As a mom to four young children, one of the things I worry about is bullying. It’s something I experienced first- and second-hand growing up and it’s something that, over the years, seems to be a growing, rather than fading, epidemic. It’s also something not easily forgotten. To be the victim of bullying, whether it’s physical or social, has a huge impact one’s sense of self. For me, personally, it was the subtler, typical girl behavior: I wanted desperately to be liked by the “cool” girl . You know who she is. Quite possibly she was you.
This girl would one day include me in her “club” only to turn around and shun me the next day because I didn’t have my ears pierced, or some such thing. Neglect to invite me to her birthday party. Or, when she was visiting the neighbor next door, also a classmate, they would come calling and when I ran out delightedly to play with them, they had already darted off and hidden on me, sending me home in tears.
A couple of years later, still in elementary school, a boy I liked dashed my romantic dreams when he began referring to me as the “new boy in class” after a haircut gone awry. He also called me “big lips” because of my…well…big lips. It seemed agonizing at the time and my heart aches at the mere thought of something like that happening to one of my children…or worse, that they might be the instigator. After all, I still think about it, thirty years later. I remember their names. I remember their words. Fortunately for me, I also had caring friends and a family that never let me down.
Worse, though, was the bullying my brothers suffered at the hands of the three boys next door, which may be still considered minor by some of today’s standards. I don’t recall that it got physical, but the name calling and insults reached epic proportions. I have a vague recollection of my mother shouting over the back fence to the other boys’ mother pleading for her to intervene, but her pleas fell on deaf ears. Eventually, we moved; I’m convinced this war waged across the yards was the motivating factor. I have no doubt that both my brothers’ penchant for using humor as a defense mechanism stems from those early years.
Well, something interesting happened today. I, quite randomly, came across the Facebook profile of one of those neighborhood boys. Turns out he’s all grown up. Married with children. Athletic. Important job. Nice-looking. Even charitable. It appears he also lost his mother to cancer several years after we lost ours. The boy grew into a man. I have no reason to ever reach out to this individual. Nor would I want to. But I can’t help but wonder if he ever thinks back on those days. Does he recall the pain he caused to those two young boys? Do he and his brothers realize they were responsible for uprooting an entire family because of their constant, hateful, hurtful behavior? I wonder what morals and values he will instill in his children.
As for the “cool” girl whose acceptance I yearned? I think she’s a police officer somewhere on the East Coast. Ironic, no?