I loved my mom very much, she was supportive and always believed that I could do whatever I wanted to do.
But she had a relatively happy childhood as far as kids stuff goes. She was raised in rural WV, her family was pretty well known and – from what I can tell – she was good friends with, or related to, just about everyone at her school.
My own school days weren’t as happy. I was odd looking, tall, red-haired, I cried easily and I might as well have had a big red target on my back. I didn’t really feel a let-up in the pressure until I went to college, and it seemed to take me years to get past the bullying from Elementary, Jr. High and High School.
Looking back, it seemed that my Elementary school days had set me up to feel like a victim – a rotton feeling – throughout the rest of my school career. This was probably the main reason I left high school before I graduated (high school drop-out with a Masters – that’s me!)
Hannah’s like me in a lot of ways. But, unlike me, she has a mom who really does believe her when she tells me how much it hurts to have kids make fun of her. I used to come home and tell my mom that kids were laughing at me, calling me names, and she had two pieces of advice;
1) Laugh at it
2) Ignore it
She also told me, “Annette, I know kids, and kids just don’t act like that!”
I never felt that she understood.
The principal and teachers at my school in Toledo were also of the ‘Suck-It-Up-And-Take-It’ school of thought. It was as if my reaction was more important than the initial comment or kick or tripping incident – and I felt responsible as well as victimized.
This is something I don’t think about much any more.
If you can get past the crap life is pretty good, and I’ve been lucky enough to get past a lot of garbage. But Hannah’s just wading into it. Like me, she has red hair, she cries easily, she’s sensitive (how I grew to hate that word, it seemed to make any amount of abuse my own responsbility – “If only you weren’t so sensitive, then the kids wouldn’t make fun of you!”)
We went through a phase like this a few years ago, but then she got an amazing teacher who would brook NO nonsense in her class and didn’t allow any child to treat another disrespectfully. For the most part her school is very good at taking the respect thing VERY seriously, but kids are kids – sometimes cruelty comes easily.
There was a substitute at school today, and stuff got out of hand. Hannah was upset, she called me and wanted me to come and get her. It was the end of the day so I drove over, but the principal, the guidance counselor and most of the teachers were in a meeting when I arrived. I’ll have to talk to them later. The school nurse, who is a wonderful woman, spoke with me and said – as if I’d never heard this, “Perhaps Hannah can develop a sense of humor about it..?”
I love this nurse, but I was so frustrated. If you haven’t been through this kind of garbage, it’s hard to explain how laughing it off only works so well – and usually only when a certain level of maturity is invovled. It’s so hard for a kid to find the resources within themselves to laugh when they’re the butt of a joke in front of a roomful of peers. I seriously doubt if any adult who offers this advice could withstand what Hannah has so far this year without losing their cool.
I’m actually quite proud of how well Hannah’s done for the most part (she calls it “putting on her deaf ears”) She certainly keeps her cool better than I did when I was a kid.
But when she tells me, I listen, and I tell her that I understand. And I tell her that it WILL get better. And I tell her that she’s kinder and wiser than the kids who make fun of her, but she won’t be able to see that for a long time. I tell her that she has every right to be upset, but she also has to decide what she can do that will make the situation better. Everything I wish my mom would have told me.
To my mind, kids are like trees. When they’re saplings they can get bent easily, twisted, hurt. Some trees are very strong, some are more supple, some are brittle. If you have an especially tender tree you put posts around it to keep it safe until the trunk is strong. Hannah is a kid who needs a few more posts than the average kid might – but my hope is that if she gets them, she’ll grow stronger and self sufficient a bit easier than I did.
I’ve never believed that making a kid suffer makes them strong.
It seems there’s one particular kid who is the most, well, vocal – isn’t there always? He’s a kid who is a born leader – and isn’t 100% sure what to do with his power. I did something my mom would never have done – I called his dad today.
His dad was great, he knew immediately who Hannah was “Oh, Hannah, she’s quite a little lady!” and listened with an open mind as I explained the situation (as I understood it.)
We both agreed that if we were in each other’s shoes – which we might easily be in as the years go by – we’d both want to know about incidents like this so we could deal with them. It was a good conversation.
Tomorrow I’ll go talk to the principal – just to show my face and let him know that – in the spirit of the school respect policy – I hope they’ll continue to reinforce the importance of treating others as we’d like to be treated.
I won’t tell Hannah to laugh at this stuff – pain isn’t funny.
But I will give her a lot of other stuff to laugh about, and help her to create safe places with her friends and here at home so she can grow strong enough to shrug off things like this more easily. Life can be a bitch.