Friday morning

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.

Martin Niemöller

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.

45 thoughts on “other

  1. Oh boy, this post took me back to being the parent of an incoming middle schooler, five years ago. You said everything so well and I’m not sure what I can contribute. I can go back to what I wrote about my experience with bullying in our school system: http://waytenmom.blogspot.com/2011/05/nothing-blog-about-bullying.html . Beyond that, I can share that my son’s middle school (which is different than where my daughter went) does a fantastic job of presenting cyberbullying workshops for parents (prevention) and saying “we have a zero tolerance policy” but the part I still struggle with is what I still see and hear among my kids and their peers. I do believe after five years of being in the mix that the answer isn’t solely telling kids “just ignore it” although conversely it’s unwise to give bullies power by fueling their fire. I remember how impotent I felt when I was trying to work up the courage to contact the parents of a child who was sending my child blatant threats on social media. I remember saying to an expert that I thought the dad would take it seriously but I wasn’t sure about the mom. She said you would be surprised how many mothers enable “relational aggression.” And it’s at that point — when any parent refuses to step in and support their kids and other kids — that you said it best — “this shit has to stop.”

  2. My son was bullied the other day and I had to take him to therapy to deal with it! He has a brother with asd… he doesn’t need any more grief!! Great post on a subject that needs addressing again and again….

  3. my son is only in first grade, and I can’t tell you how much this very topic keeps me awake at night. He has ASD, specifically PDD NOS, and I see that he can be an easy mark for other children. It scares me……and he has a long way to go to get to middle school. I am hoping that as schools are becoming less tolerant, that parents will as well.

  4. my oldest was teased terribly in middle school, we even had the police involved. My second son was teased just a little, but he learned from brother and stood up for himself right away. It lessened the drama just a little. Sammy is terrified he will be teased and this past year he was by a child in 5th grade . Sammy is in 2nd and special needs. Thankfully the school heard me that something was up, they watched they took charge and they fixed it.my 2 asd kids were a target. I am not ASD and I was bullied so badly in middle school I would pray every night that God would let me die just so I wouldn’t have to go to school and my freshman year, I tried to make it so. I dont ever want anyone’s babies feeling so hopeless and scared. Your right . this shit has to stop. (by the way the fact that you swore made me giggle like a little kid all I could think was “OMGEEEE JESS SWORE”

  5. The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of beauty is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, but indifference between life and death. ~ Elie Wiesel

  6. Conor was physically assaulted on the bus, attacked because he didn’t want to give up his iPod. By a girl. And he was bullied IN school too.
    I don’t know a family who hasn’t been affected by bullying. Aidan has been free from bullying, and he would tell the other child off if it happened. He has no qualms about telling someone if he thinks they are being a bully or wrong. Not sure how THAT happened but I am grateful and lucky.
    Prayers for the family that is going through this and good for you for giving love to this woman.

  7. Recently, my toddler was actually bullied (yeah, toddler, not middle-schooler) (I bore you with the details here, see my full rant at http://wp.me/p1V6cL-50 ) because she looks different from the other kids, but it is no less wrong to bully a child (or adult) based on the color of their skin, wave of their hair, or their place of birth than to bully a child based on their disabilities. It starts with us as parents, when we focus on what makes people different, instead of what we have in common- we should focus on what unites us, rather than what divides us. You’re absolutely right, this needs to stop, and it starts with us- children learn what they see. Thank you for addressing this, and please keep addressing it. Our kids do deserve better- all our kids.

  8. Beautiful, as always! On a practical note…some middle schools are safer than others, and the difference comes from the top. The principal at the school where Katie will go is notorious for being a “do nothing.” Kids test, starting with small things…like cutting in the lunch line, or tripping the new 6th graders in the hall. If nothing happens, they escalate. At my middle school, the principal is at least good about that: He cracks down on all bullying, so we don’t have the rougher stuff. Excluding kids – which is girl bullying – is harder to stop. As parents, we can create enough pressure on the principal so that the path of least resistance becomes stopping bullying because it isn’t worth the hassle not to. I hope your principal retires soon.

  9. That this still happens so regularly and that there are places where little is done to change or stop it infuriates me. I hope that little boy and his family gets the support they need to heal and to feel safe again. And I hope to hell they are able to effect change in the school. T

  10. Another amazing, true, neccesary post, my friend. You said it all: this shit better stop! Unfortunately, humans being humans, that’s unlikely, but we will still do all we can to make it so. I am very, very glad that Jake is in a sweet, supportive, self-contained special ed school, well out of any bully’s reach during his school days.

  11. While my six year old son (who has both Down Syndrome and Autism) isn’t bullied at school and we’ve had a phenomenal experience there, he is being picked on in our community. By grown men who call him things like ‘mong’ and the R word every time they see him.

