How the Meeting Went

At the start of the meeting yesterday, Jane was huddled up against my side on the small couch, not really looking at her teacher or her principal, who were sitting in the chairs across from us.

Fifteen minutes later, she’d straightened up and was comfortable enough to speak clearly, if hesitantly, about the behavior and comments of some of her classmates—and to name not only the bullies, but the other children who were targets.

The principal said that she was proud of Jane for looking out for her friends.

That brought out Jane’s first smile.

By the end of the meeting, she had strategies. She knew the difference between tattling and asking for help and she knew that she was worth helping.

She has specific steps to take when someone makes her feel uncomfortable or hurt or angry. One of the first is to speak up for herself: “I feel blank when you blank. I would like you to please blank.”

The principal told her that she could try it out on her little sister: “I feel angry when you touch my stuff. I would like you to please ask first.”

I told her that with all that practice, she would be an expert by morning.   Jane rolled her eyes and giggled.

And she understands now that she’s allowed to take the final step is to tell the teacher. If that teacher doesn’t understand or can’t help right away—because teachers get busy, too—she can ask again when things are calmer or find another teacher or the principal

“So no more skipping gym, okay?” said the principal. “ I’ll talk to the PE teacher myself.”

Jane blew out a breath and nodded. Ten minutes later, she left for the last few minutes of science class—after giving us all hugs.

And this morning, she put on her nice winter dress, thick stockings, nice shoes, and put up her hair. She looked strong, confident, and beautiful.

“I’m going to have a good day,” she said.

I’ll bet you she does.

I know I will.


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.

Anti-Bullying and Censorship: That’ll Teach Them

I usually have some idea about the day’s blog post in advance—stop laughing—but this morning, I had nothing in mind except a vague essay on why I should really think about eating breakfast before I’m ensconced in my cubicle and the only options are sugar-free peppermint gum and diet Pepsi.*

But I’ve winged it before—breakfast and blog—so I trusted that a post would present itself sometime during the day.

I really need to stop tempting the universe like this.

Because the first thing I saw when I opened the paper for processing was an article about the Erie Elementary School.

And now I am furious.

Seems that they have an Anti-Bullying Collection at this school, which is a terrific idea.  Except, well, some of the parents don’t think some of this collection is appropriate.

While I’m anti-censorship, I am in favor of age- and level-appropriate materials, so I decided to hold off on my automatic reaction and read on.

The unacceptable materials?

The Family Book by Todd Parr, who has made a name for himself telling everyone that they are okay no matter what and he means you, too.  Because there’s one sentence in there that says that some families have two daddies or two mommies.

One.  Sentence.

And, knowing Mr. Parr’s style, perhaps a thick-lined drawing of two figures in skirts holding hands and two similar figures in pants holding hands.**

God help us.

What’s  even worse, in the eyes of these parents, are that some of the materials in the Anti-Bullying Collection came from . . . wait for it . . . the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Educational Network.  There’s no mention of what the materials contain in any of the articles I’ve read, but as we all know, cooties are a big concern at the Elementary School level and there might be a stamp on it somewhere that says Gay or Lesbian on it.  And what if the children ask questions?

Now, this . . . stupidity. . . happens all the time, every damn day, so at this point, I wasn’t so much surprised as saddened.

And then I read on.

A committee was formed to study the matter and the Board held a public session to discuss the matter, which is all good practice.  Usually, with something this ridiculous, the committee recommends that the materials stay and the Board follows the committee recommendations, the vocal few bluster about how the world is traveling at light speed in a handbasket and it all dies down.

In Erie, the Board listened to the vocal few and removed the materials before—or so I’m told—most of the community knew anything had been challenged in the first place.

Funny Animal Captions - Animal Capshunz: Even Lions Have These Moments

But my real problem with this isn’t how certain people are still battling the Big Bad Gay Boogieman with the Shield of Willful Ignorance and the Lance of Woefully Uninformed Panic.

It’s that once again, two very different actions are being confused:

Teaching elementary school children that we must be nice to everyone and not hurt anyone


Promoting and endorsing explicit sexual practices to elementary school children

When people mistake the first action for the second—and it’s truly stunning how often it happens—they tend lose all sense of proportion, sweep everything off the shelves before whatever it is they haven’t actually read gets to the children, and end up teaching those kids lessons they may not have intended.

The thing about kids is, they’re constantly looking for confirmation of everything you tell them.  That’s the way they figure out how the world works.

