Tag: bullies

My Trashy Neighbors Part 1598

(Writing from September 12, 2010. The neighbor I wrote about giving the kids marshmallows as an after-school snack would later encourage her daughter, who was overweight, much taller, and a grade older than my son to bully him for being neurologically atypical. Try to act surprised.)

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My weakest subject in the school of parenting is socialization. I’m shy, and this simply does not work when you have a very outgoing little boy.

My 4-year-old son is in kindergarten with other kids 8:30-2:30, five days a week, and still wants to play with someone when he gets home. I was a loner kid, and don’t understand this at all.

I am home alone during his schooling, and often feel I could use more alone time. I have almost always lived alone, since I moved out at 17, and in relationships, often stayed at my own place for space. I require a lot of silence, yoga, and long, centering walks, so as you can imagine, motherhood has turned me into a nervous, twitchy mess. It’s a living.

So here’s my neighborhood dynamic: we have a few nice moms with a 2-3 kids each on my street. We tried group play dates for awhile, but that petered out after a few months when one mom decided that we were close enough friends to start coming over to my house unannounced, which I find nervewracking and rude. Call me southern, but my mama taught me better than that.

I finally started completely avoiding her after she came by unannounced to leave her baby with me because her husband accidentally took the carseat to work with him, and she needed to shop for a birthday present for her mother. I’m not even kidding.

First of all, babies scare me. I know that now that I’ve had one, I’m supposed to be over my fear and grab any squirming infant that I stumble across, cooing with confident glee, but it didn’t happen. I have no baby experience other than my son, and was relieved when he came out of me weighing 9.5 pounds because it made him seem so much less fragile than other newborns. I’m not a baby person. I’ve accepted this.

Secondly, this particular baby was hugely attached to his mother and cried nonstop when anyone else tried to hold him – even his own father. And she knew this, because she’s the one who told me.

Thirdly, who does that? I don’t think she even knew my last name at this point. Who just leaves their kid with someone they don’t really know? Here, lady across the street with whom I’m on a first name basis, please unexpectedly take my child who will cry nonstop while I am gone and watch him for a few hours. Enjoy!

When I told my husband about it, he said, “Why couldn’t her husband just drive the car seat home during his lunch break? That’s what I would have done.”

Right?

Anyhow, that was the end for me. Plus, with my 1 kid to their 2-3 each, I was really never going to win at the trading babysitting services game, was I?

So I stopped answering the door when she would knock, and excused myself out of the playdates.

The part that makes me feel like a motherhood failure, though, is worrying that my son suffers because of my social weirdness. I don’t want to play nice with the neighborhood mommies, but these are the people with children, so he is deprived of playmates. All because I don’t want high-maintenance friendships with women that will eat into my precious alone time. And because I don’t want to watch other people’s screaming infants, with no notice, for free.

Can you blame me?

So with this in mind, a few evenings ago, when my son was begging me to play with the neighborhood kids across the street as they raced down the sidewalk on their bikes, I let him. I put on his helmet, helped him cross the street with his bike, and away he went.

I dragged a fold-up canvas sports chair into the front yard, stuck a beer in the cup holder (my husband was home – I don’t drink on the job otherwise), waved at the moms a few houses down across the street to whom the gaggle of children belonged, and tried to relax.

Within seconds, I noticed my son had stopped biking with the other kids. I stood up to see that he was hovering near the mothers, drinking something. Sighing, I walked down the street and crossed the road to see what he was holding.*

It was a Capri Sun. Which I never give him because it is high fructose corn syrup and water with a tiny splash of juice thrown in so they can very largely plaster WITH NATURAL JUICES on the front (http://www.cspinet.org/new/200701081.html). I was annoyed, but realized they were just trying to be nice, since the other kids had the drinks, so I thanked them. (Yes, I’m a non-confrontational pussy. I think we already covered this.)

I allow occasional treats, and don’t want him to grow up with a later-in-life addiction to sugar because he was deprived as a kid, but there is so much high fructose corn syrup in everything that I make a point of reading all labels and buying the versions of foods that don’t use it (HFCS-free peanut butter, jelly, ketchup, and juices, for example).

I don’t think they should have given my child something unhealthy without asking me. I would always make someone else’s child run and ask their mother. But then I was the socially-challenged weirdo sitting in my own yard rather than hanging out with them, so I wasn’t really there to be asked. Fair enough.

