Wednesday, February 29, 2012

affirming and insulting all in the same day

So I have awesome friends. I have dear friends who live far away and whom I miss terribly, and some whom I've known for many years who are close family. And I have developed friends who live here, nearby, where I can see them regularly, and it's a very good thing because they affirm me as a person.
That sounds so new-agey, I know. Friends, good friends, real friends; we talk and listen to each other and hear between the words what is and isn't said. We care for one another, we try to support each other. Yesterday was a day where some of my friends made a special effort to affirm me, to tell me their own perceptions of what kind of person I was, after I tried (embarrassingly badly) to give some of my own perceptions of who I was.
I am really bad at describing myself in front of other people, it turns out. I uncomfortably gabbled a few phrases like 'I'm pretty creative', or 'I need more patience' or 'I wish I were thinner but I'm too lazy to work hard at it' sort of stuff. Pathetic, really. The fact that this was with women I trusted and respect only made my own self-criticism worse, probably; it meant that my vicious inner critic felt safe enough to emerge and say some of those horrible critical things out loud. Not pretty. But get this: my friends came right back and told me all sorts of wonderful things about me that they perceive about me, and I found myself profoundly moved and touched by their love and support.
They said good, solid, positive things that were all true, and I realized even as it was going on that I was having trouble taking in what they were saying and retaining it all; my brain wanted to set those complimentary things aside as not being a part of me. Obviously it's hard for me to hear positive things about myself. That may seem odd; surely we all want to be told nice things about ourselves, but it makes me uncomfortable and my tendency, always, is to try to brush compliments away in embarrassment.

And yet. To wave away a genuine, caring, positive comment about how someone thinks of you, to treat it as wrong or meaningless is actually really insulting the other person, saying their careful words and perceptions are silly or worthless. And I really value these women's views and opinions, so I need to think seriously about what they said and absorb their thoughts and take it all to heart, I think. That ugly specter of damaged self esteem is something I fight against every day. It cloaks itself in supposed humility and 'not giving myself airs', but really, it just becomes self damaging. And it's long past time to get past it and embrace myself and my own strengths and gifts.
Yesterday afternoon Casey came home and told me about this kid at school who sits next to him. I know this kid; I know most of the kids in the boys' classes because it's a small school and they've been there since kindergarten. And this kid is a problem for my guys and has been ever since he got held back in second grade. Big, bullying, but then when he gets caught or called on it he turns the story around and becomes the helpless victim who has been mercilessly bullied by the smaller, younger kid, made fun of because he was held back or whatnot.

So this kid sits next to Casey. Yesterday he grabbed Casey's crayons, taunted Casey to get them from him and broke them. He threatened Casey with the old 'what are you gonna do?' thing. Casey 'tazed' him (which is an attempt to poke somebody right in the nerve bundle in the side). After which the other kid said Casey had attacked him and retaliated by taking out a broken, sharp ruler and jabbing and stabbing at Casey on the arm, chest and leg. And then told Casey his mom was 'f***ing fat' (which Casey really didn't want to tell me). Casey retorted that so was his, whereupon the other kid took scissors and threatened to cut up his jacket unless he 'took it back'. Casey caved and 'took it back'. And then the other kid took a permanent marker and proceeded to mark up Casey's favorite shirt all over the chest and arms while kicking his legs. Casey doesn't lie about things, and he's so not a troublemaker in class or on the playground.
All of this happened in the classroom, while their teacher was on the other side of the room correcting tests, and he didn't see what was happening. It happened in stifled whispers and furtive movements. Casey did not raise his hand to try to tell his teacher, and he had decided not to tell on the other kid. He likes and trusts his teacher, but in his past experience, everyone always believes this kid when he turns the story around and whichever kid was actually the victim of the bullying would be the one to get blamed and get in trouble. This kid is very good at lying and persuading adults that he is the injured party, and very good at getting other kids in trouble. Bullying is taken very seriously in their school (which is a good thing), but it can result in the wrong kid getting in trouble, and getting a referral or even expelled. The kids (at least the good kids) take it pretty seriously. So Casey gave in to this kid, and said nothing until he got in the car and then he told me. And then we talked about it with Paul. At the very least I wanted his teacher made aware of what's going on and I needed this kid moved away from Casey. Man, when Casey first told me, I was so angry that this kid keeps getting away with stuff like this and that something like this happened to one of my kids, that honestly, all reason just flew out the window... for a good long while. Mama Tiger would have ripped that kid apart if he'd been around right then.
Well, the upshot is that we had a conference with Casey's teacher, and we all listened carefully while Casey told us what had happened, reassured him several times that he wasn't in trouble. His teacher made sure to tell Casey several times that he could absolutely come to him if anything like this happens again, and that what had happened to him was horrible. He will call the other mom and talk to her; this isn't the first time he's had to deal with her. He is aware of how she is and the tendency to excuse and explain away transgressions. The other kid will be moved away from Casey and there will be consequences, though we're not sure what yet. Casey has been assured that if there are any threats or retaliation that he's to come directly to his teacher, and his teacher will be watching carefully.

