My first child just started in the public school system. We are fortunate that she goes to a very good public school. Well, we moved to this county specifically for the schools. I am delighted and horrified by the social interaction that goes on among the 5-6 year olds in Kindergarten. I have spent a lot of time volunteering in the classroom and chaperoning field trips, so I know the kids pretty well. I can see how they speak to one another and who’s liked and who is not liked. Some of the kids are mediators, some, bullies, some are cool kids. There’s a fat kid, an athletic kid, smart kid, stinky kid, bizarre kid. Class clown- you get the picture. It was just that way when I was a kid, and I’m sure it has always been and will always be that way.
What has changed is our reaction to bullies. My 6 year old attends school assemblies about bullying. Schools have strict and severe punishment for bullying. If you are accused, you are damned. Not a big deal at 6, but apparently a very big deal at high school level when you are looking at colleges. I have met more than a few parents who have shared stories about how their children have been accused (wrongly by their accounts) of bullying and are now battling to have the accusation expunged from their permanent records so they can get into colleges. I don’t know the specifics, so I can’t speak for these families , but they plead their cases to me, and it seemed pretty severe for what was going on. I can tell you though that my 6 year old has been on the receiving end. Just by one girl, whom I know and whose family I know. She is just a really unhappy little girl. She’s very smart and fairly cute, but I know a little about her life, and I know that she is sad. It’s nothing horrible, just stuff 6 year olds can’t process easily. Anyway, my daughter sits next to her and tends to be the focus of “Annie’s” verbal lashings. I have explained to my daughter why (without disclosing anything personal about Annie that my 6 year old may use in her own defense) she says such hateful things and how to handle the situation. My daughter has taken it to heart and is being patient with the situation and quite forgiving.
Now, I know some may think I’m a real asshole for making my daughter tolerate “Annie’s” verbal abuse, but I feel the experience will build character. Hold up, before you go bonkers on me think about your childhood. I’ll tell you about mine.
I was always very tall, and when I hit puberty I got pretty porky. I then found myself on the receiving end of quite a bit of torment. The boys would chant “The moose is on the loose” to me going through the halls. At the time, it crushed me, but I knew I was overweight. There was no one to intervene for us back then, so I had to endure it. Did I think about killing myself? Fuck no. I did end up with a wicked sense of humor as a defense mechanism and, to this day I consider my self deprecating sense of humor my best quality. I certainly don’t take myself too seriously, and I am always the first to laugh at myself. It was only a couple of months before the boys laid off. Once I started fist pumping and chanting with them and got in on the joke, it ended. And they thought I was pretty cool to take it in stride. Before I knew it, I was a sounding board for all their girl problems. Today my 3 year old has footie pajamas with moose all over them, and when she wears them to bed I chant that same chant that tormented me when I was 12 years old. She is delighted by it and squeals happily while running through the house when I chant it. Who knew PJ’s could be so cathartic.
I’m not saying that bullying doesn’t exist, but I think we have to take the finger pointing down a notch and remember that endurance is a defining factor in our lives. After all, there is a reason “that which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger” is an adage.