I told my son that I would keep the drink for him and he could come over to our house if he wanted to drink more so he could go back to playing. Because I am a very polite liar. I walked back to my house and threw the rest of the Capri Sun away. We were going to have dinner in a while and I didn’t want him to be full of corn syrup water.

I sat back down to observe. Within minutes, my son was missing from the bike gang again. I stood up and noticed he was holding a bag of something and eating from it. I figured it was potato chips or something. Again, not a food I keep around or give my kid, because at his age, they don’t eat much. When he does eat, I want it to be good quality food so his growing body gets the nutrition it needs.

(This seems blatantly obvious to me, by the way, and I am constantly shocked by the junk food I see people feeding young children. Gee, I wonder why health problems related to poor diet and obesity are such a growing problem in our country?)

I let it go on a few minutes, thinking he’d get bored and put the bag down any minute, but I soon realized he was just going to town on that bag of whatever. He was going to completely ruin his appetite for dinner, so I once again got up and ambled down the street to investigate.

It was a bag of marshmallows. Motherfucking marshmallows. My son was shoving mini-marshmallows into his mouth as fast as he could. When he saw me coming, he knew the jig was up and started cramming them in faster, until he could no longer talk without spitting marshmallows.

Best part: the woman who apparently gives her children marshmallows as a snack was just telling me a few minutes before about how her husband is having heart trouble and diabetes-related issues. This woman has a college degree, so I was blown away that she couldn’t see the connection between her horrifyingly unhealthy snack selection and poor familial health.

So my son had high fructose corn syrup water and marshmallows for dinner that night because he wasn’t hungry anymore when we got home. Gross.

And I decided that, mommy guilt be damned, that is the last time I’m going to let him hang out with the neighbor kids.

Yes, because I am flawed and psychologically uncomfortable hanging out with people I don’t know simply because we have procreation in common.

But also because I love my son, and I want him to grow up knowing how to eat healthfully and take good care of his body so he won’t have weight issues, heart problems and type 2 diabetes.

It has finally sunk into my thick skull that no socialization is better than negative socialization. I’m not failing at motherhood, as I feared. Not at all. Because every decision I make is based on what’s best for my kid.

And also, these are not my people. These are my trashy neighbors, and I don’t have to hang out with them simply because we bought homes near each other. I can choose my friends based on who they are, not their location.
Eat yer vegetables, kids.

xoxo.

 

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The Kids Are Not Alright

(Writing from September 20, 2011.)

 

I’ve been upset by the distraught Facebook status updates of a friend for the last 24 hours or so, because I can relate to them, and because I’m really upset for her. And I’m pissed off about what’s happening to her daughter at school because it has happened to my son. And my son has been kind of dealing with the “boy version” of it lately. And because, like my friend, I don’t know how to handle it or what to do. And this is partly because I can’t be next to my child, or inside of his brain, guiding him on what to say and do all day long at school.

I’m being cryptic. I’ll try to explain.

My friend has a little girl the same age as my son, who started kindergarten this year, like my son. She is a bright, glowing little light; one of those outgoing, happy, sparkly little kids who likes to sing and dance, and is a friend to all she meets.

Both of our kids share an adorable lisp on the ‘R’ words (acceptable/age appropriate until first grade, according to his kindergarten teacher, no worries) and a super-sensitive, heart-on-the-sleeve disposition. I am not a proponent of corporal punishment for children, but for my son, this has never even been an option regardless of my distaste for violence against those smaller than us, counting on us to keep them safe. I look at him sideways and he bursts into tears. We have no need for spankings. He already has more empathy than most adults I know.

My son is very similar to my friend’s daughter, which is why I could immediately relate to her distress over how her daughter was being treated by the other kids at school. You see, other children aren’t always as kind as our kids.

When my friend’s daughter runs up to other little girls on the playground and innocently asks them if they want to play with her, these little baby-bitches ignore her and turn away. My friend has been hearing about this from her daughter, and has watched it with her own eyes. And it’s breaking her heart.

As the momma of the most earnest little open-book-boy in the world, I have seen the same thing happen to my son on the playground, and I’ve watched him shoved to the ground by other little boys, and I’ve gotten him off the school bus, with a tear-streaked face, and asked him why he’d been crying, only to have him show me his scraped up hands and bruised legs, and tell me that an older boy on the bus violently shoved him out of his seat, to the floor, on the ride home. And like my friend, it is breaking my heart.

