The hardest part, for me, of being a parent is not the stuff inside the family. It’s not figuring out how many hours of video games and YouTube our children shouldn’t be watching. It isn’t the arguments about homework, grades, chores or whatever else “triggers” a blowup (and believe me, there have been some doozies).
It’s what happens when they enter the world. It’s watching our children, these amazing, creative, kind, caring, intelligent (yes, I may be a bit biased) individuals leave our house and meet kids who don’t understand them. Kids who, even worse, bully them and threaten to steal a piece of their childhood.
It’s hard because that’s what the bullies did to me.
Throughout my middle school years, I was mocked, pushed, teased, and criticized. About my looks. About my clothing. About the size of my head (too big) or the size of my breasts (not developed yet). About my personal habits. About everything that made me, me.
According to my mother, I came home every day in tears, miserable. I begged her to put me into private school. She didn’t let me move (and let me add, I’m not sure I would have either) and I didn’t let her report it – so we never found a solution.
Instead, I withdrew and built up walls. I sought out the comfort of books and stories, to the point that I didn’t do anything but read – I once got kicked out of a middle school English class for reading under my desk. I didn’t participate in any activities. I didn’t engage at school. I didn’t have any friends with whom I could celebrate major milestone birthdays, hang out with on weekends, go to the movies with, or chat into the wee hours during “sleep” overs.
And even when I did have the opportunity to make a friend, I often didn’t see it. As one story goes, a high school friend told me we actually met in middle school, but when she introduced herself I just asked her “what do you want?”
It took me until junior year of high school to start to emerge from the darkness. To start taking chances. To start joining in. To meet people who helped me heal and start down the path that put me where I am today.
Looking back, I am often struck by how much the bullies took away from me. Not only did they steal a piece of my childhood, but they also tried to steal my sense of self-worth. My confidence. My courage. My individuality. My curiosity.
Which brings me back to today and the impotent rage, I feel when bullies try to do the same thing to the two people I love most in this world. How do I explain to our children that we can’t let the bullies win when I did just that? How, when they seem ready to give up, do I explain to them the deep sense of loss I feel for experiences never had? How do I tell them they aren’t alone when I know how lonely they feel, surrounded by students who see, but don’t step up to help? How do I encourage them to persevere, while also making sure they know that they aren’t trapped, that they can quit?
How do I tell them it gets better?