Today is Unity Day, and this month is Bullying Awareness Month. To pay my respects to this, I've joined Rachel at When a Lion Sleeps, Let it Sleep to talk about my personal bullying experiences. Note: If you've written a post on bullying this month and would like to share it with Rachel, you can email her at pertinax_puella [at] Hotmail [dot] com.
I could easily talk about my own bullying experiences, starting in kindergarten, when I came home with various bruises and cuts, culminating in a stab wound from scissors being shoved in my back. I could tell you that my parents, after constantly trying to work with the school to stop the bullying, finally told me to fight back or deal with it, born of the frustration of watching their child take beating after beating with no recourse on their end. I could tell you about sitting in the corner, dunce cap on my head, chin held high, after I finally punched my bully back and took him down.
I could tell you about how he never touched me again after that.
I could tell you how that experience hardened me, made me determined not to be hurt again.
I could tell you how that determination wasn't good enough.
I could tell you about constant bullying in middle school.
I could tell you how I taught myself, through sheer force of will, to never let them see me blush or cry. I could tell you that I never blushed again until after I had children.
I could tell you about the Hell that was high school, my cliche-ridden clique-prone upper-crust high school that didn't welcome a poor kid who didn't have the newest stuff, the best stuff, the same stuff as everyone else.
I could tell you about the teachers who were a part of the cliques and bullying at Hades High School.
I could tell you how it hardened me even further, to the point that I look back and question whether the bullied became the bully? I could tell you how I hurt the ones who used to hurt me before they could hurt me anymore.
But what I want to talk about is what it's like to be a parent and see your nightmares come true. To see my own child suffer, my worst fears come to light. I want to tell you how it came full circle.
When my son was in his second year of preschool, he was bullied. It broke my heart, made me feel helpless to defend him. I couldn't exactly walk into the classroom and take care of the problem. I was filled with such rage that the adults I was entrusting my child to weren't protecting him, keeping him safe when I wasn't able.
I didn't immediately know what was happening. In fact, by the time I figured it out, it had been months. Months where my son was being called names. Months where he was being hurt. Months that I had no idea anything was wrong, because there weren't any unusual marks. Sometimes kids get bruises. Sometimes kids get scratches.
You see, I'd trained my child that tattling wasn't okay, but I hadn't done a good enough job of letting him know the difference between tattling and finding help when it was needed.
My son, my sweet, calm, gentle, mild-mannered child. The one teachers had told me for two years in a row was liked by EVERYBODY. I asked, you know. I wanted to know that he was making friends, not just learning what they were teaching on paper. I wanted to know he was okay in that social sense.
They told me he was okay. Safe. Fine. Well liked.
And he was, but not by one child.
My child became violent, but only toward me. He had insane temper tantrums. He screamed with rage, head butted me. I had to drag him out of public places, humiliated by his behavior. I'd never dealt with misbehavior from him before. He was always perfect in public.
One day, he ran at me when I wasn't paying attention. He slammed his head into my pelvis so hard one of my ribs dislocated.
I began to panic. What was happening to my baby? What was WRONG with him??
It was that same week that a conversation began among the preschool parents. He had told me the night before that a child in class had bitten him. Sure enough, there were marks, but we didn't get a chance to have a good talk about it. I made a note to talk to him the next day after school, and to speak to the teacher when I picked him up. Before I had a chance to bring it up, a kid came crying out of the classroom (we were waiting for pickup). He was being led to the office.
We all clearly saw scratch marks down his neck and chest. Deep, bleeding scratch marks.
The moms started chatting, discussing one child in particular. That child was the same one who had bitten my son. Story after story poured out. Each mom had her own story about something this kid had done. One mom declared she was putting her twins into karate so they could defend themselves. Another said she'd spoken to the teacher and gotten nowhere. It seemed the little girls in the class were more willing to talk than the little boys, and those moms held the most information about what was going on.
I spoke with my son that night, and that's when it all poured out. He was taking abuse from this child on a daily basis, most of it verbal, but plenty of it physical.
Mama bear was enraged.
I marched into the classroom after it let out the next day. I asked if they were aware of what was happening to my son.
They were. Yet not once did they think about telling me, his mother, what was going on.
I asked if he was acting out in class.
Nope. He's such a good boy in class. So well liked.
Well, other than this little boy. But he has troubles at home.
I demanded something be done about this child. I was told "God will take care of it."
Yeah, they felt it was not their place to do anything about it, that this child going through a divorce meant he shouldn't be disciplined in any way. In their opinions, he was to be given free rein, to do as he would, because it would all work out in the end.
Those of you who have worked with children know a child behaving this way is crying for help. He wants someone to step in and tell him what he should be doing. He wants to know someone cares about him. They weren't doing this.
