For reasons that would probably consume a memoir, my kid divulges all the dirt of the school day to my mom but generally keeps mum when it comes to telling me what’s going on. As my partner says, I don’t ask the right questions but memoir length equivocations aside, it came to my attention that some kids at school were being dicks to my baby.
Apparently while digging in the sandbox, a group of 3 boys decided that my darling beautiful child would be the perfect target for tossing sand at. I’m not sure if they said anything hurtful though the act of being pelted with sand by kids you consider friends is plenty hurtful enough.
Sure, they’re kindergartners and at that age all kids are potential dicks at some point or another. The problem is, however, that I suspect this will only intensify as time goes on as these things usually do. Whether my child is the target or another child becomes the target, I started to think– well, just how in the hell am I supposed to teach my child to deal with this?
I was bullied from kindergarten to senior year of high school and then found my way into abusive relationships– the adult version of bullying (Now With SEX!) and honestly, I don’t really know what to tell my kid to do. When it comes to asshole people at age 4 or 99, there isn’t much that is going to feel right, helpful, rational, easy… it’s all a suck fest. I always wanted to believe that bullies get what is coming to them but over the years, I have lost some serious faith in that belief. Kids that have picked on me or been dicks have seemingly continued to do better than me. I’m pretty fucked up though (family? being bullied? just being me?) so maybe that’s an unfair comparison. Regardless, there are some things that I remember from being picked on (how can you ever really forget) that make me hesitate to give any advice:
1. Asking to stop almost always incites more negative attention. At age 5, who knows if asking politely or offering the bullies to join in digging in the sandbox with you would work? Kids are incredibly unpredictable at young ages and one day they hate you and the next you’re riding tricycles with them like it ain’t no thang. However, as kids get older (or maybe when they’re younger– kids these days are a special breed I think…) being reasonable, rational, or even polite just provokes more mocking. More mocking sucks a fat one when you’re already feeling like shit about being targeted with negative attention. So what do you do instead?
2. Lashing back almost always gets you in trouble. Sometimes you get in trouble while the bullies get off scot-free or you get the kid version of “mandatory dual arrest for domestic violence” where all involved parties get in trouble. What the fuck, right? I feel this is a bit of sibling shit too, as anyone with a sibling can tell you: how many times have you been provoked quietly under the radar of the authorities (parents) only to flip your shit and get in trouble while they smirk behind your back? This culture must be more messed up than I initially suspected realizing that this is not only a common thread in the household (envision sibling sticking out tongue at you pleased with their “win” as you sit in time-out pissed and sulking), but also on the playground and in the courtroom (mandatory “dual arrests” for domestic violence calls anyone?)… But maybe you look like a sandbox and still your teacher will say “You know better” and tell you to come talk to them if the kids won’t stop bothering you instead of engaging.
3. Tattling makes you a nark and we all know what happens to narks… What other option do you have if the bullying is intense enough other than to “tattle”? You have to have some faith that the adult or authority in the situation is going to help you. Well, if being bullied into my adult life (hey Family Court– you’re just like my ineffective and misplaced faith in authority during my formative school years…) has taught me anything, it’s that authority is only as effective as the system in place. If the system in place is not effective or is flawed in some glaringly devastating way only realized upon its failure to serve you, “calling on authority to assist you in reducing negative attention and hurtful emotional or physical interactions” will quickly derail into “narking” and get you ten-fold mountains of proverbial shit. Only now the bullies know you’re a tattler and they will become more sophisticated in their emotional shivving of you.
4. Avoid interaction. That was always my tactic but it didn’t really work. There will always be those moments of forced interaction where the bully in question acts like a saint and the authorities all praise the little sociopath and judge you (“See, what were you so afraid of? They’re just misunderstood and trying to reconcile…” *cue psycho music*) and it persists into adulthood. Avoidance isn’t a plan, but then again when someone is unrelentingly hurtful– what other choice do you have? I mean you can only turn the other cheek so many times to bullies before you’re lying in a ditch on murdered trees trying to defy physics and come back as a zombie, right? That’s not really a plan so maybe instead of becoming a martyr for the sins of assholes, just avoid the assholes. Avoidance can at least serve you to detox enough to where you can stomach the shit that comes your way.
