Okay, peeps, this one took me a while, so forgive what’s about to ensue.
Mean people suck. Honestly, if you ask me my number 1 pet peeve, that’s it. I can’t stand people who just can’t be nice. It’s pretty ironic then, that the biggest challenge this family has come across this year hasn’t been that deployment, but of bullying.
I was never the popular kid in school. My junior high years were spent in tears, hiding from the boys who made my life a living hell. I can’t tell you how many times I curled up in my dad’s lap, bawling, begging him to let me transfer schools, or how many times I came up with any excuse not to go to school. But he’d retired from the military, we weren’t going anywhere, and I had to learn how to deal with it. My idea of dealing with it was really to turn red with mortification, get down the halls as fast as I could, and ignore it when one of those bullies grabbed my yearbook and ruined it by calling me demeaning names all over the “sign-me” pages. I just choose not to look at that year.
Luckily, I grew up. I went to high school, made the cheerleading squad, grew a thicker skin, and found some of the best people that I am blessed to still call my truest friends today. I survived it just like countless other people do. It doesn’t make me brave, or special, or even a victim. It’s simply what happened. It’s something I try really hard not to think about.
I generally hate bullies. Seriously, there’s nothing worse in the world to me than someone who has to rip someone apart just because they can. There’s nothing honorable or humane about it. It simply makes you a bitter, angry little person if you build yourself up by tearing someone else down.
I swore up and down when I became a parent, that the same would never happen to my kids. But that’s the thing about parenting, you can’t control the actions of other kids, and sometimes, other little kids suck.
One thing about our boys? They may drive each other mad at home, but you mess with one outside of this house, you’d better bet the other three are coming for you. So the bully goes after Thor, and the next thing you know, it’s The Hulk in the Principal’s office for retaliating violence. Now, I have to say, at this point, the other kid swung first, so I’m kinda like:
Because… well… I’ve called, multiple times, begging you to do something. Anything, and you haven’t. The kid got violent, my kid ended it. If you have a problem with that, you should have paid attention for the last few MONTHS that I’ve called you. Yup.
Then the crazy thing? They still don’t do anything, and this kid just keeps coming back for more.
Right. But The Hulk is holding his own, he’s putting up with it and not retaliating when part of me is begging him to just knock the crap out of the other kid ONCE. Does this make me a bad mom? Maybe. But man, am I just sick and tired of the school doing nothing to protect my kid, and then punishing him when he protects himself. Luckily, but the time Christmas comes around, they move the bully out of his classroom, and I’m able to breathe during the school day.
Then, when Captain America faces some hazing’ish activity in the boys locker room for hockey? The Hulk leaves the cool-kids table and throws himself down as the sacrificial lamb, taking on whatever is getting dished at his brother, too. Because they are a team, no matter what the scenario. Amazing.
Now let’s move on to Captain America, our super-moral oldest. This kid, man, he’s got a heart the size of well… the universe. If there’s a kid who doesn’t have a friend, Captain America befriends him. When he turned nine, he invited this little girl to his birthday party, and I didn’t think anything of it – until her mother pulled me aside with a huge amount of thanks, saying her daughter had never been invited to a birthday party, and generally had no friends. It’s moments like that which make me take a second look at my children and see them for the extraordinary human beings they are. When I asked him about it, he just said, “Yeah, well, she’s cool, we can be friends.” Then he ran off to play like he hadn’t made a monumental difference. But he did.
So two years later, it’s now January, just shy of Jason making it home from this last deployment. Captain America bursts through the kitchen door, just off the school bus, and says, “Are you okay?” And I’m pretty stunned while he hugs me, shaking. I ask him what’s wrong, and he tells me that the same little girl was getting picked on by an 8th grader on the bus. *Let’s just take a moment to say that I think putting 5th graders in middle school, so they ride home with 8th graders on the bus is just FFFFF’ing ludicrous, but since I don’t control the school district, I’ll suck that one up.*
This bully is pulling the “You’re so fat your picture is an aerial photograph,” kind of crap on this not-so-tiny little girl, and I swear, I can feel her self-esteem crushing under the weight of his assholery as Captain America tells the story. So what does our Captain America do? He stands up on the bus, and takes the seat next to the girl, looks at the bully and says, “Leave her alone. She didn’t do anything to you.”
Now at this point, as I’m holding my ten year-old in our kitchen, I want to simply soak in the miracle that he is.
Now while I’m in awe of what he did, I can feel what’s coming next. That 8th grader turned on Captain America. He called him fat, which Captain America laughed at. Come on, he plays hockey 4-5 times a week. Have you seen the kid? Well, he laughs, which pushes the bully harder. He calls him things like dork, ugly, geek (he pointed out Captain America’s saxophone case). And when that doesn’t work, he turns physical and says, “I’m going to kick your ass.” Of course, hearing this, well, I’m just like:
Right, so when the kid threatens him, Captain America replies, “yeah, well, you don’t even know where I live.” Because apparently that diverts an ass-kicking? Anyway. The bully looks at him and says, “Oh yeah, well I’m going to get off the bus at your stop, follow you home, kick your ass, and then I’m going to kick your mom’s ass.”
And now I understand why his first concern when he got home was if I was okay. And I’m just…. livid.
So I squeeze him tighter, and tell him that I’m okay, and there’s zero chance of an 8th grader hurting me. Even though irrationally, I’d like to hurt the parents of that 8th grader. And then Captain America kills me with, “but dad isn’t here, and I wasn’t home. I was so scared he’d hurt you.”
