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.


21 thoughts on “Sticks and Stones and Other Lies

  1. I wish so much to be more like the parent you are. Yeah, there are causes and effects and strategies and confrontations, but all that aside, Janie knows she can trust you. You’re solid. You’re her mom, in the best and most comforting sense of the word. If kids can be proud of their parents, I’ll bet she feels it for you.

    • I can’t help but think that I should have known earlier . . . wasn’t her behavior change a big enough clue? But I was taken in by my old memories of the other kids.

      I’m more proud of her for coming to me.

      • It can be that simple, you rockstar mom. We had a similar situation and the toughest part is when we take control of the situation the way only an adult can. She needed to know that she would be heard. You heard her and showed her that you will do whatever it takes to make it stop. It may not stop all the way, and it may not be a perfect resolution, but she came to you and you acted. The action is what showed her that she is not alone and she is not whatever it is that they are making her feel. You gave her the power that those, ahem, children were trying to take away.
        She is different and she is fantastic and she is a story teller and one of a kind. Of course she doesn’t fit in. Because she’s too awesome for such silly boxes. And so is her mom. And it’s that simple that she just needed to know that when she couldn’t handle it, you could.
        Do you want to borrow my cape and mask for your meeting? Just say the word, Mom-o-star.

        • Wow. Just . . .That means a lot, Lyra—I’ll share it with her in the morning. Thank you.

          I think I shall unearth my Bulletproof Suit for the occasion. No one messes with The Suit—it makes me look like I have Phil Coulson on speed dial.

  2. Advocating for your children is the greatest gift you can give them. Good for you for taking this so seriously.

  3. This ruffled my feathers on her behalf. I don’t know if I would have been able to respond in a productive manner, so I admire your restraint. (I tend to want to respond in kind, making those who make someone feel ‘less than’ feel that way themselves, which I know just perpetuates the cycle.) Glad to hear the conversation has been started, and I hope it leads to a positive resolution. Please let Janie know that there are others in her corner, and I really think she’s awesome!

  4. I couldn’t say it any better than Averil or Lyra, but good for you for being there for Janie and for being such a great mom in the first place, that she felt able to come talk to you, knowing you’d believe her and help her.

    You’ve got her back.

    And we’ve got yours.

    Good luck tomorrow


    • She didn’t come to me for a while, though . . . maybe that’s normal? Or maybe she did and I thought it was the usual pecking order stuff?

      But everyone’s support means so much to us both. Thank you!

  5. Good for Jane that she has you! You fight for her, you fight together with her and most important you teach her how to fight for herself. Good luck in the meetings, hopfully talking will open the eyes of the other kids.

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