Bullying is such a complex and insidious thing. I know this kid and I know he isn't all bad, but he's had run-ins with Riley and Casey before. His mother is part of the problem; I've met her a few times and she doesn't really know me or Paul at all but her kid repeats things he claims his mom said about myself and my kids that are just wildly unfair. Apple, tree; short distance, I guess. His mom must be so proud. Maybe if I were able to be more kind I'd try to say 'well I'm sure she has a tough time and there are all sorts of things she has to deal with' but honestly, right now I just feel like, 'well, we all have tough things to deal with, that doesn't excuse it.'

Lots of people have tough lives. It doesn't ever mean you have permission to treat other people badly, like the right wing Republicans are treating women and gays and anyone who stands up to them. Maybe if someone had stood up to those grown-up, powerful bullies when they were kids in grade school they might be different people, though I wonder. Are some people just bad apples? Does it really depend on what tree we come from? Some people overcome bad upbringings, certainly. Can bad apples be saved?


  1. Oh gods. Can badapples be saved? I don't know, and it's to your credit that you even ask a question I would probably not voice. I've had a bellyful of standing up to bullies, and my priorities are to limit the damage they do, to me and mine and those around and all in their firing line.

    I've learned that it doesn't always work to stand up - alone. You have to find allies, somehow inspire people to stand up *together*. That can, and does at times, at least diminish the bully's opportunities and efforts. I don't believe it changes them. But, I'm talking about adult bullies here, in positions of power. And I'm talking about the people who allow them to remain there, because we're scared to speak out, reasonably, and because we don't like to make a fuss - less reasonably.

    Where does 'not making a fuss' turn into moral cowardice?

    Good for you for letting your Mother Tiger out. I am certain thay Casey is the better and stronger for it. Even when injustice prevails, to know it and name it for what it is validates our perceptions and strengthens us.

    And then I wrote 'Belling the Cat', which is now on my Bandcamp site. I haven't cracked the problem yet. I'm finding layers of bullies all the way up, backing each others' vicious behaviour and talking it down until the bringer of the complaint is depicted as a fussmaking and querelous weakling who likes to cause trouble.

    I'm not standing for it, not anymore. Don't you either. Power to your elbow, Bec, and hugs and strength to you and yours.

    Sorry if this came out a bit vehement. I'm still dealing with the c**p that happens when schoolkid bullies go unchecked.

    1. That's okay, you be as vehement as you want; I totally agree. I'm really sick of the adult bullies too, and the fact that so many seem to be in positions of power just boggles me. How is it possible they rose to these positions without anyone standing up to them? arrggh.

      *massive hugs*

  2. ... and once again our lives intersect, whilst thousands of miles apart.

