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?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Life is good

Walking out at Niles
Crazy busy lately with life. It looks like Paul will have not just one, but two job offers this week. Nothing written in stone yet but it all looks hopeful and very promising. Fingers crossed!

Casey is in the midst of the competitive gymnastics season and has meets most weekends. He's already qualified with his all around scores to go to the State Championships and it would be very surprising if he didn't make it to the Western Regionals as well. Those are being held in Reno this year, so we've gone ahead and booked a room and are planning to go.
Casey with a team trophy
Riley finishes up basketball season this week with his school team (they're currently tied for first place) and his spring track season is ramping up. Riley gets to try high jump this year and he's all excited about that. The boys are not only getting good grades and doing well in school but they're good at their sports. It's a happy-making thing, even though it feels a bit odd at times to have two kids who are good at most everything they decide to try. I'm sure there will be difficulties in the future for them (and me) to deal with, but for now they're doing well and it constantly amazes me. I know I didn't have such confidence when I was their age, so it's great to feel like they are more assured and capable than I was. They do have to work at things, of course, not everything is easy for them, but they seem to have enough inner strength to move on through the disappointing failures and keep going to get better at things. I'm not even sure where they picked that skill up but I'm really glad they seem to have at least the kernels of it inside.
Casey on rings at Stanford
How do we learn those skills of picking ourselves up and trying again, getting good at something and being unafraid? It can be so hard sometimes to pick up and keep going, maybe especially so as we get older and more cynical. These little guys, they still believe they can do anything, and their future is wide open. Myself, I find my thinking about my own future much more narrow in focus, more restricted by outside demands- like making sure these guys get what they need to turn out well in the world. 

Figuring out what they need to turn out well is harder to know, of course, aside from the basic essentials. But what is essential? Food, shelter? Love, support? Teaching them to break a big scary project down into smaller bite-sized pieces? It's really not just a matter of telling them they're great all the time, certainly, which seems to be popular in child raising circles right now. If you tell them that everything they do is great, how will they know when it's time to try again and do a better job of it? Not to mention the possibility that they could turn into smug little gits who think their farts are golden. Blech. I admit I am one of the parents who believes in a solid grounding in reality, as in, sometimes it's good for you to fall flat on your face in the mud. Then maybe just play in the mud for awhile. And then pick yourself up and try again.
Anyway. I need some encouragement myself to get up and try again. I have ideas but I haven't been following through on them lately, and if I'm really honest with myself, I'm often afraid of failing and don't even start, and I tell myself that I'm too tired, I don't have enough time, I'm too busy with everybody else's needs, there's no point because then what will I do with it all? 

I think I may need to break down my ideas into smaller bite-sized chunks so I can face them. Or maybe I just need a good smack upside the head, and somebody telling me to go ahead, it's okay, just get up and try it again.