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In this piece, I write about early childhood trauma that confused me and made me feel home was not a safe place. I couldn’t have been more than 8 years old, and was already inadvertently set on the path toward putting other people’s feelings/needs before my own.
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I’m at a party when, suddenly, the affluent host makes a horrendous racist joke.
Sitting just outside the group, I watch the men laugh uproariously while their women exchange pained looks and then look down at their hands.
I’m excruciatingly aware of how no one is willing to confront our host about his behavior, how silence provides the perfect climate and culture for toxic behavior to thrive.
I think to myself:
This is one of those moments. They don’t want to upset the wagon cart, make a fuss, be dramatic. They don’t want to find themselves on the outside of the social group.
(You know, like me.)
So here I am at this party, realizing that I don’t really like any of these people.
So I just say it out loud.
“I’m super uncomfortable by that joke you just made,” I say, trying to look at the host squarely in the eye, but doing a rotten job of it. “It’s racist,” I say to the ground.
I look up at him, hoping he’ll apologize.
Instead, he laughs, pats me on the head, and walks away.
It takes a moment for me to realize that I don’t have to stay, and all I have to figure out is how to make my departure.
Had I been at this party in my former life — as half of a couple — my ex-husband would have told me to ‘calm down’ or tried to convince me that our host is intoxicated, that he didn’t mean what he said. He would have told me to forget the man’s words and ‘just enjoy the party.’
In other words, ignore the slight.
I’m done with that.
Ignoring racism exemplifies everything that’s wrong in this world, and I’ve decided to challenge people when they’re cruel, insensitive or disrespectful.
But dealing with racist humor is weird.
People seem to be enjoying themselves; they’re laughing.
But we all know making fun of people is not the right thing to do, either.
It’s not how we should act as humans on this planet.
It’s not how people with thinking brains and working hearts behave.
If you’re someone who truly values the diversity that we claim to hold dear in this society, put your money where your mouth is.
Practice having these difficult conversations with other adults.
Question people about their thinking.
Get curious about why they think the way they do.
Challenge them on their misinformation.
Encourage them to get outside their cultural bubbles and interact with new people.
And, for goodness sake, until you see some personal growth on their part, show some integrity and stop attending their parties.
What do you do when someone you know makes an inappropriate comment about race/class/gender/sex?
When my son was in 5th grade, he went through a rough patch socially. We had moved to a new house – which meant a new school for him, and there was one douche-bag boy in particular who made his daily life difficult.
In an effort to try to deal with what my son was feeling, I created a little picture book with weird little drawings of a funky little creature named Shecky the Meckyl — who just so happened to be getting teased by some other “Meckyls.”
My son let me read it to him.
When I finished, I asked him what he thought about my book. He exhaled with the kind of exhaustion that seemed too dramatic for a 5th grader.
“I get it, Mom. I’m Shecky. And some day some people will appreciate me for who I am. I just have to wait it out.”
In hindsight, my son’s annoyed tone wasn’t inappropriate. I was trying to simplify a complex problem. I was telling him “Be Yourself!” when he knew all too well the person that he was — his core self — was being rejected daily. He felt attacked, defenseless, and friendless.
Over the weekend, we found the old manuscript in a bin.
He didn’t remember it, so we read it again.
I thought I would share it. It may not have worked in the moment, but it reminds me that the woes of youth are, in his case, quickly forgotten. And perhaps my little story might offer something else to someone who is going through a rough patch.
• • •
Shecky the Meckyl & His Technicolor Groove
Shecky the Meckyl had a technicolor groove
He’d leave colors in his wake whenever he’d move.
Sweet Shecky had colors where shadows should be
He made rainbows on sidewalks for Meckyls to see.
Shecky loved colors, as most people do,
But Meckyls turned up their noses and said, “PICKLE-POO!”
Which was not a nice thing for a Meckyl to say.
It made Shecky sad, and his colors turned gray.
Said one nasty Meckyl on one nasty day:
“We don’t like your colors; we don’t like your hues
We step in your shades, and get stains on our shoes!”
“You are too bright!” said this nasty fellow,
“Your pink is too pink, your yellow, too yellow!”
“Why don’t you keep all those shades deep inside?
Lock them up tight,”
And so . . . Shecky tried . . .
He held in the purple
He held in the green
He held in the fuschia
But once in a while some blue would appear
And the Meckyls would laugh as they though he was queer.
