Home > Communication, Family, Love, Parenting > My bully pulpit

My bully pulpit

I do not understand how parents can see pictures of kids like Ashlynn Conner and still say “kids are just being kids.” How can any parent not imagine what it would be like to never hold their own child again, over something that could–and should–have been stopped a hundred times over?

Taunt. Bully. Beat. Molest.

Ugly words for uglier actions, all inspired by the same beast: want of power.

These words aren’t just words for me. They’re images and memories, heartbreak and resolve.

When I hear the word “bullying,” I think of the parents who told my mom she was a horrible mom, comfortably and confidently in the vicinity of me and their own children.

When their children taunted and belittled in turn, it was hardly surprising. Like parent, like child.

It was clear to me that it boiled down to power. “Power” was being able to do these horrible things and just call it the natural order of things.

Someday, I vowed, I would be so powerful no one would dare try establishing dominion over me by coercion or cruelty.

I was in sixth grade the last time I was bullied by anyone who knew me.

I wasn’t bullied often before that thanks to what the class clown deemed my “hurkin’” muscles, but a few boys were undeterred.

One day, while others looked on, I told the worst of the bullying boys, “You keep this up, I will find your house, I will visit you at night, and I will make you hurt.”

I meant it. Oh, how I meant it. In expressing that meaning with words and bearing, I found my freedom from taunting.

My siblings were also bullied, but only one incident was so horrific to me that it bore documenting in my journal.

I asked my sister Madeline for permission to excerpt here the entry describing that incident. Since that incident was one of too many to count, I asked her how she survived many torturous years of bullying, from being called names  to having balls kicked at her head to being punched in the stomach repeatedly as one vicious girl tried to get her to break her smile. (She didn’t.)

She said that she came home and cried for hours every day. She cut herself and dreamed of throwing herself in front of cars to end her suffering. Without a hint of sentimentality in her voice, she told me, “If I hadn’t believed in G-d, I would have committed suicide.”

She persevered through the pain and is now days away from becoming a mother. Life, like the company she’s now free to choose, is much sweeter for her than it was when I wrote the following entry on June 2, 1997:

1st or 2nd grade mads[Madeline] has always been teased by her classmates – and sometimes the “teasing” has been too vicious to appropriately be labeled “just teasing.”

My mother and Madeline went on the fifth grade trip to a campground four hours away from town.  They were gone for two nights and three days.  When Mother and she got back, mother pulled me aside and shared something very disturbing with me.  She told me that the night before they left, she found two girls viciously teasing my sister – in front of their parents.  They were clapping their arms to their chest, altering their voices, scrunching up their faces, leaping around yelling, “Uhhhh, I’m Madeline, I’m retarded, duuuuuh.  I pick my nose.”  Neither of their parents did anything to prevent their daughters, neither reprimanded them for their cruel and unwarranted behavior.  My mother took the parents aside and talked with them, and talked with the girls the next day.

This is basically how the encounter went: 

M: “I’m disappointed in you.”

G: (all innocence) “We didn’t do anything…”

M: “You know what you did.  You want to know something?  Two of my children’s friends have killed themselves in the past few months.  They felt alone… and they were bullied. They were bullied and harassed by people like you.”

G: “Oh, it didn’t bother Maddie.”

M: “My daughter has come home and cried over things you have done and said to her these past years.  You have hurt her so much.”

G: “Oh, no, she’s _always_ smiling!”

M: “She’s not always smiling, and when she is, it isn’t because she’s happy.”

I needn’t interview these mothers to know their lack of intervention was based on power. They had it. My mom and my sister did not.

That’s just the way it is, baby.

Except it isn’t. Not always.

And it isn’t the way it needs to be.

In “Is there a monster in your mirror?”, the entry that inspired this one, Transitioning Mom wrote: “Any adult– parent, teacher, coach, passing bystander, etc., that looks the other way, make excuses, condones or demonstrates bullying behavior is the very root of the problem.

True power is understanding you can never have true power. It’s accepting that you will be weak in some moments, and fearsome in others. It’s using your words consideredly to respond to stressful situations—not hitting, spitting, calling names, kicking, pinning, hurting.

These are the things the weak do to make themselves feel powerful. But it never lasts, because it’s never more than a facade.

