As the youngest of three children, being teased was a daily part of my life. Being a fat kid made me a target at school, on the playground and on the bus. Especially the bus. Remember Molly Ringwald’s line from Sixteen Candles? “I loathe the bus.” Yup. That was me and probably 90% of the kids on it. There were always a few guys (usually) in the back that would pick on a variety of kids and typically if my siblings were with me, I wouldn’t get picked on. No “hippo” or “fatso” shout-outs on those days. But any other time? I’d try to shrink as much as this big girl could shrink and hope they didn’t notice me.
And now it appears my son is being teased, bullied, picked on, whatever you want to call it. And, of course, it’s happening on the bus.
There are a few kids involved, although we initially thought it was just one. Let’s call him Mark and his friend is Tony. Apparently, since last year, Mark has been calling my son names–“baby” and “c.o.o.l.” being the ones I’m aware of. Cool is no longer a good thing, I guess. It’s an acronym, but the only words my son knew were “overweight” and “loser.” So I’m guessing that fat loser is really what cool means now? Un-fucking-believable.
I didn’t know about this happening until last week. My son mentioned that a boy was teasing him on the bus and sometimes teased other kids, too. Ok. I’m going to confess something that sounds unbelievably horrible, but here it is. Initially, I was just happy my son wasn’t being singled out. Not being the only target can make things easier, you know? Not every day will be hell, just some days. But yesterday he tells me that he doesn’t think Mark is teasing anyone else, or at least it doesn’t seem like it. When I asked him what he did when Mark called him a name, he said he told a teacher. Awesome! Good boy, that was the right thing to do. Yet once the teacher was gone, Mark’s friend, Tony, picked up where Mark left off.
These kids are only one year older than my son. At dinner last night, my boy was already wishing to be in 5th grade because those boys wouldn’t be in his school anymore. A 7-year-old should not be wishing the next 3 years of his life away!
At that moment, I wanted to hurt someone. Human mothers are very much like mother bears–we want to rip your throats out if you touch or hurt our babies. End of story.
But, since we are supposed to be civilized, then other solutions must be found. I told my boy that wishing to be older was not going to solve anything, so we needed to talk to his teacher. This morning, I wasn’t feeling well, so he went into school alone but went directly to his teacher to tell her what happened. Meanwhile, I went home and immediately emailed the same teacher. An hour later I had an email from her. She ended up personally talking to the student and made the principal aware of what was happening. This woman was “all over it” so fast and it made me love her even more than I already do. She made my son feel safe and cared for and reassured that everything would be ok.
When my boy got home, I was here and I got to ask him how his day went. He told me that Mark was now his friend, but Tony was calling him names now.
“Your friend? Mark is your friend now?”
“Yup!” my little innocent replied. “He gave me a pencil!”
Oh. Oh my sweet boy.
I couldn’t say anything right then. I just couldn’t burst his bubble. Not yet. Instead we worked on his homework. As he read aloud the instructions without stumbling once and sounding older than his 7 years, I started to cry. He looked up at me and just smiled. I gave him a hug and told him to not let *anyone* tell him he wasn’t smart or awesome or my kind of cool. He smiled again and said, “I know, Mom.” But does he?
After dinner, before we started chores, I sat my boy down and told him we needed to discuss Mark. “Honey, I know you think Mark is your friend now.”
“He is, Mom!”
“Just listen for a sec, ok? I need you to be…wary…to be cautious about Mark.” He had no idea what I meant, and what little kid would? Hopefully not many.
“Look, this boy has been calling you names for a year, it’s seems a bit odd that he’s now your friend because a teacher told him to be nicer. If he *is* kind to you, then great! Maybe he’s realized he was doing a bad thing. Just…try not to get too close to this boy until he can prove he’s your friend.”
Thankfully, my son did not roll his eyes, but he did give me a very skeptical look. When I asked him if Mark defended him when Tony called him names, my boy’s face fell just a bit. “No,” he whispered.
“Then, honey, you just need to be careful, ok? It’s ok to be friends with Mark if that’s what he truly is, but I wouldn’t call him a friend until he can tell Tony to stop calling you names.”
I think this was the toughest conversation I’ve had with my son yet. More than the “how babies are made” talk, or “what really is sex, Mom?” discussion. Telling your child not to trust another child just sucks. Plain and simple.
I’m not sure what will happen next. We’ll keep talking about it, asking about the bus rides, seeing if things change. You know, I’m grateful for the school and its teachers and how they’ve been trying to handle the subject of bullying. They’re trying and I know that. But unfortunately, bullying will never go away. There will always be bullies at every age and every town. Hopefully there will be fewer and fewer as tolerance and empathy is taught in schools, but how about at home? You can’t force parents to be good examples of tolerant and empathetic individuals, although I wish we could.
You know, I told my son yesterday about the bumper sticker I used to see a lot in the mid-90’s, “Mean People Suck.”
“I like that,” my boy said. “Can we have that sign EVERYWHERE?!?”
Now *that* would be cool.
That was a tough post to read. I’ve been down that road as a kid. I hope your son will be able to do what many of us have done. I hope he can hang in there and use those days as motivation for the future. I’d be lying if I said that pieces of those memories didn’t fuel every test I passed, every push-up I’ve done, every mile I’ve run, and every book I’ve written. Mean people do suck. But being successful and happy as an adult is the best payback ever.
J.J., part of me hopes he’ll forget about all those nasty comments these boys have made, but since I didn’t forget about what I heard and felt as a kid, he probably won’t either. He’s doing ok right now, though, and has found a new group of friends to hang out with on the bus, so hopefully things will change. Thanks so much for your kind words!
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