June 23, 2009

Why don't they make mouse-flavored cat treats?

Honestly, I have never seen a cat chase down a salmon or a chicken.

Anyway.

While touring our high school on Saturday, we came across an anti-bullying poster that solemnly stated "Don't Bully". Or something to that effectively effective effect. I laughed and made some sort of wisecrack that it was a tragedy that it had not been hanging back in my day. I noted that of course, my own bullies would have read that poster and then left me alone. Of course! Right?

Folks. Please tell me I was not the only one to be bullied in school.

In grade school, a girl named Viola used to corner me in the bathroom and on the bus. I was not overly terrified, but as you can imagine, I was not entirely happy with the situation, either (as you might imagine.) About 6 months ago, a "Viola" friended me on Facebook and fortunately, the gracious buffer of time and space meant that my reaction was a wry one. Like, what? My grade school bully found me on Facebook so she could now cyber-bully me? Fortunately, in this case, it turned out to be a different, non-bullyesque Viola from my other school. A different Viola who was and still is quite sweet (I was excited to see her and her adorable daughter this past weekend.)

In high school, my bullying experience was quite different and less innocent. For months, I was tormented by two girls who would not just leave me the fuck alone. I don't recall exactly what spurred it, I am not even sure what I could have done to prevent it (like, what? Stop using 3 and 4 syllable words? Stop reading books? Stop getting good grades? Stop knowing answers? Things that garnered me so much abuse in my school days.) I was not an aggressive type, so I can guarantee I had not done anything too onerous to deserve this.

I have repressed most of my memories of those two girls. But what I cannot repress is this:

The shame
.

The shame of not being able to protect myself or to even stand up for myself. Something I still struggle with to this very day. The shame of feeling embarrassed that somehow I had gotten myself into this bad situation from which I could not extricate myself. The shame of feeling so fucking alone because I did not tell anyone. My friends.... my parents.... even a teacher.

What the hell was wrong with me that I did not even seek help?

Being in my high school this weekend brought back those memories of when those two girls would confront me - how sick to my stomach and weak in my knees I would feel afterward. How my hands would shake.

It is all find and dandy that I am an adult now and truthfully, it gives me no pleasure whatsoever knowing that both girls ended up in less than ideal circumstances. As you can imagine, bullies are unhappy folks to begin with and both of those girls had horrible lives in their homes.

But. Now?

I am not only a mature (somewhat) adult, but I am now a parent. And I have to process this as such.

And I already find myself doing things like marking Arun's things for school in black or red marker - not the convenient pink marker that always seems to make its way to the top of the Sharpie heap. And today, Arun wants to take his beloved toy puppy named Sparky and I have to resist the temptation to urge him to take a dinosaur or a train instead. Yes. I already think of these things because I know how it feels to be picked on in school. Having your greatest strengths demeaned and devalued has a belittling effect on your self-esteem that is difficult to shake.

However. What is my deepest fear for my children when it comes to these schoolyard squabbles?

Is that they will not tell me.

10 comments:

stephanie said...

I was fortunate enough to not be picked on or bullied much in school (I can remember only a handful of instances), but one of my friends was and I still feel ashamed that I was not brave enough to stop it. I guess as an elementary school kid, I was too worried about having the bullies then turn on me to step in. I just spent most of my school days as an invisible wallflower.

Your story about Arun and the puppy reminds me of my brother when he started nursery school. He carried this tiny stuffed duck in his pocket on the first day. It's memorialized forever in his "first day of school" photo for that year. (My mom took them of us every year by our front door.)

kristen said...

Thank you for taking the time to write about this. I was bullied in school also. I wouldn't consider it extreme but I still have an overall sick feeling when I think about certain times and places from my past. I too find myself extra cautious with Caleb and not giving bullies any obvious fodder.

I'm going to have to do some hard thinking about why I didn't tell my parents (or any one else) anything about it. How do you strike the balance between tattle tale and confiding?

Cagey said...

Stephanie,
I was weak when it came to helping out my friends, too. Another post, another time, I suppose.

Kristin,
My situation with bullying was not too bad or extreme, in the grand scheme of things. My brother? Had his arm broken. BROKEN. By bullies. I chose not to tell his story, because I feel it is HIS story, but damn, that was a bad one.

Mrs. CPA said...

I had horrible teeth as a child HORRIBLE. People called me Mo-Teefh and Gumby. And the one that made me the most mortified was Black and Decker Peck@r Wrecker. How would you like to go around with that moniker? The kids were so hateful. Like I could help it.

I pray every day that Hudson and Maddie do not have my teeth. EVERY DAY. Because I don't think I can send them out of the house knowing that people might make fun of thier teeth.