My husband has had to talk me down from spilling the blood of those who’ve wronged my boy, because obviously, I can’t be with him all day at school, and on the bus. And I can’t go around beating up third graders. He tells me that boys are different from girls, that they are more physical than girls, and I’m going to have to get used to my son being shoved, pushed, and hit all of the time. That’s just how boys interact, he tells me.

Well then why doesn’t my boy interact like that? If all boys interact this way, then why doesn’t my boy shove, push, and hit?

Oh, yeah. That’s right. Because I’ve taught him to keep his hands to himself. Because I guess I stupidly thought that was what I was supposed to be doing, and I thought that was what everybody else would be doing. I thought I was supposed to try to raise a kind human, with empathy, who used his words instead of his fists to communicate with others.

Silly me.

And I’m sure my friend with the also kind and gregarious daughter probably thought she was supposed to raise her daughter to be accepting of others, to be open to new friendships, and to have good manners when approached by her peers. Because I thought that too.

And I have seen my sweet kid run up to other little boys on the playground, saying, “Hi! Do you want to play?” and watched in horror as a little boy immediately shouted, “No! Go away!” causing my son’s face to crumple in sadness.

And in addition to the breaking of my heart for all of my fellow sensitive empaths in the world, like my son, and my friend, and my friend’s daughter, I’m starting to get really, really pissed off.

Like darkly, darkly angry.

Because it’s not the fault of these rude, cliquey, pushy-shovey, or otherwise poorly-mannered children… they are what they are because nobody has been teaching them to not be that.

I’m pissed because I have tried so hard to teach my son to be a gentle little boy that I did too good of a job. He is getting pushed around by boys at the bus stop, he is getting shoved around on the bus, he is getting hit at school.

And I’m watching the mothers of the shoving, hitting, pushing kids do nothing.

And I’m wondering where the fuck the teachers are when this shit is going down. This shit that makes my son come home from school sad.

So I’m experiencing the cognitive dissonance-producing phenomenon of knowing violence isn’t the way we solve our problems with others, as civilized humans. All while choking down the mother animal inside of me who wants to tear the throat out of anyone hurting my child.

Parenting is not for the weak. Oddly enough, physically controlling myself in the face of those abusing my child is the biggest challenge I’ve had to face as a parent. Not parenting, but other people. Other people are my biggest parenting challenge.

And that’s fucking ridiculous.

Just teach your kids to be decent people. Jesus. Why is that so much to ask? Don’t be an asshole, and don’t raise more assholes.

Do better, humanity.

 

 

 

 

Retaining Your Power: The Legend of Bitch Tit

bt

***

Recently, my artistic 9-year-old son wore a Knuckles the Echidna costume to school. Knuckles the Echidna is a giant red cartoon character that looks nothing like an actual echidna. He’s a character from the Sonic the Hedgehog book, videogame, and animation enterprise with which my son is obsessed.

On the way to school, I tried to prepare him for teasing and frustration, because as a woman in my 40s, I wouldn’t know what in the hell he was if I saw him, were he not my son. I told him, “You understand that I only know who you are because you’ve taught me, and echidnas aren’t actually red, nor are hedgehogs actually royal blue, so people may not know who you are today, right?”

“Well actually a lot of my friends like Sonic the Hedgehog, and…”

I cut him off, “Son… not everybody is going to know who you are today. Are you okay with that? You need to be. Your teachers, for example, don’t all know about Sonic the Hedgehog and the characters.”

“Yes, Mom,” he replied, but I could tell he thought everyone would immediately know his character and be as excited as he was about it. And yes, his obscure favorite superheroes are annoyingly hard to find every Halloween. This is the costume I found on Amazon:

knuckles

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I picked him up after school, he wasn’t wearing the Knuckles the Echidna head, a piece held on by Velcro, with long, red spikes hanging down.

I asked him why he took off the head. Did he get hot?

“I took it off for self-esteem reasons,” he replied.

After deciding “for self-esteem reasons” will now be entering my personal vernacular because I kind of love it, I asked him what he meant.

“Some of the kids thought I was a court jester or a SQUID,” he answered, in a mortified voice. “They kept calling me squid even after I told them I was Knuckles the Echidna! ‘Squid, squid, squid,’ they laughed at me. It made me mad, and they kept calling me squid all day, so I finally took the costume head off!”

I wish he hadn’t done that.

He gave up his power to a few silly little mocking boys.

I thought I’d coached him better.

I constantly tell my child, “The person who cares the most has the least power in any interpersonal interaction or relationship,” because this is a very basic yet powerful fact of human psychology.

