It’s amazing what you remember when you realize you are raising a child that might as well be yourself. For me, it’s my oldest.
My oldest is funny. Like, really funny. And she’s sarcastic to a fault (I still have NO idea where that came from). And she’s brilliant, well-spoken, honest, and fun. I see so much of myself in her that I worry for her, and I want to protect her from all of the things.
Yesterday was a big day for us together, and it wasn’t one of those good, celebratory days. It was heartbreaking. To start, I almost broke down into tears when she told me about lockdown drills at her school, and she explained to me that there are bad guys with guns who can come into her school and shoot them. And they have to be quiet or else the bad guys will find them, but then at the drill three of the kids wouldn’t be quiet, and she was afraid if it were real, and not a practice drill, that they would be hurt. They were told they did not do well because a few kids were loud, and she knew what that meant; they failed at simply practicing to stay safe.I was stunned. My eyes burned with tears as I drove; my voice threatened to fail me as we discussed the rest of her day. I had no idea what to say, so I talked about how her teacher will do everything she can to make sure no one gets hurt, and the school has super protection in place to keep all bad guys out anyway. My heart sank into my socks as I realized she knows fears I never knew. We never had to worry about these things when I was in school. There were no shootings in schools. No bad guys with guns came anywhere near schools. No, for me, the bad guys were in school. And their weapon of choice wasn’t guns, it was their mouths lobbing their bullets at me in the form of words, teases, taunts. And I so don’t ever want her to feel like her bad guys are inside of her school, no matter what weapon we are talking about.
I was watching her yesterday at an event at her school. It was some big Fall party with inflatables and a magician and the like. I watched her interact with other students, some of them her friends, others not. And it hurt my heart. A lot. And not because there’s something wrong with her or anything. The interactions didn’t go poorly. But the fact that she has friends, and conversations with them, and this life I don’t know because she isn’t with me all day for me to protect her, broke my heart. I thought back to the conversation in the car on the way to the school, and I looked around. I do not want this school, with its amazing teachers and staff, its clean walls and shiny floors, to be a place where she isn’t safe. It made me ache to think back to my own school experiences, and Lord knows, so few of them were pleasant.
She stood in line waiting for a balloon animal, and she was eating her snack that they had given to the kids. And watching her standing there, alone in a line of children, just minding her own business and eating pretzels was one of the saddest things I have ever seen. And it’s not because she wasn’t talking with anyone. I was so sad because she’s me. She is who I was 20some years ago. And I remember how hard elementary school, middle school, and hell even high school were for me. I was not popular. I was a loner of sorts, but this was not because I wanted to be. I wanted friends, desperately. But socially, I was (and still am at times) totally awkward. People made fun of me, bullied me, because I was smart and had no problem showing off. I wasn’t super attractive, so I was called ugly. I was treated as if I were the plague. I didn’t know how to handle the bullying, so I cried a lot. I spent a lot of time alone by default. This was my entire school career, through 12th grade. There was no end; I knew no way out. I was bullied for the way I looked, talked, acted, was perceived, and I was even given a nickname as a senior in high school that accused me of being a male/female transgendered person. Words truly are like weapons that wound sometimes.
It was every single day. I did not go through one day without something being said to me. It started in Kindergarten with a child poking me in the eye with his pencil and whispering, “Ugly girl” and it went into my senior year of high school where I was voted Band Queen as a joke, and classmates laughed at me for weeks until I demanded my name be removed from the ballot, as everyone told me it was a joke, and I refused to partake. It escalated because I was laughed at even when I tried to stand up for myself; when I walked away I was taunted loudly, as if I was deaf just because I wasn’t facing them. Nothing hurt more than being inside those walls, and it hurt worse when so-called friends would join in, not defending me, but tormenting me as well. I had crushing social anxiety, but I told so few people. I didn’t need to tell anyone; oftentimes, my reputation proceeded me. And I had some good friends, but I had some not-so-good ones as well. I was so desperate for anyone to like me that I never really spoke up to them, never really demanded anything from them. And that was good; they gave me nothing in return. But we’d hang out still after; I just didn’t want to be alone anymore. There were so few I trusted, and the ones worth their salt are actually still in my life now. I could never figure out WHY I was so hated, but that didn’t matter. I was young. The fact that I was hated was all I needed to know.
Now, those trials defined me and made me who I am. And they make me want to ensure that my children never feel that way. But seeing my oldest last night, quietly chewing pretzels, looking around to see if a friend would come by, cleaning out her teeth with her tongue…it broke my heart to realize that she may feel like I did someday. I will not tell her to change who she is to fit in and to fit anyone else’s definition. I want her to be loud and proud and her goofy, smart, hilarious, beautiful self. I don’t want her to be so afraid of rejection, name calling, ridicule, and other kids’ reactions that she forgets who she is and that she matters. I did that, and it didn’t help me deal with the tormentors one bit. I was called every name you can imagine, and I can still hear some of those kids calling me names. And she has been called names already at the age of 6. It fucking pisses me off how cruel kids are, but I can only instill in her confidence (she says these kids don’t bother her because she knows she’s awesome, but I am sure the words hurt) and make sure she knows how amazing she is. Kids are so mean to each other, and I am tearing up writing this, but I can only hope to protect her in any way I can. I have lots of advice to give her, lots of words of encouragement, and I can only hope that my experiences help shape the way I parent her. She is my twin, through and through. She looks like me, acts like me, and sounds like me. I just hope she doesn’t go through her life as I did; I hope she stands tall in her own strength. I was never encouraged to stand in my own strength; I had no clue that I had anything at all worth standing in. But as her mother, it will be my job to remind her, and her sisters, everyday that they have strength that they can use, and the bullies will never win.
This is my job: to allow them to write their stories without the pain that mine was riddled with.
To remind them that they are better than what others deem them.
To ensure they are strong, and that they believe they matter.
To make sure my experiences are not theirs…
But, if they get hurt, to be there for them
To be their champion, comfort,
And I pray they stand strong…
Now, the fight against the bully that is standardized testing is a whole other animal, and one that I am REALLY afraid of for all of my children. However, that’s a blog post for another day…