This post has been brewing a little while, but was inspired by the bloggess’s post today on Constance McMillan .
When I was in college, we had to read this book, Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott. It’s her journal of her son’s first year (in a book! Because we didn’t have Mom blogs then. Can you imagine?). I’ve pulled a lot of inspiration from this book over the years and would highly recommend it (no, I’m not being paid to say this. I read/bought this book in 1996. If anyone would have considered paying me to say anything, I would have. Hell, it was college – I would have stood on a corner juggling it in a clown suit for money. That was not on the table). I haven’t read it again in a long time, but there’s one thing that stuck out to me at the time that’s been coming back recently.
Lamott’s pregnancy was not planned. She was not married and wasn’t sure how she could support a baby and was very conflicted. But it wasn’t just those issues, she also notes that part of what’s hard about having a baby is KNOWING that that child will one day have to be in the 7th grade. Because the 7th grade is awful. (You can replace junior high on the whole here and possibly high school, but I think you know where I’m going.)
For me personally, she hit it spot on – junior high was that low point. The point where your self esteem is so fragile and where I felt so unpopular and unloved. This was probably true before 7th grade as well (ok, not probably – definitely – I was unpopular!), but I think junior high is probably where you’re really starting to seek more affirmation outside yourself and your family (I don’t know – ask a shrink! I’m guessing.). Oh, was I ever unpopular then. Luckily, my school was discriminatory enough that even with less than 40 of us (we graduated 39 in 8th grade), there was a large unpopular clique(I guess I should say discriminating enough) – at least 6 or 7 girls (because boys and girls didn’t REALLY mix too much yet – a little. With the popular girls.), so we still had some strength in numbers. (There were really 3 groups among the 20 girls, so at 7 (wait – EIGHT – I forgot someone!), we were a full third of the class. Ironically, we weren’t even the smallest group.) Now, to be fair, maybe it would have been possible to transcend my nerd status – some girls did move groups (with difficulty), but I was shy enough to feel like I needed to be invited. I remember at one point, when one of my friends decided she didn’t want to be a nerd and wasn’t going to hang out with us anymore, I decided I could do the same. And I actually did (she never did). I stood on the outside of the popular circle on the playground for two weeks at lunchtime. And, to be fair, no one told me to get lost. They didn’t include me in their plans or really let me play their reindeer games, but they weren’t all that overtly mean. Not the girls anyway. I remember some mean boys. I can remember one day wearing my denim jacket and feeling super cool about it (it was a hand me down from my cousin – this wasn’t the sort of thing my parents were wont to indulge me in. Oh, and it was what? 1987? It was way cooler then – and probably replaced my purple Member’s Only jacket, so there!). I had a hard rock café pin stuck the lapel – to add to my coolness (again, dude, 1987! Really – it wasn’t that cliché yet). Two of the boys noticed the pin (and hadn’t heard of Hard Rock… yet!) and started saying how I wouldn’t know anything about rock (ok, that’s actually totally true… still…) and then said I smelled like shit (that one – not actually true).
Oh man, my inner child is still cringing. Cringing about boys who were stupid. Who knew nothing. Who I wouldn’t recognize if I saw them on the street tomorrow. Who are totally unimportant to my life today or anything about who I am (unless – I hope they’ve maybe made me a better person who learned not to say mean things about people for no reason – the hard way…).
But now I hear the stories that are happening to kids today and mine is absolutely – SO WHAT? Because that is NOTHING compared to what kids are doing to each other now. Maybe part of it is that I got lucky – I went to a girls’ high school where none of my classmates went (so none of my history followed me and honestly – girls are a lot nicer when boys aren’t around). Yes, there were groups and sure there were some mean girls mixed in – but really, there weren’t the same types of cliques. And though I may never have been the most popular girl in high school, I always had people to have lunch with. And I always felt like there were lots of friends around – both in school and through groups outside. And in the end, I haven’t thought about 7th grade in a long time.
But I started thinking about it again when I knew I was having a baby. Because the truth is – I think it’s always hard. Possibly, it always has been. But as I watch the news, it is SO MUCH harder now. I’ve seen these stories about YOUNG kids (11 and 15) committing suicide in Massachusetts due to the beyond excessive bullying. Bullying that schools seem to know about. Hell – there was that story about the girl who was bullied on myspace by her schoolmate’s Mom! I want to say where the hell are the parents? The administrators? But if you look at the Constance McMillan story, they are there – supporting or even instigating the harassment!
How on earth do I begin to protect my child from that?! And most importantly, how do I teach her how wrong it is? I feel like my choices start to become – raise the asshole who bullies the other kids or raise the kid who is bullied to the point of brutality. Because NO ONE is stepping up to stop this stuff. And the truth is – I HATE those choices. (And refuse to go with either one.)
But there is room for me to take heart. And it’s in my husband. My husband has long told me stories of how as a big kid (he’s 6’4 and a fire fighter now, so I think he was the better part of 6’ when he started high school), he didn’t put up with bullying (and he didn’t bully – possibly because his Mom would have kicked his little butt!). There was one time, in defending the small kids, he actually got in a fist fight with a kid a few years older – but much smaller (which the playground guard let happen – probably because he’d been wanting to kick that kid’s butt for awhile too). That kid didn't bully the smaller kids again.
He reminded me just yesterday of why this makes him a good parent. We were out for a walk last night and passed some kids (junior high age). One said something and the other responded –“Nobody cares. Nobody cares about you!” My inner 7th grader cringed again – wanted to go hug (but not in a weird way!) the one who’d been yelled at, but felt helpless. My husband’s inner 7th grader must have said, we don’t have to put up with bull (or maybe it’s just his inner parent)! He stopped and said – “That’s not nice! You shouldn’t say that to people.” As we walked away, we heard one of the kids saying – oh, you just got told!
It all made me realize that I can’t be a part of the “no one” stepping up (because wasn’t that what I did when I didn’t say anything there?). I need to start to be a voice – in all the little ways I can when I hear this stuff. It won’t change the world, but it CAN start to form my daughter into the person I want her to be. The person who does stand up! Who doesn’t go along with the terrible things that other kids may want to do! And, if she does wind up on the wrong end of bullying, a kid who realizes that bullying is WRONG. That it is NOT her fault and there are people to go to / people who will stand up for her and people who love her. Hopefully, she will know that this is true of us, as her parents, regardless. But I’m actually not talking about us here – I’m trying to say that by being an example, she can know that we are just that - ONE example – of lots of possible good in the world.
OK, I know this was long and not my usual style (and a second post today!). But I needed to say it today. Thank you for listening.