Sticks and Stones and Other Lies

sticks and stones

Anyone who thinks kids have to get along all the time is delusional—or had an remarkably insular childhood.

Insults happen. Cliques and circles are made and unmade. Feelings get hurt. BFFs. . . aren’t.

Anyone who thinks they can protect their kids from ever hearing a discouraging word is fooling themselves—and probably giving their offspring entirely different species of issues.

I get this. I do.

So when my kids come home with hurt feelings, we talk it through. We parse it out and talk about what they can do the next time—and frequently remind Sunny that revenge isn’t constructive.

At the end, I always ask them if they want me to talk with their teachers. Partially, because this weeds out the exaggerations, because my kids aren’t generally vindictive beyond the moment, but mostly because I want them to know I’ll go to bat for them.

They’ve both always said that they would talk with the teacher themselves if whatever it is happens again—or that it isn’t a big deal and telling me helped.

And I’ve always agreed that it hasn’t been a big deal, given the information I was given or could glean.

That changed this weekend.

I may have mentioned this once or twice, but Jane has a history of . . . overreacting to stressful situations. She isn’t particularly proud of this and we’ve been working on calming techniques and ways she can avoid trapping herself in a negative loop. Things were going pretty well . . . until this past month. I won’t go into detail, but two weeks ago, she was placed on behavior probation for her outbursts.

Since then, she’s been keeping it together pretty well at school—but not necessarily at home. In fact, the backtalk and tantrums have doubled recently.

On Sunday, she had a major meltdown over her Academic Fair Project, which is in truth coming together nicely at this point. Questions about a minor sub-portion of her work devolved into a major, angst-ridden, spread around the misery, her-entire-life-is-stupid-and-she’s-the-stupidest-kid-ever-born, seven on the Richter Scale fit.

After which, she came up to me and quietly asked if we could talk.

And she told me that some of her classmates have been giving her a rough time.

It doesn’t matter why she’s being teased: whether it’s her hair color or her clothes, her running style or her lunch, her body or her habits, her walk or her talk, her choice of reading materials/friend/hobbies/music , or her sense of humor or skin color, things she could change or things she can’t.

It only matters that it hurts beyond her ability to cope.

And that, for the first time, she asked me to directly intervene—which means that she’s finally at the end of her frayed rope. Her pain has finally grown worse than her fear of angering the classmates who are making her feel so ugly and angry inside.

She asked me to talk to her teacher and principal on her behalf, because she’s also afraid that her words won’t come out right if she talks to them alone—she knows that frustration isn’t her friend—and that they’ll think she’s making excuses for her own behavior.

There’s also the embarrassment factor. One of the worst things about bullying is that the victims see a grain of truth in the “reasons” for the attacks—and how do you ask for help without also admitting that something about you is so wrong?

So Jane and I wrote a letter together, outlining the things that have been happening. We also stated that we know the teasing isn’t an excuse for her own overreactions, but it is, we thought, a mitigating circumstance—it’s difficult to remain calm if people keep poking at you because it’s funny to make you explode.

I added an aside that while I don’t believe that the comments or actions are at the level of bullying—yet—or that the other students truly know that they’re being hurtful instead of funny, this doesn’t excuse their behavior, either. I might have mentioned the Honor Code and the no-tolerance policy.

The word “unacceptable” and the phrase “Please let us know how you plan to resolve this issue,” may also have been used.

We sent the message and I tucked my exhausted girl into bed. Then I sat down at my laptop and wrote a blistering, profanity-laden e-mail about ten-year old mean girls and how I’d like to put my fist through the drywall a few times and sent it to a friend.

I’ve rarely been this angry—I certainly wasn’t this outraged when it happened to me, for all the reasons Janie was keeping all this inside. But I am now.

I’ve had these kids in our house. We invited them to her birthday party this weekend—I was disappointed when they said they couldn’t come.

I know what those nasty little voices do. I know what they lead to, even if my own reaction was to hide rather than fight. I know how easy it is to assume that the bullies are right and how damned difficult it is to repair the damage and how impossible to remove the scars.

But a couple of things in this mess are keeping my Sunny-like dreams of retribution under control:

—Jane came to me because she trusted that I’d listen and that I would help her.

—I did believe her.

We took steps. And we will continue to take steps to make sure she feels safe. Not coddled, not wrapped in cotton, but strong in her beliefs that no one has the right to make her feel bad for being who she is and that she has people who will back her up.

—Her school has responded. Her principal sent me a reply this morning, saying that she and Jane and Jane’s teacher will be meeting today to discuss the students who are “being unkind.” I had hoped to be included, but I will be following their response—and Jane’s feelings about their response—very, very closely.*

Because, if it is within my power to do so, I will not have my children believing that they’re less than they are.

Anyone who thinks that I’m the one overreacting is delusional.


Photo credit: Lisa monster

*A little after this posting, the principal called me, asking for a meeting.  They appear eager to address the issue.  We’ll see.