  12. The sad thing is that our children are born with open hearts and open minds. They don’t see color or differences until it is pointed out to them. Until we can turn around the prejudices and mis-guided beliefs of the adults who teach and preach hatred we will always have an up hill battle. It is good what the schools are trying to do. If the parents who do care and the schools keep trying we have a chance, our kids will have a chance because every child we can help to see differently will mean another light to lead the way for others. We just have to try our hardest to keep trying to show how much more alike we are than different.

  13. On a cute note.. To show you how our kids are “blind”. When my oldest son was in kindergarten he was so excited because he made a friend who he said was his twin. “Mom you would never believe it. J and I have the same hair cut, and our eyes are the same and everyone says we have the same smile! We MUST be twins”. He would come home almost every day to tell me what he and his twin did that day. He would point out all the things they had in common. “Mom J and I have the same first Initial!”, “Mom, J and I both love baseball.” “Mom J doesn’t like ham either!” and it went on and on. I couldn’t wait to meet this boy who was so like my son that he thought they just had to be twins. It wasn’t until a couple months later that I had a chance to go to the school to help out. The kids were coming in from their gym time and I scanned the group to try and find who my son could be referring to all this time but I see no one that looks just like him. My son sees me and comes running over- “Mom, I want you to meet J.” and as he calls out his friend’s name a young boy comes over to us. “Look mom – don’t we have the exact same smile? we must be twins!” and standing, smiling a big smile, next to my pale skinned, blue eyes, blond boy is a young dark skinned, brown eyed, brown haired boy smiling his biggest smile. “Yep” I said “choking back a tear “you are right. You guys do look like twins!” and off they went … two boys who couldn’t be more different in appearances but with identical hearts and eyes – yep.. twins. We need more of them …

  14. I am reminded of my own childhood. I was bullied for eight years in school, one through eight. This was back in the sixties and seventies. Nobody helped. My father tried to teach me how to fight but it wasn’t in me. Now, I am overly sensitive to my boy being bullied. Thank God, I don’t see any evidence of it and he’s not said anything… but I worry because his communication skills are not where they should be… but he seems okay with school. Still it’s the first thing on my mind and it really should be, as long as I manage to keep it to myself… I really don’t want him being burdened with this innate fear I have. I love your blog, Jess.

  15. As much as I would love to see bulling stop, I think that it’s part of human nature. (It’s part of the whole the strongest fittest survive instinct) Bulling is being taught and reinforced to all the kids whether or not they know it. It rears it’s ugly head in the movies that are being produced, in the violent games that our children play, and the reality TV that they watch. Our kids think that “REAL LIFE” is all about whatever we as adults allow them to watch, or listen to. How many times do you see kids on TV “standing up for themselves” with there fists? Girls today are not taught to respect themselves. They are being groomed by reality TV starting withToddlers in Tiaras”. Snookie is a role model. How many times have they seen ANYTHING about Lindsay Lohan. >> When was the last time you saw boys fighting on TV??,,, now, how often have you seen the girls bashing each other???? hummmmm TV programming is dark and violent. As adults I can make the choice to watch it or not. I know that most of it is staged (fake) I don’t think our kids do. They don’t know that it’s all for the almighty dollar. >> We have Disney or Nick on when the kids are home. I’m trying to raise non violent children. Switch it to another channel and it’s a whole different story.

  16. I’m going to take some time to work on a comment, because I can’t pull this one together on my iPhone at 6:05 am. My son was descended upon by a 3/4 year old pack of wolves in a bouncy castle at a birthday party 4 days ago. Kids from his preschool. He has asd. Two sat on him while 2 punched him. 1 in the face. The door was too small for me to get in to my boy. I was frantic. How did you know to write this today? Thank you.

    “The other mom is openly crying now”… Yes, she is.

    • I am so sorry your little one had to endure that – my heart is so sad for him, and you. It’s something I worry about all the time. I hope he’s doing ok and that the little monsters responsible for it go in HUGE amounts of trouble. that is so not ok!

      • Thank you A. He is okay. I think he thought it was funny or their way of including him, which is a whole other side to my worry that he doesn’t know what is okay…

  17. Just breaks my heart. Makes me not want to put my baby girl out there…but keep her home forever. :(. Beautifully written as always. It needs to stop.

  18. I feel this one so much. I honestly don’t understand why people have to be so cruel to each other. I mean, I guess it is human nature and all, but why do people have to make someone else small to make themselves feel big?

  19. So terribly sad….. glad that our school district spends so much time on anti-bullying campaigns and education. For all those who help each other and stand up for one another, I am forever grateful. Hopefully, my boy will have a kinder, happier experience then the poor child you spoke of because of it. I think we have to educate, educate, educate!!!! and hope to God that the parents at home drive the same message home to their children. I know I do!! Thanks for another great post.