    I had a knock on my door on Sunday morning from our old neighbour. Her daughter is in the same academic year as Ellie, but due to how the numbers worked is almost a whole year older. And bigger. And a downright bully. She's the Queen Bee and she knows it, and picks on the quiet kids to boost her own reputation. Ellie is one of the quiet kids. The other girl has been forming cliques and purposefully excluding Ellie, whilst getting the other clique members to taunt and bully Ellie. E. has no idea how to treat this, so I told her to play with different kids, and that this girl wasn't allowed round to play anymore.

    I started to stammer out an apology and was suddenly overtaken with a feeling of complete outrage. So I told her what I thought of her daughter, and why I didn't want her in my house. I pointed out that I knew *exactly* what it felt like to be bullied, and whilst I wouldn't allow my son to come round and flatten her daughter (as he'd said he wanted to), I would certainly not tolerate that behaviour towards my daughter. I pointed out that we all deserve to live in an atmosphere which does not feel tense and scared.

    She apologised. Faced with the absolute truth and someone not prepared to back down, she apologised.

    But if her daughter bullies my daughter again, I'm supergluing her f***ing locks whilst she's asleep.

    1. Good for you, telling her mom exactly what was going on. Maybe she'll go back and try to work with her daughter to improve her behavior, who knows?

      I had to specifically talk to Riley and tell him he couldn't go and beat this other kid up. He was so mad that his brother was being tormented by the same kid that got him in trouble last year. It's good at least that Casey knows we're all behind him. And good for Eliie that she has a protective older brother and you and her dad as well. There's nothing quite like that feeling that people who love you have your back. :)

      *more hugs*

  3. re: bullying. ARGH!!!! What a horrible kid. And as you say, just because he may have had a hard life doesn't give him to treat Casey (or anyone else) that way. Grrrr.

  4. Thought-provoking post, truly. (thanks for pointing FB to it, Debbie) Side door thoughts: Sounds like a rough situation - quick question though - if kid is "repeating" what is said about someone, though they seem to know very well how to push buttons, could as easily be making these things up, to push people away from scrutinizing the situation. Any possibility of grabbing another parent or two, including this mom, just for a coffee - a few times? Sometimes knowing your parents actually KNOW each other, a kid finds the fog lifts and he no longer gets away with lying about one party to the other. It fails as often as it works, but at least the kid gets a message - we see you clearly. And YOUR kid sees support, from the greater community.

    1. That's a great idea, though I've met the mom before and I doubt she'd ever have coffee with the likes of me; she's a big part of the problem, having gone to other moms to tell them that my guys are the bad kids and they should keep their kids away from us. It would really help if we could actually talk to her like reasonable adults and clear up all of the misconceptions and bad blood floating around. Thanks for the idea!

  5. Great article! I was once accused of being a bad tree that my apple (daughter) fell from a few years back. That was one heated phone call with one misguided mom who, like the mom you are dealing with, redirects and pulls the "not my kid" card. And she called me to discuss all this! Granted if my kid is being a brat, I call her on it and punish her. I don't allow her to treat others poorly, nor do I think my kid is an angel. Most kids act up from time to time or make bad choices. Sigh, it never ends, but it seems you handled it well. And as a side note, that daughter (with whom my daughter was not the only one to have issues, nor was I the only Mom) is now friends again with my daughter. So hopefully the apple can change, but I'll forever be skeptical of the tree. Sadly it all stems from low self-esteem and I try to pass that message on to my kids. That and the fact that I tell them I'd beat their hides if they treated anyone else that way! (Not really, but there would be hell to pay!)

    1. Yes, exactly! It's so helpful to hear this, actually. Thank you.

  6. I like the mama tiger. Every child needs a mama tiger, whether she is THEIR mama tiger or not. :) I think if that woman faced a mama tiger, perhaps her bullying would stop too, because that's what she's doing to you.

    Love you!