School was an escape for me. I could escape my reality and replace it with one that sounded wonderful (in books at least) or that showed me the parts of other people’s reality that I would have loved for my own.
It was also my own private living hell.
I wasn’t one of the pretty people. I’m still not, but then it really hurt because everyone everywhere was quick to point it out to me. I was always nerdy. Always booky. Always different. What someone can wear like a unicorn head (strapped on, taller than life, and without any qualms about who might find it incredibly weird) when they are forty something gets thrown back in your face (often painfully) when you are tween-teen. I was an outcast.
I wore pants that were three sizes too big for me because even though they were hand me downs or from a bag sale (everything you can stuff into a bag for a dollar) or from a rummage sale somewhere or even the store bought (somehow the second hand store was never actually considered store bought) new ones that came at back to school and christmas time, they had to be big enough for me to grow into. I couldn’t get a belt (for pretty much the same reason… I might grow out of it) so I always wore my shirts untucked to hide the binder-twin belt I made to hold them up.
I was the first female president of the FFA in my school (actually, the first female president of the FFA in any of the schools in the county if I was told correctly). I loved public speaking and writing (go figure) and was the best welder in my class. I often ended up walking around with welding helmet hair (and dirt smudges on my forehead) and grease under my nails from working on a small gas engine somewhere. I took latin for kicks and trig as an independent study. I graduated with honors and thrilled at being on the school paper and the literary journals (such as small town western PA had). My biggest disappointment was that I wasn’t allowed to join little league the only year I could have (sixth grade was as old as you could be to be in little league and I was in sixth grade the year they let little girls on the team) because the 7 miles back into town two days a week for practice and one day a week for games was outlandish.
I was allowed to wash my hair once a week (whether it needed it or not) but did bath every morning.
I was scag, nerd (before nerd hung on me like a robe), and wonder weirdo.
They made songs up about me.
Bullied? Just a little.
And I escaped.
I bought pants that fit, realized that the taunts could be badges of honor or scars of valor, and hid my writing (people like me don’t ever write, if they write they will never get published, and if they get published they will have to pay to do it because no one will ever pay people like me).
I got jobs and made some money and thought the best I could ever do would be minimum wage.
I had kids (two… boy and a girl and I am incredibly proud of them both)
And I got my degree (2 years and 4 months to get my undergrad… with a 2 year old and a 6 month old) and was told by an awesome teacher (who I didn’t listen to but now think maybe I should have and I hope it isn’t too late) that I should give up whatever plans I had to do anything and switch my major to something that would help me in a career as a writer.
I got a good job as a programmer and my career in geekdom was off. NOW nerd/geek was a mantle I wore proudly (even if the memories still stung).
I bought my kids clothes that fit. I <insert mortified gasp here> let them pick out their own clothes and find their own style.
I raised them both to believe that, no matter what their dream, if tehy wanted it badly enough they could achieve it. There are no boy toys, there are no girl toys, there are just toys; play with what you want. Both grew and became wonderful people (incredibly different people from each other) and interesting individuals in their own right.
I thought I raised people who weren’t going to be stigmatized or ostracized or picked on or teased or bullied. I raised them to be strong and self confident. And they are. But that doesn’t stop the bullying.
They were both bullied in school. Over the years, just how badly they were bullied has come out. I thought maybe they didn’t have to go through it. It breaks my heart to know they did.
Now, as the final few days of my daughter’s 12th grade year wind down, and I make sure that she takes her Adivan to stave off the panic attacks that have started following the sexual harassment she has been dealing with but finally had enough of… we turned him in… and her world caved in as she faces every day now in terror.
I learn about how my son was the victim of an attempted garroting with his own necklace.
I feel like I’ve somehow let them down, or missed out on a way to keep them from being silently bullied.
Now, an awesome young friend is struggling in the aftermath of a beating that he suffered half a country away. He was trying to stick up for a friend who was being bullied. As a result he (a minor) was beaten by a very large adult (19) at the urging of the behemoth’s sister (one of the ones bullying the girl that my friend stuck up for)… all because he was living up to the courage of his convictions. I worry for his safety and hope to hear news soon.
Why is this okay with anyone? Why can’t anyone do anything about it? Why WON’T anyone do anything about it? Even in the shadow of killings that have occurred when the bullied finally have enough and retaliate… school officials seem unable or unwilling to do anything to protect the victims or deal with the bullies.
My daughter’s sexual harasser is back in school… he got three days suspension. We have been told that he is more scared of her (because of pending legal action) than she is of him (and his cohorts and his girlfriend)… but she is taking adivan and jumping at every shadow. I sit with her in the morning to make sure she is okay before school until her friends get there to be with her. If he is more scared than this, then he hides it well.
As parents we have to stop thinking of bullying the way bullying was when we were kids. We need to stop thinking that we lived through it, our kids can live through it, too. Because the times really have changed… and the bullying has changed… and maybe they won’t…