends not only hate me, but want to hurt me. We were never close again, never more than a smile or wave in the hallway, and I haven’t seen her since high school graduation. But we’re FB friends (I was terrified she’d ignore my request) and she’s obviously become even more beautiful and talented as the years have passed.

The innocence of childhood friendships is so incredibly precious. Those opportunities never come around again.

 

How Do You Define Yourself? Part I

I had a very clear definition of who I was from a very young age.  I was told I was “smart” and “pretty”. I grew up in a rural area, so I could tell people who my parents and grandparents were and they knew all they needed to know about me. But then I needed glasses, and my grandmother insisted my short, baby-fine hair needed a perm. Since I was going through that gangly stage (which lasted way too long in my case) and my parents got divorced before any of my friends’ parents did I just hung onto “smart” for as long as I could, and let all the other insecurities build.

I made some new friends in Junior High, thankfully. I didn’t find out until years later that a “mean girl” in the worst possible sense had put a lot of time and effort into alienating me from my childhood friends. But the friends I made in Junior High hung with me into High School, when I finally got contacts. It certainly didn’t put me back in the “pretty” category, but I could pass for “smart and kinda cute” on a good day. I threw myself into any activity that would look good on a scholarship application and didn’t require any actual skill or coordination, because I knew early on that I had no marketable skills and no money for a college education.

I graduated 6th in a class of 600, and got a four-year full-ride scholarship to the University of Kentucky College of Nursing. There I was neither smart nor pretty, but just a name on the roster. A name that was actually misspelled on my diploma, which I had to pay to get fixed. That had to wait until my third or fourth paycheck as a nurse, which was how I defined myself for a couple of decades.

That and Michael’s wife, Aaron’s mom, then Jack’s mom. Then my youngest has his own bullying experience, after which he changed schools and wanted to be called John, his legal name, which he goes by to this day. Is it wrong that I still want to find the boy who bullied him and made his life miserable (with the full knowledge of the Holy Spirit School teacher, counselor, and principal) for tainting the nickname my son used for almost the first decade of his life? I could slowly cut out his tongue with a smile on my face, but it would be pointless since he’s probably bullied so many other people since then he doesn’t even remember my son. He’ll be arrested one day for raping an unconscious college girl and his parents will pretend to be shocked.

Long post, so wait for Part II tomorrow.

October is Anti-Bullying Month


I didn’t even realize this until I read this post about it over at This Lil Piglet. But the post haunted me. It brought back memories of my own sixth-grade year, and refreshed the memories of my youngest son’s fourth-grade year. So I’m linking up with Shell for Pour Your Heart Out.

I went to a very small rural elementary school, with about thirty kids total in each grade. It was wonderful. Then we moved away to a neighboring county for my fifth grade year. That was okay, too, although changing schools is hard for any kid. Then we moved back for my sixth grade year, and I was thrilled that I would be reunited with all my old childhood friends – the girls I’d spent every recess playing with, the ones who’d congregated at each other’s houses for birthday sleepovers, who’d done gymnastics classes and ceramics classes together. But that wasn’t how it happened.

Evidently one of the girls I’d considered a close friend felt threatened by my return to school, and went to great lengths to make sure I wouldn’t be welcomed back by my old friends. I didn’t know what had happened – I actually didn’t find out until many years later. All I knew was that all my friends were ignoring me, and saying mean, cruel things to me when the teachers were out of earshot. I sat alone at recess, ate alone at lunch. Our teacher obviously did notice what was going on, because I remember her rounding the other girls up, putting her arm around me, and telling them all to “stop being mean to Angie”. Of course all that achieved was adding “teacher’s pet” to the hissed insults. Those long country bus rides were hell. I begged my mom not to make me go to my sixth grade graduation. I just didn’t want to stand there with people who hated me for a reason I couldn’t understand. I couldn’t explain to my mother what was going on, though, since I didn’t really understand it myself. So there are pictures of me in a striped dress at graduation, a rictus of a smile on my face.

I eventually made new friends in junior high, although it was hard since I didn’t have the self-confidence I once had. Most of the girls from elementary school went to the same junior high and high school I did, but we were never friends again. At some point in high school one of them did finally tell me what Christina had done way back in sixth grade. She’d pulled each girl aside individually and told them I’d said horrible things about them. With the special sense mean pre-teen girls have she zeroed in on the thing that would be most hurtful, most unforgivable, to each one. I don’t know what she said to everyone, but I know she told Anna, a brilliant, beautiful, talented girl with the most infectious laugh I’d ever heard that I’d made some sort of racial slur about her. I mourned losing Anna’s friendship for years  – all over Christina’s vicious lie. I didn’t know at the time I was being bullied. Back them bullies were boys who hit other boys, not spiteful little girls who set out to make other little girls’ lives miserable.

John’s bully was named Isaac.  He was physically smaller than the other boys in the class.  Again, not your “typical bully”.  He taunted John throughout his fourth-grade year at the parochial school connected to the church we’d attended for many years.  His bullying tended to be of a sexual nature.  He’d push John toward the girls’ bathroom and tell him he should be going in there, not the boys’.  He’d tell other boys that if they hung around with John at recess or lunch that they were “gay”.  When a girl invited the whole class to her birthday party Isaac insisted she and her friend go to John at recess and tell him that even though he’d gotten an invitation they really didn’t want him to come to the party.  Isaac drew obscene pictures and cruel insults on John’s desk, folders, and books.

When John finally told us about it (after it had been going on for months) his teacher flatly denied that there was any issue.  She said it was just “boys being boys”.  I went to the school counselor and the principal, who inspected his desk and supplies and found the written evidence of what was going on, and even heard the taunts in the classroom.  When called into the counselor’s office Isaac pretended to be penitent, but the counselor heard him threaten John on his way out of her office.  She referred to him as “an Eddie Haskell” – telling the adults what they wanted to hear while continuing to bully the other kids as soon as they were out of earshot.  The one time John stood up for himself and threw a ball harder than he should have at Isaac in gym class John was the one punished.  All of this, mind you, in a Catholic school with a “strict no-bullying policy”.

At the same time all of this was coming to a head there were other changes going on in the school and the parish that made me start to wonder not only if John belonged at this school, but if our family belonged in this parish at all.  I talked John into finishing the year (by the time we’d reached this decision the school year was only a couple of weeks from being over) so that he could start his new school the next year without a blemish on his academic record, but I told him to go immediately to the office and call me if he was made uncomfortable in any way, and I told the principle that I would be leaving work and picking him up from school at the first hint of bullying.

All this just to say: Talk to your kids about bullying, especially the more subtle varieties, and encourage them to come to you if they feel harassed in any way.  Watch for any changes in their behavior and quiz them in detail about how things are going at school.  Do not ever tell you child to “just ignore” a bully.  Contact your child’s teacher, counselor, principal – insist someone take action.  If they can’t or won’t, get your child out of that situation.  We switched John to a new school and he has blossomed in the years since.  He has fantastic friends who share his interests, a much more active social life than mine, and a maybe-sorta-kinda girlfriend who lives around the corner.  I’m just sorry I didn’t get him out of that situation sooner.  Be an advocate for your child and show him or her that bullying isn’t allowed.  Because bullies don’t change much as they grow up unless someone intervenes early.

By the way, Christina and Isaac are the bullies’ real names.  You change names to protect the innocent, not those torturing the innocent.

And because I think this is a really important topic, I’m linking up to Share Your Awesome at Momma Made It Look Easy.

Priced at just $4.99, it is now available in every format your little heart could desire at Smashwords, or, if you prefer, it’s also for sale in a Kindle version at Amazon or a Nook version at Barnes and Noble!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...