Friday, October 10, 2008

WHAT Did You Call My Baby?!

Yesterday when I picked up the kids, Josie was uncharacteristically quiet. I asked what had happened, and she said that two kids in her class had been calling her 'a jerk and stuff'. I asked her why, and at first she told me she didn't know, but then it came out that one of them was laying across her desk and she didn't like it, so kept telling him to move. He and his friend then started calling her all sorts of things, apparently, and of course the teacher, who has no control over the class anyway, either didn't hear or didn't bother to do anything because there were more pressing problems going on.

A minute later, though, she said, 'oh, and now I know how you felt when the kids at school called you fat, because they called me that, too.'

If you happened to hear an ear-splitting rending of the earth into two pieces, that would have been my internal reaction to her telling me that. My entire, horrible, ostracized childhood came flooding back, complete with little Erik Anderson talking incessantly about my 'excess blubber fat' and having things occasionally thrown at me. Even writing this, I am mentally curled into a little ball in the dusty corner of my mind, rocking. My baby, my baby can't go through this.....

Of course, outwardly, I was all cool and calm, and asked her how she was feeling, and she said fine, so I asked her whether she felt any of the things they said were true, like was she a jerk or polka-dotted or fat or pin-striped (I added those last things in to make her laugh, obviously the little sh*ts urchins didn't actually call her those things), and she said that she didn't. She told me that she had tried to ignore them, but it didn't work, and she didn't go to her teacher. I told her that if she still had trouble, and wanted to go to her teacher, then she should go, because she deserves help and attention just as much as the brats children who get it all the time by being naughty.

As I was saying this, I was thinking about all the ridiculous things that adults used to say to me when I complained about being teased. They were things like, just ignore them (which will work for the occasional tease but not for the incessant badgering I received on a daily basis), or my personal favorite, he's only doing that to get your attention because he has a crush on you. Yes, I'm SURE little Erik had a thing for me, which is why he and his friends ridiculed me up and down the halls of my elementary school for five straight years. That makes PERFECT sense. However, I also began to understand why they said those things to me. I was hurting, and really, there was nothing they could do to make me feel better, so they told me lies. What I don't understand is how they ever thought that I would buy these lies coming out of their mouths. I mean, really. How stupid did they think I was?

In addition, I understood the value of these lies to the liar, because they prevent you from saying the things that are REALLY on your mind, like 'I'm gonna kill that little f*cker next time I come in there!!!!, or 'just wait until HIS turn for one-one-one reading comes around'. Because, of course what I WANT to do is stuff an entire bar of soap into their mouths. In reality, there's not a lot I can do other than coach her in ways to react, and ways NOT to react. This is harder than it used to be, because schools seem to favor bullies so heavily. I know that sounds strange, especially with the whole anti-bullying campaign thing going on in the country now, but it's true. I can't count the number of times that I've heard parents tell me that the bullying situation in their classroom was 'resolved' by the principal calling both students into the office and having the bully apologize for 'accidentally' pushing the other child. Also, I've heard a lot of stories from parents whose children finally either pushed back or yelled something at their teaser, only to be punished themselves because the bully, being more practiced at the art of not getting caught, hadn't been seen, while the pick-ee was the one who got noticed reacting.

What I finally came up with to suggest to her to say was, no matter what he says to her, is 'I'm fine as long as I'm nothing like you.' That's not a typical insult, it has no 'bad' words, and, being an unusual thing to say, will probably at least get their attention. It was all I could come up with on the fly. We've dealt with bullying before, in another school, but that boy really DID have a thing for Josie, and was pushing her to get attention, in addition to calling the house wanting to talk to her, etc. The teachers wouldn't really help her, because they kept passing the buck as to who should deal with it - the recess teacher said that it was a classroom problem, the classroom teacher said if it didn't happen in the classroom she didn't want to hear about it, etc. In the meantime, Josie was coming home with bruises and scrapes from being shoved to the ground! That time, I had her yell out 'Here's Brian again!!! I guess he's still in LOVE with me!' whenever he came near her at recess. It worked like a charm - he was embarrassed, and left her alone after that. (This was the school I pulled her out of to homeschool for the rest of the year, BTW.)

