We are standing outside the middle school that Katie will attend in the fall, chatting with another couple. We’ve all just taken a tour of the school as part of the stepping up process for our children.
We talk about the seventh graders who gave the tour – how poised and adorable they were. How much pride they took in their task.
We talk about how reassuring it was to see so many GLBT Safe Zone stickers on doors around the school; how wonderful it was to see the kid-made Anti Bullying posters covering so many walls; how great it was to peek in on the Health Class in the middle of a lesson on Cyber Bullying.
We talk about the huge poster advertising the Day Of Silence, and the kids’ handwritten notes surrounding it, describing what it meant to each of them to stand in solidarity with their peers.
I mention that I was pleased with their answer when I asked (trying to sound casual), “Do you guys think this stuff really works? Do you still see kids tease one another?” and one of the young men said, “Oh, I totally think it works. I’ve seriously never seen anyone pushing anyone around here. And besides, everyone knows that bullies only do what they do because of their own insecurities.”
I wonder if I should acknowledge the tear that’s silently rolling down the other mom’s face as we talk, but since neither she nor her husband do, I decide against it. I simply ask if her kids are doing OK.
And it all pours out. Her son has been bullied all year. Her sweet little boy – the one who came to our house last year for a play date with Brooke. The shy, adorable young man who leads with a heart ten times the size of his body.
He is not one of ours, so to speak. He is not autistic, nor developmentally different.
But he is different.
His skin is a different color than ours – than most of the kids we know.
His name is not Tommy or John or Jack.
His parents were not born in this country.
He is different.
And he is being bullied.
And when he’s tried to ask for help, it’s fallen on deaf ears.
And when she’s asked for help, she felt like no one listened.
He may not be ‘one of ours’ but of course he IS one of ours.
Because they’re ALL one of ours.
Because each of us belongs to the other.
First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.
We need to speak up for these kids.
We need to acknowledge that in the end, it is our differences – the fact that we all have SOMETHING that makes us OTHER THAN – that make us the same.
We are inextricably bound to one another.
My happiness – my ability to live up to my potential as a human being – is dependent upon yours and yours on mine.
Martin Luther King Jr said it in 1963 and it’s no less true today: “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.”
We need to live that way, guys.
We can put all the signs we want on the walls of the schools, but nothing will change until our kids SEE us living that way.
Using difference as a weapon and exploiting it for sport or to make us feel better about ourselves is NOT OK.
It can’t be.
We need every kid everywhere to feel celebrated, understood, loved, valued and SAFE.
We ALL deserve a world like that.
The other mom is openly crying now.
I offer up the resources that I have. I tell her who to talk to at the school – who I know will listen. And help.
And then, because I have nothing else that I can offer, I wrap her in a hug to try to help ease the pain.
We get into the car to drive home and I wipe away a tear of my own.
Mothers should not be standing on sidewalks crying because their babies are being torn apart by their peers.
This sh!t has to stop.