Iím almost too sad to write this article.
The troubling words at my fingertips are mired in sorrow and helplessness. Have I raised a child so that one day I might find myself watching his world crumble under the weight of another 12 year olds venom? I can do nothing to help. He tells me, ďYou donít understand.Ē
Were our grade 7 bullies as vicious as the ones I witness destroying my son? Yes, and we did survive the torment, but I still remember the bully more than I remember the kid who offered me part of their sandwich or dessert at lunch break. I donít remember the face of the girl who helped me pick up my books, when I fell, or the boy who held the door for me, at a time I couldnít pronounce the word chivalry.
But I remember my bully. I remember because I have been catapulted back in time by a series of events that have reached epic proportions in the mind of my son. I am back in the school yard, reliving the twisting of my insides as I wait for the belittling words of a sweet-faced young girl who has chosen me to dislike. Then I am back in my parentís home, hearing that never, never, never going back to school is not an option.
I did get tougher skinned. I did learn the words to fight back with. I did apply reason to understand another personís hatred and venom. But still, as my son tells me, I donít understand.
There is a face that comes to mind, when we hear the word bully. Our bully has a speech problem. He is bigger than the rest of us, meaner than the rest of us, and the teachers and parents run in terror when he enters a room. Our vision of him lowers his IQ 30 notches and lets us outwit him with our eloquent speech and amazing comebacks that have him scratching his head in confusion. We can outrun him because his immense girth makes him lumber along in a ground shaking lope. Our bully can be taken down by a well placed trip wire or a bucket of water over a door. We always win because we are ďthe good guys.Ē Our vision of a bully is a cartoon.
My son is right. I donít understand. I donít understand because my vision of a bully is not the one he sees before him in the school yard. His bully is just a face in the crowd,
with freckles and an endearing smile. His bully speaks to me with artificial, and sometimes genuine, respect as if I am the perfect parent. His bully, however, can also lay waste to a fellow classmateís total self confidence with hatred I could never imagine even from my worst enemy. My son has done nothing to this child to warrant this kind of viciousness. He is just the bullyís next victim. A gentle nature is a magnet for abuse.
I donít understand because anything I do to help will only make his life more miserable and fuel the bullyís hatred. The schools can take a child who swears, or hits, into an office that doesnít seem to frighten anyone anymore, and they can speak of ďzero tolerance.Ē They can hold assemblies with counsellors addressing the situation and have yard monitors watching for tell-tale signs of impending harassment. But the bully knows how to hide and the bully isnít listening. Meanwhile his victims feel alone. They are scared. And their families feel helpless.
Every school morning brings fear to these children. Every morning we send them into battle without any armour or protection, because our hands are tied and it is they who have tied them. ďIf you tell anyone youíll ruin my life,Ē they say, pleading for our silence. I watch the large eyes of my child, who is old enough to know the answers but too young to believe them, putting on his coat, knowing what torment he may face and bravely stepping out into the world. And I am so proud of him. Does the bully have his courage?
I have spent so much of my childrenís lives counting moments of helplessness and frustration. I have had to fight back the protective instincts that pour through me. It starts with the first steps, as we let go of the tiny fingers. Everything inside me screams to not let go. But we must so they may grow strong and independent.
But I stand now looking through glass. I now spend my days watching through the window as they get older and I have never felt so helpless in all of my life. Yet, I am not alone.
The suffering is still visible in the eyes of my friend when she speaks of what her own son endured at the hands of a bully. Tales of her familyís bully echo my own and it frightens me. Bullies can ruin lives.
I remember the times I was allowed to be their hero. I remember chasing away the monsters in the night, magic kisses to heal the hurts, and I remember the touch of a small hand in mine as we faced the world together. I remember understanding every bruised feeling and how I lay the invisible shield of protection over my children.
But I watched through the glass in the door as my children went off to school, that first day. I watched through the window as they stepped outside alone, for the first time. I watched through the window at road hockey games, skateboarding, bike riding and rollerblading and I was always poised and ready to rescue them. But the glass was thinner back then.
My children today are at a threshold of their lives and they impress me beyond my wildest dreams. But I am no longer allowed to be their hero. And all I can do is watch out the window, through glass that is thicker now. I canít get to them even if the instincts to protect win out over the need to let them grow.
And it is our family that has a new bully, for what he does to my son he does to us all.
The school yard is a world of adolescents and we are not permitted into that world. We can observe, we can relate, we can hear the sad stories, but itís a world we are not to enter. And the door is shut by our own children, the ones we need to protect but arenít allowed to. Their justice system is harsh and the punishment for letting a parent enter the society of the school yard is more torment. So our hands are tied. And the glass in the window gets thicker.
I am watching for my son to come home from school. I am standing at the window, looking up the street to see if the shoulders are straight or hunched over. I will measure his step and look for a bounce and my heart will fall if I see him shuffle along, with his head down, again. And if I see the tell-tale signs of the torment he has endured, I will be almost too sad to write because I cannot reach him the way everything inside me screams that I should. I can work to build his self esteem back up, I can try to make him like himself again, I can praise him and talk to him and listen, but the most obvious salvation is beyond my ability. I canít stop the bully. And I canít reach my son.
The window is between us and the glass has become unbreakable.