Shecky was puzzled as Meckyls could be
He missed the bright hues which had filled him with glee.
Shecky sat himself down on a cold piece of birch.
And his smile flew away alone in that prickle-perch.
He was sitting deserted on his bum in the street
When who do you think Shecky happened to meet . . .
But his friend Schmeckyl Meckyl who was out for a walk
And when he saw Shecky he stopped for a talk.
“Where are your colors, Shecky? Where did they go?
Can’t they come back, Shecky? Please make it so!”
Shecky answered sadly, a tear in his eye,
“Other Meckyls don’t like them, so why even try?”
“Don’t let those Jabber-Flabbers rain on your parade.
I like you, Shecky and all the colors you’ve made.”
“Please make a rainbow, you know what to do.
Those Meckyls are just cranky. Don’t let them change you!”
So Shecky straightened the glockins which grew from his bum,
He squeezed and he pushed and hoped they would come.
And it started to happen, as things frequently do,
Shecky smiled a smile, and his colors shone through!
With colors flip-flapping, once more Shecky was high,
Ready for anything under the sky.
Some Meckyls still look at Shecky with shlock in their eye,
But now Shecky is thankful he is a colorful guy.
My son doesn’t like to discuss 5th grade, and he rolls his eyes at me when I mention it. Meanwhile, I remain on amber alert.
Just because he is able to “straighten his glockins” and refuses to allow the “Mean Meckyls” of the world to be his undoing, I’m not so sure the same can be said of his mother.
What would you do if you found out your kid was a “Mean Meckyl”? When do you let kids fight their own battles? And when, if ever, do you move to intervene? And would you ever have your child call to apologize to another?
After my post went up at I Survived The Mean Girls, I learned that Anderson Cooper had run a television special devoted to bullying awareness and prevention called Bullying: It Stops Here.
The special aired from Rutgers University about one year after freshman Tyler Clementi’s suicide. Clementi killed himself by jumping off the George Washington Bridge after a recording of him having a sexual encounter with another man was posted online.
Cooper has been a strong opponent of bullying. He has spent a lot of time on his show and on other programs speaking out about the suicides among young men and women that were done in response to years of being bullied.
If you can, watch all four parts of Cooper’s video clips below.
Watch with your kids.
Cooper asks students to take a pledge to speak out against bullying.
Because studies show that if even one person speaks up and points out the behavior, bullies are likely to stop doing what they are doing.
All it takes is one person to say, “Whoa, what are you doing?!” or “Hey, that’s really mean!”
As usual, it is silence that is deadly.
And cyber-bullying is a disaster.
Because once words and images go viral, there is no escape for the target.
Only torment and embarrassment and shame.
It’s time to stop using our technology to hurt.
How do we teach our children to stand up against the bullies? How do we get them to risk everything to protect someone else? How do we get them to make better choices? How do we move toward civility and tolerance?
If you have a child who has been bullied, or a child who is complaining about feeling like a bystander (which is how many of us feel during our middle and high school years), please check out I Survived The Mean Girls, which offers a supportive community for people who have been bullied or who have witnessed bullying.
Recently I read one of the most amazing (and terrifying) blog entries called “Memories of a Bullied Kid,” on bullying from single dad laughing, a man who reflects back on a time in his life where he says he was systematically terrorized for years – but that he never said anything to anyone – except once. And he went further to report that when he reported the bullying, things got worse for him. Afterwards, he remained silent and endured the torture for over a decade. With so many students killing themselves these days, it amazes me that he is alive to tell the tale.
In the all the bullying literature that is out there, there is one piece of the puzzle that hasn’t been particularly well documented, and so I’m putting out there. Guess what? Sometimes parents of bullies are proud that their children are bullies. I have heard parents admit they would rather have their children be the ones “standing up for themselves” than the ones being bullied: that they have actually encouraged their children to get physical first, so that they are never made targets themselves. For me, this is the ugliest, darkest side to parenting.
Having been a teacher for 20 years now, and a parent for 11, I see that there is precious little time for elementary school to get to know each other at school. I know this because at the end of their 5th grade year, my son (and one friend) could not identify several of the children in their own class.
“I don’t know his name,” my son admitted.
His friend, who happened to be over that day shrugged: “Me either.”
