I know it will come as a shock to most of you, but I was never a cool kid. I was a little on the awkward side, a little overweight, a little different. There were nicknames. Occasional whispers. Lots of comments. Don’t get me wrong – I was never the victim of the horrific bullying we are seeing more and more in the news lately. And in all fairness, I was a total drama queen, so there were times I deserved it. But there were some rough times. It took a long time for me to be comfortable with who I am.
Recently, I came into contact with one of the girls who was particularly unpleasant during my younger years. I know that I was hypersensitive at the time, but I can objectively state that she went out of her way to be mean. I had learned, via Facebook, that her kids would be attending my child’s school, so I knew the encounter would happen eventually. However, I was unprepared for my unconscious reactions the first couple of times I saw her. I reverted to my adolescent self. I avoided eye contact and chatting with other parents in line for school pickup. I tried to look busy, either with my younger child or a cell phone or whatever. I had increased stomach acid. But the thing that really jolted me was when I saw this woman talking to one of my friends in the parking lot, and I got nervous and a little jealous. Are you kidding me? I’m in my 30’s. I love my life and the people in it. How am I feeling like this again?
This encounter, on the heels of the “It Gets Better” PSA campaign, has gotten me thinking about a lot of things. Do things really get better, or do we just get better at dealing with small-minded, insecure brats? What about all of the things we told ourselves in these situations – “People who make fun of others are usually really insecure. She’s not really happy, and she needs to knock you down to feel better about herself.” or “He’ll get his one day.” or “One day, I’ll be successful and happy, and they will be poor and lonely.” Where did these ideas come from? Did my parents tell me these things when I was upset about the cool kids making fun of me for dancing with a boy who was shorter than I was in middle school? Did I spontaneously generate these comforting phrases? Did I hear about them from Blossom? Whatever their origin, these platitudes are mostly bullshit. I am, indeed, happy now, but so is she. She has a husband and kids who she loves and a lifestyle that seems to make her content. There was never one of those TV moments where she realizes that she made people feel badly and made amends or where the nerdy kid gets the upper hand by being rich and famous and interviewing the former bully for a job. And the world continues to turn. All of the things I told myself were crap, but we move along anyway. We say “hey” to people who used to irritate us, we sit near one another at school programs, and we live our lives without being controlled by who we were in high school or what we predicted would happen in the future.
Musings aside, I think that the reason I can’t get this out of my mind is that I am very worried about handling this as a parent. My oldest will go to Kindergarten next year, and it’s only a matter of time before we start dealing with these issues. My kids are going to be tall, hefty, and a little different. They march to their own drummers, which I love, but I also know that this is going to cause some heartache as they head into situations that value conformity. I don’t know what I am going to tell them when they become the butt of someone’s joke. I don’t know how I am going to handle it when they come to me with tears in their eyes. I don’t know how to comfort them while also helping them to learn to buck up and let some things slide. We have spent a lot of time focusing on how to be a good friend, how to look out for the other kids in your class when they are feeling sad, and that we have a zero-tolerance policy for being mean to others. We have a rule that if another kid asks to play with you, you have to say “yes” and include them. And even as we reinforce these concepts, I know that these ideals will likely cost my children socially someday. Even if they are able to fit in, being friends with unpopular people is a surefire way to make themselves targets. But what else can we do?
So, I guess we just do our best to ground our kids in the knowledge that they are loved and valuable, arm them with the skills to be decent people, and help them tough it out when kids with different values zero in on them. We encourage them to let their little freak flags fly, and to seek out good people with similar interests. We teach them how to be good friends and good human beings. We ask for advice from other parents about how to deal with kids who are dealing with jerks. So, parents, do you have any??