Parents and Bullying
So far this year, I’ve had an unusual problem with my middle child. While he is the most loving of all of my kids, he has always been the biggest pain in the ass ever. Immediately after conception, I felt it would be different with this child. He fought me every single step of the way during pregnancy and after birth, it’s not been any different. Everyday life with him has been an adventure and there is never a dull moment, EVER.
Paris’s first year in school was a nightmare. Because of his name and feminine nature, he was an easy target for bullies. His days at school were filled with ridicule and torment, his evenings on the bus ride home were even worse. Nearly every day Paris would get off of the bus crying. One day, Paris even asked me if he was gay. When I asked him why he would ask such a thing, he said that he was kind of thinking that he was gay because everyone always told him that he was. Eventually, Paris even started to refer to himself as gay. Once you are told something enough times, it’s hard not to come to believe it, however untrue it may be. Because I suffered from bullying myself, I knew just what he was going through and how horrible bullying could make him feel. While I understood what he suffered, I think I also handled it more personally than I should have. Maybe, I should have just been more assertive in calling the school and the bus lot. Maybe, I should have been more like other parents.
That year was tough. The verbal degradation turned to physical acts of bullying and Paris was constantly hit, pushed and even beaten up. Forcing him to wake up and push on every day was a chore, especially when I was so emotionally vested in what was happening. Not only was this happening to my child but it was like it was happening to me all over again. I got on a first name basis with the principal, the bus lot, teachers, counselors and other students. I rallied to stand up for Paris as much as I could but nothing really changed. Kindergarten year passed and the new school season brought with it the same asshole kids who bullied Paris before. 1st grade was another year of hell and so was 2nd. I worked with Paris and I explained to him how I thought he should handle a bully. From my experience, tears were what bullies wanted so I learned to cope with my personal hell in other ways. I told Paris that sometimes when kids would pick on me that I would just smile and say, “Thanks”. Most of the time, I would just pretend I was too busy to notice what they said or what they did. One day Paris got off the bus and he was smiling through his tears. He said, “Mom, you would be really proud of me. The kids on the bus were being really mean and saying bad stuff and I just smiled at them and then I looked away and outside of the bus window as I cried. I don’t think they saw me crying. I did good, right?”.
We are now months into 3rd grade and what I am seeing is pretty shocking. My child has now become a bully himself. He has poked kids, made fun of their names and he’s stood in the bathroom and thrown water on them. What was once my bullied child has now been replaced by this cocky jerk. What happened? How could this be? I sit and think back and I am reminded of my years in school… and the people who I bullied. Yes, I too, was a bully. While the torment I experienced was absolutely horrible, I still picked on other kids. What the hell was I thinking? The only way that I can explain it is that we are all a product of our environment. After someone is bullied and put down so much, eventually they want to feel like they have gained some power back. The quickest way for that to happen is sadly, by destroying someone else. I can’t explain why this works or why we do it, but we do.
I was talking to my mom about Paris a few nights ago and she said (as she often does), “He is so much like you. At least you didn’t do anything bad except for that time you took alcohol on the school bus. You weren’t a bad kid.” I laughed to myself and I told my mom that there was a lot that she didn’t know. She wanted an explanation and so I laid it out to her for the first time ever, over 16 years after it happened.
“Mom, I didn’t take alcohol on the bus to be bad or because I was rebellious. I took the alcohol because I thought that it would make the mean kids leave me alone because maybe if they thought I was cool and could break the rules, they would like me.” In disbelief, my mom asked me how that could be. I went on to explain to her all of the times where they ripped up my papers, made fun of my name, told me I was fat, threw spitwads in my hair and even about the time when they slipped under the bus seat and tied my shoe laces together so that when I got up to exit the bus, I would fall down. I did fall that day and I smacked my head on the floor. I looked up and all I saw was the faces of every kid on the bus, smiling and bursting at the seams with laughter. My mom’s response was, “How could they make fun of you? You had nice clothes, you modeled, you were pretty and thin and you were a good kid.” I just laughed and I told her that none of that mattered, that kids would pick out whatever they wanted to and they would make fun of it. It never matters if what bullies say is true, what matters to them is that they cause someone else to feel like less. They want power. Still in shock, my mom yelled at me for never telling her. My explanation was that if I had told her what was happening, it would get worse. When bullies get in trouble, it just adds fuel to the fire and the pending explosion. You want to make a bully get worse? Tell on them. In the beginning when I was young I would tattle to my mom or whoever would listen but as I got older, I learned that it was best to just keep it to myself.
The fact that my son is being a huge bully is really disheartening. I can’t quite grasp how my most loving and understanding, sympathetic and empathetic child could do something so utterly horrible. I am ashamed and deeply saddened. While we are a work in progress and I will NOT tolerate bullying, this all dredges up terrible thoughts and feelings. Things that I have locked away deep in my memory are surfacing and it’s incredibly painful. I think of the time that someone decapitated my dog and my body convulses. The laughs of all of the kids on the bus fill my ears, just as if they are standing here beside me. I subconsciously reach up to feel the back of my head to make sure that there isn’t gum in my hair. Sadly, I experience it all again, as if for the very first time.
Parents, watch your kids. Learn the signs of bullying and the right ways to cope with it. It doesn’t matter how rich or how popular you are, how beautiful or smart your child is. They can be bullied right under your nose and you don’t even know it. Your child could be making another’s life miserable. Be mindful to what happens. Talk to your child’s teachers, their bus drivers and daycare providers. Know what happens to and because of your child.
And if you are wondering how my bus/alcohol situation worked out… I got suspended but I also never got picked on by those kids on the bus again. While I made a stupid decision you have to give me credit for being smart enough to acknowledge the stupidity and the weakness in those bastards.