It was unbelievable to me that my child and his friend could spend an entire year with the same people day in and day out and not know everyone’s first and last names, perhaps some tidbit of personal information.
I guess the sense of community has fallen out of the curriculum. Children are no longer taught to be good citizens, the ethics of being good people. The game is all about getting ahead, getting into the best schools — and kids learn early on that they may need to stomp on a few folks to get there. And I am sad to report that many parents encourage this type of aggressive, mean-spirited competition in athletics and academics. And meanwhile everyone is surprised that bullying in on this rise? Shocked when there is another incident reported, this time more gruesome than the last?
I never thought about college until 11th grade. Now, parents discuss college with their 1st graders. That’s a lot of pressure to put on children. When adults are stressed, they can go for a run, swim a few laps, take a yoga class. Well, kids get stressed out, too. But sometimes their stress comes out less constructively. So if you don’t even know all the kids in your class . . . well, why not pick on her? She’s weird. Or him? He’s quiet. Or, if you are really sneaky, get someone else to do it for you?
Once learning their children have been acting as bullies, I’m always amazed at how unapologetic parents are. When I hear of kids who have been bullied and that some type of administrative action has taken place – even suspensions – where the school has agreed a particular child had overstepped too many times with too many kids – I am always shocked that part of the restitution never includes a written apology from the bully. No-one ever makes the offending kid write a note to the person he has been kicking around.
If my child intentionally (or unintentionally) hurt someone, he’d either be over at that kid’s house apologizing in person or he’d be writing letters: to the kid he hurt, to the principal (indicating that he understood the infraction), to the parents of the bullied child explicating in essay form precisely what type of punishment(s) he would be receiving at home that would befit his behavior at school.
Apparently, most parents spend more time worrying about their child getting bullied than about their child being a bully. As a result, when they find out their child is bullying others, it takes them by surprise and they don’t know how to handle it.
What would you do if you found out your child was a bully? How would that conversation go? Would you be proud or horrified?
Yesterday, I had a phenomenal day as my blog entry was Freshly Pressed (meaning it was recognized as a blog with a quickly growing audience), and it received a fair amount of attention. I was excited and enjoyed moderating all the comments and visiting new blogs. Somewhere in there, the following response came in from a respondent named Ed.
Initially, I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. I took his words personally. I wondered, Who is this guy? And why does he hate me so much?
That lasted for about 1 minute. The real lesson reflects my worldview: Most people are fabulous and supportive and interesting and delightful . . . but there is always going to be that one person who shows up drunk to your party and throws up in your bathroom. He is the thorn in your side, the fingernails on the chalkboard, the raccoon that comes to your campground and eats all your s’mores fixins. That person keeps us humble. Keeps our heads on. He provides balance. The trick is not to let the Eds of the world keep you down. Thank you, Ed, whoever you are.
Here are Ed’s exact words in response to yesterday’s blog. I have let him know that I have reposted his response today, so that he might comment – if he would like to.
So you ended up being just a mother.
Just another mother, like a chimp, a cow, an elephant, a whale, just another mother, like an insect, or an octopus, or a worm. Just another mother.
Your kids will not thank you, your husband will not like you, your own mother will pity you for making her own same mistake.
Just another mother.
For a moment of frenzy, of uterine voracity, irrational and irreversible, you destroyed your body, your beauty, and your own intellect.
Parental-brain-atrophy-syndrome, where your brain biologically adjusts to the need of your infants, descending at their own subhuman level, with just one dimension, food, or perhaps two dimensions, food and feces.
You left your ambitions, your achievements, your potentials outside your life and outside the lives of those who really loved, only to become a receptacle of an unknown body of an unknown person that never will be yours, and to whom you will never belong. Strangers united in a pool of blood and dirt.
And dirt has become your life, and your life has become dirt. Urine, remains of food, excrements, diapers, vacuum cleaners, old soap, crusts, a life of dandruff and diseases, vaccine and lice, high school and drool.
You lost your dignity through your open legs, first inwards and then outwards, first-in-first-out, garbage-in-garbage-out, a boomerang of boredom.
Do you remember who you were?
Do you realize your loss?
Nobody chooses prison voluntarily, except for mothers, except for you.
You chose the life of a slave in a cavern of dirt.
People around you, who know that you are just another mother, do have compassion for you, but no respect. They know all about your emptiness, your pain, your despair, all dressed in the robes of a Virgin Mary.
