From the first grade until the end of the fifth, I attended the school where my mother taught. I lived alone with her, and the board allowed this because it made sense for her. She could bring me with her in the morning and not have to worry about babysitting, etc. It was a great set up and I was pretty happy with it. (With the exception of other children trying to hold her hand when she was on yard duty, apparently this was NOT acceptable to my seven year old self…lol)
However by the time I finished grade five, I was feeling frustrated that I didn’t have any friends in my neighbourhood. Not attending my local school kept me from knowing the kids that lived near me and since I was now old enough to be home by myself before and after school I was allowed to switch and start going to the school just one block away from my house. I was VERY excited to walk to school on my own and couldn’t wait to make new friends!
It did not work out how I had hoped.
In the beginning it was very shiny and new, for both myself and the other kids. I liked my teacher and I was popular, a few of the boys had crushes on me and the girls all seemed to want to be my friend. I was no more special than any of the other kids, but just being new and different seemed to make everyone interested in one way or another, it was awesome! Then within a matter of weeks the tide abruptly turned and I’m not even sure how or why. Suddenly I was hated by the girls. They were jealous that the boys liked me and the “ring leader” had no problem pitting them against me. I guess she had been the king pin before I arrived and did NOT like having someone else get attention. Then the boys realized that school was no fun if all the girls were mad at them, and the girls WERE mad at them. Anyone who so much as SPOKE to me was shunned and within a day the boys all decided to hate me.
By this point my teacher had gone on maternity leave and a first year teacher was brought in for the remainder of the year. She had no control of the class and would literally sit at her desk and cry when the kids overtook the room. I was punched, kicked, and had balls thrown at my face during recess. I was not overweight but whenever I walked across the classroom for any reason they would all yell, “BOOM baba, BOOM baba, BOOM baba” with each step I took. I was terrified to walk to school, and terrified to walk home. My parents (who were both teachers) visited the school on numerous occasions to speak to both my teacher and the principal, and yet NOTHING was done.
The cruelest of the boys would hide his belongings in my desk or backpack, and then accuse me of stealing from him. My desk and bag would then be searched and I would be punished when they found his things. At Christmastime all of our lights outside were smashed, and it got to the point where as my mom would leave for work in the morning I would stand in the living room window, sobbing, screaming for her to not leave me, to PLEASE not make me go to school. One kind teacher, I forget his name but he was an older, white haired man, would actually drive me two blocks home after school more than once. Looking back he could have likely gotten into some serious trouble for that, but he was so upset by what was happening, and by the fact that nothing was being done. I don’t think he could stand to sit back and watch.
During all of this, my mom and the man she’d been dating for five years became engaged, and they bought a house where we would all live after the wedding. (My mom and I, my step father and his three kids) We would be moving that summer and I would be attending a different school for grade seven, but by January I was fully having a breakdown.
One evening while we were over at my step dad to-be’s house, my mom sat me down and gave me news that I will FOREVER remember hearing. I still cry when I think of it. She told me that the following month, February, I would be starting at my new school. The board had heard what was happening and was going to allow me to switch over early since I would be attending that fall anyway. I have never heard sweeter words in my LIFE to this day. Not only that, but the two weeks that remained before I moved over would NOT be spent at my current school. She was giving me two weeks off to rest and recuperate before I started fresh. I remember the feeling of those words slowly sinking in… and I remember the realization settling in that I would NEVER EVER have to set foot back in that school, not even for one more day. I am so grateful for my parents and the fact that they listened to me and advocated for me. They had my back and they were not going to leave me in such a damaging place.
I joined my new school in February of grade six, and I am still friends with most of those great kids today! Every kid has their problems, it doesn’t matter where you go. I knew that no place would be perfect and my new school wasn’t. Kids fight, girls can be mean and I had more than one bad day, but I was myself again. I was thriving. I wasn’t scared and I knew that this was what it was supposed to be like. I was finally at peace.
Looking back I have a lot of conflicting feelings. It still hurts to think about that time of my life, but at the same time I think it played a huge role in shaping who I am today, both negatively and positively. I lost a lot of confidence at a crucial time in a young girl’s life. I was ridiculed about EVERY part of me, and I became very critical of myself, and I still am to this day. I have body issues and I am never very comfortable in groups of people. But it had a silver lining too… I am not mean. Ever. To anyone. I was friends with everyone in high school, from the most popular kids to the ones that everyone made fun of or who no one would talk to. I refused to belong to a “group”, I would never exclude anyone or link myself to people who thought they were better than everyone. I have carried this through my entire life. I don’t care who you are, or what you look like, or if everyone else thinks you’re weird, I’ll be your friend. I will help you when you need it and I am here for you.
I am a mother now, and while my two smaller kids are too young to understand, I have a daughter starting grade three in two days, and we have had endless conversations about bullying. I am proud to say that she seems to have adopted my approach to life in that she is friends with everyone. She will lend a hand to whomever needs one and I’ve heard stories from parents and teachers more than once about her standing up to various kids who were picking on others. One of the philosophies I hold dearest to my heart as a parent is that I will NEVER allow my child to be bullied. I will NEVER sit idly by and watch them be abused in that way. But I will also never allow them to BE the bully. In my mind, that’s even worse. I will never be the parent who blindly defends their child and refuses to believe they are capable of such things. I have been very clear about that from day one with my daughter, and she seems to understand and respect that.
I admit that I am afraid for her in this day and age. She is too young for Facebook and Twitter and whatever else is out there, but she won’t be for long. I cannot even imagine how much worse my life would have been at that school had there been all these social networking sites where people can now hide behind their computer screens and literally create groups dedicated to hating others. I dread coming into all of that, and I will keep it out of my kids’ lives as long as I possibly can.
Bullying is an incredibly damaging and abusive game, and I wholeheartedly believe that a bully is born in the home. How we allow our children to act and treat others in our presence sets the tone for how they will behave when we are not around. If they call the shots at home, if they are allowed to treat their siblings poorly and are rude and demanding with others then they will surely expect the same at school. While teachers surely have a role in keeping our children safe and happy at school, it is NOT their job to raise our kids and instill the values and morals that they will need to become respectful, empathetic, virtuous adults. The buck stops with us, the mothers and fathers who have chosen to bring them into this world. I am so tired of reading about children being hurt, or hurting themselves, over the ridicule and harm that’s brought on by these bullies. Looking back, I’m sure I was suicidal. I don’t recall any moments of literally planning or thinking of taking my life, but I was in a very dark place where my life was no longer worth living, THAT I remember. I had nothing to look forward to each day, no one to talk to, and no one to have fun with. Every day was a nightmare and I dreaded opening my eyes each morning.
No one should have to live like that, especially a child. I hope that every parent reading this will LISTEN to their children and watch for signs that something is amiss at school. Just as important I hope you will watch for signs that YOUR child might be the culprit. Having a child who is bullied is heartbreaking; having a child who IS a bully is even worse. It is your responsibility as a parent to protect your children, and it is also your responsibility to do everything in your power to ensure that no one else’s child suffers at the hands of your own.
Bringing others down does NOT lift you up.
Pointing out others’ failures does NOT absolve you of your own.
This world needs more compassion, more generosity, more kindness and more acceptance.
The sooner we as parents realize how heavily this falls on us, the better.
My heart goes out to every child who is in pain and just wants to fit in… please know that you WILL be okay. You WILL pass through this time and come out stronger on the other end. Do NOT give up, you are better than that. You have been targeted because you are different in some way that they cannot understand, and that is what makes you SPECIAL. Just hang on, there are many people that will come into your life who will love you just as you are. I promise.