Sunday, January 16, 2011

Bullies: then, now, and always


I remember the day I first got a taste of what bullying really is. I was in the second grade and this first grader, who I didn't know from Adam, started walking by me at recess and giving me full eye contact while mouthing the words "monkey face" (what an a-hole). I was crippled with shame. Did I have a monkey face? I silently ignored his advances and just did my best to avoid him. I spent a lot of time in the tunnel. But then he went and recruited this big bitch Katrina (if that name wasn't fitting) to pick on me too! They started yelling "MONKEY FACE" from across the playground. The worst part was that Big Bitch rode my bus. It was a long bus ride and she would sit behind me and kick my seat, rhythmically taunting with the monkey face bit. Now, he may have shamed me but this chick scared me....she was a first grader but close to twice my size. I was very small for my age. The next year I changed schools (coincidentally) and never had to deal with those two ever again. But I do think I remained self conscious about my face. And I for sure watched my words toward others.....if I was going to have a monkey face then I'd better be a nice monkey face, so that I could still have friends.

Later, in the sixth grade, a new bully entered my life. He was a seventh grader and his digs were significantly more clever. Either he was well practiced and really knew how to hurt feelings or he just got lucky - he mocked my daddy. Remember Fred Penner? Well, my dad in all his daddily awesomeness spent a lot of time playing his guitar for us and we danced around waiving our hands (and voices) in the air like we just didn't care. All. the. time. We lived in a townhouse and probably had our windows open 24/7, giving those seventh graders a daily live show of hilarity. So at the bus stop one morning the jerk started asking me if my dad was Fred Penner. This routine lasted weeks but I was well practiced at ignoring taunts (thank you Katrina) and he let up over time. Then one afternoon I was outside and he ran by crying with a nose bleed, some other kid said his dad punched him. I might have felt a little vindicated but I definitely thought Fred Penner would never hit a kid. Zing!

Laughing at a fathers affection when you aren't receiving it from your own father doesn't take Freud to decipher. But at the time and age it felt mean and senseless. I hope my children have the self confidence to stay strong in the face of children (and adults) who are projecting their own b/s on them. I hope I have the words to guide them and encourage them through this inevitable part of life. I'm starting to hear bits and pieces of language from Jack (M is mean, D told the teacher!) that indicate that he's beginning to label children. The best I've come up with is to help him understand that we're all learning how to treat others and that being nice to someone will help them learn to be nice too. Jack gets really bent when a child is unfriendly toward him and he really holds on to it. Any tips for helping him to get "unstuck" when this happens? I want him to empathize even when he's on the receiving end, to be able to see that it isn't necessarily about him. That said, I know how personal it feels when you're called a monkey face treated badly.

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