Oh. Um, hi. How are you? I’m, uh, perfectly fine and ready to point to the nearest shiny object to distract you from yesterday’s post. Yes. (Not that I didn’t appreciate both the space to get that out and the really kind emails I received, but now I’d like to go back to to sublimating my “issues”—please use heavy air quotes when reading that—and doing really meaningful things like pondering whether I really need avocados when they cost $1.50 each.)
During a conversation with a friend yesterday I mentioned falling asleep at the kitchen table one night and she interrupted me to ask if PERHAPS I was a bit exhausted? (She didn’t even call me a dumbass, which I thought was sweet.) And yes, I think some of my recent difficulty can be attributed to the fact that school starts promptly at the buttcrack of dawn. I am not unwell! I am just SLEEPY!
And oh, look, I just saw something shiny over there, and it is my daughter’s brain.
I think I mentioned once before that Chickadee seemed to be having a bit of trouble settling in socially at school, but last week was a marked improvement over the week before. She has friends! Nice ones, it sounds like! There is one name I hear more than any other, but also a satellite group of other girls who seem to be her compadres. I’m sure it’s not easy to be the New Kid, and this is a very different school than their old one, so there really aren’t words to describe how proud I am of her for working through this.
The thing is, Chickadee is finding her friends, but she’s also being picked on.
Now, I remember childhood pretty clearly. I know that kids are, by and large, mean little shits with mob mentality unless they have some people in their lives who are making it crystal clear that WE ARE GOING TO BE NICE. At this school, I suspect there is a much larger segment of the population who don’t have that kind of support, and so the faction of “mean kids” is a lot bigger than we are used to.
Furthermore, there is no end of reasons to pick on Chickie. She’s new. She wears glasses. She’s smart and given to acting like she knows everything. She has a funny accent (according to the locals). Plus—and I say this with love in my heart, truly I do—she’s not exactly a stranger to being a little shit, herself. I adore my child but I KNOW MY CHILD and I do not mean to suggest that I think she’s 100% blameless, here. I think it’s highly probable that she has provoked some of these kids (intentionally or not) or just been irritating in some way.
I don’t think my child is an angel. But I do think she deserves a school experience free of bullying.
To the school’s credit, it sounds like the zero-tolerance for bullying policy is well enforced, at least when a kid is caught. But kids are sneaky and about half of what Chickadee is reporting to me seems to be flying under the radar. I’m in touch with her teacher and we’re working on some of this together and I know we’ll figure it out.
It’s worth mentioning that I’m dealing with a confounding factor here, too, which is that Chickadee—and I have NO IDEA where she gets this from—is, shall we say, given to hyperbole. Yesterday she tearfully related the tale of one of the Mean Girls pushing her down when she dared interrupt a dialog going on between said Mean Girl and her (Chickadee’s) newfound best bud. Oh, the perpetrator was immediately disciplined, but poor Chickie fell down and it hurt her feelings, too! Well, I talked to the teacher and found out that actually, the Mean Girl put her hands on Chickadee and was immediately disciplined. There was no pushing. There was no falling down. But Chickadee did collect an Oscar nomination for Most Tearful Retelling Of A Fictitious Injury. (Sadly, she didn’t win. But it’s an honor just to be nominated.)
So. It’s rather like navigating through a minefield, this. I need to honor what my child is feeling, and help her deal with it, but I also need to ferret out the truth and not go running to the school in indignation every time there’s supposedly a problem.
I am conscious of the futility in counseling my child about how to react when she is dealt an injustice. For one thing, it does hurt, no matter how many ways you can rationalize why it shouldn’t. And I don’t want to minimize or dismiss that. For another, telling a child not to be bothered by something that would still bother most adults is just adding insult to injury, I think. And lastly, I don’t know that there IS an answer, and if there is, I’m pretty sure I don’t know it.
So I take it in bite-sized pieces and pray a lot.
When Chickadee came home and reported that one of the Mean Girls called her “Bug Eyes,” I considered this carefully before responding, “Oh, poor Mean Girl.”
“What do you mean, Mama?” Her eyes were wide. Why was I siding with HER?
“Oh, well, I just feel sorry for her. I mean, she’s not very creative, is she? ‘Bug Eyes’ is the best she can do? I’ve known stumps that can do better.”
Chickadee giggled, and the uniting code of nerds was established. When all else fails, remember that you’re smarter than your attacker.
When Chickadee asked if I was bullied as a child and what my parents told me, I trotted out the tried and true “they’re just jealous” line and immediately followed it with, “You know, I think that’s a load of crap.” Again I was faced with the round eyes. “I mean, I don’t know why they pick on you, honey, but I do know that most of the time mean kids just pick on other kids because they’re mean and they think the other kids are weird. I doubt it’s a jealousy thing. I am never going to tell you that, because I don’t think it’s true.” Score one for Mom; she was clearly impressed that not all adults had sworn to uphold the “they’re just jealous” line.
Then we moved on to how to react. So far, she is reporting “just walking away,” which in general I think is a good strategy. But she brought up the whole “just ignore them” thing and we talked about that, too. And I told her the truth: in general, I think if you can TRULY ignore this stuff, that’s a great strategy. But bullies, like hyenas, can smell fear. And if you’re TRYING to ignore them but you’re clearly bothered (and I have played poker with this child and I am here to tell you that her face is an open book), it doesn’t work. They’re still getting the reaction they want.
[Someday, when she’s older, I’ll tell her the greatest piece of advice I ever received. It’s completely cold-blooded and that is, of course, why it’s so stunning. If someone is making your life miserable and they’re not in a position of power over you (this means it doesn’t work for bosses or teachers or such), you survive it by simply killing them. Not for real (obviously!), but in your mind. Kill them in your mind. Just—POOF—make them gone. It can’t be done in anger or as a revenge fantasy or anything, either. Just a simple removal of their existence from your reality. You can’t be bothered by someone who doesn’t matter or exist. I love this method but I do think she’s a bit young for it yet.]
So we talked about other alternatives, and I made it VERY CLEAR that the consequences will be swift and severe if I find out that she’s been rotten back to these kids. I’m sure the temptation is strong (and just to clarify, if this goes on and on and on I MIGHT sanction a bit of dirty pool on her end as a LAST RESORT, but that’s a trump card I expect we’ll never have to play), I told her, but once she sinks to their level she’s lost. “In fact,” I said with a small grin, “what do you think would happen if they were being mean to you and you were just SWEET AS PIE back to them?”
“What do you mean?” she asked, clearly wondering if I’d finally lost it.
“Oh, I don’t know. What if Mean Girl said ‘You’re ugly!’ and you smiled and said, ‘You’re looking very pretty today. I love that shirt!’?”
“I think… that would confuse her,” she said. I nodded. Her face lit up. “Oh, I bet that would drive her NUTS!”
“Mmmmm,” I offered, cementing my position as having left the ammunition out but not having actually sanctioned its use. I have to be a little tricky, you know.
The hardest part, for me, was when she told me that she “hardly ever” raises her hand in class, anymore, because she doesn’t want to get teased for being a teacher’s pet on top of everything else. That was when my heart broke into a thousand pieces and I had to give her a stern talk about remembering who she is and not letting anyone take that away from her.
And also that if I find out she’s playing dumb she’s gonna have to deal with ME and I can be a LOT MEANER than the bullies. She nodded rather more than I would’ve liked, as if there was no need to tell HER about how mean I am (ha!), but she did give me an extra-tight hug afterwards.
In conclusion: Mean people suck. Hmph.