I’m not foolish enough to believe that all bullying is borne of parental failure, but I’ve seen enough terrorization to know this is at the heart of much of it.

When kids bully, I see the presence of parents whose own power plays have been more educational to their offspring than their empty “amens” at church.

And when those bullying kids take it so far another child ends her life, or considers it, I look at all those could-have-been ends to bullying and know the problem is not the children.

The problem is us.

It’s our saying the problem is someone else’s, as if in so doing we can avoid responsibility for our own part.

The sooner we face our responsibility, the sooner we can resolve the problems that are leading our children to see suicide as blessed escape.

The past is the past. Let us make new choices for the future, neither exemplifying to nor tolerating from our children the “power” of demeaning, that our kids may live a future brightened by their mirroring of our loving and just actions–not just when we’re in our Sunday attire, but in all our days, toward all those who share with us this troubled but magnificent world.

future and past

This was among posts accidentally deleted from this blog.
Reposted 6/21/15
Madeline now blogs here

  1. June 21, 2015 at 6:46 pm

    Where did you find them?

    • June 21, 2015 at 6:49 pm

      archive.org has been taking snapshots of pages for many, many years. Most of them are accessible there, but there’s a huge difference between “accessible there with tons of rummaging” and “accessible here.” Some posts, I really want to be able to find here … and to retain that findability for a long time to come.

  2. June 21, 2015 at 7:33 pm

    Wow, thank you for sharing. It makes me sad when parents’ love translates in so many different ways. Our children need us. They need us to morally guide us and they need us to make them resilient when others are unkind. I pray for families like these and I hope others will learn from your post.

  3. June 21, 2015 at 9:47 pm

    I read the first half of our post earlier, and have just now returned to finish it. The gut-wrenching reality in your writing caused me to stop reading it, to set the ugly truth aside for a while, to reflect on the perceived lack of power I sometimes feel, and to remember that we all have the power to stop fear-based hatred in its many forms. Yes, those who stand by and say and do nothing contribute through their own cowardice. May we all be braver than we believe!

  4. June 22, 2015 at 2:46 am

    There are heartbreaking details in here. You also speak some wise words that everyone can learn from as well.
    Your sister was such an adorable, happy-looking kid. It physically sickens me when I hear of people, even kids, treating someone like that.
    My son just graduated kindergarten & has already dealt with bullies as well. Same thing. Adorable happy kid, meets little misbehaving jerks with even jerkier, messed up, (usually privileged & entitled) parents.

    It sounds almost cliché to say but, the only way to stop it is to break the cycle. Sadly, a lot of times that doesn’t happen.

  5. June 22, 2015 at 12:26 pm

    As a retired special ed teacher, I have so much to say on this topic that I’ll politely say, “I have NOTHING to say, today….I can only live my life in love every day in every way and “gift” that love forward…….Another beautiful piece, Deborah…

  6. November 18, 2015 at 11:24 pm

    It’s funny that I don’t even remember this altercation. I remember that field trip as being the best field trip ever. Mom was there! I’d accidentally brought too small of a sleeping bag and mom and I slept huddled together on the floor of a concrete floored teepee. I remember a fun hike that only a few kids wanted to go on (most wanted to stay and play in the pool.) I remember being asked by an Indian chief if I would dance with him and mom encouraging me to do so. I remember going to a museum and while we were outside I sat on a tree stump that ended up being covered in sap. I had to sit on newspaper in the car. I loved those purple and blue plaid pants but we couldn’t get the sap/newspaper out of them. I remember stopping at a rock shop and seeing them cut ordinary/ugly looking rocks open and seeing beauty within. One of the cars broke on the way home and we stopped and played football. In glad that I don’t remember this particular moment. I much prefer remembering the fond times and being curled up with my mom in that teepee. I was so happy to have my mom there when she hadn’t been able to go on other field trips. Most kids were embarrassed or didn’t want their parents around, but I did. I recently told Mark how much I loved that field trip and he seemed surprised. He mostly seemed to remember the work behind making it happen. He remembered the car breaking down as a major hassle. As a kid though it seemed like an extension of a vacation and playing football with friends.

  1. June 22, 2015 at 5:08 am

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