It was 4th grade and I was great in every subject, but math.
“She can’t do that math problem!” A classmate mocked. “She isn’t smart enough.”
The rest of the class laughed.
My head tilted down and I bit my lower lip, wishing away the tears. I was sensitive as it was, and he was hitting me in a really soft spot.
“Let me come up and show her how it’s done,” the boy said, arrogantly.
“No, Kristy is going to do this,” my teacher said, holding out the piece of chalk.
My first spanking was because I was talking to ghosts. My second spanking was because I wanted a bottle of Coke all to myself and didn’t want to share. My third and final spanking in my lifetime was in third grade – because I couldn’t understand my math and was getting frustrated with my dad.
I walked up to the teacher, took the chalk and stood in front of the board. After just a moment of looking at the problem, I solved it without any help. Instead of feeling victorious, the sadness that my classmate didn’t believe in me, and the class laughing at his antics, had already securely wrapped its way around me.
To this day, I am insecure about doing math in front of anybody. When I worked for a construction management firm and handled multi-million dollar bond issues and presented my accounting to Boards, I pretended that I was on a stage and was acting. It was the only way that I could survive. That was until I had an awful boss who micromanaged me. Every line item, every figure I inputted, every single thing that I did he would criticize or question. I second guessed myself, which only resulted in errors, which acted as a domino effect in the criticism from the boss.
It was then that I realized that my classmate was a bully, as was my boss. It didn’t matter that he was forty years old; bullies come in all shapes, sizes, ages, and professions and they would always be there, but I had to take control over if. I had control over the damage – would it be a superficial cut and easily heal or a deep rooted scar?
My son was in elementary school and I began to notice some subtle changes. His typical upbeat personality had the shadow of a gray aura around it, as if he was trying to impress upon me that everything was fine, but I knew better. After gently (and I do mean gently) talking to him, he admitted that he was being made fun of, bullied, thrown into bathrooms, locker rooms, etc. I was appalled and asked him what he wanted me to do about it. Obviously, kids want to just wish it away and ignore it, but instead, I quietly arranged for a meeting with the Principal. The Principal wanted my son to call out the boys. I wanted them to remind the class/school on bullying. Because my son wouldn’t call out who was doing it, nothing was done. And we switched him to another school.
My daughter loved all things vampire (way before the Twilight phase) and because of that, classmates would call her ‘Vampy’. Sounds cute enough, but they did it in a demeaning way. “They think I’m weird,” she would say. But she walked with her head high, staying true to her.
This last week my son told us at dinner that everybody at school thought he was weird. My daughter chimed in and said it was because of her, and apologized. He simply shook his head and said, “No, it isn’t because of you, they just think I am weird.”
My heart broke for him. “They always called me weird too, so it must run in the family,” I tried to joke.
“Mom, but you are weird!” My son grinned at me.
I have tried to teach my kids to be themselves. Always. Maybe that equated to weird to some people.
I have read for numerous parents who have lost children to suicide because of bullying. No, it isn’t anything new. Bullies have been around since the beginning of time (think the serpent tempting Adam and Eve). How lonely it is for those kids (and adults) who deal with being demoralized, laughed at, criticized, ridiculed and so on. And if any one of those kids is overly sensitive, well it can spell disaster.
Athough not a Taylor Swift fan, I loved an interview I saw where she said that if someone does her wrong, she writes a song about them. She channels the energy into creativity.
So many think that in order to be a leader, it means that there is a totalitarian control, which often turns into ego which turns into bullying.
I do think that as a society we scream “Bully” an awful lot, but it could just be that we are a society filled with bullies. Recently we saw the New York Bus Monitor and grandmother being bullied by kids on the bus. I have had life coaching sessions with those who have been bullied by coworkers and superiors. It surrounds us. So what do we do? Ralph Waldo Emerson is quoted as saying, “Most of the shadows of life are caused by standing in our own sunshine.” Don’t be afraid of your sunshine and never let anybody take it away.
Whenever I speak of bullying, there is often a flood of emotion. A memory of scarred time with patches covering it. Maybe it is time for those patches to be removed. If you see a child or an adult being bullied, talk to them and tell your story of survival. We are all survivors of something. Speak up. No more scars.