Wednesday, October 23, 2013

And so it begins

I found something in Johanna's backpack this morning that has me fairly furious: A series of notes between her and a friend, written during the after school program, with Johanna asking the friend why she was mad at her, the friend responding that it was how Johanna was acting, and Johanna saying she was sorry, but how was she acting?

And the friend couldn't say.

Here's why it makes me furious: I know what it's like to be on the receiving end of such a note, of not knowing what you've done, left only with a vague sense that you are not good enough without any idea of what "good enough" even means.

I just spent an hour writing about my own experiences with being bullied by my supposed friends, from elementary school on up. Including college. But it's too raw, and much more than I ever show people. Even people I'm the closest too. So I can't bring myself to put that out there on the internets for the world to see.

Here's the gist of the thing: I had a hard time. The only thing that saved me was that I ended up with some real friends who taught me that I was okay just the way I was, that I didn't need to act a certain way to make people like me; that just being me was enough. They will never know how much that meant to me, and means to me still.

God, that's still saying too much...

Um, anyway, so as you can see, this note in the backpack of my 8-year-old has stirred up some rather deep emotions. Because I don't want my precious, eternally happy child to feel that she has to be anyone less than herself. Her second grade teacher told me last year that she's never met a kid so young who so completely knows who she is already.

I don't want her doubting who she is.

When I asked Johanna about the notes, she got embarrassed and tried to take them away from me, but finally she told me what had happened. I told her that she does not need to change "the way she acts" because how she acts is fine. Then, seeing her confused face, I told her how girls sometimes try to make other people sad just to feel better about themselves. She seemed to grasp what I was trying to tell her. I certainly hope so.

But now I'm wondering if I should mention it to the after school care coordinator. I don't want to be one of "those parents," but I don't want my child bullied under the guises of friendship. I also don't want to start something worse.

Girls can be so, so mean. It's been that way forever, which makes me wonder: How do we ever make it stop? Bullies come in all forms, and from "good" families, and at all age levels. My worst bullies were college-aged Christian Evangelicals. (And I'm not saying that to blame Christian Evangelicals, just to make the point that people you assume would act one way often don't.) What makes us this way? Why do we have to tear down other people just to make ourselves feel better? Why not lift people up instead?

So... no one ever comments, and that's cool, people, but I'd really like some thoughts on this other than my own. Because I've got a lot of baggage. And I'm not sure I'm seeing what is really there.

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