I went to the head master. She gave me the same line. So I wrote a letter. I described the actions I would take if something was not done about this child. I addressed the sheer incompetence of these people, to stand by and watch an entire class be constantly attacked, the trauma we were dealing with at home. The damage they were doing to each and every single one of these children, including the bully.
At home, I told my son to stay as far away from the bully as he could. I told him to tell him he didn't want to play with him when he was being mean. I told him not to let him touch him. I demanded he tell the teachers each and every time this bully hurt him. Despite my great desire to tell him to punch him out, I knew that wasn't the best thing to do. (Probably...) I figured the best thing for him to do for now was to try avoidance and his words.
He did one better. My son managed to befriend the boy. He told him he didn't want to play with him when he was being mean, BUT he'd really like to play with him when he could be nice. He repeatedly invited him into games and play.
This little boy wanted a friend. He'd been crying for help. And not one of us adults really saw that or knew what he needed. We all let him down. But one little four year old broke through all of it and got right to the heart of the matter. Somehow, he knew just what to do.
The next time that clump of moms gathered, they talked about how their kids said the little boy had stopped hurting their children. How he was nice. How he played with everyone.
There's always a reason someone bullies. It's hard to see it in the moment. We want so badly to protect ourselves, protect our children, protect our siblings, protect our friends. All we can see is the pain someone else is causing them, and we want to fix it, usually with anger. But that doesn't do any good. As a kid, my way didn't fix anything. I got people to lay off ME. I defended others around me. I was never afraid to stand up to someone else once history had broken me. It became my job. But I defended myself with anger instead of kindness, which likely just reinforced what the bullies felt to begin with, and quite possibly meant other children paid out of my awareness.
I hope with my entire being that my son can continue to apply his gentle nature to any bully that comes at him, and that he won't pay by being tortured. I watch my daughter in fear that she'll either be bullied or become the bully. Do I see in her the possibility of becoming a "mean girl?" Is anyone being mean to her?
Today being Unity Day, remember to care for everyone, for the bullied and the bullies. Remember to take that moment to move past the hurt, the anger...the fear. Because that's what it comes down to, isn't it? Fear? Fear for what could happen, what people will think, that the same thing will happen to someone you care about, that it will go too far, that it will lead to more. Fear that someone will hurt you as badly as someone else has. Fear that you will be hurt, embarrassed, made a fool of.
Let's conquer the fear and try to see the humanity in those we interact with.
There's no good way to switch from such a serious subject to links, so how about I do so with an applicable link: stopbullying.gov. Find information on signs of bullying and what you can do. If you'd like to post something about bullying, send the link to Rachel and she'll post it with the links of those participating.
Now for some links.
Robocup Press is seeking "raw, risky unpublished flash fiction" for Up Do: Flash Fiction by Women Writers. 250-1000 words. Deadline October 15. Payment is $10, plus a contributor copy.
Divertir Publishing is taking submissions of science fiction-themed poetry and short stories for a collection on the unreal. Deadline October 15. Payment unknown.
Blank Fiction Magazine is accepting pieces for their first three issues with the themes Literary Fiction, Noir Fiction, and Science Fiction. October 15 deadline. $50 honorarium for now; they hope to be able to increase this after time.
Strength From Within: An Anthology is seeking submissions of stories of recovery for a charity anthology. Proceeds will go to Asbury House. Deadline October 31. Will pay a flat $25 fee.
Thunderdome Magazine is looking for new myths and urban legends that will make people believe they're true. The anthology will be called Legend: True Stories From a Friend of a Friend. Deadline October 31. Pays $25, plus a contributor copy.
Clarkesworld Magazine is putting together a science fiction anthology concerning cyborgs. Deadline October 31. Pays $.07 per word. While you're there, check out the regular magazine submission guidelines, as well.
Thrillerpalooza is holding a giveaway for 23 signed thrillers by 24 authors. To enter, all that's asked is for you to leave a comment on their blog, tweet about the giveaway, and do a Facebook status on the giveaway.
J.L. Campbell is holding the Who's Your Hero Blogfest October 22-24. All she asks is that you write up to 300 words about someone who has inspired or encouraged you in some way. This is in celebration of the upcoming release of her sequel to Christine's Oddysey, and will fall on Jamaica's Heroes Day.
Spooktoberfest is being hosted by Dani and Jackie October 25-28th. 300-500 word flash fiction based upon an image and three mandatory words.
Sara C. Snider is putting together a Halloween Blog Hop for Halloween Day, October 31. Simply post a short story or poem that fits the Halloween theme.
Have you ever dealt with bullying, either for yourself or someone close to you? What do you think is the best way to deal with it? Do any of these links interest you? Anything to share?
May you find your Muse.