By: Adriana Contreras
Yesterday, my five year old daughter, told me that two girls in her kindergarten class made fun of her at school for having Wet Ones in her lunchbox. Apparently, the girls were chanting, “Vanessa is a baby! Ha-Ha! She uses baby wipes!! Ha-ha!” You get the picture. They laughed to their little hearts content while my daughter sat there feeling hurt.
My daughter is a pretty cool cat. I do not say this as her mother; I say this because others point it out. She is calm under pressure and quick on her feet for a five year old. Because of this, I knew she had handled the situation “just right.” Nevertheless, I was curious as to what “just right” entailed, so I asked her how she responded.
“At first I was embarrassed mommy. Then I read the package. It said, ‘Wet Ones, not Baby Wipes! I called the mean girls over to me and asked them, “How old are you guys? Aren’t you five? I know you are, so why can’t you read? This says, ‘Wet Ones, not Baby Wipes, seeeeee! They aren’t for babies! Instead of making me feel bad, you guys are the ones that look silly!”
I was unsure where she mustered her courage. I know that at 5, I would not have known how to respond to these bullies in the making and I sure would not have called them out. I asked her, “What did the girls do after you responded to them that way?” She said, “Nothing mommy. Nothing else happened. I grabbed my lunch box and got in line with the other kindergarteners to go back to the classroom. I don’t have time for silly girls.”
I wanted to laugh as I observed her seriousness and her adult demeanor. Instead, I held back. I did not want her to think I was laughing at her. Especially, since what I was actually feeling was pride. I gave her a strong hug.
Today, when she arrived home from school, I was emptying out her lunchbox and found a barrette (that was not hers), and a gummy bear. I asked, “Where did these come from?” She answered, “You know the mean girls from school mommy? They aren’t mean anymore. One of them gave me a gummy bear from her lunchbox during lunch today and the other one didn’t have anything from her lunchbox to give me, so she took off her barrette and gave it to me as a gift. She said it would look pretty in my beautiful curly hair.”
As she ran off to play, I sat at the kitchen table reminiscing on my childhood when I had been bullied to the extreme. I do not like stepping back in time, however, seeing my daughter handle these girls so well, I began to question why I never defended myself. That brought vivid thoughts and emotions of my past to the forefront.
As a child, I was odd. Not because I was different, but odd because my mother made me odd in the way she dressed me. She would have me wear patent leather shoes with ruffle socks and big puffy dresses until I was about 8. In her county, this was proper attire for a child. In the Iowa…not so much. The only proper item of clothing for a Midwestern Iowan 8 year old girl was jeans and overalls. Nothing more, nothing less and nothing in between.
At the age of seven, my father accepted a job transfer to a hospital in very small town in Iowa where he was a psychiatrist. This was the kind of town where everyone knew everyone’s business and you could not see the houses because they were covered up by miles of stalks of corn. We had to drive to Nebraska to purchase our monthly groceries and the closest form of recreation was an A&W restaurant with waitresses on roller skates and the ability to order our food through speakers that were attached to our car windows. To us city folk, we were living in a backwards town. And to the country folk, I was soon to learn I was a backwards girl.
In order to get to my elementary school from my home, I had to take two buses. It was on those very school buses that I learned the definition of HATE, CRUELTY, RACISM and ABUSE. I remember my mother dressing me up on my first day of school telling me my dress was beautiful and that my teacher and the kids would love it! I barely knew my mother. I had just met her a year or two earlier, so I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about her yet. What I did know about her, was that she was very wrong.
That first day, she walked me to my bus stop. I could hear the kids snickering at me and all I could do was look down at my shiny shoes in sadness knowing I was not approved of by the other kids or fit in. I continued to stare down at my shoes, but not without taking a peek at the other kids every so often. Their tennis shoes were well worn, and their jeans and overalls were stained with the dirt from playing on the farm.
My mother bid me farewell and the bus driver smiled at her. The moment the bus door closed, I received the beating of a lifetime. The bus driver did nothing to defend me. I actually saw him smirk through the rear view mirror. Once off the bus, other kids had a field day with me too. It was like a movie, except at that age, I had never seen a movie that portrayed such things. I was lost, scared, and very unsure of life. I did not know where to go, where I belonged, where I could hide or find protection.
My lunch money was stolen and I would go home on an empty stomach. On bus rides home I endured more beatings, verbal abuse, loneliness, emptiness and hatred. Some of my nicknames they spewed at me were nigger and spic. I was always reminded that I was too dark for their taste and that only real white girls had value. The strange thing is, I am neither black nor black Latina. I am actually quite light skinned, yet they figured these were the most harmful words to use.
Every day I was beat up. It wasn’t a little shove here or there. It wasn’t a few mean words. It was me coming home with black and blue eyes that would barely open up the next morning. It was bleeding knees and bloody noses. It was a broken bone here and a broken bone there. Sprains, cuts, bruises and even clumps of hair pulled out.
