Please don’t bully the bullies

Dear Evan and Lulu,

This weekend we were celebrating the birthday of a friend at a local indoor playground. The host parents gave the other parents the option of leaving for the 90 min party, then returning to pick you up, or staying for the duration of the festivities. I was the only parent who stayed. 

Part of that was my anxiety. I worry too much when I’m not around you. I worry too much when I am around you, but still it feels better when I’m closer. Part of it was the fact that I really enjoy children and even though the two of you had tested every fiber of patience I had on this particular day, a roomful of screaming, energetic children actually sounded uplifting. 

As I watched the chaos unfold around me a young boy of 6 or 7 years ran toward me with excited eyes and planted himself directly in front of me.

“There is a real life bully in there,” he shouted, pointing up toward part of the overhang climbing gym.

“A what?” I questioned, confused.

“A bully!” he shouted. A real one!”

“Oh,” I replied, pretty startled at this point. “How do you know he is a bully?”

“I can just tell,” he said matter-of-factly. 

Before I could think of a thing to say he darted off yelling to the next kid who crossed his path “There is a bully up there! Do you want to come look at him with me?”

A bully. A real life bully. 

It brought me back to two years ago when Evan was struggling in Kindergarten. I was having frequent conversations with her teacher and each one grew more and more frustrating for me. Until one day she emailed me and said:

We were talking about bullies in circle time today. Several of the Kindergartners identified Evan as a bully and as we talked about it others agreed.

If I didn’t like this teacher’s methods before this, now I was inches from outrage. I am not one of those parents who thinks you girls are perfect and can do no wrong. I recognize that you have many challenges, as most kids do, and I myself would not have the patience to teach you every day (or even every other day). But to let a class single you out, identify you as a bully, and discuss it as if you were not even sitting there? As if you were not a person with feelings and a tiny beating heart that screams “love me!” with every pound of your chest?  It is the same thing as yelling “come look at the real life bully” as if he was an attraction for a freak show. 

What is it called again when we single someone out to exert power over them? Oh right. Bullying. 

I don’t mean this to sound as if I don’t think bullying is a serious issue. Let me rehash a bit of my own bullied memories. 

In 4th grade I had to stop walking to school because of a 6th grader who repeatedly threatened to stomp my head in. My mom wanted to give me rides to school each morning. My dad wanted to buy me steel-toe boots.

By 7th grade there was permanent marker that had to be painted over in the girls’ bathroom. Beneath the layers of paint you would have found my name with many colorful words that I hope you girls can’t understand for a few years to come.

In 8th grade my yearbook was stolen and those same words were written over every one of my pictures, over the front of the yearbook, the back of the yearbook and every page in-between.

It only got worse from there. But I was no saint in this life of mine either. I had my moments where I wasn’t the one being bullied but I was actually the one doing the bullying, and those memories have stuck with me far more than the others have.

Not because being a victim of bullies didn’t suck. It certainly did. I cried enough tears to add “puffy red eyes” to the long list of things I was already teased for. But being the one doing the bullying changed my life for the simple reason that I eventually became friends with the people I was being so cruel to. It is hard to ignore the impact you created when you have to look at the people every day.  

I saw them as people and it haunted me that I had treated them as if they were less than people.  

You don’t fix a water leak by spraying it with water. You don’t teach a child to not hit by hitting them. You don’t overcome hatred with hatred and you don’t change a bully by bullying them back. 

I wish I could go back to that noisy play gym. I wish I could have had 20 more seconds with the dark haired boy with great enthusiasm for bullies. I wish I could have told him that the kid he was yelling about probably isn’t a bully, probably is just a boy, and he might not even be that different from him. 

What I really wish I would have said to him, so I’ll say it to you girls instead, is “why don’t you ask him his name.”

Why don’t we ask a bully their name? Why don’t we ask them what games they like to play? Why don’t we ask if they like Cheetos or Doritos better? It might seem scary. It might seem pointless. It very well could be both of those things. But kindness is the best place to start. Work your way down to the steel-toe boots. 

You don’t even need my advice in this matter. You already have all the wisdom  you need. Just in case you ever need a reminder of the right thing to do, here is some wise words from my very own “bully” Evan. 

Remember- don’t be rude or laugh. 

Image

“If someone is different don’t laugh and pretend someone liked pizza with pickles on it and you didn’t. Don’t be rude or laugh.”

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