Kyle and Eli were each doing their homework. I was sitting next to them. Somehow our conversation led us here:
Me: “What do you guys think of bullies and bullying?”
Kyle: “Don’t do it. It is mean. And you know you have a good friend if they will stick up for you.”
Me: “What are bullies like?”
Kyle: ”Bullies are liked the little deformed guppy (I have no idea what he means by this). They are always mean to you just because they are.”
Eli: “If you win something that you can share, then all of a sudden the bully will be really nice to you because they want what you have.”
Eli continued to tell me that bullies are people who are not your friends and that they are only nice to you if you are good at sports. Really and more specifically, they are only nice to you when you are playing the sports you are good at, you can make them look even better by helping them win.
“Son. You have figured out humanity. Really. You have.” I responded and then thought to myself because what I was thinking was way too cynical to fill the head of a ten year old boy, “Make people feel good about themselves. Of course the kid only likes you at sports. Thank God you are good at sports or your life would really suck. You help him look better because it is all about him winning. Yes and tell him how awesome he is. Then he will always pick you on his team and because he always picks you, the other kids will eventually see that you are cool too. Oh and ignore others who are being hurt by him. You do want to get into that mess. It will only draw unneeded attention to yourself. Be a Sycophant! Most importantly, only tell the bully what he wants to hear.”
With all the literature coming home from the Middle School, all the papers I have to sign and am supposed to review with Kyle, we are being inundated with the hard topics: drugs, sex and addressing every angle of the huge bullying problem. Last night we were at a friend’s house for a yummy dinner. The boys were in the other room playing Wii and the adults sat around the table talking. When my friend asked me, “Did you see the paper that came home from PE? You had to sign it and review it with Kyle.” Ok, in all honesty, I remember signing a yellow paper because Kyle said something like, “You need to sign this, but don’t worry about reading it. We talked about it in class.” The boy slipped one past me. I know. As awesome as I am [wink wink], I am sure it is not the first time.
Here’s the deal. I would like to think of myself as a very involved and checked in parent. I would like to think that I can ask my boys about sex, drugs and any other uncomfortable topic. I always know that before they completely shut down and cover their ears with their hands, we will make it through. The boys know that Dave and I always have their backs. Of course, I would like to think that I was the mom who always was there, present and checked in. Yet, as our dinner hosts continued asking and talked about the Yellow Sheet that came home from PE, I knew, or at least I guessed, that I had dropped a very big ball. The Yellow PE Questionnaire talked about uncomfortable situations (like being at a party where there are drugs and alcohol and what would you do). It also talked about bullies (something the boys and I talk about all the time). Then we all talked about the protective bubble we have kept our sons in. Middle School is the time where the bubble begins to burst.
Since they were scooped from my womb (c-sections both times) I have thought a lot about bullying and how my children deal with it. See, having two Thor-sized children often puts said Thor-sized children in a position where they are perceived as the bullies. Yes, my guess is that there have been enough times where my boys have used their Thor-sized bodies to get what they want. Come on, I have seen them Thor-size each other. I also have witnessed the many times where they are trying to do what is right and some other kid (always smaller because my kids are huge) flies under the radar (nothing against the small either).
Case in point: it was second grade. Eli forgot his pullover at school. He was cold. He loved his pullover and did not want to lose it. He asked if we could go back to class and get it, so we did. As we walked into class another mother was there talking with Eli’s teacher. I sensed their shock, surprise and horror as we walked into the room. Immediately the teacher and the mom started saying things like, “Oh, are you here to talk about what happened? You know, my son did not mean to do that. I am sure it was an accident. I think Eli just got in the way.” What I really think they meant was, “You are not here to kick my son’s ass, are you? It is Eli’s fault because Eli is big. Eli’s big Thor-sized neck got in the way and shoved itself into the wall. My son just happened to have his hand on Eli’s neck.” (Thank God the teacher saw the whole thing.)
Stunned, I responded, “No. We are just here for the pullover.” We found the pullover, awkwardly waited because I could tell Eli’s teacher now wanted to speak to us, the mom left and I asked, “What was that about?” And apparently it was true. The cute small child had grabbed Eli by the neck and shoved him into the wall. Eli does not like to tattle and I had no idea. There was no call home to me. The teacher told me how calm Eli is and how it really is true. The smaller kids like to “test” Eli. “He yelled at Eli, would not stop, grabbed hm by the neck and shoved him into the wall.” We all wondered if there would ever be a day that Eli fights back. I guessed not because Eli knows he will always get in trouble. I agree. See, I was a loud, tough girl and always was in trouble for fighting back. People could say nasty, nasty things to me, but because I was loud, big and physical, I was the one, the only one, who ever got punished. I did not know what to say to Eli. I secretly hoped one day would push back. I think he has, at least with his words. Dave and I have told him that we would have his back no matter what.
We continued talking about the Yellow PE Sheet. I knew that I would be talking to Kyle and we did. As we drove off I opened my mouth, “Hey, uh, so Kyle, I heard about this Yellow PE Sheet. Did I sign it?” I had indeed signed it. Dave piped in with, “Kyle, we want to know what you think. Mom asked you what the sheet said,” and I inserted, “and Kyle, you said just stuff,” to which Dave inserted, “We want to know what you think about the stuff? What do you think about being somewhere where you feel uncomfortable?” And I continued, “Do you feel comfortable getting yourself somewhere safe, a place where you can call us? What do you do about bullies and mean kids at school? Are you ok?” Kyle was not thrilled, but he and Eli both assured us they would call us and get help and that they would keep us in the loop about the mean kids. I hope they do.
Life is much more gray than black and white. You can be a bully while also being bullied. You can drop the ball as a parent because it is late, your kids did swim team after school and homework is the last thing anyone wants to think about. You know you cannot micromanage your kids because you will paralyze them and you also know that you cannot put your kids on Auto-Pilot because you will cripple them. Where is the balance? Bullies are out there; so is sex and so are drugs. Keep talking and keep working it through.