But he’s only 9, so when I explain to him that if you walk away from toxic people and bullies, you hold onto your power, he doesn’t fully understand.

On the ride home, I told him that when kids are unkind, if you let them get a rise out of you, you’re giving them exactly what they want: stimulation and power. The best way to ruin all the fun for a bully is by giving them no reaction. Or if possible, laugh along with them. A bully can’t laugh at someone who’s already laughing at themselves. What’s the fun in that?

I shared the idiom “never let them see you sweat” with him, and asked him if he understood what that means.

“It means never let them see they’re getting to you.”

“Right, son. When you got visibly angry today over the word ‘squid,’ you gave those boys exactly what they wanted from you: a reaction. Next time, just laugh. If you’d said, ‘You’re right! I can see how this costume looks like a squid, too!’ they probably would have moved on. But you got mad. You gave them the power. If you don’t let people know they bother you, you hold onto your power.”

And then to further illustrate my point, I shared with my son The Legend of Bitch Tit.

Telling a child this tale may call my parenting choices into question, but it felt right at the time, so judge freely. I’m not here to win any parenting awards.

(Do you see what I did there? I don’t care if you call me a squid. Call me a squid-parent again. Whatever. Power retained.)

***

The Legend of Bitch Tit was a story told to me by an ex-boyfriend. This ex-boyfriend was the shortest male I’ve ever dated at barely 5’10” (I’m 5’9”) and slightly built, yet he was completely confident about his size. He encouraged me to wear high-heeled boots or shoes, even though they made me taller than him because he told me, “Tall girls have presence. Be proud of your height… it doesn’t make me insecure if you’re taller, it makes me feel like, yeah, she’s with me!”

I was amazed by his confidence. He was extremely intelligent (I actually saw him on “Jeopardy!” recently), and he’d learned early in life as a smaller guy that he’d need to find other reasons to be confident. Because nothing is more attractive than confidence. Nothing. So he focused on his strengths, and gave no power to what others perceived as weaknesses.

For the first time in my life, rather than feeling insecure about being a tall, awkward chick in a world of adorably petite waifs, I felt good. It was extremely empowering, and I haven’t lost that feeling. It was a wonderful gift, and I still feel proud of my height rather than embarrassed by it.

During our years together, he told me The Legend of Bitch Tit, because this person taught him about confidence, and the power of owning it.

Bitch Tit was a guy who went to my ex-boyfriend’s high school with the surprisingly common condition of a male breast (gynecomastia). Not male breasts, plural, but one male breast. And not the kind to be hidden by clothing, but a full, round, obvious breast.

Being the guy in high school with one large breast is an extremely unfortunate card to be dealt in a world full of insecure people who try to feel bigger by tearing down others. We all know that humans can be cruel, but especially the not-yet-fully-formed ones with immature brains and little life experience to teach them empathy.

So, yeah. This guy was very quickly renamed “Bitch Tit” by his sensitive and kind-hearted fellow students.

Did he get angry or fight the people who mocked his physical appearance? He had every right to be mad, after all. Being an adolescent boy with a single huge boob isn’t exactly ideal.

Nope, my ex-boyfriend told me. Bitch Tit didn’t let anyone see him sweat. He didn’t get mad. Instead, he laughed along with the other teenagers, like, “I know, right? I’ve got a tit. Isn’t it weird?”

Bitch Tit owned it.

And by owning it, he took away the power from every single person who tried to tease him for his difference. Because there’s no fun or psychological stimulation to be gleaned from someone who’s laughing along with you.

Even if you’re hurt by what someone is saying, if you act like it doesn’t bother you – or better yet, you self-confidently laugh along with them – you retain your power.

poweroveryou

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bitch Tit ended up casually called his offensive nickname—not ever making a big deal over it. Soon, the other kids accepted him and wanted to be his friend. His confidence and ability to hold his head high despite something that would make most people want to hide impressed his peers.

Bitch Tit was one of the most popular guys in his high school.

I told my son that Bitch Tit may have felt insecure about what the kids were calling him, and probably grew out of the breast as his hormones adjusted, or perhaps later had the breast surgically removed. Who knows?

But he never let mean people see his insecurity and take his power. He never let them win.

I told my son that the next time someone is making fun of him, laugh along with them, or at the very least, walk away. Never let them have power over you.

“Don’t let the jerks of the world win. Be like Bitch Tit,” I said.

And then I told him, “But don’t use the words ‘bitch’ or ‘tit’ at school, or you’ll get in trouble!”

***