5. Talk it out. Avoidance isn’t a tactic– it’s just something that happens. Then you get the “let’s all talk and try to resolve this” facilitation (they call this “mediation” in adult world). When you’re forced to say what you want there are really only one of two things that can result– one: you get what you want, two: you get nothing. When you’re trying to converse with a facilitator, the bully almost always resents you for bringing in an outsider to this mano a mano showdown. That doesn’t bode well for future interactions but any good psychopath knows that you put on a good face in front of the authorities and then turn around and go Harvey Dent on the “rat” that “sold you out.” Anyway, you say what you want, need, and speak from your heart– they now know personal information on you that they can use to further degrade your spirits. Or, my personal favorite tactic, instead of trying to feign remorse, they feign victimization and accuse you of all the things they do to you. That’s a particularly brutal way to go. There is nothing you can do– it’s their word against yours. At that point, you just silently kick yourself for thinking this would go better and try to expedite the horrifying process as much as possible.
6. Go up the food chain. So maybe you aren’t satisfied with the playground supervisor’s management of the bully situation. Then you go to your teacher. Then you go to the counselor. Then you go to the assistant principal or principal. Then you go to the district office… The point isn’t that there is someone better to talk to– it’s that the bullying continues despite your ever increasing circle of ineffective authorities “backing” you up. Bullies don’t give a shit if Obama comes to your school (or court-ordered showdown) on your behalf and waxes poetic. Bullies look at Obama as proof that you deserve every amount of shit they’ve given you and that because you’ve obviously been saying a bunch of nonsense and talking trash like whoa, they better up the ante accordingly.
So some kids threw sand at my child digging peacefully and happily in the sand box. It’s messed up that these kids really only get like 30 minutes to play a day anyway and here my kid is being pelted with sand for trying to maximize the disturbingly small amount of play time given to kindergartners per day. And honestly, I don’t know what to say. I want to punch those kids in the face (or throw sand at them) but I know it won’t help anything and it’s totally inappropriate anyway. And yet, despite all my experience with every kind of bully and all the different choices regarding these assholes I’ve made over the years and the shit that I do these days to cope with the asshole bullies around me even still, I know that there isn’t really anything to tell my kid except to hold fast, be strong and keep on keepin’ on. I won’t tell them they’re right or wrong in their manner of handling assholes because there is no right or wrong. You can’t reason with an unreasonable person. If someone is beating the shit out of you, you better defend yourself. If someone is causing you massive pain, please leave that situation. I don’t want my child to go the route of suicide because they felt unsupported and hopeless. I will support their decisions and I will do what I can to protect them with whatever knowledge I have. Always. Sand gets thrown but that doesn’t mean that trust and love has to go with it. So in my heart and mind I think I offer to my child and those children suffering similar acts in varying degrees of hell:
There is no “right” when there is abuse. You can’t reason with people who are hurting you like this, you can’t hope they will stop because even if they stop doing this to you, someone else will suffer as well. You can’t pretend that this isn’t happening or turn a blind eye. You must take care of yourself. Regardless of the pain others inflict on you or cause you, it only matters what you do. You can’t control anyone but yourself. You be the example of how to be nice. You be the example of poise and compassion. You be a model of your values and personal beliefs and you let that lead your actions.
What these people say and do will never be personal, though it will feel that way. It will never be about you though they will say it is about you. It will never be your fault though they will try to convince you it is. It is about them trying to dump their pain on you. They may try, but you do not have to internalize their pain. Don’t let others convince you that you’re unworthy or stupid or deserving of their toxicity. You’re perfect as you are. Keep being the beautiful, intelligent, sweet, and compassionate person you are even if it seems like other people don’t appreciate you for that. It is not about them, it’s about remaining true to yourself and loving yourself. Treating everyone the way that you want to be treated because you love yourself enough to continue shining and gifting that love regardless of how many “thank yous” you receive. What’s the thing you want the most? Be that. What do you want the most for someone to be for you? Be that. Give acknowledgement and be love even when it seems difficult.
And when all else fails, be Batman. Always be Batman.
You can do it. I love you.
Because that’s all you can do. Ain’t nothing else going to change a person that is wounded and ain’t no point in becoming a wounded person yourself. But that doesn’t mean you can’t fight for what is right as long as you stay true to your values and you know when to quit.