About Me

San Francisco, California
I am Ethan and Chase's Mama and my man's Sugar. I have flown a plane, driven a race car, and been pushed out of a train. I have swum with dolphins, climbed the Untersberg, and thrown tortillas in more than one location. I have great arms and a law degree. I hate housework. I can't iron. I love my dustbuster because I occasionally allow my kids to eat off of the floors. I wish I were taller and for my boys to grow up in a peaceful world.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

How do I keep my boys safe from the mean kids?

I keep revisiting a terrible memory. I was in the second grade at a Catholic school. The school was one long block away from my home. Sometimes I walked to school with a little boy who lived half-way between the school and my house. Like me, he was small. He was also quiet and good-natured. We weren't particularly close - I don't think I ever went to his house for a play date - but we got along and were classmates. Since we were going the same way to and from school, we simply went together.

He was tormented by the other boys in the class. My friend, I'll call him Nicholas, wasn't a fast runner. I remember him tripping over his feet a bit more than the average kid. I recall he was not especially bright, but not behind academically. Sometimes he showed up at school dirty, his hair uncombed, maybe with his nose running. I did not know much about his family, only that he had a little sister and one of his mother's legs was shorter than the other. When she walked the kids to school I could recognize them from a distance because of her lopsided gait. His dad had a blue-collar job. My dad was a professional. These kinds of distinctions between families were important to my mom. She made sure that my siblings and I knew about them, even when we quite young.

I don't remember if the teasing started in the earlier grades, or if it started out mildly and then got worse. I do know that he was regularly picked on. He startled easily, as if always afraid that someone would take a cheap shot at him from behind. They did that, by the way, flicking his ears and kicking him when he wasn't looking. Cowards.

One day, a group of boys really went after him. They were on the playground. I was on the blacktop. I saw maybe four of them running after him, kicking him, tearing his clothes, and eventually pulling him down into the gravel. I watched as he screamed "NO! NO! NO!" over and over. I don't remember how it ended. I don't remember an adult's involvement. But the sound of his screams and the vision of him beaten with his clothes torn are burned onto my brain.

We did not walk home together that day. I didn't tell my parents what I had seen until I tried to go to sleep that night. Only then, I could not stop crying about it. I told my mom. I named names. I still remember who two of the bullies were. My mom called the teacher that evening. I heard her on the phone but could not understand the conversation. I fell asleep.

Nicholas and I stopped walking together soon after the incident. I guess it was because we were getting to that point in childhood where girls have to play with (and walk with) girls, and boys with boys. Nicholas was never beaten up on school grounds again, to my knowledge. He was still teased. He continued on with these kids through the 12th grade. I actually left the school after the 6th because, imagine this, the social pressure from the girls in my grade was wreaking havoc on my self esteem. I am eternally grateful to my parents for taking me seriously when I told them I wanted to go to the public school. They let me go (and on a silly side note, I met my husband there!)

But now that I have two little boys, I can't forget how one sweet childhood friend was targeted by bullies. These bullies were little kids themselves. How do I keep my boys safe from the mean kids?

My eldest is a gentle boy, similar to my childhood friend. I hate that I worry about him, thinking that I am selling him short, but in order to sleep at night I try to make a list of Nicholas' differences from my kids. I rationalize that they aren't like him so they won't suffer the same fate.

My eldest is bright and extroverted; he will introduce himself to anyone and tell them that he's 2. My baby, I'm not yet sure of, but he seems to have a little linebacker in him. Nicholas was average, quiet, and not inclined to sports. Did he have a mild speech impediment? Or am I inventing that memory to make his difference more distinct?

What about differences in his family and upbringing? Was his dad involved? Did his mother give him attention? Too much attention? Did all her loving him make him too gentle? Are my hugs and kisses making my boys too soft? Do I need to sign them up for karate instead of Music Together? Was it the mother's difference? If I keep myself fit and in make-up, will it be easier on my kids? Is it the money? Would more money help? And what of the runny noses? If I never send my kids to school dirty, then will that be enough?

I know this sounds crazy. My kids will have runny noses. There will be mornings when I will have to send them to school with their hair looking like a rat's nest and with a handful of Cheerios for breakfast. I have a penchant for baked goods, so my fitness as the years tumble forward is far from guaranteed. Sure, we could try karate. But I'm not going to stop kissing my boys from top to bottom, letting them wear my high heals and paint with my make-up, teaching them to cook with me in the kitchen, and singing with them for as long as they will let me.

Then again, for the sake of keeping them safe from the mean kids, should I? Toughen them up, I mean. My husband tries to allay my fears by explaining that all kids lose their innocence; all kids are teased for something. But not all kids are beat up. The teasing, as painful as that can be, doesn't keep me up at night. It's the Lord of the Flies stuff, the death of the kid with asthma and glasses at the hands of other kids because he couldn't keep up or acted differently.

I want my kids to be who they are. I want to celebrate their uniqueness. But I'm scared to do it. I'm finding that I want to make little normaltons out of them because I am so afraid that they will get hurt.

How do I let this go?


  1. I've thought about this a lot too. I have two boys as well and I wonder about them getting teased or treated poorly. I was teased as a kid and I still remember the hurt I felt all the time.

    My boys are 5 and 7 now and I have to say that they are just fine. They get there share of bullying but that seems within the normal realm.

    Louie seems to get it most from the girls who have a crush on him. It's a little hard for me to get the scratching that the girls do to get his attention but it is the norm of growing up.

    A fantastic resource on this is a guy named Kim John Payne. He's done tons of work on bullying and how to help kids through it.