This situation is more tricky. I'm hoping it was a one-time thing, but in that classroom, you really just can't tell. I probably will be spending some time with the offending boys when I volunteer, and if it continues, and Josie is OK with it, I will make it plain that I have their parents' phone numbers in the school directory, and I will be calling if I hear about this again, in the hopes that the threat to call their parents would stop them. Honestly, I'm not sure actually calling their parents would help, but the idea that I would do it might. Any thoughts?


Swistle said...

I think the whole problem with bullying is that NOTHING works, including telling the teacher, calling the parents, theorizing crushes, etc. Although I don't think adults are necessarily lying: as you found with Josie, some teasing really IS from crushes, and so it's probably not so much "lying" as "hoping."

I just read an interesting article on it in Wondertime, which said tattling only makes it worse, and that children should be taught to use a friendly tone to deflect all bullying in this style:

Bully: "You're fat!"
Child: "Oh, do you think so? Hey, what did you get for number 7?"
Bully: "Also, you're ugly?"
Child: "Really? Hey, do you think we'll play dodgeball in gym today?"

Or whatevs, but the point is that they're supposed to act like they heard the information but it didn't affect them except as a mildly interesting remark, and then they're supposed to go quickly to a neutral topic. In theory, this makes it less fun for the bully to bully them. In practice, my guess is that it doesn't work much better than anything else, but is almost certainly than the method _I_ used in elementary school, which was to get all red-faced and start crying.

LoriD said...

I think you're a smart mom to arm her with some good comebacks.

Both of my school-age kids have come across some mean classmates this year. It breaks my heart when I hear that they have been the target of mean comments or that they have been excluded from playing with certain kids. I know I can't (and shouldn't) fix everyhing for them, but I still try. In fact, I am expecting a call from Lisa's teacher today, as I've had enough of one particular little twit in her class. I don't expect that the teacher will do much more than have a heightened awareness of the situation and maybe watch out for signs of bullying.

creative kerfuffle said...

omg this pisses me off and makes ME want to beat the shit out of those kids for josie. plus, her teacher? she totally should be fired. seriously, not just because of this but hello---how are the kids supposed to learn anything if she has no control. i hate hate hate stuff like this--i too went through it in school, was the fat kid, etc. i love the comeback though, that's a good one. and the thing that kills me is that even if you did call their parents, they'd most likely do nothing about it. i know this is judgemental etc. but where do you think the bullies learn that behavior? at home. yes, i realize even good parents can have bad kids but consistent behavior like bullying is an attitude and way of thinking about people and treating people and that probably comes out at home too and the parents do nothing about it.
gah---i hate mean kids and their parents.
sorry, didn't mean to get all militant ; )

Kristi said...

Mean kids suck.

I don't know how I'm going to be able to handle this situation when Kaeli gets older.

I think you did the right thing. Give her a way to defend herself without resorting to the bully's level. I also like Swistle's idea. The point of bullying is to get a rise out of someone, right? I would think the bully would back off if their target doesn't seem to care.

Cherish said...

Oh no! This stuff sucks! I was bullied in school until I went to highschool and the pain has never left me. I do everything I can to keep my kids from being picked on for the things that I was. Problem is you cant control everything and your idea sounds like a good one for when it does happen. Josie sounds like a smart girl though and Im sure with your help she can get past this.

Also, I wanted to tell you how much I look up to you for parenting advice. You sound like the kind of mother that I really try to be. Thanks for the continued inspiration.

d e v a n said...

My heart hurts for her. :( I think you've gotten some good advice.

clueless but hopeful mama said...

Oh no. My heart aches for her. You could not PAY me to go through elementary/middle school again.

I have not advice. I do remember my mother telling me that people bully and tease others when they feel really lousy about themselves and I would just ignore the kid and say that over and over again in my head. It didn't stop the bullying but it insulated me a bit.

Kristin.... said...

Poor Josie. And poor you. I am dreading this stage. Meg has already come off the bus crying more than once because some girl (remember the one???) said she couldn't sit with her. I can't imagine what it will be like as she gets older.
I can only hope it was an isolated incident and that Josie isn't too upset about it. Hug her for me.