And a Virgin Mary you are not, because Mary was not a Virgin, and you are not a Mary.
You were manipulated into just another life wasted on the heap of trash of a lost humanity dedicated to popular procreation and proletarian proliferation, to please the leaders of a domain of plebeians.
The world lost you, and you lost the world.
Good bye, sad mothers, good bye, old cows, with dried-out utters and distorted hips, good bye, and so alone you all will die.
Note from RASJ: I believe Ed meant to use the word “udders” (as in the things cows have beneath their bellies) – not “utters” (the synonym for the word ‘says’). Oh, and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Ed would have benefited by adding a dash in the word “good-bye” which appears three times in his last line. What can I say? First and foremost, I’m an English teacher.
Yesterday, I posted a blog entry about bullying and received a few responses, but many more people privately emailed me with messages that said, “Please don’t post this, but we are having a huge problem with bullying…” or “Please don’t post this. My daughter is a terrible bully and I don’t know what to do about it…” or “I wish I could tell my kid to just punch her bully in the face… Please don’t post this”.
So there is obviously a lot more to say about bullying, and I kind of wanted to continue the dialogue by proposing a few quick scenarios about physical bullying and how parents handle it. Stay with me:
Your child comes home from school and reports someonekicked her during recess.
What is your response?
Your child comes home from school and reports that she kicked someone during recess.
What is your response?
Is your response gender-based, which is to say, would you say something different to a son than you would to a daughter?
My husband and I have always taught our son that it is important to befriend-ly with everyone. To us, being “friendly” means being kind and tolerant and respectful toward another person, even if you don’t like him so much. We have always been clear with our son that being friendlydoes notmean that he has to be friends with everyone. He seems to get it.
My son knows that friends are important to me. He understands that my closest friends are the people I can trust to help me when I need them, and he sees I am there for them just the same. If we are lucky (and I consider myself lucky), we have people with whom we can share our deepest secrets; folks who come over even when they know we are sick and barfing; they see us without our make-up on and don’t care that the house is a complete mess; they are the people we shop with, take walks with, or sit still with. I am lucky enough to have people in my life who keep little cans of Canada Dry Ginger Ale in their garages refrigerators because they know it is my favorite drink.
There is, of course, an ebb and flow to friendship. Sometimes one person gives more and the other receives – but friendship cannot be one way. Interactions may be brief or extended, but interactions with true friends should – in the ideal – leave us feeling filled up rather than emptied out.
For kids, it’s harder. I imagine sometimes life must seem more like the reality-show Survivor where there are alliances that change daily. There are secret merges. One day you are in, and the next you are on exile island, alone. Or just voted out – excommunicated, without explanation. Blindsided. My son has been negotiating these waters for a few years now. He knows he has friends; it’s just that many of them don’t attend his school or aren’t in his same grade.
Last year, when my child found himself on the ground at recess, getting kicked in the nuts, he noted later, it wasn’t the being kicked that hurt so much (although it did hurt) but that the fact that a person he’d thought was his friend for many years stood by and watched it happen. That betrayal hurt him much more. He felt – and still feels – that if that person had intervened with a “quit it,” or a “leave him alone,” that somehow it wouldn’t have been so bad because he would have known he had that one person. That one friend.
These playground dynamics are also a terrible reminder of the ever-present social hierarchy, that author William Golding was right: It isLord of the Flies out there, and everyday there are still perpetrators, bystanders, victims, and (sadly) precious few rescuers. And despite all the anti-bullying campaigns, no, we simply cannot seem to all just get along.
This year, things have been much better for my guy. Since he is heading for middle school in the fall, last week I asked him to tell me the biggest lesson he’d learned from elementary school. As we walked side by side, I was pretty sure he was going to say something about making sure to include quotes in his essays, or to try not to get hit in the face during dodge ball, or something about not eating Diet Coke and Mentos at the same time.
He thought for a good while and then said, “For better or for worse, one thing I learned while getting picked on last year is that the only person I can really count on is myself. And that the people you think are your friends one day may not be the next.”
His words seemed too adult, like he understood and has come to accept something dark about humanity that has taken me almost my whole life to understand. I’d be lying if I said I am more than a little sad that he understands it so well at 10 years old.
What is your experience with bullying? Would you rather have your child be the bully than the victim?
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