You can tell them, We have to be nice to everyone and they’ll bug you for a complete list:

Differently colored people?   On the list.

People with glasses? Yes

Sick People? Of course

Small people?  Uh-huh.

People who don’t read as well as the rest of the class?  Yep.

People in wheelchairs?  On the list

People who can’t hear or see?  On there.

People who laugh all the time at nothing?  Sure.

People who cry all the time like big babies?  Yes and let’s discuss how you phrased that.

People who love Thomas Hardy’s poetry? Well . . . okay.

The kid who sticks paste in his ears and hums the National Anthem while he picks his nose?  Yes.  You don’t have to eat lunch with that kid, but you have to be nice.  And if someone else isn’t nice to him, you need to tell a grown-up.

People who are mean to me?  Tough one . . . but yeah, they’re on the list, too.

And that’s great.  But another thing about kids, is that they pick up the stuff you don’t say much better than they ever listen to the stuff you do.

You can tell them, We have to be nice to everyone and they’ll notice what you aren’t saying about certain people.***

Two boys holding hands?  Go out and play.

A girl who isn’t interested in boys when everyone else is?  Go out and play.

Kids who have two mommies or two daddies?   Go play.

Anyone who has been tagged, even in an off-handed way, as gay?  That’s not a nice thing to say.  We don’t use that word.

They may not know what a gay or lesbian person is or does—because heaven forfend we given even the simplest elementary-appropriate explanation of, say, two like-gendered people holding hands—but they will get the message that there’s something wrong with these persons, so wrong that it looks like it’s okay not to be nice to them.

And since kids are constantly looking for confirmation, some of ‘em will test it out in the real world by not being nice to the people they think aren’t specifically on the list.

I’m sure all of you have made the connection, but let’s drive it home, shall we?

That testing?  It’s bullying—and people die from it, one way or another.

No damn joke.

But what really steams me about all this idiocy is the response of the school system, which makes me wonder how Anti-Bullying Collections were ever accepted in these schools in the first place:

According to the Superintendent (emphasis mine), “People see a headline and they respond to something. They don’t understand that it’s very important to us to continue teach what we’ve taught and continue to take care of our kids the way we always have . . .  People from 30, 100, or 1,000 miles away don’t really understand the entire story.”

Oh, I think we do, dear.

What’s more, so will your kids.


I found a video news report of this, but it won’t embed. Here’s the link, if you’re interested.

I’m relieved to see that there’s already a petition circulating in the community to get these materials back on the shelves.  I hope that’s enough and if it isn’t, I hope the petitioners step up the fight.

Because this is unacceptable.


*Don’t try this at home kids, my lips just went numb.

**I don’t know for sure, because the library’s copies are all checked out.

***I’d include people of size, but that’s another rant.

Sticks and Stones, Truth and Lies

I wasn’t going to write about this.  I just wasn’t.  Even when Janie caught a glimpse of the news on TV while we were searching for the remote and I was forced to explain what suicide was and why two college kids were in so much trouble.*

Nope.  I was going to keep posting about music and Milk Chugs.  Keep it light, keep it funny, keep it coherent.  Keep your temper.

And then I read this by Kate Harding.  And I thought, well, damn it.

So here goes:

Several years and a library ago, a large, angry man came roaring up to the reference desk and demanded to know which workstation a certain young man—let’s call him Young Idiot—was using.

I won’t give that information to anyone without a warrant and the express permission of my director and possibly my lawyer,** plus this man was breathing fire and I wasn’t about to be an accessory to anything, so I called my supervisor and tried to calm the man down while she was on her way.

Large Angry Man told me that he’d been at home with his teenage daughter, who was on a chat site on the family computer.  He realized at one point that she was upset about something, and he checked what she was doing.  Young Idiot had sent  several “disgusting suggestions” to her.  When she hadn’t replied, he’d called her a lot of filthy names.

She knew Young Idiot from school and he’d mentioned he was at the library.  Large Angry Man wasted no time driving over for a confrontation and an apology.

Unfortunately, just as my supervisor arrived, Angry Man spotted Young Idiot across the room and called him out.  Loudly and with impressive vocabulary.  While I prepared to call 911 in case things got uglier, the supervisor (who remains my hero) inserted herself between them and mediated.

The kid readily admitted that he’d sent the girl several sexual suggestions.  But he didn’t think he’d done anything wrong.

“It didn’t mean anything,”  he said.  “It’s only the Internet.”