My hair was curly because my mother wanted me to have perms. And she always got this crazy idea about "updating my image" in Jr. High and High School, which really meant she wanted me to wear a bunch of dresses and dress pants. Which NO ONE ELSE wore. Updating your image in jr high meant getting a liz clabourne purse, not sending me to the first day of 7th grade in a freaking dress to be teased.
And oh, my gosh, there were these girls who thought it was funny to look over the stall at you in the bathroom when I was in the 5th grade. That TERRIFIED me. I wouldn't go in there for fear of someone looking over the stall wall at me.
I got made fun of for being smart, for knowing the answers, making the only 100% on a test, being too good of friends with my best Jr. High friend meant we were gay. God, kids are so mean.

meno said...

No, you are not the only one.

I remember Teresa and Debbie in 7th grade. For a while i was their tag-along friend. Then some drama happened, which i don't even remember, and they turned on me.

No, i didn't tell anyone either.

MLE said...

I was bullied mercilessly in elementary school after I skipped second grade (it came from skipping into a class of underachievers, many of whom had been held back at least once, and also from living in a town that was so small there was one classroom per grade level). I actually think it made me sick, as the couple of years that were the worst I missed a lot of school because I physically felt like crap most of the time. I remember one particular physical altercation that I think was broken up by yard duty staff but for the most part it was psychological torture that only "mean" girls can supply.

Things got a little better from 6th grade on, as we moved to another town and the people at my new school didn't know I had skipped a grade. I did have some bullying incidents in middle and early high school but I was mostly able to avoid them by eating my lunch/reading in the library. I think 8th grade was probably the worst, since my best friend was at the high school by that point.

Luckily things somehow got better by 10th grade, but I'll never forget how much I used to dread going to school in 3rd through 5th grade. I think my parents figured out some of it (especially after the physical playground fight) but the fact that the girls got caught just made things worse for me. They made sure never to be so obvious again.

I am hoping with all my being that our kids have a better time socially than I did. My sisters did OK and weren't bullied, and my husband wasn't bullied. I know for sure that if it turns out our kids are academically advanced I'll do everything I can to make sure they're with other kids in a similar situation and not tiny 7-year-olds in with big mean 8-and 9-year-olds like I was.

Monkey McWearingChaps said...

I've dealt with bullying on and off my whole life-except when you get out of high school it's called "politics". Heh. I mean, those people who try to mock you when you speak up in college? What are they if not bullies? The altercations grow more sophisticated as you grow older, but it's the same motivation, in my estimation.

Anyway, the one thing I absolutely loved about law school is that the professors felt no hesitation in publically humiliating kids who tried to mock their classmates. Everyone learned to toe the line pretty quickly, at least in terms of attempts to humiliate classmates.

I don't really know what to do about this issue. I do know that the extent of the bullying I experienced in a certain class/activity I was really good at in high school was so intense that my father had enough information on the individuals in question to blackmail the principal into letting me quit most of my senior year (and as one of the school's many Tracey Flicks, my combined double language-double history-triple math schedule meant I was able to legally graduate by 11th grade) and spend it making up 8 years worth of gym credits. On the other hand, it took me 3 years to work up the courage to tell my parents about stuff like...oh I don't know having a teacher smack me for not winning a tourney or distribute emails for the boys on our team to verbally harass and endanger the lives of all the girls on the team (encouraged them to come close to running us over with cars but stop before killing us). Have I mentioned he later when to prison for stealing tens of thousands of team funds over the years?

Not that I don't want to send my kids to a competitive school or protect them from all of life's inequities-but no one should have to deal with stuff like death threats, physical abuse for "lesser" peformance and all the harassment that was condoned in my high school because of our highachieving status.

kristen said...

MLE I spent 8th grade lunch in the library too! Of course we couldn't have food or drinks in there so I was just reading. Man I was hungry that year.

I am so amazed at how many of us have had similar or worse experiences with bullying. Really Cagey thank you for bringing this up. Oh and broken arm? That just made me want to home school Caleb!

MommyWizdom said...

Amen to that! That is also my biggest fear; that they will not tell me. I find myself constantly trying to prevent my daughter from doing something that she might get teased for... but at the same time, I want her to be her own person and not care about what others think. It's definitely a hard balance.

I was just thinking to myself today (really, I was) that I cannot live my kid's lives for them. Unfortunately, I have to let them be who they are. But, I certainly will do the best I can to make sure they are safe. I constantly read about dead formerly-bullied kids...

Blech, sometimes parenting sucks.

I'm sorry you had all those memories come flooding back... perhaps a karate class wouldn't hurt (for you that is..).

MommyWizdom

Mojavi said...

it funny... I was really really picked on in middle school... aftrer I ran away from home, moved to a new town NO one messed with me anymore! In fact they were affraid of me.... but I was the girl who made sure everyone was included... everyone was talked to.. .I hated girls who had three friends and always pitted one against the other because they felt they could only have one BF at a time...

anyhoo... i like you hope Kya and Kena talk to me. I will pull them out of school faster than they can say it sucks.