So I try not to burst into tears at how worried he is, and instead reassure him and feed him, because you know… he’s a guy. I send him on his way and then call the school.
They suspend the other kid from the bus, but not until the head of the bus department says, “tell your son to tell the bus driver next time, he doesn’t need to put himself in harms way when someone else is getting bullied.” Wait. What?
Absolutely not. There is nothing I’m more proud of than Captain America standing up and stopping it. And at this moment, I realize how screwed up we’ve gotten as a society when we’re basically telling our kids, “hey, don’t stop injustice, just find somebody bigger.” What about when they ARE the bigger person. Why aren’t we teaching them how to be that bigger person so they’re prepared as they grow?
Now, okay, when I wrote THIS blog, it went insanely viral, and not all the reactions were good. I was told I was endangering my boys, yada yada yada, but I stand by this concept. I am not a perfect mother, not even close, but by GOD, I will teach my boys to stand and stop what they know to be wrong, not just let it slide. I would far rather get a call that one of my boys has a black eye because he stepped in, than try to build back up his soul because he knows he could have stopped something and didn’t. No, I don’t want them hurt. I would stand in front of my kids and take anything that could hurt them, but I can’t always BE with them. So I just hope I don’t raise the boys who stand by and watch the world burn around them.
And then it occurs to me, and I’m hanging up the phone, that my boys, these tiny little creatures, have more courage than most adults.
Even more than me.
You see, this deployment, I was brought to my knees by bullying. I was ripped apart by someone I loved, shredded, spit out, and then I opened myself up to have it happen time and again.
One thing I’ll say, is that it’s the people you hold the closest that have the potential to hurt you the most. Am I blameless in what initially happened? No. There are two sides to every story. I’ll own up: I said something careless about missing someone in my life, not realizing that would hurt someone else. When I did realize it? I apologized profusely. But, damage was done, all hell broke loose, and suddenly… well…. It was kind of like this happened:
Why did I let it happen for so long? Because I loved the person. It took until this moment, watching my little boys both stand up when I couldn’t muster the courage, that I realized just how silly I was being. I would tear down the school, an army, a hockey team for my boys, but I couldn’t stand up for myself? What was that teaching them?
Why didn’t I say something? Well, if you look back through the blogs, you’ll see hints of it here and there, but nothing definitive. Mostly, because I loved that person, and partly, because I was scared to death of getting bullied here, on the blog, most of all. And part of me was still this little lost puppy, begging for scraps because I was too afraid to let go of how comfortable my life had been before this happened, instead of embracing what it was becoming.
So I let it happen. And I cried, and I avoided going out. My kids lost a good portion of the friends that they’d had for YEARS through our unit, and Jason wasn’t home which meant I turned into a veritable hermit.
But standing there, watching my boys stand up to their bullies, and for the people who were getting bullied, I was truly humbled. So often I’m trying to teach them to be good men, when in reality, they’re showing me how to be a strong woman. And it strikes me, how much like children we adults are. How there are so few people who will stand up and say something when someone is being bullied and beat down. I have two friends, TWO, out of everyone, who stood up and said something, and it cost them their friendships with that person. As much as I am so immeasurably sorry to have caused a rift like that, to have cost them their seat at the cool-kids table, I am just as humbled. Thankful. They’re heroes to me, just like Captain America when he stood up for that girl on the bus.
And if my kids can stand up, then damn, I’d better.
When everything really hit the fan, when I was getting multiple people calling me telling me what had been said/posted/done, it took everything in my power not to lash out, to tell my side to everyone, but then Running Woman called and sent me this:
And she was right. So I held myself together, sucked it up, and remembered that what people say about you when they’re trying to hurt you says little about you, but a whole heck of a lot about them. And when it came down to it, there was no use fanning the flames. I just needed it to stop.
So I held my head high as much as possible, leaned on the people Like Mrs. Green Bay and Mrs. Back-bone and got through it. Because deep inside me was the jr. high school student getting called fat as she walked down the hall. How quickly those emotions can resurface when you’re bullied as an adult.
There’s something to be said for kindness, peeps. For the general decency of not saying something mean, simply walking away. Sometimes that takes more strength than firing back. Am I proud of my kids for standing up to their bullies, especially when I couldn’t? Yes. Lord, yes. But what I’d be even happier with are parents who STOP RAISING BULLIES.
Maybe the key is to love ourselves. Maybe it’s to love our kids, and teach THEM to love THEMSELVES. I don’t know. Maybe it’s a rite of passage, or just the evidence that no matter what, mean people will exist. I just don’t know. I wish I did.
In all honesty? When I see those bullies from Jr. High pop up as mutual friends on Facebook, I still cringe, and revert back to that thirteen year-old girl crying in the bathroom. I can’t help it. I can’t help what happened this year, not to me, Thor, Captain America or The Hulk. But I can say that I’m so proud of how they acted, how they held themselves above and stood up for themselves and each other.
We are a stronger family because of everything that’s happened this year.
And as we drove back from hockey this January, once the dust was starting to settle, and Jason’s return was imminent? This song came on my iPod:
Well, Aidan told me, “hey Mom, that’s my jam!” And once I looked at what they’d been through this year, I got it.
So I turned it up.
And we sang as loudly as we could.