Among all of the back-to-school photos posted on Facebook, one photo stood out. It didn’t feature a cute sign listing the little scholar’s future career ambitions and favourite foods. Nope, the photo didn’t depict the latest style of fall fashions, either. It wasn’t of an adorable four-year old embarking on his/her very first day of school. Nor was it of a sullen university-bound student impatient with Mom for insisting on taking their photo….for the fifteenth year in a row!
No. It was a selfie. The fifth grader had snapped a back-to-school selfie to text to her working Mom. The independent youngster had made her own lunch, gotten herself completely ready for school and managed to take a selfie on the way out the door.
Not only that but when she texted her Mom, she told her she loved her class and her teacher. And, had volunteered to be a bus buddy and lunch monitor!
I was proud of the little girl. And, happy her Mom was reassured. She managed just fine despite the Mom being at work. Moms suffer plenty of guilt for missing precious moments such as the first day of school. But, someone has to put the bring home the bacon, er, earn money for the lunch snacks and the juice boxes. As well as for the mortgage and hockey or dance lessons!
I admit it. My kids are grown now but I was a helicopter parent. I worked the midnight shift so I could physically be present for my kids before and after school. I walked them to and from grade-school way past the age it was cool to do so.
I worried about them like crazy even though worrying doesn’t change a darn thing, does it? You see, my daughters were bullied. Meanwhile, a horrible incident had happened in Chatham—an hour away—that terrified me.
Myles Neuts was a ten-year old boy. In 1998, he was found unconscious, hanging by his collar from a coat hook in a bathroom stall at lunch hour. He passed away after being taken off life support. To this day, his father makes rounds speaking out about bullying. Bless him for all he does in spite of his grief!
In high school, the bullying intensified for my daughters. It was heart-breaking to see them hurt. Bruises, muddied clothing, torn school uniforms. CD’s and contents of their backpacks were tossed out bus windows, only to be run over by traffic.
I asked my eldest daughter for permission to use these photos. Having graduated from a journalism program, she insisted it was important the photos be seen. The pics were from high school days.
The bullying hurt physically. My eldest was later found to have broken her nose in the past. Gee, I wonder which time that happened? Another time, one of her ears swelled up twice its size. My youngest daughter had her head strike a concrete bench at a bus stop. This was all done by girls.
But, aside from the pain, what about their psyches? I suffered no bullying in school but I encountered it for a nine month period once in the workplace. It devastated me and I was an adult with strong coping strategies and a loving supportive husband to lean on. How do children manage to keep their confidence about themselves? How does it affect them?
My eldest daughter spelled it out for me:
“I’m a thirty year old with no self-esteem. I don’t believe in myself and when I’m excluded from things, all the pain from a lifetime of being a loser and being treated badly pours forward from where it’s been sitting just below my consciousness. And, I wish I had pounded the shit out of every one of those bullies! Or at least tried. I don’t know how I have so much rage at this point in my life but then, again, I’m not surprised. I know it sounds terrible but I mean it. I really wish I had the desire to put them in their places at the time. I used to be so passive. But, this stuff, this bullying, it will change you after it goes on long enough.”
We talked awhile and both agreed the bullying has also led her to be able to spot someone struggling—a vulnerable person—from far off when people in their midst wouldn’t have suspected a thing. She’s sensitive to the plight of the underdog and will do everything in her power to spare them pain.
My daughter says, even after all of the bullying, that she’s glad she was the one being bullied and not the bully. She knows she isn’t entirely innocent but she remembers from her school days how she was almost always someone who would look out for others whenever she could. At times when she wasn’t the target of bullying.
It was close to midnight. I hoped my daughter wouldn’t have nightmares. She still screams in her sleep these days, I know. I’ve often heard her scream while napping at our home.
I wish I had answers. I don’t know how I could have handled it differently for them. Police were involved several times and even they said it would escalate if they spoke to the parents of the bullying children.
One of my own bullies apologized to me ten years after the fact. I forgave her. It gave credibility to what I had experienced. She lived with the guilt. What if I hadn’t forgiven her? Would she have continued the bullying with another person? I dunno. I just knew it was the right thing for me to do at the time. I couldn’t change the past for either of us.
Parents, keep posting your back-to-school pics. Celebrate the big moments and the little moments in your families’ lives. Surround your children with a cloak of love and support. It may not be enough to protect them from the bullying but keep building them up. And, listen to them. Let the little voices be heard.