With kindergarten approaching in the fall, and pre-schooler N becoming more cognizant of how people behave toward him, I’ve been mentally and emotionally preparing myself for the first instance of bullying.
And it’s arrived, right on time.
Actually, it’s a little bit early, as school doesn’t actually begin for another month. But we’ve been members of a summer club in the small Quebec village where we live — a two-month gathering of well-heeled tennis aficionados and their children.
We resisted joining at first. The club has a reputation for being kind of elitist, and we really had no interest in hobnobbing with the tennis set. Nothing against tennis, but a committed klutz like myself has no business anywhere near a paved surface and steel-framed rackets. The club has wonderful programs for kids, though, and pre-schooler N’s cousins have been going since birth. And most of the members are down-to-earth and welcoming. So join we did, and that’s led us to our first taste of bullies and the parents who enable them.
Sadly, the boy in question was one of my son’s favourite playmates last summer. Sure, he was a little overly rambunctious, but he was full of energy and naughty fun that other boys gravitate toward. But this year, it was clear from the get-go that things with this child were different.
He was hitting. A lot. In fact, most of the kids in his age group were being attacked on a daily basis with fists, feet, canoe paddles, sticks and rocks. And pre-schooler N was no exception.
At first, my son was diplomatic about it. He said he still loved the boy in question, but that he wished he wouldn’t hit him so much. But as the violence escalated, even my cheerful little guy began to dread seeing the boy. Other parents had approached this kid’s mom (including Professor D), only to be rebuffed. She maintained that all boys hit and that the kids would sort it out themselves. She said her son’s psychologist agreed with this. She was resolved to do absolutely nothing.
I, on the other hand, was resolved to keep my son away from the boy. I wanted him to know that I would stick up for him, and that I would do what I could to protect him from violence and bullying. That worked for about two weeks.
Then shit hit the fan. The boy was chasing after my son, hitting him, kicking sand at him and generally tormenting him. My heart broke when pre-schooler N looked up at me, his brows knit together, and asked why this boy was so mean to him. I told him that the boy was being a bit of a bully, but that we loved him and would play with him again when he learned to stop hitting.
Apparently, either the kid or his babysitter overheard this, and relayed it the boy’s mother.
She completely lost her shit.
She confronted Professor D, claiming I had told her son he was a bully, and made him cry and miss his canoe ride. Professor D, being the mild-mannered, kind-hearted sort that he is, had no idea how to respond to this charge.
I still have yet to be accosted by her, but I’m pretty sure it’s coming. Being a little more bitter (and a lot more bitchy) than Professor D, she may be a little more hesitant to approach me. But I’m not counting on it.
The whole thing has left pre-schooler N feeling anxious about being at the club, and being around the boy. It’s his first taste of bullying, and it mystifies him.
Of course, these things rarely come singly, and we got our second taste of bullying soon after, courtesy of a family member’s daughter. She’s an older girl, blazingly smart, but with a history of what her parents call “oppositional behaviour.” They’ve spent a lot of love, time and energy trying to negotiate with her, support her, offer alternate behaviours and explain how to be a nicer person.
It’s not proven terribly successful thus far:
I’ve generally kept my son clear of her, knowing her tendency to tease and exclude the younger kids. But each year that we see her, we give it another shot. This year that meant my son getting kicked, hard, in the stomach, because she didn’t want the younger kids around her. We of course brought this up with one of the parents, who confessed that physical violence was something that had been happening with their daughter. We were invited to handle it ourselves, as nothing the parents said would do anything to help.
It felt like total surrender.
So I called pre-schooler N over, and told him to keep clear of the girl — that she didn’t want younger kids around, and that she hits, so to just stay away.
It was when I uttered the words “she hits” that the room imploded with a joint intake of breaths. I was immediately chastised for this, saying that I was making it sound as though the kid was bad, or dangerous. That I shouldn’t say things like that. The message we were getting was loud and clear: suck it up.
It’s brought quite a lot of things into clear focus for me. It’s always been pretty obvious that our wee family was outside of the inner circle — something that admittedly began before adopting our son.
I’ve been removed from wedding parties (my hair was dyed), told that my laugh was too exuberant, that I was too embarrassing to be introduced to family friends and remonstrated for generally acting too gay. All from family members. And I dealt with it, because there was no other option. Because to admit that each insult was a kill-shot to my dignity and self-worth was the only resistance I had left.
But watching violence against my son be set aside for fear of hurting a bully’s feelings hasn’t just made me furious.
It’s made me feel terrified.
Because it’s only the beginning. Soon my son is going to notice that he’s treated differently by his extended family. Soon he’s going to question why it’s okay for some kids to hurt others, but not okay for him to do so. And soon I’m going to have to explain to him that there are too many reasons for all of this:
And just plain shitty people.
What do I do? Do I fight? Do I quietly encourage him to lay low and hope it stops? Do I hold him as close as I can and hope he makes it through childhood with his own self-worth intact?
I don’t know. I’m utterly, hopelessly lost, and there’s no map here. There’s no apparent solution.
And god only knows how it will all end up.