  20. Thank God you’ve posted it here, where parents mingle and gather and brainstorm. I teach in a school, and I can tell you that when I meet a kid, I can almost 99% tell you what their parents will be like. It comes from us. We can talk about the school- and my God, yes, the schools have to set the tone and reinforce and educate – but really, it starts at home. It starts with kindness in the home. Listening. Watching. Hovering over those manners. And talking, openly, about the things that thrill and scare kids. Those conversations are not for a slumber party, for kids to try out those confused feelings on others, but to be investigated and deconstructed at home. It’s on us, my friends. We need to send out strong soldiers, who know what the war is, and better, have an arsenal to obliterate it.

  21. That mom needs three moms who will go with her to meetings with administration, who will stand (or sit) in beside her. And if she needs someone else to speak while she regains her voice, they will speak.

  22. Ugh, I cannot stand bullying. And its not always overt teasing either.
    The parents can be worse than the kids too. I recently had my ASD child’s fourth birthday party, and invited the ten kids from his daycare the carers said he actually plays with instead of ignoring. One of the kids who was invited has his birthday around the same time. After she got the invitation, his mother saw fit to decide to throw a birthday party on the same and the same time (after my son had invited everyone already) and of course almost everyone went to the other kids party.
    How petty. Fortunately my son still had a good time.

  23. Jess, remember that this isn’t just a childhood problem. Part of the “all of us” who are in this together are millions of adults from minority populations of all kinds for whom things do not get better. The level of violence against, for example, disabled, trans*, and gay people, is much higher than for people in the majority. It’s not just a childhood problem. It begins in childhood and then follows people throughout their lives.

  24. I was bullied as a child. For wearing glasses and being in the school band. It’s a horrible and scary feeling, and I didn’t even get it that bad. I fear for Cymbie. She is only 4 now, and little kids are much moe accepting. If it happens to her when she gets older, I will make noise at that school. What’s worse is that I fear she won’t be able to tell me. All I can hope for is that she will, or that it never happens to her, but I’m not that naive, and kids are cruel. I hope we can all have a voice and affect change. We NEED to.

  25. It’s a huge challenge and one we all need to take up (yeah…I know – like we need more on our plates) because it doesn’t stop at school. We can be proactive and preventative rather than waiting for something to happen. I wrote a post on this recently after attending a conference session by Tony Attwood & Michelle Garnett. There’s quite a few strategies and recommended resources. http://lovemanytrustfew.wordpress.com/2012/04/20/the-mean-vs-your-kid/
    I hope this is helpful.

  26. This fight starts with parents and family at home and then continues with teachers. If your teachers don’t have an all acceptance policy in their lives, it will show through. No matter how hard they try to cover it up, it will at some point in the year show through their facade and impact the kids. The worst part is when the teacher is the bully or “makes an example” out of their students. Because then they are showing that bullying is the okay answer when you get upset or don’t like something. Another person who needs to be firm against this is the recess supervisors, who have a tendency to fall short in my expirence. Jane Elliot is a gutsy teacher who risked a lot of public redicule to teach her third graders acceptance. You can watch the documentary here: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/divided/etc/view.html
    Since then, there have been many teachers who dare to step out into the unknown and not so forgiving space and try to teach understand, compassion and acceptance. Where as I do not agree with the procedure Jane took in her class, many of the kids said that it made a large impact on their lives and are greatful to her for it. With each day we can either move towards acceptance for all, or not. Its our choice and I for one, choose to take steps towards acceptance.

  27. This took me back to some of the bad old days, when I was the target – too fat to miss, too slow to run, too weak to hit back.
    I’m even slower now, but I’ve got a quicker tongue… and no compunctions about saying what I think about what I see.
    I’m going to reblog this, too.

  28. Our middle school does so much to try and address the problem. And I think it’s fair to say the kind kids far outnumber the bullies. But yet the few bullies who are savvy enough to evade reprimands (and even the few who are reprimanded again and again) can and do make life miserable for some.

    My sixth grade Aspie son got a taste of it recently, thankfully the fact that he has a couple friends has given him enough confidence in himself to not get too worked up about it, stand tall and try to shake it off as much as possible. However, the saddest thing about the situation is the fact that he is fairly accepting of it and feels it’s inevitable. That to me speaks volumes about how far the culture of the school still needs to go.

    And for what its worth, it was easy to figure out who the bullies were based on who their parents are. That too speaks volumes about where the problem originates. It’s most definitely not the school.

  29. My brother attempted suicide because of all of the bullying he had experienced. Thank god that was 6 years ago, and he is now a college sophomore, a brilliant comic, social activist, and a total badass. He has forgiven his bullies. He is a big person. I, on the other hand, still want to rip their throats out.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s