I was talking with M at work today and he said he was shocked to learn that, in a poll done of California’s 5th graders, a whopping 48% reported being harassed at school. Let me repeat that: 48%.
Sadly, I was not shocked, mostly because I’m still traumatized by grade – and middle-school and the mean neighbor kid who lived down the street from us.
Son J came home from daycare a few weeks ago and described something that happened. A kid called him weird and pushed him down. At a loss for what to say exactly – I thought I’d have to deal with this bullshit in middle school, not fucking kindergarten! – I told him if he’s called weird again to just walk away. The next day I asked him how school went and he said two kids came up to him and called him weird. I asked what he did and he replied, with a bit of a proud smile, “I yelled, ‘No I’m not’. And then I walked away.” And it hasn’t happened since.
I worry about him. I worry about him a. because he’s my kid and I love him and I don’t want anything bad to happen to him, and b. because, well, he is a weird kid. He’s smart and funny and observant, and let’s face it, ours is not a society that values any of those things.
Knowing that J is going to grow up to be about the size, or bigger, than dad J, we’ve really tried to teach him to be kind and to take care of those around him. You should see him with the neighbor girl, D. She’s 2 years younger and he watches over her. But the downside to this is that it makes him rather easy to steamroll over. Where’s the balance? At what point can we say, “Ok, now you can start standing up for yourself”? And is that going to be yet another thing he can be teased for? While I know that the neighbors appreciate his kindness it is yet another trait that our society and the world at large does not think is worthwhile.
I told J to simply walk away when he’s called weird, but I know realistically that it’s not always that easy, or that simple. At work, a place I love and where I have people who genuinely love me, I got called weird. I got called weird in a very mean manner in the break room, and managed to walk away without incident, only to end up in the bookkeeper’s office crying my eyes out to my friend M. I’m 43, and God knows I’ve been through all of this before, but it still hurt so much.
Perhaps that’s the upside. Son J doesn’t have the perfect parents who had blissful lives. Hopefully J will know that whatever advice we give him on dealing with mean people comes from experience. We know how much it hurts and how hard it is. It might not make it any easier, but he will know that he’s not alone.
Post Script – And just to be very clear, at some point I will be doing this, as well. Because the day I flattened the mean neighbor kid was a highlight.