There was the time I pulled my blinds up in the morning, to find a cows head cut off and placed on the outer ledge of my bedroom window. There was the time when the kids collected so many snakes from the swamps, that my one year old brother’s plastic back yard pool was covered by them. A fire was started in our front yard and insults were painted on our garage doors. It was a crazy and confusing time for me because one day I came to realize that the kids were not the ones that did this, but rather the parents.
While living in Iowa, the bullying never stopped. No principal or teacher ever stood up for me, offered me a band-aid, a pack of ice, a phone call to my parents, a trip to the nurses office or a kind word. I was invisible. No one seemed to care aside from my classroom teacher. When I got off the school bus and made it to her classroom she would have a desk ready for me next to hers. I once heard a teacher ask her why she did that for me to which she responded; “Because I am scared one day they will hurt her so bad, they will kill her. I prefer to keep her separate from all the students.”
When the dismissal bell rang, my teacher would hug me, then hold my head between her two hands, shut her eyes, and say a quick prayer to get me home safe. She would then take a deep breath and say, “Ok Adriana, you are the tiniest one in the classroom. I know that you can float on air and you must be able to run fast. So run for your life, OK!!” She would then give me a little shove to get my run started. That teacher, was the only person in those years that ever cared about me.
As I sat at my kitchen table and stared down at that little barrette the bully in training gave to my daughter and recalled the compliment she gave her regarding her beautiful hair. I smiled.
Bullying is no joke. It is not a joke for the person being bullied, nor is it a rib tickler for the person doing the bullying. Bullying shows us that something is very wrong in our society. It proves to us that as a community, we have not done our job in teaching children acceptance, love, or appreciation. What can we as individuals do to change that? What are teachers, principals and leaders in our community doing for these children? What are you doing?
HERE ARE SOME FACTS ABOUT BULLYING:
Every year, approximately 160,000 students miss school due to bullying.
One in twenty students has witnessed a classmate with a gun at school.
Bullying and suicide often go hand in hand. This is prevalent enough that there is actually a term that has been applied to bullied children that commit suicide? It is called bullycide.
One out of every ten students drops out of high school each year due to bullying.
One in four teachers sees nothing wrong with bullying and will not intervene nor assist and protect the child being bullied
Many researches say that bullying is “part of growing up”, a “kids will be kids” kind of attitude.
More than half of the children that are bullied never report it because they don’t think anyone can help them and that most people won’t care.
STEPS WE AS A COUNTRY ARE TAKING TO PREVENT BULLYING
The good news is prevention is being applied against bullying. A larger amount of school staff is speaking up for the child being bullied. Approximately 40% of principals have a no bullying tolerance policy and other policies are being added all the time to protect our children.
Sites such as DoSomething.org are helping bring awareness to the community.
Several kids channels are standing up to bullies with anti-bullying commercials, games and programs using their actors to drive the point home.
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO PREVENT BULLYING?
1.) Find out what is going on in your children’s lives. What are they happy or unhappy about? Ask them directly if they are being bullied or if they have witnessed bulling. Do your part and protect other children from bullying as well and remember that bullies are not just in schools. Keep your eyes and ears open wherever you are.
2.) Communication is key. Have time devoted to them. Life is hectic, but NOTHING is more important than the job of being a parent. Be an open ear for your child without judgment, humiliation or an I don’t care attitude. Remind them you are on their side, ALWAYS.
3.) Ask your kid’s friends how school is going. Sometimes, friends will open up more about things happening with your own kids than your own kids are willing to tell you.
4.) From the start of your child’s life, teach them love, confidence, self-acceptance, compassion, appreciation, encouragement and openness to that which is different than them.
5.) Teach your children what bullying is and that being a bully is just as bad as being bullied. Teach what they can do about it and that if they bully there will be consequences.
6.) Explain to your children that there is nothing wrong with them as they are and that bullies are often children who themselves feel empty, unloved and may even be bullied at home.
7.) Let your children know that if they see bullying they are to notify the teacher or any school leader of what happened. Then, to tell you about it so you touch base with the school and find out how it was handled. When people see that you are not willing to accept bullying in your community they are more likely to take action.
8.) Do not bully, threaten, or speak unkindly to your child as this teaches them to do the same to others.
9.) DO NOT be the kind of parent that when told your child bullied someone, that you deny it and won’t’ confront your child about it. Get them help and empower them, but also have them live out the consequence of their actions. Without consequences, we tend to feel everything in life is a free for all.
Stand up to bullies and raise awareness. Share your story. Share this story. We have venues to make people aware. When we confront bullies, they lose their power. More people take notice of what is going on around them and the children being bullied know they are not alone and will have others to count on. Let’s not leave bullied children to fend for themselves. As a community, lets take a stand.
BULLYING has no name.
BULLYING is a game cowards play.
BULLYING is a way to kill a child’s soul.
BULLYING makes a child hate themselves.
BULLYING is a lonely and empty experience.
BULLYING can steal a child’s…life.
Are we going to accept this?
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