In other words, what he’d said or suggested had no bearing on the Real World.  The kid honestly had no idea why the girl would cry shocked tears over what he’d written or why her father was so enraged about it. From my observations, he didn’t think he should have to apologize with any sincerity either.

It was a joke, for cripe’s sake.  Couldn’t they take a joke?

The supervisor calmed Angry Man down, praising him for keeping a watchful eye on his daughter’s computer use, and telling him that Young Idiot would be banned from library computers for a year.   The man clearly didn’t think that this was enough, but understood that it was the best we could do.  He also understood that throttling the kid wouldn’t be in his own best interests and left.

Young Idiot protested the banning, until it was pointed out exactly how he’d violated the usage policy—which he was asked to read and accept every single time he logged in—and exactly why it wasn’t our fault he hadn’t read it.    He tried to stomp off in a huff, but my supervisor stopped him.

She told him he’d better wait until we made sure Large Angry Man had driven away—because we couldn’t protect him once he left library property.  She also offered him an escort to his car or bike, if he had one.

The expression of shock on Young Idiot’s face as it finally dawned on him that what he did in cyberspace might well have personal and painful repercussions to him?


I expect that somewhere between finding out that Tyler Clementi couldn’t take one more goddamn “joke” and discovering that they were going to have to answer for their little film fest, Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei wore similar expressions.

But see, that’s too little, too late.  Nothing will take away that girl’s memory of being assaulted by a classmate.***  Nothing will bring back Tyler Clementi or any of the other people who didn’t see any other way to escape the shame of what they’d been told about themselves.

So that’s why I’m posting this, and why I answered every single one of my seven-year old’s questions about the young human being who jumped to his death because two other young human beings, whatever their deeper motivation, didn’t care enough to think past their own amusement.^

And no, I’m not happy about having to explain to my daughters how nasty and thoughtless people can be to each other, but I want my kids—I want everyone—to know all about this kind of behavior so they will be prepared to both resist bullies and resist becoming them.

It’s about time we all admitted that one of the worst lies you can tell a child is that sticks and stones hurt worse than words and pointing fingers.  Another is that ignoring verbal abuse stops it.   Any hurting child past the age of four who gets those lies instead of empathy and real help  should be forgiven for looking their parents straight in the eye and saying, “Are you shitting me?”

Because the answer to that is yes. Yes, they are.

So, just in case I’m not preaching to the choir, here’s a brief recap:

What you do on the Internet counts as if you’d done it in the Real World.  Because—are you listening?—they’re pretty much the same damn thing.  Aliases, interfaces, and anonymity don’t absolve you or make you less responsible for what you do and say in cyberspace.

Hurting people for your own amusement or to relieve your own hurt makes you a bully,  an abuser, and a shit-hearted person.  It may be temporary, it may be something you can mature or heal beyond, but that does not absolve you from any shitty actions you may have committed in the past.  So don’t fucking start, okay?

Words can hurt.  If someone is hurting you with their words—even if they don’t lay a single finger on you—get help. From a friend, teacher, counselor, newspaper reporter, clergyperson, psychologist, librarian, police officer, twitter, a domestic abuse hotline, Child Services, a suicide hotline, anywhere at all.

Tell, narc, tattle, inform, scream.  Keep doing it until someone listens and helps you.

Because the people who are hurting you are wrong.

You aren’t worthless or ugly or a mistake or—God help us—too fat or a pervert or going to hell or better off dead.  You’re not, you’re not, you’re not.

If anyone ever tells you that they’d rather die than be like you, tell them you’ll send flowers and then go to someone you trust—find someone, don’t stop looking—and listen when they tell you that you are smart and funny and worthy and beautiful and special.

And keep listening until you believe it.  Repeat it over and over to yourself until you believe it.

Don’t let go.  Stay with us.

I swear to you, it does get better.


*When my kids ask me questions, I try my best to answer them, even when I’d rather play ostrich.  If I don’t, they’ll stop asking—or at least stop asking me.  I do tailor the answers to fit the age of the kid and there are a few topics for which I’ve begged (and received) an extension—but bullying isn’t one of those.

**Which is why there’s no information here that could absolutely ID the people involved, except for me.

***You do not want to argue this with me.  At all.

^This is also why my husband and I ride herd on her Internet usage and refuse to let her go on the social networks, even if they’re sponsored by a toy company or a brand of stuffed animal.  She’s seven.