Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Bullying sucks

We had an assembly today.  I remember as kids there was nothing better than an assembly.  Mainly because you get out of class.  In fact, I think when we were headed back to class we felt a little disappointed, not because we had to go back to class but because the assemblies were usually a letdown.  Today's assembly was about bullying.  It seems that this year especially we have spend a considerable amount of time talking with kids about bullying and what they can do to help improve the school culture.  More than ever before it seems like this message is falling on deaf ears.  I think kids know all the answers adults want to hear when it comes time to talk about bullying and how to decrease those behaviors but I also get the sense that they are humoring us.  "Bullying can leave lifelong scars."  "The bullies do it for attention."  "The bullies may have sad lives at home."  Kids have heard this message before but they seem numb to the subject.

I don't think this means that kids don't care.  Why bullying is such a problem is a whole other subject.  Changes in technology?  Popular culture that glorifies and rewards the "mean kids"?  A numbness to the feelings of others due to ________ (absent parents, violent video games, high fructose corn syrup)?  Whatever the reason bullying is rampant in our schools, I think kids do care about the problem, it just is so very, very big.  If I'm feeling helpless, how must they feel?

The presentation was good today.  Fresh voice, energetic speaker with a story of his own, et cetera.  The difference today was that this was the first time I've talked about bullying as a mother.  Though I was sitting in a gym surrounded by middle school children, my thoughts the entire time were on Camille.  And I just felt like crying.  This ache settled deep in my bones for her and I felt like I couldn't breathe properly.  I had to really fight to stay in control because crying in front of a middle schoolers is really embarrassing.

I just can't take the thought that someone could be mean to her.  Someone someday might say something to her that hurts her.  Or scares her.  Or makes her doubt her worth.  The thought makes my skin crawl.  As I was listening to the presentation, watching video clips of kids at schools across the country, I started thinking about private school.  How much would it cost?  Could we consider that as an option to protect her?  But I can't protect her.  Not really.  At some point in her life, she is going to figure it out.  Even if I shelter her from reality as long as possible she will come across meanness in this world.  She will discover eventually that not everyone is kind, not everyone is considerate, not everyone cares about her feelings.

I don't know who my girl will become.  But I pray with all my might that whether butcher, baker or candlestick maker that she be kind.  That she cares for her fellow man.  That she have empathy.  I pray she'll embrace diversity and respect people when they are different than she.  And I pray that somehow, we'll teach her how to respond when she realizes that not all rest of the world is like that.

The assembly did speak to me about my own actions and behaviors as well.  On the drive home, another driver "merged" into my lane in a way that should better be described as "barging in without looking at a really unsafe speed and with total disregard for lines on the road and traffic laws".  I believe I said something to the affect of, "nice driving, jerko."  Little ears will soon be in the car with me and will understand not just that what I said was mean, but also how easily I judged, criticized, ridiculed and condemned someone who made a mistake.  I treated a total stranger as if he had no feelings.  And I do it all the time.  How can I expect my daughter to respect people who make mistakes, to be courteous to others, if I toss insults around without a second thought?  How can I expect my daughter to be sensitive to others' feelings if I laugh and joke at TV shows whose entire purpose is to mock people?  Just because I don't know someone personally doesn't take away my responsibility to respect him or her.  I need to clean up my act, and quickly.  She can't talk yet, but my baby can hear.  She can understand.  And she is learning every day about the world around her.