Thursday, February 10, 2011

Bringing My Work Home With Me

I mentioned a while back that my job consists of performing and public speaking in elementary schools, a different one each day. The main topic that my co-worker and I address is bullying prevention. We present a puppet show in which a child is being mentally and physically bullied, and when the strict performance part is done, we move into a Q&A section in which we are still in character, but we are interacting with the kids, asking and answering questions.

So, everyday I discuss bullying with kids.

Today, as I was driving the kids home from school, I saw one boy tackle another boy, a boy whom The Rationalist has said is frequently bullied and ostracized, and slam him onto the asphalt road. I immediately stopped the car, got out, and broke things up, not physically thank goodness, but by telling them to cut it out. The kid who tackled the other kid said he did it because the other kid pushed him.

I asked them if they were OK and told them to go home once they said they were. The initiator's sister responded with mouthy, smart-alec comments aimed at the other boy. At which point I asked her if her parents were home and if I should go talk to them about the way she was treating people. She didn't say much after that.

I drove home in a deep funk.

The week before had incidents in which The Rationalist was called a "bitch" by his coach's son and had a teenager in our neighborhood pull out a small pocket knife and turn and walk toward The Rationalist, implying that he was going to do something with it.

He thought he was being hilarious.

In the meantime I had to talk to the teenager's father, who said that he knew that his kid had found a knife and that "it was like a tiny thing".

Yeah. Ok. Whatever. I don't care if it's a tiny thing. Your kid is a teenager and mine is ten years old. Your son looks like a grown up to my kid.

Then tonight I had to ask the soccer coach if his son had a problem with my son. He seemed surprised at my question. "What? No." I had to tell him that his son had called my son a "bitch" several times. Sitting off to the side was another mother who then spoke up and said that the coach's son was also mean to her son.

The cluster of these incidents in a relatively short period of time has thrown me into a concerned period of anxiety.

The Rationalist will be heading into middle school next year and, well.....middle school is middle school. It's probably safer to walk into a lion's den covered in hamburger meat than it is to walk the halls of most middle schools.

I'm seeing the tumultuous tween/teen years ahead and I am fearful....not so much at the thought of The Rationalist being a teen, but at all that he's going to have to deal with.

I'm also discouraged. Discouraged that kids can be so rotten and mean. Discouraged that parents are so out of touch with their children that they have no idea what their kids act like. Discouraged that I can't be there all the time, playing the part of neighborhood enforcer and self-appointed righter of wrongs.

In each instance, I have had stomach-turning anxiety about what the best thing to do was. Do I intervene and possibly embarrass a kid who is being picked on, who might not want my help? Do I talk to the father of the teenager, who happens to always have a group of thugs out in front of his house drinking in the middle of the day? Do I talk to my son's coach, risking the possibility that it might make soccer go sour for The Rationalist if the conversation doesn't go well?

At each point I had to take the time to consider the possible outcomes and the chance that by saying something, I might cause unintended consequences.

I forced myself to intervene, knowing that I might earn the title of over-protective mother, or annoying-lady-who-always-sticks-her-nose-in-everyone-else's-business. I had all of the awkward conversations. I ignored the urge to simply do nothing and take defensive measures, avoiding situations and hoping that everything would just work itself out on its own.

And the results?

Mostly positive. The coach had no idea that his son was acting that way. The father of the teenager at least knows that I am keeping close watch on my kids, and that I am not afraid(well maybe I'm a little afraid!) to get into things if I have to. The kids whose fight I broke up? Well, knowing kids, that will probably continue, but maybe next time they won't think that just because they are away from the school and adult supervision that they can get away with whatever they want to.

Still, even though nothing completely blew up in my face, it's made me weary. I don't want to have to have these conversations. I don't want there to be a reason to have these conversations.



DH said...

I know it's not fair, and I wish you didn't have to put yourself in those situations, but I am very glad that you did - both for our kids and the other kids. I wrestled with a similar angst at last week's soccer game when parents from the opposing team ridiculed our son's team not too quietly. The only thing that kept me from jumping in was that they were out of ear shot of any of the kids. Their obnoxiousness and rudeness was only affecting me, and yet afterwards a part of me still wished I had spoken up and felt that having not done so, I had failed to protect my kid's dignity and honor (even though he doesn't know and never will know what was said).

atimetorend said...

Also, you're being an example of a parent doing the right thing, both for the parents whose kids were being picked on and the parents of the instigators. That can make a big difference. And for other parents reading your post (like me!), who might be more likely to intervene when necessary.

You're right, it can be very discouraging, it's a tough world we live in.

terri said...


Thanks for the encouragement!

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Middle school. Your child's best defense is a circle of friends. It discourages bullies, often more psychologically than physically; it provides a social foundation from which any teasing or even bullying can be endured as something temporary rather than one's lot in life; it provides places of solace if something uncomfortable does happen. Having an older friend or two wouldn't hurt.

Incidentally, the question "What is your name?" When confronting a bully can sometimes be remarkably effective. And with the coach, the benefit of hindsight would suggest "One of the boys on the team has been swearing at my son."

It's painful to watch, isn't it?